On this day in history, 10th December 1541, Thomas Culpeper and Francis Dereham were executed for their part in the fall of Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII.

In his Chronicle, Charles Wriothesley writes:-

“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.” Wriothesley, Chronicle, I, p. 131

You’ve got to feel sorry for Dereham, haven’t you? His only crime was to have had a past relationship with Catherine, long before Henry VIII came on the scene, yet it was he who suffered the horrific traitor’s death – poor man!

You can read more about Thomas Culpeper in my article “Thomas Culpeper” and there is more information on Dereham, Culpeper and Catherine Howard in The Fall of Catherine Howard and The Executions of Catherine Howard, Jane Boleyn, Francis Dereham and Thomas Culpeper.

There is a clip of the execution scene from Season 4 of the Tudors at YouTube – click here – but it’s not for the faint hearted!

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17 thoughts on “The End of Culpeper and Dereham”
  1. I never understood why Francis Dereham had to suffer the traitor’s death. How could he have known that Catherine Howard was to be married to the King in the future? Neither of them could have known that at the time they were involved. If either of the two of them, Dereham and Culpeper, Culpeper is the one who I would think would suffer a traitor’s execution. Not that I’m condoning it! But he had a relationship with Catherine after she was married to the King. This just never made any sense to me. I feel so terribly for all four of them that were executed. Even Jane, Lady Rochford, who some say deserved it for her part in helping to bring down the Boleyns. Yes, what she did was wrong, but I think she is also a very misunderstood figure in Tudor history. I’m sure she thought she had good reasons for the things that she did. I do have a quick question though. In the show, they show Catherine upon arriving to the Tower seeing the heads of Culpeper and Dereham. I know that they placed the heads on London Bridge, so is it even possible that she saw them? It seems an awfully gruesome thing for her to have witnessed.

    1. Hi Trish,
      I agree with you, I don’t think that Dereham did anything wrong, but then if he and Catherine had consummated their betrothal it would mean that he was her true husband and that Catherine had committed bigamy. I think Henry wanted him punished for “deflowering” his bride before he could.
      Lacey Baldwin Smith, in his biography of Catherine, writes that the flotilla that took Catherine to the Tower on the 10th February 1542 would have had to pass under the rotting heads of Culpeper and Dereham impaled on London Bridge, if there was anything left of them, so Catherine Howard could well have seen them.

    2. Francis Dereham was found guilty because he admitted it was his intention to entice Katherine Howard to sleeping with him. He had gone to Pontefract with the intention of following Katherine Howard, even though he knew that she was now Queen.
      (The term to follow means admirer or lover in this context)

      He had been promised to Katherine since the age of 15 and had sexual relations with her, which would by the law of the day have meant that they were pre contracted. In the 16th century if the couple had made vows to each other they did not even need a priest to be married. They could have a blessing or even renew the vow before a cross or in a church and they would be married. A priest and two whitnesses could then, as they can now ensure that a marriage was legal and that was all they needed for the law to recognise them. To marry before God, two people have to make vows to each other, the couple marry each other; the priest is there only to facilitate the wedding. In the 16th century, a couple could be considered married if they made vows before God and were sincere. The priest acted as witness if the validty of the contract was later in doubt. The only thing that would stop such a contract being valid was if the parents of the couple challenged it and no witness could be found to give credance to the claim. Katherine was a noble woman, so her uncle and grand-father may have had other ideas about her claims to be the wife of Dereham. Because no formal contract could be verified, she was considered free to marry the King, unless she swore before a bishop that Dereham and she were indeed man and wife. It is clear by her later testimony that she did not consider her promise to Francis Dereham a proper contract. That Dereham believed it to be a marriage, however, showed that he wanted the relationship to continue and was prepared to bribe his way into Katherine’s service in order to ensure that it did.

      Katherine was afraid of what may happen to her had she admitted that their relationship was a pre-contract, but in fact it would have saved them both. Katherine had not wanted her relationship with Dereham to commence and in fact, it seems that she had outgrown him. He had been in Ireland for a couple of years and Katherine had moved on to bigger and better things. She was content with her life with the king and Culpepper and truly replaced Dereham.

      So, did he start a new relationship and did he deserve to die? If he was pre-contracted he was considered her husband and Katherine’s marriage to Henry would be invalid for the same reason as his marriage to Anne of Cleves and he had claimed his marriages to Katherine of Aragon and then at the end even to Anne Boleyn were invalid, previous relations with relatives.

