Get Out of Jail Free Cards: The Many Annulments of Henry VIII (Guest Post)

By Jillianne Hamilton

Everyone knows Henry VIII was unlucky in love. Not nearly as unlucky as many of his wives, of course, but Henry would certainly have considered himself the most unfortunate man in England when it came to his married life.

The excuses he used to get out of his marriage varied from wife to wife. But he and his advisors were able to come up with excuses that never put the king at fault. Ever.

His first marriage was the most complicated to end because of a few factors. Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, daughter to Fernando and Isabel of Spain, was permitted in the first place because of a special dispensation written up by Pope Julius II. Catherine had previously been married to Henry’s older brother, Prince Arthur, the young man everyone assumed would be the next king of England. However, fate intervened and he died of illness a few months into the marriage.

So what was the problem? The Bible states that if a man marries his brother’s widow, it is sinful, bordering on incest. The punishment of this union would be childless. Julius II, God’s spokesperson on earth at the time, said it was fine so Catherine’s marriage to the newly created King Henry went on as planned. However, after years of unsuccessful pregnancies, no male heir showed up and Henry decided Julius had been wrong to allow the marriage to go further. God was not pleased with his choice of wife and this was his punishment.

After years of fighting with papal delegates sent from Rome, and with the new pope, Clement VII, Henry took matters into his own hands and cut ties with the traditional Catholic Church, making himself Supreme Head of the Church of England. Finally, with this move, Henry’s marriage to Catherine was decreed to be invalid and his marriage to his second wife was named valid.

Of course, we all know his second wife, Anne Boleyn, was not meant long for this world. Henry, once again, had his marriage dissolved quickly and easily. Days before Anne’s sad end, her marriage to the king was ended but the reason for it was not given on official court documents but it was likely because of Anne’s pre-contract to Henry Percy or because of the king’s relationship with Mary, Anne’s older sister.

The pope had previously given a dispensation stating that Henry could marry Anne (once Catherine had passed away, of course), even though Henry admitted to having a sexual relationship with Anne’s sister. It was basically the exact same situation as Catherine and Arthur except there was no marriage. Again, it was probably decided the pope was wrong to give that dispensation in the first place. Again, God was displeased with his marriage and was punishing him by not giving him a son. Again, the marriage wasn’t ended by divorce, it was annulled. It was like it had never happened. Again, Henry was free to take another wife.

New reasons for dissolving marriages came into play for Henry’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. Henry and Anne slept in the same bed at least a few times but never had sex. Henry tried, but it just didn’t happen. Again, Henry and his advisors found ways out of the marriage without calling into question Henry’s manhood. The marriage was eventually ended on the grounds of non-consummation (because Henry found Anne so unattractive) and pre-contract. Anne had previously been betrothed to Francis, the son and heir of the Duke of Lorraine back in Germany. However, the pre-contract had ended years before Anne’s arrival in England.

The annulment of Henry’s union to Anne of Cleves as not the last time pre-contract would be used as a way of saying a marriage had never happened because it wasn’t legal. During the catastrophic downfall of Katheryn Howard, Henry’s fifth wife, whispers and rumors about the young, vivacious queen reached the ears of Archbishop Cranmer. Cranmer investigated these rumors and interviewed Francis Dereham, a former lover of Katheryn’s. Dereham claimed they had agreed to marry but there is little evidence that suggests Katheryn made such an agreement. Still, pre-contract was once again used to annul the marriage, soon before Katheryn was sent to the executioner’s block.

However, if she really was pre-contracted to Dereham, then Katheryn hadn’t actually been unfaithful to the king with Thomas Culpepper. She’d been unfaithful to Dereham. But reason and logic weren’t really part of the equation at that point, as Henry was so heartbroken and angry, he considered ending Katheryn’s life by his own hand.

Getting rid of wives became infinitely easier for Henry once he named himself Supreme Head of the Church even though many of his excuses weren’t religion based at all. If pre-contract, non-consummation and Bible passages weren’t available excuses, I’m sure Henry’s advisors would have come up with other ways of getting Henry out of his unfortunate situation.

Jillianne Hamilton is the author of The Lazy Historian’s Guide to the Wives of Henry VIII, now available on paperback and ebook. Check out her blog, The Lazy Historian, for more information.


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Katheryn Howard: Part Four

Along the way I’ve discovered that Katheryn Howard had a more interesting life than I had expected – very similar to what happened when I researched Jane Seymour. Once you go back and learn about Katheryn’s childhood, and understand her relationship with men, it gives you a better idea of how she got herself into hot water later on. She was too young to be queen – her lack of education and her immaturity were what made her reckless. I fear that even if she had only been a lady-in-waiting at court that she would have eventually created drama. As we’ve discovered so far it seemed to be in her nature.

