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

29 thoughts on “Thomas Culpeper”
  1. Claire – You don’t need a * between the g and the t. Get apparanetly cpmes from the Scottish word “Get” which means child (i.e. begotten”. It was bastardedised in the word git,in the middles ages became to be usderstood as “llegitimate” and was especially used in Liverpool and is still used now but in a different way

    I did read somewhere that a Thomas Culpepper had reaped someone but presumed that it was the one were all knew and loved to hate but two of “em”? Well, nothing surprises me these days.

    To my friends I always quote Dorothy Dunnetts saying in one of her books “Never marry a Bishop’s Git” and I have kept to that advice all my life.

    However, on a serious side, I don’t think that Katherine Howard was that clever to oranise anything – He may have been

  2. Contrary to her illustrious cousin before her, Catherine Howard rrally did commit adultery and many times over and I don`t beleve was terribly discreet about it. Just like Anne, she did not deserve a brutal death. But I believe , that she did not do her position any justice either. Henry must have been totally out of his mind to choose someone so young in the first place,but that he also expected her to gain respect from the court was really stretching it.I don`t beieve there was much dignity in Catherine. And from beginning to end did not know how to handle the position she was in, which was to be expected. Didn`t even have the solid upbringing that her cousin had, and bought up with pretty much loose morals. But I think the real criminal here was Henry, to put such a young, naive `teenager`insuch a position of responsibility! What on earth was he thinking of, listening to his so called advisors, who wanted a queen they could totally manipulate and also in turn the King who was besotted with her. And it worked.

  3. I am not going to give anything away, but I am in the States and I saw the first episode of The Tudors last night! It was awesome, fans won’t be dissapointed.

    However, as you said in the above article, I had no idea there were two Thomas Culpepers! But I agree, the man who portrayed him in the show was NOT a very nice man, and that is all I will say.

    When does the show premier in other parts of the world? I would like to discuss it further but don’t want to give anything away!

  4. I’m not sure that there is any solid evidence that Catherine DID commit adultery, although she probably would have if she had not been caught. Yes, she had a colourful past and had had sexual relationships with men like Mannox and Dereham, but she had been betrothed to Dereham and they had been like man and wife. If we take it that she was married to Dereham, because they had consummated their betrothal, then she was guilty of being a bigamist rather than an adulteress. I don’t think we can judge a teenage girl for not telling the King of her past though – would you if the King had made it plain to you that he wanted you? Hmmm…
    I think she was the product of her upbringing and had no clue what was expected of her as Queen. Obviously she should not have had secret assignations with Culpeper but I’m not sure that they ever got the chance to sleep with each other. It sounds like Culpeper was quite a powerful man – attractive, persuasive and perhaps he seduced her, perhaps Catherine just wanted love and attention, I don’t know.
    Yes, Henry was stupid but I think he was trying to recapture his youth, to show himself that he was still virile. A bit of a mid-life crisis I think. Perhaps he thought that a nubile girl would help him with his impotence problems, perhaps he just wanted someone very different from his other wives. I don’t know what Henry was thinking but I don’t believe that Catherine had any choice in the matter but she was stupid to behave as she did. Did she believe that the way she was acting was acceptable because Jane Rochford encouraged it perhaps? It’s hard to figure out what Catherine was thinking.

  5. Considering how cavalier he was in bedding the Queen, I wouldn’t put it past Thomas Culpepper the Younger to have been the one to violate the park keeper’s wife. While Catherine may have consented, there is an element of danger in bedding the Queen. Thomas Culpepper the Younger could have developed the same type of violent streak as his brother, but perhaps was more ruthless with it and calculating. He did try to shift complete blame to Catherine and admitted wanting to do mischeif to her. It’s obvious he wasn’t completely in love with her, as romantics have tried to show.

  6. I don’t think Katherine actually really thought at all – At a very young age she was sent to live with her grandmother who did not seem to have much control on what went on at nights. Her education seems to have been lacking (unlike her coursin Anne) and I think, as a very young and, possibly no that bright girl, she didn’t know how to say “no”.

    After the the Anne of Cleveves “debacle”, the Catholic faction wanted to be on teh up again especially as Henry was regretting some of his earlier actions and the Howards had their little “Rose without Thorns” to play attract an elderly infirm King who was desperately looking for his lost youth.

