The Executions of Catherine Howard and Lady Rochford: An Eye Witness Account

Posted By on February 13, 2013

On 15th February 1542, Otwell Johnson, a London merchant who David Loades describes as “the clothier and victualler whose customers had included many members of the queen’s household”, wrote to his brother regarding the executions of the Queen and Lady Rochford on 13th February. His is the only eye witness account we have and here is what he said:

“From Calleis I have harde nothing as yet of your sute to my Lord Gray: and for news from hens, know ye, that even according to my writing on Sonday last, I se the Quene and the Lady Retcheford suffer within the Tower, the day following, whos sowles (I doubt not) be with God, for thay made the moost godly and christyan’s end, that ever was hard tell of (I thinke) sins the worlds creation ; uttering thayer lively faeth in the blode of Christe onely, and with goodly words and stedfast countenances thay desyred all christen people to take regard unto thayer worthy and just punnishment with death for thayer offences, and agenst God hainously from thayer youth upward, in breaking all his commandements, and also agenst the King’s royall Majesty very daungeriously: wherfor thay being justly condempned (as thay sayed) by the Lawes of the Realme and Parlement, to dye, required the people (I say) to take example at them, for amendement of thayer ungodly lyves, and gladdly to obey the King in all things, for whos preservation thay did hartely pray; and willed all people so to do: commending thayer sowles to God, and emestly calling for marcy upon him: whom I besieche to geve us grace, with suche faeth, hope, and charite at our departing owt of this miserable world, to come to the fruytion of his god-hed in joy everlasting. Amen.

Your loving brother

OTWELL JOHNSON.”

Notice that the eye witness account makes no mention of Catherine saying “I die a Queen, but I would rather have died the wife of Culpeper” or of Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, confessing to giving false testimony about her husband George Boleyn committing incest with his sister, Anne Boleyn. Both women died with courage and dignity, and they deserve our respect. If you believe that Jane’s execution was ‘karma’, then do read the third article in the list below. I hope it gives you reason to reassess that idea.

Catherine Howard and Lady Rochford were laid to rest in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, Tower of London, and their memorial tiles lie just beneath the altar table.

You can find out more about what Catherine’s fall in my article The Fall of Catherine Howard. The following articles will also be of interest:

Sources

  • Original letters, illustrative of English history: Volume II, compiled by Henry Ellis, Keeper of the Manuscripts in the British Museum, 1825, p128
  • Catherine Howard; The Adulterous Wife of Henry VIII, David Loades, 2012, Kindle edition

Photo from Season 4 of The Tudors.

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