The Ghost of Katherine Howard by Serena Barton

I’ve just managed to watch The Tudors Season 4 Episode 1 online -yay! – and I’m not going to spoil it by telling you what happens, but Mr Culpeper is not a very nice character, and that’s putting it rather mildly.

Those who don’t know anything about Thomas Culpeper will be wondering if he really was such a g*t, such a monster, but we actually don’t know for sure. The problem lies in the fact that there were two Thomas Culpepers!

A Tale of Two Brothers

“Two Thomas Culpepers!”, I hear you cry, yes, two Thomas Culpepers!

We have to remember that there was a high rate of infant mortality in Tudor times and so it was fairly common for families to give sons the same name in the hope that at least one of them would survive childhood to carry on the traditional family name. Hence, we have two brothers: Thomas Culpeper the elder and Thomas Culpeper junior. Both men went to court where the elder brother became one of Cromwell’s servants and the younger brother became a favourite of Henry VIII and a member of the King’s Privy Chamber, before being executed in 1541 for treason.

Here is how Lacey Baldwin Smith, in his book “Catherine Howard”, describes the Culpeper brothers:-

“The Culpeper brothers were a passionate, swashbuckling, grasping pair, and the records are filled with their efforts to procure monastic lands, sinecures at court and pensions from the crown. The elder brother was on one occasion actually involved in a knife fight over a question of disputed land claims. As for Thomas Culpeper junior,he seems to have been an elegant young gentleman with a wayward air and considerable sex appeal…he found easy victory with the ladies, for Lady Lisle sent him a coy and touching note, enclosing two bracelets of her colours and saying that “they are the first that ever I sent to any man””.

But Baldwin-Smith is quick to point out that the “picture of Culpeper [junior] in the guise of an Arthurian hero” is wrecked by a scandal written about by a London merchant at the time of Culpeper’s arrest and execution in December 1541. This merchant wrote to a friend in Germany that Culpeper two years previously:-

“had violated the wife of a certain park-keeper in a woody thicket, while, horrid to relate! three or four of his most profligate attendants were holding her at his bidding. For this act of wickedness he was, notwithstanding, pardoned by the King, after he had been delivered into custody by the villagers on account of his crime, and likewise a murder which he had committed in his resistance to them, when they first endeavoured to apprehend him.”

This letter is quoted in Lacey Baldwin Smith’s book but comes from Original Letters, I, 108,pp.226-7 (Original Letters relative to the English Reformation, 2 volumes,edit. H.Robinson, Parker Society,Cambridge, 1846-7) so is an historical source, but can we be sure that the merchant was writing about the right Thomas Culpeper? He obviously thought he was writing about Thomas Culpeper junior, the one who had been arrested and executed for treason, but could the rape and murder committed two years previously actually been committed by Thomas Culpeper the elder? The general consensus is that the rape and murder were committed by the younger Culpeper, but the fact that the eldest brother had a history of violence (the knife fight) does put a question mark over this scandal.

Whatever his past, he came to a rather sticky end – see my post “The Executions of Catherine Howard, Jane Boleyn, Francis Dereham and Thomas Culpeper”.

What People Say (or said) About Thomas Culpeper

“an elegant young gentleman with a wayward air and considerable sex appeal.” Lacey Baldwin Smith in “Catherine Howard”

“he constantly endeavoured to shift the blame to Catherine, hinting that there were other gentleman besides himself involved…Worse still, instead of pining away as a result of unrequited passion for Catherine after her marriage to the King, he seems to have been happily sharing another lady’s bed.” Lacey Baldwin Smith in “Catherine Howard”

“He was a handsome, delinquent boy and a favourite of men and women alike…he had a queue of female admirers.But with Catherine, it seems, it was different. She was his female equivalent and there was an instant, powerful attraction between them.” David Starkey in “Six Wives”

“He stressed that Catherine had taken the initiative,” David Starkey in “Six Wives”

“Here was the kind of young man all too easily thrown up by the Tudor Court: ambitious, ruthlessly using his personal attractions to further his career…Culpepper was in his late twenties; his charm was an important part of his armoury. It was however the charm of Don Giovanni rather than that of Sir Lancelot. ” Antonia Fraser in “The Six Wives of Henry VIII”

“When Queen Katherine started to show Thomas Culpepper ‘great favours’…her cavalier both took the profits and looked to the future — his future.” Antonia Fraser in “The Six Wives of Henry VIII”

“An ambitious womanizer with a ruthless and unpleasant streak in his personality. His intention seems to have been to establish a hold over the Queen, with a view to marrying her when Henry’s deteriorating health eventually carried him off.” David Loades in “The Six Wives of Henry VIII”

“Little sweet fool” Catherine Howard (quoted on p157 Lacey Baldwin Smith’s book)


P.S. 11″x11″ reproductionsof Serena Barton’s portrait “The Ghost of Katherine Howard” and other Six Wives portraits are available at

P.P.S. Not sure how to handle discussions about The Tudors Season 4 in comments – perhaps it would be best to put “Spoiler Alert” at the start fo your comment or discuss it in the forum, what do you think? Don’t want to upset people who haven’t seen it!

Related Post