    Katherine was in the perfect place as the “religious changes were blowing about in Henry’s mind”

    She did admit (afterwards) to relationships with Mannox and Dereham which would have been anough for the pritestant faction to get herout of the way in anycase. Question is – what was Cupepper playing at because he must have known that nothing would have come of the affair (if it happened) – maybe he was the type that once the act had been done, then he would have lost interest. IF, he had survived I can see him as an older man with all the sexual illnesses possible as well as gout, etc. If HVIII was the pyscopath, Thomas Seeymour, “Mr. Slime”, what nickname wold you give to this one?

  7. Perhaps Culpeper had a bit of a God complex in that he had already got away with rape and murder, although I’m not sure how he could think of getting away with cuckolding the King! Perhaps he thought that the King was about to drop dead and that he’d never be found out.

  8. I think the younger Thomas Culpeper, aka Katherine’s Thomas, does have other connections to acts of violence which makes him a possible candidate for the rape story. In early 1541 he and several other men, were arrested for an affray and imprisoned at Southwark. It must have been somewhat serious for the king to have allowed him to have been imprisoned, given the usual favour he bestowed upon Culpeper. For instance, throughout this time Henry was granting him numerous properties and, perhaps most strikingly, a royal pardon was issued for one of Culpeper’s servants who had been sentenced to be hanged for theft. Yet despite harbouring a soft spot for Culpeper, Henry VIII did not offer him a pardon.

    The merchant who named Culpeper as the rapist, and whom you quote, was Richard Hilles. His letter dates to around five months after Culpeper had been executed (I believe the letter is dated to May 1542). Hilles was writing from Germany, where he had fled to practise his radical religious beliefs. Thus we could ask how reliable his claims are. But Hilles was kept well informed of events in England – his contacts were superb – and from this report it certainly appears that Culpeper had a reputation for being a man who had previously committed rape and been offered a royal pardon. And, given his inclination to violence and his somewhat unsavoury contacts, this reputation may have been valid.

  9. I now do have a name for TC but think it unpubishable. However, from Nasim’s comments , others ansd reading about the”gentleman” concerned, my question is why did the King emply him taking into consideration that the younger man must have been an extreme contrast to the obese, foul smelling HVIII

  10. Apparently all of you knew a heck of a lot more about Thomas Culpepper than I did. My jaw dropped to the floor as I watched the show last night. I knew he had to have cajonis to cuckhold the King, but a rapist and a murderer? Wow.
    Poor Katherine.
    I don’t think Culpepper had an ounce of respect for his King. That is why he went after Katherine. He probably never thought he would be caught. Culpepper was with Henry quite a bit. The King was getting old. Young people often underestimate their elders. Although why anyone would underestimate Henry even this late in his game is beyond me. However, If Culpepper did get away with rape and murder right under the King’s nose, why wouldn’t he think that he could get away with an affair with the old man’s beautiful young wife? My gut says that if Henry had died leaving the door open for Culpepper to wed Katherine, it would have never happened. He would have been long gone by then.
    This guy is far creepier than I had thought. The fact that he blamed Katherine for everything always sent chills down my spine. What a sleezeball.
    I would like to think that Katherine never slept with Culpepper…so I will.
    Katherine is a very tragic figure. I see her as a young girl who was searching for someone to love her. She made a stupid mistake meeting with Culpepper, but Jane Rochford who was much older than Katherine reassured her it would be fine. Jeez, I’ll never understand that woman. I’m not a vindictive person but as I see it, if anyone needed beheading it Jane.
    BTW Claire a simple Spoiler Alert should work for those who have not seen the new shows.

  11. I think we should call him `Mr Hara Kiri`!Because what he was doing, or supposed to have done was sheer suicide!!He couldn`t have gained anything or possibly kept it a secret! NOT in Henry`s court, for goodness sake!

  12. Hello Nasim.
    I have read the letter which you refer to, but, being me, because I could never find any official record to back up the allegation I have always treated it with suspicion. Therefore, I read your comment with a great deal of interest. Baldwin Smith says in his book something along the lines of there being some official record to confirm the story, but gives no particulars (sorry to be vague, but I don’t have the book to hand). I wonder if your source was what Baldwin Smith was refering to i.e. Culpepper’s arrest in early 1941? I should be very grateful if you could let me know where you found this source.
    Many thanks.

  13. Jenny,

    I don’t think Henry, in his wildest dreams, expected any man at court, young or old, handsome or ugly, to dare meddle with his wife. The case of Anne Boleyn and her five supposed ‘lovers’ should have made any man at court wary of even flirting with the queen. Adultery was seen as disgraceful and foolish enough; adultery with the queen was akin to signing one’s own death warrant.