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Quick Recap

In Part Three of this series we ended with some of those closest to Katheryn Howard being interrogated. Things were not looking good. We hadn’t even started with Katheryn’s confessions, yet.

The dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk had returned to court to take part in private meetings regarding the investigation. Nobody at court realized it was all about the queen.

Her Crime Comes to Light

At this point in time Katheryn had no idea what was happening. She was confined to her rooms and she no longer got word on the activity at court. There was no more music and dancing as there always had been. She also realized it had been forever since she saw her brother Charles, who had been a staple at court, and even a secret love interest for the King’s niece, Margaret Douglas. Little did Katheryn know but her brother had been banished from court – without reason.

On the very day that King Henry wept after hearing the evidence against his wife, Katheryn had begun to understand what was happening around her. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, informed Katheryn that she was to meet with a delegation of men to discuss a topic that had been brought to their attention – her possible pre-contract with Francis Dereham. You may wonder what Katheryn’s reaction to this would have been, well, she was defiant, denied everything and refused to talk about it. The men left but it was Archbishop Cranmer who came back several times in the next 24 hours to get a confession out of Queen Katheryn.

Image of unknown woman once believed to be Katheryn Howard

A Queen’s Confession

Cranmer appears to have been a rather likeable guy. People seemed to trust him, maybe it was his comforting brown eyes that pulled one in and made them relaxed enough to tell their deepest secrets. But Cranmer had his work cut out for him with Katheryn – her mood swings were out of control, to the point of hysteria and Cranmer needed the right approach.

A quote by Cranmer to the King, “At my repair unto the Queen’s Grace, I found her in such lamentation and heaviness, as I never saw no creature, so that it would have pitied any man’s heart in the world, to have looked upon her.

The King’s pleasure was for Katheryn to be treated mercifully…as long as she spoke the truth. Those words calmed the Queen and left her telling Cranmer that she didn’t deserve the King’s kindness. Katheryn’s guilt over the King’s kindness was evident when she said, “Alas, my Lord, that I am alive, the fear of death grieved me not so much before, as doth know the remembrance of the King’s goodness, for when I remember how gracious and loving a Prince I had, I can not but sorrow; but this sudden mercy, and more than I could have looked for, showed unto me, so unworthy, at this time, maketh mine offenses to appear before mine eyes much more heinous than they did before; and the more that I consider the greatness of his mercy, the more I do sorrow in my heart, that I should so misorder myself against His Majesty.

In her second confession she was much less dramatic in delivery but still denied a pre-contract with Dereham. She admitted that he talked about marrying her but that she didn’t believe she had ever agreed to it, and never spoke of it.

When she spoke of the carnal knowledge between herself and Derham she didn’t come right out and say, yes, we slept together, many times. She beat around the bush, so to speak, and said that many times he laid with her, sometimes with his doublet and hose and a few times naked, but not so naked that he was completely naked…he may have had his hose pulled down. That seems pretty naked to me, but I believe she was trying to minimize what had happened between them.

Most things in Katheryn’s confessions sound like she was desperate not to look guilty. She also wasn’t afraid to throw everyone under the bus to save herself. She even changed her story – she now stated that Dereham took her against her will and that she was not a willing participant.

In the next letter that Katheryn wrote to the King she admitted her faults and looked for forgiveness, or maybe leniency. In the letter she says, “Now the whole truth being declared unto Your Majesty, I most humbly beseech you to consider the subtle persuasions of young men and the ignorance and frailness of young women. I was so desirous to be taken unto your Grace’s favor , and so blinded by desire of worldly glory that I could not, nor had grace to consider how great a fault it was to conceal my former faults from your Majesty, considering that I intended ever during my life to be faithful and true unto your Majesty ever after.” From this letter we can see that Katheryn was merely talking about her time as a ward in the dowager duchess’ home, nothing to do with Culpeper…yet.

She left her fate in the King’s hands.

Image of unknown woman once believed to be Katheryn Howard

The Queen’s normally noisy apartments were noisy no more. While she still had her staff on hand to assist her she was still favoring Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, above all others…after all, she knew all her secrets about Culpeper. Rochford promised “to be torn with wild horses” rather than betray the Queen. Unfortunately, Katheryn was not so loyal. When the opportunity presented itself she threw Rochford under the bus to make herself look like the victim.

A couple of days later there were discussions on when to remove the Queen’s staff from her service. Katheryn was ordered to be sent to Syon Abbey where she would’ve been given the respect and service required of a queen.

