November 2 – Henry VIII’s hopes for his fifth marriage are dashed

On this day in Tudor history, 2nd November 1541, just the day after King Henry VIII had ordered prayers of thanksgiving to be said for his fifth marriage, the king was informed of allegations made against his wife.

At the All Souls’ Day service, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer gave the king a letter that would spark off the beginning of the end for Queen Catherine Howard. It was concerning past romances the queen had enjoyed with Henry Manox and Francis Dereham.

Let me explain exactly what was in Archbishop Cranmer’s letter and what happened next…

Here is the link to my talk on the executions of Catherine Howard and Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford –


This day in Tudor history, 2nd November 1541, All Souls’ Day, marked the beginning of the end for Queen Catherine Howard, King Henry VIII’s fifth wife. Let me tell you more in a talk that’s based on an article I wrote for the Anne Boleyn Files back in 2017.

By All Souls Day 1541, Catherine Howard, niece of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, and cousin of the late Queen Anne Boleyn, had been queen for just 15 months. She had married Henry VIII on 28th July 1540, following the annulment of his six month marriage to Anne of Cleves, and the couple appeared to be happy. The young, vivacious Catherine seemed to have restored the king’s youth and his joy in life, little did either of them know that everything was just about to change.

The royal couple had returned to Hampton Court Palace from a four-month-long progress to the north of England on 30th October 1541. Although James V of Scotland had stood up the king in York, the trip had been successful in demonstrating Henry VIII’s authority to the north, a part of the country that had rebelled against him in late 1536 and early 1537, and had been an opportunity for Henry to humiliate his northern subjects and demands displays of submission from them. The king must have been fairly pleased with the progress.

Henry was also pleased with his wife. On All Saints’ Day, 1st November 1541, the king had directed the Bishop of Lincoln at mass “to make prayer and give thanks with him for the good life he led and hoped to [lead with her] […]”. However, his joy and thankfulness was to be shortlived, for on 2nd November 1541, as the king arrived for mass in the Holy Day Closet at Hampton Court Palace, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer gave him a letter. The archbishop asked the king to read it in private, for it concerned a matter that he “had not the heart to tell it by word of mouth”.

The letter outlined allegations that had been made by John Lassells, brother of Mary Hall, who’d been a member of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk’s household with Catherine Howard. Lassells had told his sister that she should “sue for service with the queen”, i.e. try to get appointed to her household, but Mary would not. She then told her brother things about Catherine’s past, information that Lassells felt needed to be passed on to the king’s council. He had had an audience with Archbishop Cranmer, who then passed on the information to Thomas Audley, the Lord Chancellor, and Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, who advised him that he needed to tell the king of the claims, hence the letter.

But what were these claims?

A report from the king’s council to William Paget, the English ambassador in France, gives details about Lassells’ claims and this “most miserable case lately revealed.” Mary Hall had told her brother that Catherine “is [light, both in living] and conditions”, i.e. that she had loose morals, and that “one Francis Derham had lain in bed[with her, in his doublet] and hose, between the sheets an hundr[ed nights], and a maid in the house had said she would lie no longer with her because [she knew not what matrimony was. Moreover [one] Mannock, a servant of the [Duchess, knew a] privy mark on her body.”

Henry VIII was shocked, but believed “the matter forged”, so ordered a full investigation into the matter. Lassells and his sister were to be examined by William Fitzwilliam, Earl of Southampton and Lord Privy Seal, while Thomas Wriothesley, one of the king’s principal secretaries, was to examine Henry Manox, Catherine’s former music tutor, and to apprehend Francis Dereham “on a pretence of piracy”. The king must have hoped that this was all a storm in a teacup, tall tales and gossip, but Southampton and Wriothesley were to bring him bad news.

Southampton reported back that Lascelles and his sister stood by their story, and Wriothesley reported back that Manox had confessed that “he used to feel the [secret parts] of her body before Derrham [was familiar] with her” and that Dereham had “confessed that he had known her carnally many times, both in his doublet and [hose between] the sheets and in naked bed, alleging three women [as witnesses].”
Henry VIII was understandably heartbroken. It was recorded that “On learning this the King’s heart was pierced with pensiveness, so that it was long before he could utter his sorrow and finally, with plenty of tears, (which was strange in his courage), opened the same.”

The report goes on to say that “Katharine was spoken to by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the lord Chancellor, the duke of Norfolk, the lord Great Chamberlain, and the bishop of Winchester. She at first constantly denied it, but at last disclosed everything to the archbishop of Canterbury, who took her confession in writing subscribed by her hand. Then the rest of the witnesses, eight or nine men and women, were examined, and agreed in one tale.”