      There is one problem with the pre contract argument, however in the case of Katherine Howard, Francis Dereham and the King; if Katherine married the king knowing that she had this relationship with Dereham and knowing how he saw the contract; she was honour bound to say something. By keeping silent, she put the future of any children that her and Henry may have had at risk.

      Who else knew of the relationship? The Duchess claimed she never knew much about them, but I do not believe her. Joan Bulmer, yes, she knew everything and told more than one person, including Jane Rochford. Other members of the household knew and it soon became common knowledge amongst the servants of the Queen and other members of the court. Then there is this John Lassells and his sister; the people who brought the affair to the notice of Cramner who wrote the truth down in his letter to the king. Katherine admitted the relationship and so did Derehem; so it was not a secret; and this could have been dangerous in itself, as again it placed the future children of Katherine and Henry in danger.

      But why not just divorce Katherine and humiliate Dereham and her?

      Well, there is the testimony that he had been succeeded by Culpepper and that was after Katherine’s marriage to the King. Katherine and Culpepper had an active and long sexual relationship, which was treasonable; so they were guilty and deserved the death penalty.

      But did Dereham? He boasted of the way that he had known the queen, his behaviour was shocking and his treatment of the Queen when she would not have him at Pontefract was also shameful, but does it indicate that their relationship had begun again?

      Francis Dereham denied that he had slept with the Queen. He was tortured and he still refused to admit to a new relationship with Katherine. However, Katherine had foolishly allowed him to become her secretary and her usher, leading many to suspect that the relationship did continue. This did not constitute any form of proof.

      There is, in fact only one piece of very slim evidence that may have condemned Dereham. He admitted that had the King died, he would have married Katherine Howard. It was treason to talk about the king’s death in this manner. It was called imagining the king;s death. He saw himself taking the kings place as Katherine’s husband and that led to an intent to commit treason or presumptive treason.

      The law stated only one penalty for treason: death for the male by being hung, drawn and quartered (I do not need to describe this terrible punishment), and for the woman; to be burnt alive. Any other form of death was at the discretion of the king who could commute the sentence to mere beheading. It was common practice for nobles and royal members of society to have the full sentence commuted. Royal servants also sometimes were given this as an act of personal mercy.

      Culpepper had asked for mercy and it was granted as he was both a cousin of the Queen and a long serving royal servant and Henry was fond of him.

      Dereham was not well liked or known to the king and he had also sullied his bride before Henry met her. In the kings eyes this was the worse crime and he had no inclination or desire to commute Dereham’s punishment. And remember Henry did not have the benefit of hindsight; he believed that Dereham had slept with the Queen and when he changed his plea to guilty, this seemed to confirm it. So, unfortunate or not, Francis Dereham was victim to the full harshness of the law.

      There is one other circumstantial piece of evidence that I wish to raise. In Pontefract Castle and at Hull, testimony was also given that Dereham was also entertained by Katherine in her rooms and they were not simply talking. This was given by Katherine Tinsley. It is often overlooked, but it may have been the evidence that condemned him. If the rumours are more than gossip, then he too got what he deserved. If not, then he was merely the victim of the harsh laws of his day.

      Could Katherine Howard have been pardoned?

      Had Katherine said that she and Francis Dereham were promised and pre-contracted and he swore to the same thing then it is possible that the marriage to Henry was bigamous and so she could not have committed adultery. It seems that this was what Cramner was trying to achieve at first. It was a full 12 days before the evidence of her relationship with Thomas Culpepper came to light, and it was only this that changed things. Once the council gained this knowledge, for some reason they were determind to go the whole way and have all parties declared guilty and executed. There is no reason why Cramner could not have insisted that a pre contract be proven and sworn to and the whole messy affair desolved quietly.

      But with a distraught King, hardly willing or able to listen to reason and a hysterical and terrified young dizzy girl-Queen, not knowing that the pre contract would save her; the council tried to do what they saw as the right thing. They did what they saw as their duty; they protected and assisted the King and Henry has been seen as the innocent victim ever since.

      No-one was willing to take responsibility for ending a marriage with yet another divorce and no-one wanted to believe that Henry had been simply made a fool off. No, they had to go as far as they could to discredit the Queen and all parties and to prove adultery. Without absolute proof all they could show was a presumption to commit treason and changed the law to enable the death penalty to follow.