The Privy Council noted that “she shall have four gentlewomen and two chamberers at her choice, save that my lady Baynton shall be one, whose husband shall have the government of the whole house and be associated with the Almoner.” Katheryn’s half-sister, Isabel Leigh was Lady Bayton, and  would be there until the end. Some have suggested that Isabel and her husband may have sent reports of the Queen’s behavior back to the Privy Council, because Isabel was later granted land by Henry VIII, for unknown reasons. The gift is deemed suspicious because it was unusual for a family member of one under suspicion to receive gifts – Katheryn’s brother was merely sent away and banished from court – he received no land. The question remains, why would Isabel receive a gift when all others in her family were disgraced?

It wasn’t long before Francis Dereham was desperate to make himself look more innocent – in order to clear his name or receive a more lenient punishment, he told the men that Thomas Culpeper had succeeded him in the Queen’s affections. This statement opened a can of worms that I don’t believe any of the Council members expected. At this point, the Privy Council was only aware of her past aggressions, now they would learn what she had done since becoming queen.

A few days later the Queen was visited by Cranmer, Norfolk, Southampton, Sussex, Hertford, Lord Russell and five other men of the Privy Council who quizzed her on three late night meeting she allegedly had with Thomas Culpeper during the summer progress. Katheryn responded by placing all the blame on her loyal servant, Lady Rochford. She claimed that Rochford had instigated the entire thing and wouldn’t let it be.

Image of unknown woman once believed to be Katheryn Howard

Eventually the Queen did admit to late night meetings with Culpeper at Lincoln, Pontefract and York. That didn’t stop her from saying that she wished Rochford to more closely chaperone the meetings with Culpeper, at one point telling Rochford, “For God’s sake madam, even nearer us.

The walls were beginning to close in around Katheryn and her naughty doings…Jane Boleyn, Katherine Tilney and Margaret Morton were some of the most important women yet to be questioned.

What Happened at Lincoln

On the 13th of November Katherine Tilney was questioned whether the Queen went out of her chamber, late at night while at Lincoln, where she went, and who went with her. Tilney said that the Queen went two nights to Lady Rochford’s chamber, which was up a little pair of stairs by the Queen’s chamber. She explained that she and Margaret Morton went with the Queen to Rochford’s chamber, but were sent back. Margaret went up again soon afterward while Tilney went to bed. When Margaret came to bed, about 2 o’clock, Tilney said, “Jesus, is not the Queen abed yet?” She replied, “Yes, even now.

The second night the Queen sent the rest to bed and took Tilney with her to Rochford’s chamber. Tilney was not allowed inside the room but sat in a little place with Lady Rochford’s woman and stated she could not tell who came into Lady Rochford’s chamber.

Tilney also explained how she had been sent with strange messages to Lady Rochford that she knew not “how to utter them.” She also said that at recently at Hampton Court  “she bade her go to the Lady Rochford and ask her when she should have the thing she promised her;” and she answered that she would bring word herself the following day.

The story was beginning to unfold for those involved in the investigation. They were beginning to get a glimpse into what was happening when nobody was paying attention.

On the same day that Tilney was questioned, so was Margaret Morton. Morton said that she never mistrusted Katheryn until she saw the glance the Queen gave Culpeper while at Hatfield. She claimed that the look was one that she believed there was love between the two of them.

While on the summer progress, the Queen’s behavior had become more and more suspicious to the ladies that served her. It wasn’t just notes without seals and glances at young men and cryptic messages, but also the fact that she had begun to lock her bedchamber to everyone but Rochford.

Lady Rochford, when examined said she had not heard or seen anything from the other end of the room when she chaperoned the Queen and Culpeper.  She did, however, mention that night at Lincoln that she and the Queen were at the back door waiting for Culpeper, at 11 p.m., when one of the watchmen came with a light and locked the door. Shortly after Culpeper came in, saying he and his man had picked the lock. Rochford eventually said that she thought Culpeper had known the Queen carnally during the progress.

Thomas Culpeper

When Thomas Culpeper was eventually interviewed he recalled both the Queen and Lady Rochford as equal partners in the crime. He claimed that he understood the late night meetings they had would not appear with the purest intent, but that he had not committed treason – he had not slept with the Queen, however, he did say that he intended and meant to do ill with her and that likewise the Queen was so minded with him.

Now, you may ask, why it was considered treason to sleep with the Queen – well, the easiest answer is that it would throw a wrench in the Act of Succession. If she became pregnant there would be no way to know if the child was the King’s, or her lovers. What Culpeper admitted to was misprision of treason – he intended to commit the act but had yet to follow through. After hearing Culpeper speak, Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford said, “That is already too much” and Thomas was sent to the Tower and his house was inventoried – a good sign that he would not be leaving the Tower other than his execution.

Lady Rochford

Now, back to Lady Rochford – Rochford’s story had changed too many times for the men to know the entire truth, but when compared with the testimonies of the Queen and Culpeper they felt they had enough evidence to arrest and later convict of treason.

After being placed in the Tower of London, Lady Rochford had a mental breakdown. No wonder, this was the place that those closest to her went to die. Her husband, her sister-in-law and many others she knew from court. After her mental break, Rochford was removed from her cell and placed in the care of Anne, Lady Russell at Russell house – a beautiful mansion located on the Strand. This was done because executing the insane was illegal at the time.

A Secret to Be Kept

This time at court, and in England for that matter, was a very delicate time. The council members had to keep as much secret as possible as to not embarrass England in the eyes of the governments abroad. If one of the ambassadors heard whispers of the Queen’s infidelity it would reflect poorly on King Henry as a man.

Loss of Her Title

Eventually, on the 22nd (some say the 23rd) of November a proclamation was made from Hampton Court that declared Katheryn stripped of her royal title as Queen – henceforth she would only be referred to as Katheryn Howard.

Culpeper and Dereham

Her counterparts, Thomas Culpeper and Francis Dereham entered their trial at the great Hall of Guildhall on the 1st of December 1541. Both men pleaded not guilty.

During the trial Katheryn’s deposition was read aloud. The confession that was chosen was the one where she stated she was coerced by Dereham and that she did not have a physical relationship with Culpeper.

Culpeper claimed that he did not have a physical relationship with Katheryn but that he intended and meant to do ill with her. Those words were enough to condemn him.

After the jury deliberation they returned and stated that there was “sufficient and probable” evidence against the pair to warrant death. They were sentenced of treason and would be hanged, drawn and quartered because of their low status. In the end, Culpeper was guilty of planning to sleep with the Queen while Dereham was guilty of joining the Queen’s household in hope of knowing her carnally once again, and for withholding the Queen’s treasonous conduct from the authorities prior to her marriage to the King.

In the meantime, while Katheryn awaited her trial, fourteen people she knew were charged with misprision of treason and sent to the Tower. They were: Agnes Tilney, dowager duchess of Norfolk, Countess of Bridgewater, Lord William Howard (and his wife), Katherine Tilney, Alice Restwold, Joan Bulmer, William Ashby, Anne Howard, Margaret Benet, Lady Malyn Tilney, Edward Waldegrave and Mary Hall, formerly Lascelles – the person who opened pandora’s box.

For Culpeper, the sentence of being hanged, drawn and quartered had been commuted to beheading, whereas Dereham was not so lucky. Both men’s executions were carried out at the Tyburn gallows on the 10th of December.

Portrait most likely to be Katheryn Howard, but unlabeled.

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.”

The End of Katheryn’s Days

At some point after Christmas…after the King’s divorce from Katheryn was finalized, word came down from the Commons that Katheryn Howard and Jane Boleyn would be sent to the Tower.

When Katheryn was informed that she would have a trial she politely declined the offer. She confessed that she was sinful and deserved death.

On the 10th of February, a barge arrived at Syon Abbey to bring Katheryn to the Tower, as was expected. Also in the Tower was her partner in crime, Lady Rochford, who appeared to have regained her sanity.

The night before her execution, Katheryn Howard made her final confession to a clergyman by the name of John White. She “took God and His angels to be her witnesses, upon salvation of her soul, that she was guiltless of that act of defiling the sovereign’s bed”. Afterward she requested the block be brought to her room – you see, Katheryn had heard the stories of Cromwell’s botched execution as well as Lady Salisbury’s – she wished to make sure she did everything right so her execution was swift. That night she practiced over and over again.

On the chilly morning of the 13th of February 1542, Katheryn was escorted to a scaffold that was on the same site as her cousin, Anne Boleyn’s in May 1536. She did not receive the private execution she had requested, but it was held within the Tower walls to reduce the number of spectators.

Katheryn’s final words were not fully recorded, however, a London merchant by the name of Ottwell Johnson, reported aftewards that she died well. What IS known is that she spoke of Christ’s redemption to all who believed and urged the onlookers to learn from her mistakes. There was no talk of love, nor did she admit to being an adulterer. Her death was swift – one swing of the axe and it was all over.

Unknown woman, formerly believed to be Katheryn Howard

Author Gareth Russell debunks Katheryn’s final words, “I die a Queen, but I would rather die the wife of Culpeper” by pointing out that it came from a fictitious account that also claimed she was interrogated by the dead Thomas Cromwell.

Chapuys wrote in a letter that “the King has wonderfully felt the case of the Queen, his wife, and that he has shown greater sorrow and regret at her loss than at the faults, loss, or divorce of his preceding wives. In fact, I should say that this King’s case resembles very much that of the woman who cried more bitterly at the loss of her tenth husband than she had cried at the death of the other nine put together, though all of them had been equally worthy people and good husbands to her: the reason being that she had never buried one of them without being sure of the next, but that after the tenth husband she had no other one in view, hence her sorrow and her lamentations. Such is the case with the King, who, however, up to the is day does not seem to have any plan or female friend to fall back upon.”

From very humble beginnings as the daughter of the not so successful Edmund Howard to her end as Queen of England. Katheryn’s life is told like a children’s story – teaching the reader to learn from the mistakes of others. As I’ve said before, Katheryn Howard was too young and too immature to be thrust into a life she was ill-prepared for.

Thank you so much for joining me in this four-part series on Katheryn Howard. I’m hoping this helped to open your eyes to who Katheryn was as a person and help you understand her a little better. Throughout this series I’ve referenced Gareth Russell, several times – this is because I have only recently read his book from 2016 called “Young and Damned and Fair” about the life of Katheryn Howard. This book was a real eye opener for me. His research on her was so thorough that I was able to come to my own conclusion on who I believe she was. Other books out there tend to push their viewpoint on Katheryn, while I’d rather decide for myself. Wouldn’t you?


Hall, Edward; Hall’s Chronicle

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

Russell, Gareth; Young and Damned and Fair (2016)

Further Reading:

Russell, Gareth; Young and Damned and Fair (2016)

Loades, David; Catherine Howard – The adulterous wife of Henry VIII (2012)

Byrne, Conor; Katherine Howard – A New History

Want to read up on Katheryn Howard? Here are some options at your disposal:


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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The Manipulation of Catherine Howard

The Manipulation of Catherine Howard (1)

Guest article written by: Catherine Hunt
With minor edits by: Rebecca Larson

A Tudor Fanatics Take on Catherine Howard

Catherine’s downfall at the hands of her uncle, Duke of Norfolk, was, metaphorically speaking, like a hangman’s trap. He pulled the lever and down and she fell! Why was it so easy to do? Why was he so confident she would be pliable?

One has to think of Catherine herself. She was in the care of her great-aunt, dowager Duchess of Norfolk, with a view to furthering her education, but she rapidly fell behind in her studies, being hopeless at reading and writing but skilled in music and dance. It is also thought that she had knowledge of herbs and their medicinal uses. However ,unknown to her crafty uncle and his mother, but well-known to the girls with whom she shared a room,there was one subject she certainly excelled in SEX!!

Duke of Norfolk
Duke of Norfolk

Norfolk had one great ambition, excluding all others, which was to have a Howard on the throne of England and he believed that Catherine was the means to achieve this. Catherine already had a small taste of court life in all its glory as she had been a Maid to Henry’s fourth wife who he couldn’t stand, calling her his Flanders Mare as he found her so repulsive, he could not or would not consummate the marriage. At this time Catherine then left court. Why didn’t Henry notice Catherine then. Well he was too busy trying to get the marriage annulled, so, when Anne agreed, Norfolk went post-haste to his Mother and sent for Catherine.

He didn’t want her in the role of mistress but that of Queen. Now to Catherine herself what did that mean? Court meant finery, jewels and dancing. She had never seen the King naked but only loaded down with silk, stains and jewellery so that is what she imagined a Queen would be given.She knew nothing at all about the politics and etiquette involved. That’s why she lied when her uncle asked if she was a virgin.Why did he believe her ? He took the word of his mother,who did not know what went on upstairs,as she herself was elderly ,often dozing and when lessons were over,her charges basically did as they wished .

Catherine had two lovers well the two we know of anyway !Henry Mannox ,music teacher and another member of the staff Frances Dereham .She caught her niece kissing the former but didn’t know that Frances shared Catherine’s bed on many occasions and that they intended to marry.However he went away on business for a while and found his little darling was Queen on his return.

The King was besotted with his new little wife but what a disappointment he was to her. On her wedding night she saw an old wrinkled body with a suppurating leg and worse than that he couldn’t consummate the marriage.

catherine howard 5After a while Norfolk was becoming agitated as there was no sign of a pregnancy.

Catherine too was agitated, but for a different reason. Dereham more or less blackmailed her into making him her secretary, arriving suddenly at court with letters of recommendation from the Dowager Duchess. Fear started as he would definitely have revealed all, had she turned him away.
Then enter Thomas Culpepper, the King’s most favored servant. Young, handsome and more to the Queens taste. They fell in love. The King was so besotted with Catherine, that he did not notice, but it came to the attention of Lady Rochford who was a natural spy and told Norfolk.

Surprisingly he told her to aid and abet the affair. Why? Well in the hope she would become pregnant! Wasn’t this a risky thing for him to do ? Well the king must have had occasional sex with his wife as he was heard to ask her from time to time if she was pregnant.

What went wrong? Dereham was known to drink a little too much and blabbed!

Catherine was ceasing to try to hide her affair with Culpepper and one day the king received an anonymous letter telling all. Norfolk tried to find out from his nieces old roommates what they knew but he had been preempted and of course they told all fearing for their own lives.

How did it all end? Catherine and Lady Rochford went to Syon House then to the dreaded tower. Inspite of all her screams and pleas the King refused to see his wife. She tried to save herself by saying that Dereham had raped her and that she and Culpepper had never gone all the way, but, Norfolk needed her head to try to save his own .So Dereham was hung drawn and quartered Culpepper  Lady Rochford and Catherine all beheaded.

One would have thought that once death sentences what’s left to manipulate,the speech from the scaffold of course which Norfolk obviously wrote and she would have had to learn it parrot fashion because she had no skills to compose such a thing herself!

He even had to blow his own trumpet then as she had to start it with saying she was a Howard. He had had the decency to grant her request of being given a block to practice on so she wouldn’t feel so strange on the day. Big deal I don’t think. She was so young she didn’t even know the exact year of her birth, she used both C and K to spell her name. She had been Queen for just 18 months and could have been only 19 when she died.


They are mostly my own thoughts but my key factual ones would be (although I don’t always agree} would be the three authors listed here who have written on the Tudors: Alison Weir, Antonia Fraser and David Starkey.

There is also the most fascinating novel I have ever read which took Margaret George four years to research which is: The Autobiography of Henry eighth with notes by his fool Will Somers

About the Author:

My name is Catherine Hunt and I am a retired nurse practitioner plus Bereavement/Cancer Counseller who was born in Lancashire, but now live in Essex – so why this Tudor obsession? Well it all started with me in tears! At age five and a half the school discovered I had a reading age of 11 and I was put up a year and cried as I wouldn’t be in the same class as my friend. My test passage as it were was about a King I had never heard of who had 6 wives and cut off two of their heads . I asked my parents to tell me more and several books were purchased for me. I was hooked from then on! Now at age 69 I am also in the process of writing my first novel. It may seem odd to start writing so late but it’s ill health, which like other late starting authors, has given me more time as my physical activities have curtailed quite a bit. I would go so far as to say I am addicted to the Tudors even to the point of have a set of teaspoons with cameos of Henry and his wives on the handles.

Further Reading Suggestion – Tudors Dynasty Owner, Rebecca Larson:

meIf you are interested in further reading on Catherine/Katherine Howard, I’d highly recommend – Katherine Howard: A New History by Conor Byrne (2014). I am currently reading this book and it contains a lot of new information on her life.


In this new full-length biography of Katherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Conor Byrne reconsiders Katherine’s brief reign and the circumstances of her life, striping away the complex layers of myths and misconceptions to reveal a credible portrait of this tragic queen.

By reinterpreting her life in the context of cultural customs and expectations surrounding sexuality, fertility and family honour, Byrne exposes the limitations of conceptualising Katherine as either ‘whore’ or ‘victim’. His more rounded view of the circumstances in which she found herself and the expectations of her society allows the historical Katherine to emerge.

Katherine has long been condemned by historians for being a promiscuous and frivolous consort who partied away her days and revelled in male attention, but Byrne’s reassessment conveys the mature and thoughtful ways in which Katherine approached her queenship. It was a tragedy that her life was controlled by predators seeking to advance themselves at her expense, whatever the cost.

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Rise & Fall: Katherine Howard


“Rose without a Thorn”

On 28 July 1540, Henry VIII married Katherine Howard at Oatlands Palace (see image). The ceremony was performed by Bishop Bonner in private.

Outlands Palace - Surrey
Oatlands Palace – Surrey

Their nuptials were kept secret for ten days before returning to the insanity of court life. The king, who was infatuated with his new bride, wanted to spend quality time alone with her before returning to his courtly duties.

In Katherine, Henry found what represented the qualities that he admired most in a woman: Beauty, charm, a pleasant disposition, obedience and virtue. All of which were much like his mother, Elizabeth of York. Was Henry always chasing after a woman just like his mother?

The marriage of Katherine Howard to Henry VIII brought the Howard family back to the great name and power they once had. The beheading of Anne Boleyn had tainted their name for a few years since Anne’s mother was Elizabeth Howard – sister to Thomas Howard,  the 3rd Duke of Norfolk.  The Duke of Norfolk was also uncle to Katherine Howard through her father Edmund (his brother) and was responsible for assisting in the rise, and the fall, of his niece Anne Boleyn.

After Henry and Katherine’s marriage they moved to Hampton Court. On the 8th of August Katherine Howard appeared as Henry’s queen at Hampton Court dining with her husband the king. This was her first appearance as Queen of England. Katherine was never crowned queen – some say it’s because Henry wanted to see if she would produce an heir first. Katherine was treated as any queen would, given extravagant gifts from her husband who absolutely adored her, and members of court took notice of their affections. She was but a child by today’s standards and undoubtedly made Henry feel youthful again – something that was waning from him.

Katherine would have enjoyed all the attention that Henry gave her, for she was raised nearly an orphan in Lambeth Palace. Her grandmother the dowager Duchess of Norfolk raised her there. Katherine’s father, Edmund Howard was the third son of the 2nd Duke of Norfolk, this meant he was not a rich man. Lord Edmund Howard and his wife Joyce (Jocasta) Culpeper had many children (including Katherine ) who they could not afford. Because of these circumstances, Katherine had to be raised in the household of her grandmother. Katherine’s grandmother, the dowager Duchess, complained often about the expense of supporting numerous grandchildren. She was able to provide a comfortable home for them to live. She did not however, provide strict supervision, a fact which would have dire consequences for the entire Norfolk family after Katherine’s rise to queen of England.

Katherine’s education was not an intellectual one and her days were spent passing the time in the most pleasant manner possible. She always lacked self-control and this continued after she was queen when her past indiscretions came back to haunt her.

Thomas Higham © Museum of London

It was at Lambeth Palace that Katherine was introduced to Henry Manox, her music teacher. Katherine enjoyed the attention he gave her. She was only 15 years old and the teacher seduced her. She later swore that the relationship was never consummated. “At the flattering and fair persuasions of Manox being but a young girl I suffered him and sundry times to handle and touch the secret parts of my body which neither became me with honesty to permit nor him to require.

In 1538 Katherine Howard fell in love with Francis Dereham. He was a gentleman pensioner in her grandmother’s household. This relationship was consummated and there may have been an understanding they would be married one day.

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.

Francis and Katherine were known to address one another as husband and wife. Manox, still in the dowager Duchess’s household, grew jealous and furious of their relationship, 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.

Eventually, Katherine was welcomed to court as a lady in waiting to the queen.  It was  while she was a lady in waiting to Anne of Cleves that she caught the eye of the King Henry VIII. Once the king eyed you there was no going back. There was nothing she could do but accept his advances. At this time she was still in love with Thomas Culpeper, but adored the attention that the king gave her…along with the prospect of becoming queen of England.

On 24 April 1540 Henry gave Katherine Howard lands seized from a felon and a few weeks later she received an expensive gift of quilted sarcanet. It is possible that their relationship was consummated around this time because this is when Henry was urgent to annul his marriage to Anne of Cleves. The marriage was not ended until 9 July 1540.

In August 1541, after they had been married for a year, while at Pontefract castle, a man from Katherine’s past returned. It was none other than Francis Dereham. Francis was sent to court by the dowager Duchess and she had highly recommended him to be placed within court. Little did she know that Francis had a ulterior motive to come to court.

When Katherine was brought face to face with Francis she feared there was a reason that had prompted Dereham’s appearance at court. Francis possessed information that could greatly harm Katherine’s reign as queen. He immediately requested employment with the queen – she could hardly refuse him. This was a big mistake and could be called the beginning of the end for Katherine. When the king later asked her why she had employed Francis Dereham she replied with, The dowager Duchess of Norfolk had asked her to be good to him, and so she would.

Having Francis Dereham at court was indeed bad news for Katherine as he could not hide his indiscretions with the queen in the years earlier.  He made statements in front of other men which led investigations to begin.

On 2 November 1541, while Henry attended the All Souls Day mass he received a letter from Archbishop Cranmer telling him that Queen Katherine had taken two lovers before their marriage. Henry was shocked and did not believe the allegations. Four days later he changed his tune and left Katherine at Hampton Court –  only two days after that she had admitted she was guilty to Cranmer.

The news continued to get worse with her admissions of guilt. Katherine could have easily saved herself by pleading ignorance regarding her relationship with Francis Dereham. If she had only said that there had been a verbal agreement to an arranged marriage with Francis Dereham she may have saved her head, However, the atrocities with Thomas Culpepper could not save her. However, at this time Thomas Culpeper was not yet on the radar when it came to the queen’s indiscretions. That is, until Francis Dereham mentioned that he knew of a man who has laid with the queen by the name of Thomas Culpeper.

Here is Katherine’s plea for forgiveness:

I, your Grace’s most sorrowful subject and vile wretch in the world, not worthy to make any recommendations unto your Majesty, – only make my most humble submission and confession of my faults. And where no cause of mercy is given on my part, yet of your most a accustomed mercy extended to all othe men undeserved, most humbly on my hands and knees so desire one particle thereof to be extended unto me, although of all other creatures most unworthy either to be called your wife or subject. My sorrow I can by no writing express, nevertheless I trust your most benign nature will have some respect unto my youth, my ignorance, my frailness, my humble confession of my faults and plain declaration of the same, referring me wholy unto your Grace’s pity and mercy. First at the flattering and fair persuasions of Mannox, being but a young girl suffered him at sundry times to handle and touch the secret parts of my body, which neither became me with honesty to permit, nor him to require. Also 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 use me and such sort as a man doth his wife, many and sundry times, and our company ended almost a year before the King’s Majesty was married to my Lady Anne of Cleves, and continued not past one quarter of a year, or a little above.

She continued by saying, I was so desirous to be taken into your Graces favor, and so blinded with the desire of worldly glory, that I could not, nor had grace, to consider how great of fault it was to conceal my former faults from your majesty, considering that I intended ever during my life to be faithful and true until your Majesty after, nevertheless, the sorrow of my defenses was ever before mine eyes, considering the infinite goodness of your majesty towards me from time to time ever increasing and not diminishing. Now I refer the judgment of all of my defenses with my life and death wholy unto your most benign and merciful grace to be considered by no justice of your Majesty’s law but only by your infinite goodness, pity, compassion and mercy, without the which I acknowledge myself worthy of extreme punishment.

When Henry read Katherine’s plea he was happy. He believed the plea stated that his wife had not been unfaithful to him after all. But Bishop Cranmer, unfortunately had bad news to inform him that in his opinion the queen had been in fact been pre-contracted to Dereham and that her marriage to the king was therefore invalid. It seemed an annulment of their marriage was inevitable.

In the meantime, Cranmer continued to look for evidence against Katherine of adultery. It’s almost as if he knew she was guilty and he had to prove it to the king to show his loyalty.

Finally, evidence came forward to prove Katherine’s guilt of adultery. While searching the belongings of Thomas Culpeper they found a letter signed by the queen which confirmed what everyone had suspected, that she had indeed been conducting a love affair with her distant cousin and servant to the king.

Katherine's letter to Culpeper
Katherine’s letter to Culpeper

The letter read as such:

Master Culpeper,

I heartily recommend me unto you, praying you to send me word how that you do. It was showed me that you was sick, the which thing troubled me very much till such time that I hear from you praying you to send me word how that you do, for I never longed so much for a thing as I do to see you and to speak with you, the which I trust shall be shortly now. That which doth comfortly me very much when I think of it, and when I think again that you shall depart from me again it makes my heart die to think what fortune I have that I cannot be always in your company. It my trust is always in you that you will be as you have promised me, and in that hope I trust upon still, praying you that you will come when my Lady Rochford is here for then I shall be best at leisure to be at your commandment, thanking you for that you have promised me to be so good unto that poor fellow my man which is one of the griefs that I do feel to depart from him for then I do know no one that I dare trust to send to you, and therefore I pray you take him to be with you that I may sometime hear from you one thing. I pray you to give me a horse for my man for I had much ado to get one and therefore I pray send me one by him and in so doing I am as I said afor, and thus I take my leave of you, trusting to see you shortly again and I would you was with me now that you might see what pain I take in writing to you.
Yours as long as life endures,

One thing I had forgotten and that is to instruct my man to tarry here with me still for he says whatsomever you bid him he will do it.

On 10 February 1542 Queen Katherine Howard entered the Tower and three days later she was executed.

Katherine’s quick rise to Queen of England was almost as quick as her fall from the throne. Her marriage to Henry VIII lasted less than two years.  Her story is a tragic one of a young girl whose life was cut too short. We must do all we can to tell her story and keep it alive.

Reference Material: The Sixth Wives of Henry VIII, by Alison Weir;