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 – https://youtu.be/4nGL47QKe4k
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.