Just over a month later, after it had come out that the queen had also been having secret meetings with Thomas Culpeper, a gentleman of the king’s privy chamber, the king’s grief had turned to anger and hatred. Charles de Marillac, the French ambassador, reported:
“this King has changed his love for the Queen into hatred, and taken such grief at being deceived that of late it was thought he had gone mad, for he called for a sword to slay her he had loved so much. Sitting in Council he suddenly called for horses without saving where he would go. Sometimes he said irrelevantly that that wicked woman had never such delight in her incontinency as she should have torture in her death. And finally he took to tears regretting his ill luck in meeting with such ill-conditioned wives, and blaming his Council for this last mischief.”

Francis Dereham and Thomas Culpeper were executed for treason at Tyburn on 10th December 1541, with Dereham suffering the full traitor’s death of being hanged, drawn and quartered. Catherine, and her lady, Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, were executed by beheading at the Tower of London on 13th February 1542.

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One thought on “November 2 – Henry VIII’s hopes for his fifth marriage are dashed”
  1. There is a theory that John Lascelles being of the reformist religion disliked the queen for her Roman Catholic faith and was part of a plot to dishonour her, it is obvious however that his sister had never liked nor respected Catherine during their life together at the duchess of Norfolk’s household, maybe because of her immoral behaviour or some slights that taken place between them, but it is very hard to feel sympathy for brother and sister for it was solely down to them that a young woman lost her life in the most dreadful way, along with her maid and two men, rogues though they may have been, Sir Thomas Audley on hearing Lascelles remarks about the queen knew there must be some vestige of truth in it, for no man would dare move against the kings consort and risk his own life because of mere rumour, and this man along with members of the kings council knew their master was very happy in his marriage and such news was bound to cause him much distress, unbeknown to the young queen she was under suspicion of immorality yet her visits with Thomas Culpeper were as yet unknown, her maids were questioned who had lived with her in her grandmothers Lambeth house and her uncle must have been deeply perturbed, if his niece fell so would all his family, and he must have cursed bringing her to the kings attention, as Catherine sang and danced her privileged world was slowly ebbing away, there were tales of a young Henry Manox who had been her music master he had known her carnally, they had been caught romping once and the old duchess had given them a beating, Manox when reprimanded by Mary Lascelles declared his intentions towards his pupil were merely dishonourable, he had taken the whole escapade as a light hearted affair and then there was Francis Dereham another loud mouthed braggart who had also engaged in piracy, no doubt this young man was bold and Catherine had indulged in a full sexual relationship with him, out came all the lurid tales of his beloved queens sordid past, his young queen whom he had thought so pure and honest, it became even more shocking when it was discovered that Dereham was in the queens household, had she still been sleeping with him ? We do not know why Catherine admitted him into her household some think he blackmailed her and certainly he showed her no respect as his queen, he nearly came to blows with another gentleman of her household who accused him of speaking ill of her in her presence, he boasted that he had known her intimately and so he too was pulled in for questioning, he said there was another whom had taken his place in her affections, he seemed to delight in saying his name, no doubt out of envy and spite and Thomas Culpeper who was the kings groom of the stool was thus taken in for questioning, details of their nightly visits were heard yet he denied any wrong doing, they were aided by Lady Rochford one time sister in law of the king himself through her relationship with Anne Boleyn, another maid Jane Bulmer had been questioned already and it was she on one occasion who had expressed shock that the queen was still not in her bed one night, Culpeper it seemed had a death wish for he then declared he and Catherine meant to sleep together and his apartments were searched, Catherine was by now under house arrest in Hampton Court her jewels had been confiscated and there were guards outside her front door, I agree with Claire the king must have thought at the beginning it was just a wild rumour fabricated by the queens enemies, so we can feel some sympathy for this complex man who had even so done some dreadful things during his turbulent reign, even if he does not deserve a great deal for his treatment of his first two queens and the vindictive butchery of his cousin the elderly Marquess of Salisbury ,the lives that were ruined through the dissolution of the monasteries we can still have some vestige of feeling for this king whom wept like a schoolboy before his council when shown the note written by his wife, to his young and dashing groom of the stool, by modern standards had Henry V111 been king today his chosen bride would have been greeted with ridicule and horror, not because of her but because he was so much older, Catherine when she was married was possibly only about seventeen and she had lived a life of frivolity and excess given herself up to light hearted pleasures, she was not queen material and Henry was about thirty years older, such a marriage would be viewed on as doomed from the start, yet age did