Is there any truth in the scenes of execution of Catherine Howard and Thomas Cromwell from “The Tudors”, namely with regard to Catherine “losing it” and wetting herself and Cromwell being beheaded by a drunk executioner with many chops? Thanks! – Laura (a big fan from Bulgaria of your website, Anne Boleyn and English history).

Catherine Howard - From my research I have found no evidence to support what happened in "The Tudors" at Catherine's execution but I feel that her wetting herself was simply to get us to feel sorry for her, a young woman who was terrified. Marillac’s report to the French King said that Catherine “was so weak that she could hardly speak”. However, Marillac was not present and an eye witness. Ottwell Johnson, wrote of her bravery, her “steadfast countenance” and her “constancy”. Also, Catherine, as Queen and higher in rank to Jane Boleyn, was executed first. She paid the executioner, forgave him and then knelt in prayer.Julia Fox, in “Jane Boleyn: The Infamous Lady Rochford”, writes of how Catherine then addressed the crowd, acknowledging her faults, stating her faith in Christ and asking everyone to pray for her. Contrary to myth and legend, and "The Tudors", Catherine did not cry out “I die a Queen, but I would rather have died the wife of Culpeper”, instead she was dignified and followed the usual convention of execution speeches. She was then executed with one blow of the axe.

Cromwell - Thomas Cromwell did suffer a botched execution but there is nothing to support "The Tudors" story that he was executed by a drunk paid by his enemies. Chronicler Edward Hall wrote that Cromwell "so paciently suffered the stroke of the axe, by a ragged Boocherly miser whiche very ungoodly perfourmed the Office" and the fact that he comments that the executioner was "boocherly" and that her performed his job badly suggests that it was botched and that it took more than one blow to sever Cromwell's head.


48 thoughts on “Is there any truth in the scenes of execution of Catherine Howard and Thomas Cromwell from “The Tudors”, namely with regard to Catherine “losing it” and wetting herself and Cromwell being beheaded by a drunk executioner with many chops? Thanks! – Laura (a big fan from Bulgaria of your website, Anne Boleyn and English history).”

  1. Eliza M. L. says:

    Kathryn died with great dignity, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she wet herself. Heck, I’d be crying my eyes out on the scaffold!

  2. Molly Housego says:

    Our executioners very rarely gained much practice in beheading, as hanging was the most frequent form of execution at the time, and offences that required a sentance of beheading were actaully fairly rare. Thus it would not be unusual for an executioner to botch blows with the axe, as it wasn’t something they were doing every day!

    The axes made at the time were weighted in such a way so they did not require a large swing, but the falling weight would provide the power behind them. A scrawny neck could be severed with one blow, with a knife used, if required, to sever through any remaining gristly bits!

  3. Baroness Von Reis says:

    I just want to bring this to are attention,that when a person dies all the organs fail,the bladder bowls they all lose controll.My grandmother had a heart in my kitchen and lost her bladder,thats what happens to human,animals ,anyone when you start to die.I took Human Antomey in college so if she did lose her bladder, it was because her body was shutting down.

    1. Renee Pigeon says:

      I think they meant, she lost her bladder before being beheaded.

    2. Christine says:

      In the 1920s a housewife was hanged in England for encouraging her lover to murder her husband, it was recorded that as her neck was discolated and her spinal cord broken she haemorrhaged between the legs thus her faeces and urine spoilt her underwear, after that incident female prisoners condemned to die were issued with disposable underwear.

      1. Mommabeans says:

        That makes no sense. All underwear is disposable. It would make more sense if it was rubber pants.

      2. Rob J says:

        The woman you mentioned was named Edith Thompson.

        The hangman was so horrified by the ghastly aftermath of her execution, he eventually
        committed suicide.

        As a direct result women who were to be hanged, had to wear canvas underwear
        prior to execution.

    3. laura says:

      first off its OUR, second it’s LOOSE, third it’s ANTIMONY. and yes, they were talking about peeing herself because of fear. God help us if you went to school and it had anything to do with history or medical! lol

      1. Emma says:

        It’s actually ‘Anatomy’ and it is ‘lose’ as ‘loose’ would imply that something is slack!

        1. Emma says:

          I think it’s ridiculous to try and pick someone up for spelling and grammar when you clearly have no clue with regards to the English language. Besides, this is a history site and the lady was merely stating a fact. By the way, what is ANTIMONY? Even my predictive text doesn’t recognise that one!!

        2. Abner says:

          I’m dead, that was too funny. you madame, are awesome.

