On this day in Tudor history, Monday 7th November 1541, in the reign of King Henry VIII, Queen Catherine Howard, received a visit from Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury.
The king’s fifth wife had been confined to her chambers at Hampton Court Palace after an investigation had been launched into allegations about her past. It was now Archbishop Cranmer’s job to get a now hysterical queen to talk, to confess.
Cranmer visited her several times over a period of 24 hours and finally got a confession from her.
Find out all about Catherine Howard’s confessions in the video or transcript below…
Here is a link to my video on Catherine Howard’s execution – https://youtu.be/4nGL47QKe4k
On this day in Tudor history, Monday 7th November 1541, Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, visited Catherine Howard, fifth wife of King Henry VIII, in her chambers at Hampton Court Palace.
The queen was under house arrest, with the doors to her chambers guarded and her jewels seized, and she had been informed the previous day of the allegations that had been made against her, allegations concerning her sexual past with Henry Manox and Francis Dereham while she had been living in the household of her stepgrandmother, Agnes Tilney, Dowager Duchess of Norfolk.
According to Archbishop Cranmer, although Catherine had calmly denied everything the day before, now she was hysterical. Cranmer recorded in a letter to the king:
“I found her in such lamentation and heaviness, as I never saw no creature; so that it would have pitied any man’s heart in the world to have looked upon her: and in that vehement rage she continued, as they informed me which be about her, from my departure from her unto my return again; and then I found her, as I do suppose, far interred towards a frenzy.”
In his wonderful biography of Catherine, “Young and Damned and Fair”, Gareth Russell notes that “A total shattering, the culmination of her ‘dangerous ecstasy’, was only narrowly avoided, in Cranmer’s opinion, when a messenger arrived from the king”. This messenger told of how the king would be merciful if Catherine confessed the truth. Catherine was still upset, but Cranmer recorded how “she began to be more temperate and quiet”, but unfortunately, “after a little pausing she suddenly fell into a new rage, much worse than she was before.” Oh dear!
Catherine did eventually confess to Cranmer that day. Gareth Russell explains that her first confession no longer survives, but that we have her second confession, and also her final one, which has been used by some historians to back up the idea that Catherine was abused. Her second one does not support that theory. In it, she confesses to exchanging gifts with Dereham, him leaving her “an indenture and obligation of an hundred pound” when he went to Ireland, her being content for the two of them to call each other husband and wife and there being “communication in the house that we two should marry together”, him kissing her, and then some more:
Catherine said “As for carnal knowledge, I confess as I did before, that diverse times he hath lain with me, sometime in his doublet and hose, and two or three times naked: but not so naked that he had nothing upon him, for he had always at least his doublet, and as I do think, his hose also, but I mean naked were his hose were put down.”
Catherine also told of how he’d bring wine, strawberries, apples and other foods to the dormitory “to make good cheer, after my lady were gone to bed.”
She denied stealing the keys to the dormitory from her stepgrandmother, but stated that “for many other causes the doors have been opened, sometime overnight and sometime early in the morning, as well at the request of me, as of other.”
Catherine also made mention of a certain Mr Culpeper, saying that Dereham had asked her, on his return from Ireland, if she was going to marry Culpeper.
Later that same day, Catherine changed her mind about her confession and in what Gareth Russell describes as her “new and thoroughly unbelievable version of events”, she accused Dereham of violating her against her will, something that was not corroborated by her previous confession or by the eye witness accounts of others present in the dorm. Catherine was never alone with Dereham, she even shared a bed with another girl. It is clear from Cranmer’s account of his meetings with Catherine that he did not believe her new claims. Russell talks about how Catherine threw Dereham “to the wolves while trying to save herself” and I completely agree and I can see how a young woman who knows that her cousin was executed on charges of adultery would do anything to keep her head. She must have been truly terrified.
Of course, her changed confession didn’t save her. Catherine was beheaded on 13th February 1542.
Book recommendations: “Young and Damned and Fair” by Gareth Russell; “The Remains of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury”, collected and arranged by Rev. Henry Jenkyns, Volume 1 available at https://archive.org/details/remainsthomascr01jenkgoog/page/n5