not come into it and Henry maybe was still hoping for more sons, Catherine had many sisters and brothers, she was healthy a perfect breeding machine, an older wife also marred with his own fertility problems would not be that successful in giving him sons so maybe his choice of queen was not that ridiculous, he must have had qualms about his ability to have more children as he grew older maybe realising that the younger the model the better, both his first two queens had been pregnant Catherine because of the duration of their marriage, many times and with Anne Boleyn there were at least three pregnancies though it is not verified, but with Jane she had not become pregnant for about a whole year unless there was a miscarriage we have not heard about, so maybe he too felt that his queen if she was much younger would have more luck with bearing a child, November 2nd 1541 is the day when Queen Catherine Howard’s world began to crumble around her, desperately she tried to excuse herself she had not meant to deceive the king, she wrote she had been a poor wretch to him, between questioning by Cranmer she alternated between defiance and sorrow and tear filled hysteria, she blamed Lady Rochford for encouraging her to meet with Culpeper meanwhilst Lady Rochford who later was to go insane declared it was the queen not her, who wished to meet with him and she was forced under duress to comply, never had the king shown such blind fury at the behaviour of any of his wives, he even called for a sword to slay her whom he had honoured so much, and here is the bitter truth, he had loved his young queen, he had been bewitched by her smooth skin by her glowing eyes by her very youth, he had felt his own youth returned and that had been due to her, it was said he was so jovial with her, he even lost weight a flicker of the golden prince still resided under his huge bloated carcass, yet her betrayal had ripped that apart, there is nothing more cruel than hearing the news of a beloved spouses infidelity to a much younger lover, she had broken his ideal of her and for the first time since their marriage he must have felt truly old again, he knew than that she had never loved him, that she was not pure she was soiled and no better than a common strumpet, who loitered on the streets and in the taverns of the city after dark, Ernest Chapyus referred to Lady Rochford as a bawd an old fashioned name for a procuress, and thus was the character of the queen and her maid held in ill regard, it is one of the strange quirks of life that when one believes they have everything, they are fulfilled in every way, their joy is complete that fate often has a way of stepping in like a dark curtain and erasing that euphoria, Henry had just returned from a triumphant tour of the north with his new queen and his eldest daughter Mary, he had shown of Catherine and the northern rebels had been brought to heel, they had pledged their loyalty to the king and been charmed by Catherine, it had also been a joy to see Mary for she was very popular with them, on the way home he had given thanks to God for his queen, his perfect example of womanhood he had called her, then by a note handed to him by his beloved Archbishop his whole joy had collapsed, the look on Cranmers face must have alarmed him greatly and he knew it was something he could not mention aloud, that alone must have worried the king, as he read the words must have seemed to jump and blur in front of him, as he himself later swore angrily to his council, why was it his misfortune to marry such ill conditioned wives? Catherine was executed along with her maid on February 13th 1542, in the precincts of the Tower of London, she was not twenty maybe not even nineteen when she died, her one time lover and alleged lover were executed at Tyburn there had been plea’s for mercy which the king had ignored, Francis Dereham suffered the full traitors death, and there is a plaque to commemorate where the famous tree and execution site once stood, now Marble Arch stands there, Catherine’s butchered body was carried along with her dainty little head which had pleased so many ,into a cart and taken into the sad little church of St. Peter, her body has never been discovered and it is thought her bones being so soft and pliable, dissolved in the limestone in the grounds of the chapel, the much maligned Lady Rochford whom herself had once known such glory was interred there also, thus ended the short but eventful life of Henry V111’s fifth queen, such rumours abounded at her scaffold speech, she said she died a queen but would rather die the wife of Culpeper , such a yarn was swiftly debunked she made the usual speech about how she deserved to die ,and she wished to be received into gods hands, she begged the people to pray for her, Lady Rochford also has been the victim of a myth surrounding her execution speech, she is said to have mentioned the false accusation she made against her husband and the late Queen Anne Boleyn, and for that she deserved to die, that too has been debunked, the truth about Lady Rochford is that she was in the wrong places at the wrong times, wether she was a willing servant between the queen and Culpeper is not known, and never will be, nor if she was bullied into merely obeying her queen and mistress whom was known to be quite imperious at times, as the young so often are when power is in their grasp, she was executed on misprision of treason, for it was her duty to inform the king or her council of the queens behaviour, still like her tragic young charge she did not deserve to die, Henry V111 shocked the world by beheading his second wife, on the beheading of his fifth he truly in the minds of many became thought of as blood-soaked monster without pity or mercy.

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