      2. Jenna C. says:

        > “First off, it’s “our,” second, it’s “loose,” and third it’s “antimony.” Yes, they were talking about her peeing herself because of fear. God help us if you went to school and it had anything to do with history or medicine. LOL”

        Fixed that for you. Also, for the record, Antimony is a chemical element with the symbol Sb. I think you may have confused it with the word Anatomy, which is the branch of science associated with the proper functions of the human body.

        For the record, it may do you some good to learn the cursory use of Google before going about and correction anyone regarding spelling. As far as medical matters are concerned, I don’t think anyone aside from a trained medical professional should dispense their advice or opinion. In case you can’t read between the lines, that includes you, seeing as you can’t tell the difference between a rock and a body part.

    4. Julian says:

      I think “lost CONTROL of her bladder makes more sense. This sounds rather as though she misplaced it.

    5. Janae Martin says:

      Botched. The one word I would use to describe your attempt at spelling. If you are smart enough to be in college, at least spell the name of the class correctly, “ANATOMY”.

  4. Carmen says:

    I’m only 9 and I’m doing he Tudor protect at school so came to find out about he excicutioner but I found nothing. So I hope I find something.

    1. Claire says:

      Which executioner? The one who executed Anne Boleyn? Known as the “Hangman of Calais”, the executioner beheaded Anne Boleyn with his famous “sword of Calais”. Mary of Hungary referred to the executioner being from St Omer, as did The Spanish Chronicle, but the disbursements in Letters and Papers refer to “the executioner of Calais” being paid “100 crs., 23l. 6s. 8D” for “his reward and apparel”. Sir William Kingston, Constable of the Tower of London, also referred to him as “the “executur” of Cales” and The Chronicle of Calais referred to him as “the hangman of Caleis”.
      Although, in his novel “The French Executioner, C C Humphrey named the executioner as Jean Rombaud, this is simply because a “Jean Rombaud” was listed as the executioner in St Omer in the 1530s. We do not know who executed Anne Boleyn.
      The Spanish Chronicle noted that the executioner was ordered “a week before” Anne’s execution, so before a trial had even taken place.

      1. Mommabeans says:

        Executions are NOT an appropriate topic for school projects for a 9 year old. Find something else.

        1. laura says:

          first, your two years too late to tell the child find something else. second, you can’t demand a 9 year old to find something else if that’s the schools project. THIRD, it’s history. you learn about being born and death pretty fast these days. if you can’t help the child with school and learning then keep your mouth shut.

        2. sandi says:

          Laura, FIRST you are ignorant, SECOND you can’t spell and THIRD it’s rude to tell people to shut up. However, you might want to take your own advice.

  5. wayne says:

    What stands out to me in this whole thing, is that the people who were killing these women, claimed to be doing so because of Christianity. That would mean a complete misunderstanding of the scriptures, and murder in the name of Jesus. I think perhaps the blue bloods were already feeling the affects of inbreeding, and the church of the time, was obviously prostituted to whoever was in power. Much like the Catholic Church is today.

    1. PoliticalAnimal says:

      The people killing these women didn’t claim to be doing it because of Christianity. Where did you get that from?

      When someone – male or female – is executed the executioner acts in the name of the law. In Tudor times it was certainly accepted that the law stemmed from the will of the King and that the Kings authority came from God, but to claim that the judges who condemned the women or the executioner who took their lives ever claimed to be doing so ‘because of Christianity’ isn’t supported by the facts. They did so because that was the law.

      The suggestion that the law may have been corrupted to suit the Kings pleasure is an entirely different debate, and there is certainly much evidence to support the assertion that undue pressure was placed on the judiciary to reach a finding that reflected the Kings wishes.

      However, you have confused the motives of the participants.

  6. sydney says:

    I was told that before the execution that the executioner or man doing the deed would ask “will you forgive me?” is this historically correct? If so do you know any sights that go more in depth with it? thanks!

    1. Susan Thomas says:

      Still done in Saudi Arabia at executions today,before prisoners are beheaded with a sword they are asked for forgiveness by the executioner,as as done through history,I think to make the executioner feel less guilt.

  7. Don Chase says:

    During my brief study of the times of Henry I have come to see the era as being like a Mafia reign with Henry as the Tony Soprano. Other top nobles and members of the court are like a Mafia family’s “made men”. Every one of these people is a treacherous cutthroat with the main goal of accumulating as much power and wealth as possible while still keeping their heads. They were morally bankrupt for the most part. If you begin to see them in this way you start to understand what they really were and why they did the things they did. History dwells on religious motives too much. These people only used religion as a cover, an excuse to get what they wanted for purely self serving purposes. This even includes some of the women which explains why some got executed. When you think about it these people were really a lot less complicated than history seems to portray them as being.

  8. Sootie says:

    Frankly I do not see the Tudors as evil or morally bankrupt. They were extremely complex and they lived in a complex time period. Most were deeply religious and sought guidance from the Church as to how to handle all of their responsibilities. The ridiculousness of comparing Henry the VIII to Tony Soprano may be one of the craziest things I have ever heard. Do not try to apply your own religious views from 500 years later and claim to have insight. History does not portray people, it simply relays the facts as they are known. Facts do change when new information comes to light, but it is not a portrayal. Before you comment on something again, go and do some actual research and discover how complex these people’s lives are. Furthermore never compare a ridiculous TV show about the mafia to Henry the VIII.

    The death of Katherine Howard on the surface seems wrong because of her age, but on the other hand she had committed treason. Religion had nothing to do with her execution. She was executed because of her neglect to tell Henry of her precontract to marry. In that day a precontract was as good as marriage. More importantly she had an affair with Thomas Culpeper. What if she had become pregnant with Culpeper’s child? She could have disrupted the line of succession with her bastard. That constitutes treason.

    Lets review now. Henry the VIII is not Tony Soprano and Christianity did not kill Katherine Howard. Katherine Howard’s foolishness killed Katherine Howard. Oh and by the way the I would rather die as Culpeper’s wife was not made up by the writer’ of Showtime’s The Tudors. That story appeared very quickly, but the contemporary accounts do not include, so it is highly doubtful she would have said it. As far as being incontinent before her execution, it is possible, but one again somewhat doubtful. I am sure she would have wanted to conduct herself with dignity and probably did.

    1. Evan says:

      You have obviously never done any research of your own. History is anything but simply “relaying the facts as they are known”. Historians often portray characters and periods differently. You can literally read any two books on any subject and you’ll get two different points of view.

    2. Evan says:

      Furthermore, you seem to have far too much confidence in history. History is very rarely anything other than the opinions of who first recorded it. Case in point: Paul Revere. History has ‘portrayed’ him very differently than what actually happened, simply because he had a more patriotic sounding name.

  9. Emma says:

    Does anyone know why in all the execution speeches, the condemned always extol the virtues of the king? I find this incredible.

    1. Alison Mellor says:

      It was because any murmur of dissent or condemnation of the King would mean retribution for their families. It didn’t always work but generally once the supposed traitor had been executed and lands, goods & wealth seized, the remaining family members would be spared their lives. So in their dying moments they were doing the only thing they could at that point to help their grieving loved ones.

  10. Jeff says:

    Regarding 16th century axes, they were typically not at all sharp as one would regard a cutting instrument of today. Although these axes were somewhat dull, they did the job by sheer force smashing through bone, cartilage, and muscle; this could have contributed to some of the “bunglings” that history records,

  11. Stephanie says:

    Just an FYI on an earlier comment…
    Antimony is a chemical element (Sb). It is a gray metalloid, and actually quite pretty.

  12. R Holroyd says:

    When I was a young man a work mate hit me the back of the neck with his hand. I saw a flash of light and a momentary lost of conciensness ……so Im pretty sure an ax to the neck will kill you and does not need to sever it.

  13. Jacqueline Pearson says:

    Henry had Catherine executed because he wasn’t man enough to keep her in his bed. He should be shame to want to kill a child. He should have stripped her of her tittle as Queen and banished her from court. Last but not least, Cromwell deserved a botched execution. He was the Kings go to boy. All the people he had killed, his time finally came and I was happy about that scene from Tudors

    1. Izzy says:

      I don’t really think Cromwell was more at fault than some of the other people. Cromwell did not physically strike his victims’ down with an axe. Therefore all the people along the way were guilty, Henry VIII, the people who carried out the arrest, the executioner etc. A lot of people were aware of the executions and went along with them and Henry actually had to sign the death warrant. So whilst I don’t think Cromwell was a very nice man, other people deserved a botched execution too and Cromwell’s actions were largely due to the situation he was in. If he was born a farmer, he wouldn’t have arranged to have loads of people killed. I think like many of the people at Henry’s court, Cromwell was under a lot of pressure.

      However this doesn’t absolve any of Cromwell’s actions, he was still morally wrong and should have known better. Therefore I can understand and agree with both points of view.

