On this day in 1541, Thomas Culpeper, Gentleman of the Privy Chamber, and Francis Dereham, secretary to Queen Catherine Howard, were executed at Tyburn. They had been found guilty of treason on 1st December at a trial at London’s Guildhall and sentenced to the usual traitor’s death. Although both men petitioned the King to commute their sentence to beheading, only Culpeper was successful; Dereham was hanged, drawn and quartered.

Why were they executed?

In November 1541, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer had been made aware of Queen Catherine Howard’s colourful past, the fact that she had “lived most corruptly and sensually” while in the care of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. While investigating this claim, Cranmer, Wriothesley and Fitzwilliam found that Catherine had had sexual relations with Francis Dereham, a man who was not acting as her secretary, and that they had referred to each other as husband and wife. In her letter of confession to her husband, the King, Catherine wrote:

“finally he [Dereham] lay with me naked, and used me in such a sort as a man doth his wife many and sundry times, but how often I know not, and our company ended almost a year before the Kings Majesty was married to my lady Anne of Cleves.”

During his interrogation, Dereham told of how Thomas Culpeper, a favourite of the King, “had succeeded him in the Queen’s affections” and it was then found that Catherine and Culpeper had enjoyed secret assignations, helped by Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford. Both Catherine and Culpeper denied having a sexual relationship, but Culpeper admitted that “he intended and meant to do ill with the Queen and that in like wise the Queen so minded to do with him”. The couple were, therefore, guilty of treason under the 1534 Treason Act which defined traitors as those who “do maliciously wish, will or desire, by words or writing, or by craft imagine, invent, practise, or attempt any bodily harm to be done or committed to the king’s most royal person, the queen’s, or their heirs apparent”.

Charles Wriothesley, the Tudor Chronicler, recorded the men’s executions:

“Culpeper and Dereham were drawn from the Tower of London to Tyburn, and there Culpeper, after an exhortation made to the people to pray for him, he standing on the ground by the gallows, kneeled down and had his head stricken off; and then Dereham was hanged, membered, bowelled, headed, and quartered [and both] their heads set on London Bridge.”

Catherine Howard and Lady Rochford were executed on 13th February 1542.

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24 thoughts on “RIP Thomas Culpeper and Francis Dereham”
  1. While it was a horrible way to die, for both, I have to wonder exactly how intelligent it was for either of them to be within a mile of Catherine, especially considering Henry was well known to NOT be the most understanding or forgiving, particularly at this point in his life. Culpeper especially, considering he was a royal favorite for some time.

    Dereham, though he was a gentleman pensioner (a rank I still don’t understand) and apparently did not serve a function in court until he came to work for Catherine, should still have had SOME sort of clue of the trouble his past with Catherine could cause, especially since he had to have heard something or other of Henry’s temperament from Norfolk, whom he did serve.


    Finally, a question of name traditions – these days, we refer to Henry’s wives as “Queen Katharine of Aragon,” “Queen Anne Boleyn,” “Queen Jane Seymour,” “Queen Anne (sometimes Anna) of Cleves,” “Queen Catherine Howard,” and “Queen Katherine Parr,” but was that how they would have been referred to in their own time?

    We use their maiden names (or place of origin, as in the cases of Katharine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves) for convenience’s sake, so we don’t get them mixed up, but is this how they would have been named in their own timeframe after marriage to Henry? After all, the tradition these days would be they would probably take their husband’s family name as their own, making them Katharine Tudor, Anne Tudor and Jane Tudor (saving space with the repetition of the names).

    1. I really feel for Dereham as he had the relationship with Catherine long before the King became interested in her, but, his proximity to Catherine while she was queen must have appeared suspicious. What a horrible end.

      They were just know as Queen Catherine, Queen Anne, Queen Jane etc. or “the Queen”. That’s how they’re referred to in the chronicles and other contemporary sources. We add their surnames on to distinguish them from each other when they were all called the same!

  2. i imagine no one was safe near henry ,the clever ones stayed well away from court thats if they were allowed but depite catherines young age and her apparent need for fun and frolic,the two men in question should have not been anywhere near her ,i think she did fall in love with culpepper ,and derenham i dont know ,but still a really horrific death for both of them .

  3. Why is there such a significant space of time between the executions of Culpeper/Dereham and Catherine/Lady Rochford?

    1. Culpeper and Dereham were tried whereas a Bill of Attainder was used against Catherine and Lady Rochford and that needed to go through Parliament. It was introduced into Parliament on 21st January 1542. I think it would have been embarrassing for the King for all the details to come out at a trial. He also had to pass a special law to allow him to execute Lady Rochford, who appeared to have gone insane.

      1. Culpeper’s goods were confiscated days after his arrest, a sign he was for the gallows, yet he was not brought to trial for another two weeks. No chance he was going to be found innocent, then!
        An interesting aspect of the Bill of Attainder, that passed into law in February, is that it retrospectively legalised the executions of Dereham & Culpeper, who had already been dead a couple of months by then.