      Katherine and Culpepper were guilty of treason, I have no doubt of that, but was Dereham or was he simply gulity of shouting off his big mouth a little too loudly?

  2. I think Henry was so devastated that his ‘rose without a thorn’ was not as pure as he thought, that he was furious at anyone who might have deflowered her, including Dereham. And Dereham wasn’t of the nobility so….I do think Catherine would have seen those awful heads as she went to the Tower–she must have been terrified and saddened, too. Hers is a sad story I think.

  3. Dereham actually blackmailed Catherine into giving him a position in her household (although to be fair, several others of the Lambeth household also did this eg Joan Bulmer). If Dereham had not turned up and blackmailed Catherine then there may have been a chance he would have escaped with his life.

    However, since he also had taken part in acts of piracy, if he had been caught then he would have been hanged.

    I think Dereham was one of life’s chancers, someone who obviously liked to live on the wild side. Perhaps that was what Catherine initially found attractive about him? Culpepper was spared the full traitor’s death by the way, due to the fact he was a gentleman although it is interesting that both were executed at Tyburn rather than the more gentrified Tower Hill. Henry was certainly after his pound of flesh!

  4. I, too, share Trish’s question about why Dereham was condemned to a traitor’s death and Culpeper didn’t. I think both these men were acting very recklessly. I bet that if Dereham hadn’t showed up in court he would have saved his own life. And Culpeper, didn’t he learn anything from Anne Boleyn’s story? The same applies to Catherine. They knew the King could punish them harshly, but proceeded nevertheless with the things they had in mind.

  5. Culpepper, Dereham and Kathryn Howard were all in the wrong, yet punishing Dereham so severely shows just how upset Henry was at being tricked. And I can’t even watch that entire Tudors scene; it’s waaay too gruesome for my taste.

    1. Henry Manox was thrown out by the Duchess when she realised that he had been making advances and sexual misconduct with Katherine. He wrote a letter that gave poor Katherine away and she was beaten by the Duchess. He was then dismissed. I am not sure what he did after this, but at the time of the trial he was questioned at Lambeth and he was even brought to London to give evidence. However, he managed to show that nothing happened beyond fonfling and touching and that the affair had ended several years ago as she had met Dereham instead. No further action was taken against him and he was released. After that he vanished.

  6. Ayanaka has a good question – I seem to recall reading something where Mannox was actually boasting that Kathryn promised him her maidenhead.

    Kathryn, obviously, did not have the most discerning taste in friends or potential lovers!

    Henry should have spared Kathryn, but made her live with Dereham as her husband, with all of the drop in social and financial circumstance, and executed the Duke of Norfolk for not checking into Kathryn’s background a lot more closely. As for Culpeper, he would have ended up married to Lady Rochford, (talk about 2 people who deserved one another!) AND stripped of all titles and wealth.

    I’m sure the coffers of the Howard family would have swelled the royal fortunes fairly well.

  7. Dereham and Culpepper were indeed executed on this day in history but as Anyanka has pointed out what an earth did happen to Mannox. Where was he and what was he doing around this time !? Nobody knows the answer to that question I am afraid not even I. He just seemed to go off the scene by that time. The last we hear of Mannox is when Catherine or should I say “Kateryn” as that is how she used to like spelling her name was last seen and heard of during the times she spent a Horsham as that is where she was to meet him as he taught her how to dance aswell as did the same likewise with the others I am presuming being a music master. He may have even taught some how to sing aswell as play and instrument too but as far as I know Catherine was only a dancer she never ever earned the qualities or got as far as doing anything else unlike her elder cousin Anne who was all of the three things that I mentioned above.

    If Mannox had of been on the scene by then I am pretty sure he would of suffered the same fate as Dereham and Culpepper and likewise later on with Catherine and Mistress Parker. (Dowager Rochford) if that had been the case. Though he must of come over to Hampton court with Catherine and Dereham must he not have as the household moved so he could continue on with the Music teachings. I had heard that according to one source he was indeed too interrogated but released butt his is all that I know or could find. I do not know how true this is though or what evidence there is to support this. I mean if perceived to be true then his interrogators could not have found enough evidence on him to convict him and if the story is percieved to be false then I do not know where the information comes from and where the person had found such information to back this up. I can only guess from the national archives.

