Mary Howard’s Notebook of Poetry

I’ve never discussed this topic with you but have been wanting to write and article about it for the longest time.

Started as a blank notebook by Mary Howard, the Devonshire Manuscript is an anthology of courtly love poems made by members of Henry VIII’s court and Anne Boleyn’s inner circle.

Mary Fitzroy’s close companions Lady Margaret Douglas, daughter of Margaret Tudor and niece of Henry VIII, and Mary Shelton, another cousin of Anne Boleyn, were actively involved in the manuscript’s making. Male courtiers, including Lord Thomas Howard and Henry Howard, Earl of SurreyHowar, contributed to it too.

This volume has been described as ‘the richest surviving record of early Tudor poetry and of the literary activities of 16th-century women’. It also provides a unique insight into the precarious position of Renaissance women in, or close to, power.

The Devonshire Manuscript
Click Image to See Book pages

Katherine Howard: The End of Her Story


Most are drawn into the story of Katherine Howard because of her age and supposed naivety. She was the youngest of Henry’s wives who made the aging King feel young again. Unfortunately, Katherine had a history with older men that Henry was not aware of when he married his “rose without a thorn.”

There were others involved that were aware of Katherine’s past and did not inform Henry before their marriage. Today we look at those who knew and those who lost their heads…and then some. This is the end of their story.

Katherine Howard

Edward Hall described the events around Katherine Howard at the end of 1541 until her death in February 1542. He describes how at the time Queen Katherine Howard was accused of “dissolute living, before her marriage, with Francis Dereham.” He also states it was common knowledge to many close to the King.

*The main quotes in this article are taken from Hall’s Chronicles, unless otherwise noted.

And since her marriage, she was vehemently suspected with Thomas Culpeper, which was brought to her chamber at Lincoln, in August last, in the progress time, by the Lady of Rochford, and were there together alone from eleven o’clock at night, til four o’clock in the morning, and to him she gave a chain and a rich cap. Upon this the king removed to London and she was sent to Sion, and there kept close, but yet served as Queen.

Culpeper and Dereham

While living with the dowager Duchess of Norfolk, Agnes Tilney, Katherine and Francis Dereham were known to address one another as husband and wife. Dereham’s rival, Henry Manox was still in the dowager Duchess’s household and grew jealous and furious of the relationship between Katherine and Dereham, and sent an anonymous note to the dowager Duchess informing her of their relationship. After reading the note the dowager Duchess caught the lovebirds together and was furious. Dereham departed shortly after to Ireland with an understanding that he would wed Katherine when he returned to England.  Little did he know that by then everything would have changed.


While Francis was in Ireland Katherine Howard moved closer to court staying at her uncle’s house (Duke of Norfolk). This is when she met Thomas Culpeper. Thomas was a gentleman of the King’s privy chamber and he was also a distant cousin to Katherine’s through her Mother, Joyce/Jocasta Culpeper. His position in court was considered very important since it allowed him personal access to the king. Katherine fell deeply in love with Thomas.

Katherine Howard confessed: “Francis Dereham by many persuasions procured me to his vicious purpose and obtained first to lie upon my bed with his doublet and hose and after within the bed and finally he lay with me naked and used me in such sort as a man doth his wife many and sundry times but how often I know not.

And for the offense confessed by Culpeper and Dereham, they were put to death at Tyburn, the tenth day of December (1541).

Thomas Wriothesley writes in his chronicle that, “Culpeper and Dereham were drawn from the Tower of London to Tyburn, and there Culpeper, after 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. Culpeper’s body was buried at St. Pulchers Church by Newgate, their heads set on London Bridge.”


Arraignment of Others Close to the Queen

And the twenty and two day of the same month (22 December), were arraigned at Westminster the Lord William Howard and his wife, which Lord William was uncle to the queen, Katherine Tilney which was of council of her having to do with Dereham, Elizabeth Tilney  (Katherine’s grandmother), Joan Bulmer, Alice (Wilkes) Restwold, the queen’s women, and Edward Waldegrave and William Ashby, and William Damport gentlemen and servants to the old Duchess of Norfolk, and Margaret Bennet a butter wife, all indicted of misprison, for counselling the evil demeanor of the queen, to the slander of the king, and his succession: all they confessed it and had judgement to perpetual prison, and to lose their goods, and the profit of their lands during their lives: howbeit shortly after, diverse of them were delivered by the King’s pardon.