    Scandal in one’s personal life could have an effect on their success at Henry’s court. Sir Ralph Sadler married a woman whose first husband disappeared, with both believing he must have died. They proceeded to marry, have children, and Sadler was on the rise at Henry’s court. Then the husband came back and Sadler’s determination to save his own marriage and prosecute the husband seems to have lead to his inability to secure much more for himself at court. Yet despite his inability to gain high political office during Henry’s lifetime, he was still trusted by the monarch and granted various responsibilities. Culpeper’s behaviour may not have been regarded as tasteful by Henry, but if he was a skilful enough courtier and, importantly, a loyal servant, he could still find success and be favoured by the monarch.

  14. I have one Question.As it hard to continue a forum from one day to the next. I have been pouring over portraits of Anne Boleyn,Henry the eight,Percy and Queen Elizabeth. all pics in profiles. and face on. I do not see any of Henry in Elizabeth .But I see a lot of Percy in Elizabeth including a soft hook in the nose. And of course a lot of Anne. Could I dare speculate that Elizabeth is the issue of Percy and Anne and not that of Henry. To bad DNA could not be taken from all three to settle the case of paternal parentage in Elizabeth. Sorry to stray from the subject! 🙂

  15. Hi Louise,

    I made a major slip up earlier. Culpeper’s men were the ones imprisoned and not Culpeper! Culpeper’s men were involved in an affray, on whose orders, if indeed it was premeditated, it remains unclear, though they were subsequently punished for it. Details of this can be found in Volume XVI of the L&P, and also mentioned in Retha Warnicke’s short entry on Culpeper on the Oxford DNB (found under Katherine Howard’s entry).

    Interestingly, Henry VIII had offered a pardon to one of Culpeper’s servants condemned to death for theft, but evidently did not offer a reprieve to the men involved in the fight. The incident though reveals some more information on Culpeper’s men. It seems to have been rather hot-headed crowd. The men were this Thomas Culpeper’s men as opposed to his brother’s, for they are named as ‘servants to Thos. Culpeper, of the Privy Chamber’. Culpeper had joined Henry’s Privy Chamber by around 1537.

    Lacey Baldwin Smith’s study is certainly valuable and a good read, but it doesn’t seem to have been updated since it was first published back in the 1960s. My dusty copy of his book dates to 1961, and I was going to get the new copy that came out last year, but aside from the updated cover, illustrations and new title it doesn’t seem to offer anything different. Has anyone who has read both found any major differences?

  16. Also – just a random thought – but it is worth remembering that Culpeper was probably around ten years older than Katherine. When the pair are depicted in various productions, which is in itself rare, they are frequently depicted as of a similar age – both youthful and reckless. This was certainly the case in ‘Henry VIII’ (2003) staring Emily Blunt, and a young actor played Culpeper in the film, ‘Henry VIII and His Six Wives’ (1972). But if we agree with the argument that Katherine was born around c.1523/4, and Culpeper was born in c.1514, then he was around ten years older than her. He had also been at court for sometime prior to Katherine’s marriage to the King. Though he had entered the Privy Chamber by 1537, he had been at court before then, including during Anne Boleyn’s queenship. So he would have witnessed the downfall of Anne Boleyn and her alleged ‘lovers’. And yet despite his experiences, despite seeing Henry Norris, a member of the Privy Chamber, destroyed owing to his supposed indecent behaviour with a queen consort, he still acted recklessly with Katherine. Had he learnt nothing?!

  17. I think Henry surrounded himself with “dashing” and attractive young men to vicariously relive his own youth. He was supposed to fondly watch them and reminisce when he danced and flirted, etc. But he never imagined that one might actually try to take advantage of that closeness to try to snatch his teenage bride out from under his own nose.

  18. I did know from Antonia Fraser’s book that there were two Thomas Culpeppers, but I strangely had never thought about the fact that the older Thomas could have committed the rape and murder. In any case, this was obviously an ambitious and ruthless family, since Thomas Jr. had the guts to do what he did, whatever the reasoning, and blamed Katherine for everything. But knowing the Howards, I can’t help but think that Katherine was encouraged to bed Thomas by Jane and other family members to get pregnant because of the king’s increasing age and declining health. As for Jane, she is a wild card I just can’t figure out!

  19. Hi
    I did not know that their were 2 Thomas Culpeppers.
    I believe that Thomas Culpepper the 2nd (and the 1st for that matter) were capable of rape.