  14. Misty says:

    It would be great to see a discussion where people are not picking on each other for their thoughts 🙁

    The Tudors show opened the doors to a wealth of information regarding this time period. It is fasinating and exciting to research what was fact or fiction on the show. It seems most to be fact with some added drama to show that those types of things did happen in that era. What fascinates me the most is how disposable everyone was, that seems to be fact. I’m not quite sure I cared for the character of Catherine Howard, how ignorant and giggly they portrayed her to be.

    1. j says:

      Agreed, with all my heart. This has made me think that I’d far rather lurk on this site than offer up any thoughts. Why do people have to be so rude and unfriendly about things that just don’t matter? It’s not against the law to just ignore a question that one thinks is inappropriate, and it doesn’t make one look smart to criticize someone’s spelling or grammar-just rude.

  15. Ollie says:

    Catherine Howard and Ann Boleyne were pawns used by their their uncle, the Duke of Norfolk. They would have had little say in who they married.
    The Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Howard, was a very powerful and ambitious man
    and used his family to gain titles and wealth.
    The two girls were groomed to attract the eye of Henry VIII,
    as was Mary Boleyne, Ann’s sister, who had two children by Henry VIII.
    The Howard family were responsible for the deaths of these very young girls,
    sacrificing them on the alter of their own ambition and greed.

    Re. Mafia link.
    Something similar. The British Royal family originate from another ruthless group:
    Vikings, or pirates, cruel Norsemen who had pillaged and raped all along the Seine.
    Chains placed across the river to stop them getting into Paris.

    The French King Charles (le Simple) gave them land in Normandy to appease them,
    from where 150 years later they carried out an attack on Britain (The Battle of Hastings). England was a conquered country ruled by Normans, then Plantagenets, Tudors (from Wales), Stewart’s (Scotland), William of Orange (Dutch) and Hanoverians (Germans), who are the current Royal Family.

    The Conquerer in 1066, William Duke of Normandy, was a Bastard.
    His mother was a tanner’s daughter, who was his father’s mistress.
    Many of the Royal Family had bastard lines,
    often named Fitzroy (meaning bastard of the King).
    The Beaufort family is from the bastard line of John of Gaunt with his mistress, Kathryn Swynford, and Margaret Beaufort is the grandmother of Henry VIII.

    Many current UK politicians who have attended top public schools such as Eton and Harrow come from Royal Bastard lines, such as
    Prime Minister David Cameron,
    his wife Samantha comes from the bastard line of Charles II, who had no legitimate issue but plenty of illegitimate children by his many mistresses.
    MP Boris Johnson’s ancestor was the mistress of a German Royal.

    Kings originated from powerful ruthless leaders, not from the divine.
    Whoever was the strongest fighter, talker, leader, and whoever killed the opposition.
    (Similar to animals in the wild.)
    They were often inbred, cousin marrying cousin within the Royal Houses of Europe,
    with the disease Heomopheliac often passing from mothers to sons,
    and madness (such as with Henry IV and George III), intermarrying weakening the bloodline.

    So when we look back on the inhuman executions of innocent young women, remember they were unfortunate to be born into powerful families and were often sacrificed by ruthless men in order to climb the ladder of their own ambitions and greed. These so called noblemen were once just pirates and Vikings.


    1. Claire says:

      I haven’t found anything in my research on the Boleyns or Howards to back up the idea that the young women were pawns of their families in the way that you suggest, or that they were groomed to attract the king. What are your sources for that?

      1. Ollie says:

        It is common knowledge that the marriage of Mary Boleyn to William Carey was arranged so that she could become the King’s mistress and children would not be born out of wedlock. Apparently “young Carey was compensated for his – tolerance – by being made a gentleman of the privy chamber”
        ‘Rivals in the Tudor Court’, by Darcey Bonnette
        The role of Thomas Howard in securing Mary Boleyn as the Kings mistress, then Ann Boleyn, and finally Catherine Howard are well documented.
        Thomas Howard was a ruthless, ambitious man and used his nieces to progress his favour with Henry VIII for titles and wealth.


        1. Claire says:

          No, it’s not common knowledge at all, that is entirely fictional. We do not know anything about Henry VIII’s relationship with Mary Boleyn, only that they had a sexual relationship, which might just have been the once. If you consider Bessie Blount, Henry VIII arranged her marriage to Gilbert Tailboys after he had finished with her so I think it is more likely that Henry slept with Mary on her return to England, prior to her marriage to William Carey in February 1520.

          Darcey Bonnette is a novelist, not a historian. Carey was a relative of Henry VIII’s and a close friend. He was already a member of the privy chamber when he married Mary and he received grants like other members of the privy chamber and close friends of the king.