Definition of “misprison”: It is committed by someone who knows a treason is being or is about to be committed but does not report it to a proper authority.


William Ashby was a servant of the dowager Duchess of Norfolk, Agnes Tilney. He revealed how Agnes had searched Dereham’s coffers (box/chest) and removed all his papers. He said she would ‘peruse them at her leisure, without suffering any person to be present’. He also stated that she then declared that ‘she meant not any of these things to come to revelation‘. Ashby said that Agnes had been ‘in the greatest far‘ that her son William Howard would learn from her servants of the familiarity between Katherine Howard and Francis Dereham. Eventually, Ashby informed the Duke of Norfolk that the dowager Duchess had done the above. The image Ashby presented was of a very frightned old lady who had a heavy conscience and who was most certainly guilty of that same crime – that she knew of the relationship between Katherine and Dereham.

The sixteenth day of January (1542) the Parliament began, in the which the Lords and Commons assented, to desire of the King certain petitions. First, that he would not vex himself, with the Queen’s offense, and that she and the Lady Rochford, might be attained by Parliament.


Also, that Agnes Duchess of Norfolk, and Katherine Countess of Bridgewater her daughter, which were for counselling the said offense committed to the Tower, indicted of misprision, and the Lord William and other, arrainged of the same, might be likewise attained.

Also that whosoever had spoken or done any act, in the detestation of her abominable living should be pardoned.

To the which petitions the king granted, saying, that he thanked the Commons, that they took his sorrow to be theirs.

Whereupon the Queen and the Lady Rochford, were attained by both the houses. And on Saturday being the eleven day of February (1542), the King sent his royal assent, by his great Seal: and then all the Lords were in their robes and the Commons house called up, and there the act read, and his assent declared. And so on the thirteenth day, these two ladies were beheaded on the green, within the Tower, with an ax, and confessed their offenses, and died repentant.


Hall, Edward; Hall’s Chronicle: containing the history of England the reign of Henry the Fourth, and the succeeding monarchs, to the end of the reign of Henry the Eighth, in which are particularly described the manners and customs of those periods. Carefully collated with the editions of 1548 and 1550; page 842-843

Wriothesley’s Chronicle: A chronicle of England during the reigns of Tudors, from A.D. 1485 to 1559, Volume 1; page 132

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Margaret Douglas: Forbidden Love

Margaret Douglas, the daughter of Henry VIII’s sister Margaret, dowager queen of Scotland and Archibald Douglas, had been appointed as a lady-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn. It is while serving Anne that she met Lord Thomas Howard. He was the younger son of Anne Boleyn’s great-uncle, Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk. Near the end of 1535, Margaret and Thomas had fallen in love and became secretly engaged.

Forbidden Love

It was in July, after the downfall of Anne Boleyn, that Henry VIII learned of the couple’s engagement — He was enraged by the news. The King had recently declared his Elizabeth a bastard, while his other daughter, Mary had already been named one. This left Margaret Douglas, next to Henry Fitzroy in the line of succession. Her unauthorized engagement to Lord Howard did not fit into Henry’s politics.

Both Margaret Douglas and Lord Howard were imprisoned in the Tower of London for their offenses.

On 18 July 1536, Parliament, by an Act of Attainder, condemned Thomas to death for attempting to ‘interrupt ympedyte and lett the seid Succession of the Crowne’. The Act also forbade the marriage of any member of the King’s family without his permission. Thomas was spared execution, but remained in the Tower even after Margaret broke off their relationship.

While in the Tower, Margaret Douglas fell ill — her mother, Margaret Tudor, dowager queen of Scotland, wrote her brother King Henry to request she be sent back to Scotland and never return to England.

(c) The Queen's College, University of Oxford; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
(c) The Queen’s College, University of Oxford; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Concerned Mother

Margaret Tudor, dowager queen of Scotland to Henry VIII:

Dearest brother,

In our most hearty manner we recommend us unto your grace. Please you understand we are informed lately that our daughter Margaret Douglas should, by your grace’s advice, promise to marry Thomas Howard, and that your grace is displeased that she should promise or desire such thing; and that your grace is resolved to punish my daughter and your near cousin to extreme rigour, which we no way can believe, considering she is our natural daughter, your niece, and sister natural unto the king our dearest son, your nephew; who will not believe that you will do such extremity upon your own, ours, and his, being so tender to us all three as our natural daughter is. Dearest brother, we beseech your grace, of sisterly kindness and natural love we bear, and that you owe to us your only sister, to have compassion and pity of us your sister and of our natural daughter and sister to the king our only natural son and your dearest nephew; and to grant our said daughter Margaret your grace’s pardon, grace, and favour, and remit of such as your grace has put to her charge. And, if it please your grace, to be content she come in Scotland, so that in time coming she shall never come in your grace’s presence. And this, dearest brother, we, in our most hearty, affectionate, tender manner, most specially and most humbly beseech your grace to do, as we doubt not your wisdom will think to your honour, since this our request is dear and tender to us, the gentlewoman’s natural mother, and we your natural sister, that makes this piteous and most humble request. Farther, please your grace, this bearer will inform. And the Eternal God conserve your grace, as we would be ourself.

Written of Perth, this 12th day of August (1536), by your grace’s most loving sister,

Margaret R.

The King allowed Margaret Douglas to be moved from the Tower of London to Syon Abbey, she was supervised there by Abbess Agnes Jordan.

Funerary Brass of Dame Agnes Jordan
Funerary Brass of Dame Agnes Jordan

Repentant Margaret

While she was kept at Syon Abbey, Margaret Douglas received a letter from Cromwell after it had been said she had too large a train of servants and had too many visitors. Here is her reply to Cromwell’s accusations:

My lord,

What cause have I to give you thanks, and how much bound am I unto you, that by your means hath gotten me, as I trust, the king’s grace’s favour again! and, besides that, that it pleaseth you to write and to give me knowledge wherein I might have his grace’s displeasure, against which I pray our Lord sooner to send me death than that; and I assure you, my lord, I will never do that thing willingly that should offend his grace. And, my lord, whereas it is informed you that I do charge the house with a greater number than is convenient, I assure you I have but two more than I had in the court, which, indeed, were my lord Thomas’ servants; and the cause that I took them for was, for the poverty that I saw them in, and for no cause else. But seeing, my lord, that it is your pleasure that I shall keep none that did belong unto my lord Thomas, I will put them from me. And I beseech you not to think that any fancy doth remain in me touching him; but that all my study and care is how to please the king’s grace, and to continue in his favour. And, my lord, where it is your pleasure that I shall keep but a few here with me, I trust you will think that I can have no fewer than I have, for I have but a gentleman and a grooms that keeps my apparel, and another that keeps my chamber, and a chaplain that was with me always in the court. Now, my lord, I beseech you that I may know your pleasure, if you would that I should keep any fewer howbeit, my lord, my servants have put the house to small charge, for they have nothing but the reversion of my board, nor I do call for nothing but that that is given me; howbeit, I am very well intreated. And, my lord, as for resort (company), I promise you I have none except it be gentlewomen that comes to see me, nor never had since I came hither; for if any resort of men had come, it should neither have become me to have seen them, nor yet to have kept them company, being a maid as I am. Now, my lord, I beseech you to be so good as to get my poor servants their wages; and thus I pray our Lord to preserve you, both soul and body.

By her that has her trust in you,

Margaret Douglas

Portrait thought to be Margaret Douglas; c. 1546

She was eventually released from imprisonment on 29 October 1537 — two days later, the man she had loved died.

Margaret Douglas went on to live a full life — she was the mother of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley who was the second husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. That’s another story, for another day.


The Forgotten Tudor Women by Sylvia Barbara Soberton
Wikipedia – Margaret Douglas
Wikipedia – Syon Abbey

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