November 7 – Queen Catherine Howard makes a confession to Archbishop Cranmer

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 –


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

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One thought on “November 7 – Queen Catherine Howard makes a confession to Archbishop Cranmer”
  1. Catherine after confessing that she had lain willingly with Dereham, and that they had called each husband and wife which was backed up by other witnesses, then must have realised that she appeared immoral and wicked to her husband the king, after contemplating what she had told Cranmer she decided it was best to paint herself as a victim, that way she would arouse his sympathy and believe she had been merely wronged by an evil man, at this stage she must have come to hate Dereham, there have been theories as to why she gave him a post in her household, certainly he disrespected her in public and it has been suggested he blackmailed her, Catherine had no time for him and she must have come to blame him for her present situation, even though it was John Lascelles who had first reported her behaviour, Dereham was a reminder of her wild youth and as Gareth Russell claims, she did indeed ‘throw him to the wolves’, I do not believe the allegations by later historians that she had been abused I think she was a highly sexed girl, and in Tudor times young people were meant to grow up quickly, girls as young as twelve were married and were allowed to have sexual relations with their husband from about the age of fifteen, her romping with Manox and later relationship with Dereham proves she found men attractive as they did her, Cranmer was distressed to see his young queen in such a sorry state but he was a wise old statesman and certainly did not believe her tale about Dereham violating her, but in his previous letter to the king he described her pitiable state, her hysterical outbursts must have been so unpleasant for him, no man likes a weeping hysterical woman, surely the king himself must have been upset on hearing about his young queens misery and after all, she was younger than his eldest daughter, but he could not afford to be sentimental, Catherine had serious allegations thrown against her and sadly, they were true, it is strange that she herself mentioned the conversation between Dereham and herself about marrying her cousin Thomas Culpeper, because Culpeper was the young man she had been seeing, and one would have thought she wished to keep his name out of it, this could have been due to her anxious gabbling but later on, Culpeper was discovered to have been in a relationship with the feckless queen, foolishly to she had written him a note which when discovered, proved the strength of her affection towards him, due to her past deeds it was inevitable she was thought to have slept with Culpeper as well, nothing could save her now, although no evidence of adultery existed her behaviour inferred it had taken place, the king was deeply disappointed in his once ‘perfect jewel of womanhood’, he wept in front of his council and alternated between anger and sorrow, Catherine was still under house arrest at Hampton Court and later she would be taken to Syon House, and from thence she would embark on her final journey to the Tower Of London, one of her women Lady Jane Rochford, widow of her executed cousin George Boleyn was also under questioning and later both he and Catherine would blame Jane for encouraging them to meet, this however was ignored and it just goes to show how when people are faced with sudden death, it becomes every man and woman for themselves, these tragic Tudor victims realised they were all in a very very dangerous situation, with Jane I feel the king could have been merciful, she had no choice but to obey the queens demands, but she also should have reported her behaviour and misprision of treason was something which also was punishable by death, even so she could have just been imprisoned for a few years then eventually released, obviously Catherines one time lover Dereham and possible lover Culpeper had to die, no other king in history would have allowed his wife’s lovers to go unpunished, but to execute his queen who was so young and whose misdemeanour’s had occurred mostly long before she had ever met the king, whose behaviour really smacked largely of naivety and due to a lack of supervision, was very cruel and we can see how deeply hurt Henry V111 was to have showed no mercy to his fifth and sadly foolish wife, what was more shocking she had been condemned by an act of attainder, therefore she had no trial and no chance to defend herself, Henry V111 was very distressed by the whole unhappy affair and it could be that he wished no more scandal, it is always said the husband or the wife is the last to know and he must have been acutely aware that he had been the object of ridicule amongst Catherine’s ladies who had been aware of her secret, that more than anything increases the cuckolded husband or wife’s anger, one of them Jane Bulmer had gained a post in her household after being with Catherine at Lambeth, she had been questioned amongst others, but it was only Lady Rochford who was sentenced to die, she was mentioned in the explosive letter penned to Culpeper it was Rochford after all who had kept watch outside her apartments on many occasions, Catherine’s death was a lesson to any queens of England who eyes strayed beyond her husbands kingly visage, she should have heeded her cousin Anne Boleyn’s fate although Anne had been sentenced to death on unproven charges, her death was a warning that King Henry V111’s affection though ardent was not lasting, once betrayed as he felt he had been by Catherine there was no mercy, he showed none to Wolsey or Cromwell or More, or his cousin the elderly Lady Salisbury, now his ego his highly opinionated image of himself had been destroyed by his young child queen, he lashed out at everyone he believed responsible, all the Howard family were sent to the Tower, Dereham was executed in the most horrible way devised by man, Lady Rochford suffered a nervous collapse but that did not save her, it was illegal to execute an insane person, but Henry had the law changed so she could suffer for her crimes, we can see his rage was terrible for he had been seriously hurt and heartbroken by the woman he thought was his ideal wife his perfect queen, in the months that followed after her death he became very depressed and withdrawn, the court must have been a gloomy joyless place, it was a whole year when he was at last able to shake of his misery and contemplate marrying again, and this time his eye settled on a much more mature woman a kind patient intelligent woman, attractive and gentle and much more suitable to be his queen than some giddy girl who had never respected him, or the high office to which he had so graciously elevated her to.

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