          Please can you provide the sources for Thomas Howard securing Mary Boleyn as the king’s mistress? I have been researching the family in depth for over eight years now full-time and have found absolutely nothing to suggest that and I don’t know a historian who says that or cites evidence for that. These ideas are prevalent in fiction but not in actual historical sources. Also if you can cite sources for him securing Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard too.

          It is important to rely on the historical sources, records from that time. Unfortunately, these women have been romanticised so much and their families maligned over the centuries by fiction, that it is hard to look further than that.

  16. Ollie says:

    I’m afraid I can’t site sources, other than watching many programmes by historians on the BBC and Yesterday channels, and through reading books by Alison Weir and Philippa Gregory.

    The origins of the Normans as Viking Norsemen, pirates and plunderers is historical fact, as is William the Conquerer’s illegitimate parentage.

    I see from your website that you have already covered the subject of Thomas Boleyn ‘pimping’ his daughters, so I will not comment further, other than to say that these men must have been aware of the toxic sexual practices towards young women at the court of Henry VIII, by the King and other members of his inner circle, and to put naive innocent young girls into this mix must have been akin to throwing them to the wolves.

    However much wealth, properties and titles were heaped upon them, this was dependant upon remaining in favour of a mentally unstable and increasingly paranoid King, who would sign warrants to remove their wealth and titles on a whim, imprison them in the Tower and have them executed.

    The ultimate goal was to have power, and by marrying their daughters and nieces to the King, and hopefully produce offspring from this Union, they would then, as part of the Royal family, weild the ultimate power and influence over other Courtiers, such as the Seymours, who put forward their own daughter for this purpose.

    It would appear, in view of the above, the role of these girls was as pawns to catch the eye of the King.


    1. Claire says:

      The sons and daughters of noble families were meant to serve the king and queen, it was an honour to do so.

      “The ultimate goal was to have power, and by marrying their daughters and nieces to the King, and hopefully produce offspring from this Union, they would then, as part of the Royal family, weild the ultimate power and influence over other Courtiers, such as the Seymours, who put forward their own daughter for this purpose.” No, that’s completely untrue. The ultimate goal for a nobleman was to arrange good marriages for his children and you certainly did not expect your children to marry royalty because royalty married royalty. For the king to want to marry his wife’s maid of honour was unprecedented. Kings were expected to marry for diplomatic alliances, not love, and there is no way that Thomas Boleyn or his brother-in-law could have predicted or plotted to have the king marry Anne. We know from the sources that Thomas was not happy about the king’s relationship with Anne, and the fact that the family appear to have distanced themselves from Mary could suggest that they were not happy with her relationship with the king, there is certainly NO evidence at all that they pushed the girls at the king, encouraged the affairs or were even happy about them.

      Re the Duke of Norfolk and Catherine Howard. Again, there is nothing to suggest that the Duke was behind Catherine’s relationship with the king. Catherine joined the household of Anne of Cleves, like other young noblewomen of her standing, and the king became attracted to her.

      Noble families did not throw their children to the wolves, they sought positions at court for their children where their children could do their duty and serve their monarch and his consort, make good marriage matches and have opportunities. To think of them as throwing them to the wolves is relying on fictional portrayals. Anne Boleyn being raised from maid of honour to queen was unprecedented.

      1. Ollie says:

        Obviously Henry VIII had not read the rule book when he met Ann Boleyn!

        1. Claire says:

          Ha! True! I think if Anne had agreed to be his mistress then she would have been just another mistress, but her refusal and her retreat to Hever seemed to make the king even more intent on possessing her and if marriage was the only way then so be it.

  17. Allison M Daniels says:

    I don’t think one can make such a general statement as either “the novels groomed their daughters to attract the king’s attention” or that “nobles certainly did not groom their daughters to attract the king’s attention and paint an accurate picture of the complex dynamics—social, political, financial, and personal—of the many individuals involved. I think it is likely that if Anne Boleyn had agreed to be Henry’s mistress, that’s all it would have been. But Anne was ambitious and intelligent. It would not be a stretch to posit that she saw the potential to increase the king’s regard and prolong his favor by playing hard to get. At what point she saw becoming queen as a possibility would be hard to pinpoint. However, having seen one lady in waiting become queen, of course, grasping courtiers would recognize that it was, indeed possible. They would also certainly have recognized the danger of reaching so high, but then, that is the game many nobles played—and quite often, the losers did forfeit their lives.

    1. Allison M Daniels says:

      Bad idea to type paragraphs on my phone: nobles, not novels*

  18. Anna Boleyn fan no 1 says:

    Don’t lose your head over it guys

  19. Mel D says:

    Don’t lose your head over it guys

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