        1. Just had a look at what I wrote. ‘Legalise’ might be an exaggeration, perhaps ‘lent some credibility to’ might be more appropriate.

  4. Well, it was a bad move getting involved with a woman that was married…to the king. They played with fire and burned. I understand well that if there was feelings involved they cannot be switched off so easily, but they should’ve suppressed it and tried to maintain a professional attitude all the time and they could have lived longer for sure.

    They knew probably well that Henry would be raging if someone tries to take something that is “his” and also what sentence stood on committing treason.
    And that if you fell out of favour there could be people found that would investigate and make sure that there would be evidence found for your “misconduct” – no matter if justified or not. Court could be a vicious place with people in the background just waiting on you to fail, so they could take your place close to the king – the sun around whom the whole world evolved. If you were far from the king then it was like you were living in eternal darkness, the king would attract people like light attracts moths and, but on the other hand side being close to him could be a dangerous place to be, I don’t wanna imagine a full on tantrum or rage by Henry. Poor Court Jester Will Somers could tell us a few stories about this when he was sent to bring Henry bad news.

    1. henry was only happy when things suited him, look at his love of anne boylen 6 years he pestered her with letters, broke from rome, changed the whole country more or less and when they finally married she was dead in three years excuted as a traitor ? rational behaviour no i don’t think i would have wanted to be queen:(

  5. Terrible death for Dereham, it wasn’t the smartest move by either him or Catherine to become reaquainted and be in close proximity to each other. Culpeper on the other hand was luckier in the form of execution he received, but if it was true that he was the Thomas Culpeper that commited a rape and murder, then maybe it was his ‘karma’ that he ended up on the scaffold….

    1. Yes, I was wondering about Culpeper as well. If he did commit rape and murder (as is shown in “The Tudors”; I know that show didn’t always stay with the facts), then I don’t feel very sorry for him at all…..

      1. As well as seeing it on the Tudors, I also read a post on here that Claire did about Culpeper, check it out it’s really good, (as usual!).

        1. Just remember the Tudors were not exactly Historicaaly correct. Although in my readings of Tudor history, Culpeper was not exactly a nice guy. Ye she did commit rape and murder. And probably it was Kharma.

  6. I do feel sorry a lot more for Frances Derham since he had his affair with Catherine before the King even knew her, that is true, but all the same she was seemingly underage and he was forbidden to see her anyway by the Dowager Duchess, so he wasn’t completely in the right anyway, and Culpepper was foolish, he should have known the consequences. All the same, RIP

  7. What was Thomas Culpepper’s final words before he was beheaded? I know he told people to pray for him but I have not been able to find his exact words. Any help would be appreciated.

  8. From my readings it was not Thomas Culpepper who committed rape and murder but his older brother Thomas and due to his love for Thomas his groom the king on his plea let Thomas’ older brother off from imprisonment over the crimes.

  9. Hello everyone. A common thread I have noticed when reading Tudor literature and watching dramatisations is that the mind set of people in and around Court was one of ambition and social climbing, often at any cost. For a people who apparently lived lives revolved around religion they were pretty selfish and ruthless; often prepared to do ill to others in pursuit of their own goals. I can’t imagine that these characters were naive about the potential risks they were taking and the potential consequences of those risks. I do think that their drive to rise as high as possible, egos and pure power-lust would have felt like a drug: modern day coke addicts really. They know the risks but literally can’t seem to stop themselves and certainly don’t intend dying but then how many drug addicts intend killing themselves, how many times have we heard of ‘accidental overdose’ recently?

  10. Sorry, Catherine Howard was not guilty of any of the charges against her. My book ”Men of Power : Court Intrigue in the life of Catherine Howard” – [ISBN 978-1-872882-01-7] published December 2008 – was written to prove that Suffolk, Hertford and Cranmer were behind the King’s Privy Council plot to remove her. My book is not a novel. It is based on painstaking research over ten years.

    The sequel to it is due to be published in the next two months. This book is different. I received medium and spiritual help in finding out the truth of what really happened; but this was not used in ‘Men of Power’, nor was it explained. Now I reveal how I came to understand that I lived the life of Catherine in Tudor times. Those people who were responsible for my death – or could not help then because of fear – have come to me in this life to help reveal the truth. Incarnation is a fact and real. Catherine Howard had twin boys at Syon. See the book when it comes out.

    1. Hi Elisabeth,
      I’ve read your book and very much enjoyed it. What date is your second one due out? I must admit that I am sceptical about mediums/spiritual helps and past lives, it’s just not part of my belief system, but I will read your book.

  11. Moral of the story: Don’t have sex with a woman because you don’t know if some day she might marry an evil king and then he finds out she is not virgin so then you will be brutally executed

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