    It was gruesome never the less especially what happened to Dereham but that was the times but I could never understand why they were both executed at Tyburn and why not Dereham at Tyburn as he was a lowly gent and Culpepper at Tower Hill as would of been more beffiting. Well to answer my own question I would have to say that even though Culpepper was more higher up though not of rank and a favourite of the King well more of a favourite in comparison to Dereham as Culppeper as we know was in the kings service for a long time and he had virtually been brought up at court unlike Dereham after him so that I am guessing is the answer as he was lowly too like Dereham just not as low.

  8. Henry Manox was sacked as Catherine’s music teacher when the Dowager Duchess found out they spent their time canoodling, rather than seriously practising music!

    Manox and Catherine were not lovers in the full sense of the word and Manox kept his nose clean by steering clear of her in later life. That’s why he escaped with his life.

    One has to wonder at Catherine’s propensity for attracting rather unsavoury characters – perhaps they were too keen to exploit her vulnerability?

  9. Mannox was arrested and questioned, but he was released because there was no evidence or reason to execute him. He had never bedded Catherine, so he could not suffer the same fate as Dereham.

    I pity Catherine a great deal. I have heard Retha Warnicke’s theory that her relationship with Culpepper was not nearly as romantic as the Victorians made it out to be. It is likely he was blackmailing her and using her, which given his history of rape and murder, makes a great deal of sense.

  10. I always wondered what happned to Mannox from the very beginning which is why I replied when Anyanka asked as she did not know and neither did claire so I took the time to do the research and find out but thankyou for your kind responses Lady Kateryn and Rachel.

    This is a question for Lady Kateryn so you think that Catherine or should I say *Kateryn* as this is how she liked to spell her name attracted what could be called as unsavoury do you ?! Mhmm…I wonder why. !? Well I know you could say the King upon marriage to him had been unsavoury due to his age but we all know when Henry was young he was quite handsome and athletic aswell as vigourous despite his bad ways in which he was set once upon a time beleive it or not. As for Mannox well I had word that he was a *Peadophile* considering the age Catherine had been to him. Dereham on the other hand seemed quite the opposite as he had been round about catherines age and they had both been lovers and oftem adressed eachother on certain occaisions as *Husband and wife* as for Culpepper last but not least he was apparently a rapist according to records or to what records show us so he could be considered as unsavoury just the same as Mannox and Henry but just in different ways. The only one who you could say had been the most savoury out of them all was Dereham. I think like you said *Lady Kateryn* I think you are right it was probably down to her vulnerability that things like this procurred but do not forget at the same time we cannot all but help who we attract can we !? so…I would say it was a combination of both things. People…well some should I say probably knew or could sense that she was vulnerable and then they as a result played upon it trying to take advantage as and when they could and they might of just known that they could get away with doing so too. Well especially if she was or what appeared to be considered as attractive aswell as a nice person people would have played upon that even more so and last but not least not forgetting her age as she was very young not forgetting but not only did Catherine attract to people of what could be called a certain kind they also attracted to her too as they say it takes two to tango. I would myself just simply put all this down to the fact that she could not help who she attracted or was attracted too as she would not of known what they had been like upon first meeting anyway and the same visa versa the only one whom she may have had any inkling of might have been the king but as for the others I would of highly doubted that she did and it makes me wonder did she know about about *Culpeppers* past at all and did anyone tell her or could he have told himself in confidence during any of their secret meetings !? Who really knows.As far as her relationship with Culpepper goes as far as I know well asfar as to what records show their whole affair was a *Platonic* one. So if true nothing really happened there between them but who knows what happened unless it is written down infront of our eyes in black and white we will not know the whole truth behind the whole Catherine and Culpepper affair none of us will ever know we can only make guesses to where there is no information or make a guess to where the information does not exist or where it existed but is now destroyed or even lost. Even as far as Catherine goes there is not much information out there on her apart from what we already know even her birthdate is not even known and the same applys to her relatives and with some of them even less is known depending on their importance that is.

  11. Cathrine Howard was introduced to sexual frolics by her
    music teacher, Henry Maddox. This sexual predator took his chances
    with a Catherine aged 12, but was dismissed after he was found out.
    Catherine’s iniciation to sexual intimacies was followed two years
    later by a full sexual relationship with Francis Dereham. This also
    finished two years later, when she was sento to the court of Henry
    VIII. Thomas Culpepper was ambitious and charming, he was also
    known to be a rapist and an opportunist. He knew how to seduce
    silly Catherine, and both ignored the risks of their affair.
    Catherine was a scatter brain nympho that made cuckolded Henry the
    laughing stock of his court

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