    Also, I do believe that Catheryn and Culpepper had an affair, or at least some kind of relationship. I came across a letter that was written by Catheryn in the spring of 1541. It states how she misses him terribly and cannot wait for his return. It ends with her saying “Yours as long as life endures, Catheryn”
    It is apparently the original wording of Catheryn and shows all of the grammical errors.

    Poor Catheryn, so young, and definitly a tragic end.

  20. Sylvia,

    I think your name for the gentleman is quite polite in comparison to the one that I had in mind. I do have to admit that I, who love delving into the gosspipy stuff, did not know about the two Culpepers either.

    And Nazim, from what you say, it seems that HVIII was not that good at choosing the people who served him – If they smiled and agreed, it seems they were okay – If not – most of the time “Off with their heads”

  21. I cannot believe how stupid Katherine was and how badly the obnoxious Howards treated her! My view of Culpepper is that of Antonia Fraser and David Loades – he was an utter creep and how poor Katherine was betrayed by all of her family, lovers and retinue, but she needed much more sense to survive at Henry’s court.

  22. I always wondered- was Thomas Culpepper a relation to Katherine? Katherine’s mother was Joycle Culpepper and had a brother named Thomas… so it could be possible that Katherine did know her Thomas Culpepper prior to marrying the king.

    Thomas must have know full well what he was doing to call Katherine his “sweet little fool”- poor Kitty being a pawn in so many men’s games…

  23. Sheena,

    I have looked all over the internet to find out the background of Thomas Culpeper and all it says that he was a distant relative of the Howard family but yes it is true that Katherine’s mother was a certain Joyce Culpeper. I always thought before that when they addressed each othe ras “cousin” it was a term of endearment used in those times – but it could have been true in the physical sense.

    BTW there is a Culpepper socity and I think not dedicated to this individual but the family in general which seems to go back to time immemorable such as the Butler Society which has its factions in almost every country in the world

  24. how about a comment or an article on the most beloved of Tudor composers, Thomas Tallis? He remained a Catholic all throughout and would not convert. Thomas was awesone and his polyphony is still amazing (Spem In Alium for 40 voices!!!)

  25. Now come on ladies, really? Given the chance you would pass up the chance to have a hot romance with Culpeper? I think I’d have to do it just so I could stand big ol fat nasty, stinky Henry. You know he’s still doing it on the side. I know, I know what’s gonna happen if I get caught, but think about it this way. The life expectancy back then is only what, 38, maybe 40 if your lucky? Most women are expected to have lots of babies. The mortality rate of mom and baby is about 50%. So if that was me back then and I was lookin at a life with big ol portly mean stinky Henry, you bet your Booty I’m gonna be havin some fun while I’m there. Just like he is. If he takes my head off for it, well then I know that I’ve had just as good of a time as him. Probably better.

  26. First off, all of you that are basing your Opinions on The Trashy, Historically Inaccurate Script of a Rather Lame Tele show & Solely on the Writings of My cousins Distractors.
    Y’all really need to Do some Actual research before making such irresponsible pronouncements on either of their characters.

    Just the same as today, False accusations are made to impune someones Reputation to cause them to fall from favor & or manufacture false evidence to have them wrongly charged & imprisoned. And you’ll notice, that the Majority of what is known about the Culpeper Brothers are whats been written by their detractors, just the same as Another Cousin of mine, Sir Richard Greynvile.

    Do y’all know what a Thumb Screw, The Rack, The Boot is? When one is being Torchered, which Sir Thomas was, one will say & do what ever those that are torchering you wish you to confess to. Especially if those torcherers State that Mercy will be given if one will just confess. Which is exactly what happened to Sir Thomas Culpeper, Gentleman of the Privy Chamber.

    All royal courts are Vipers Nests! In order to survive & let alone catch the eye of a Royal to become a Favorite, have Patents awarded, Lands Granted, etc., one has to do a lot of things that by todays standards can be seen as immoral, as well as amoral.
    But, was considered no more than standard practice for the day.

  27. Good on ya Bret, your correct. I think the one thing we can be sure of is that those who were in control and the families that sat on the throne and had the money controlled everything. Oh my gosh, almost nothing has changed. I’ll bet ya that most people don’t even realize that one of the reasons television was invented was to distract people from the war. I think it’s still working.

    some say that it was the older tghomas that raped the park keepers wife…in wither case it was a terrible thing to do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *