Today is the 4735rd Anniversary of the executions of Thomas Culpepper and Francis Dereham for the crime of high treason for sleeping with the kings wife, that king was Henry VIII and the Queen is Catherine Howard, wife number 5 of 6 of the king in search of a male heir to continue the Tudor dynasty.
I have previously blogged about Queen Catherine Howard and you can read that post here. This post will concentrate on the two men who lost their lives for being infatuated and sleeping with a Queen, and a queen of King Henry VIII.
Catherine was a teen bride for Henry VIII (in his fifties and poor health) on 28th July 1540. Less than 2 years later she had her head on the block on Tower Green following in the footsteps of her cousin Anne Boleyn, Henry’s 2nd and most notorious wife.
The 2 men involved in the downfall of the queen knew Catherine at different times in her life one before she was married and the other after.
Francis Dereham knew Catherine before she was married to henry when she was in the guardianship of her fathers stepmother, Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. The couple were intimate for the Howard’s used Catherine to gain power in court after the fall of the Seymour after the death of Queen Jane (wife 3) and the disaster of Henry’s 4th Marriage to German princess Anne of Cleves. Henry was vulnerable, needed a new young wife to give him an heir (the prettier the better to help him he was old in the standards of the day and ill) Catherine was the perfect family female, young pretty and charming.
Under torture and interrogation Tudor style Dereham admitted having know Catherine carnally before she was married but not after she became Henry’s Queen. Their relationship ended when Catherine was sent to court to be a lady in waiting to Queen Anne and Dereham found himself a position as a secretary at Hampton Court. The way I feel about this is we will never now if the relationship of the two continued but the fact that they were both in court and could met adds to the potential for conspiracy theories and mysteries; personally I rather deal with fact and sensible evidence based educated guesses. The fact that she was to have a possible affair with Culpepper indicates to me that Dereham and Catherine may just have parted ways which for me makes his death very sad as he would not have know that Catherine would go on to be Queen.
However the actions of Thomas Culpepper was in my opinion reckless feckless and risky. Wisdom comes with age and this young man was never given the opportunity to grow in wisdom and the foolish behaviour of a young man in lust ultimately cost him his life. Culpepper was Catherine’s 7th cousin once removed. They meet at Greenwich when Henry was visiting Dover castle. Culpepper would have been a handsome young distraction for Catherine, henry with his infected smelly wound on his leg growing grump old, pawing at Catherine touching her in order for her to do her duty as Queen and provide an heir.
Unlike Dereham, Culpepper was a man with connection and should have known better as he was also related to Anne Boleyn. Culpepper’s court career was helped by his connections, youthful looks and charm. He rose through the ranks and became a favourite of King Henry and was made gentleman of the Privy Chamber. He was one of the few people that was allowed to touch his majesty. Unfortunately he took this to mean he was allowed to touch his wife as well.
By spring 1541, helped by Lady Rochford, George Boleyn’s widow, Catherine and Thomas were frequently meeting. However their indiscretion was not discreet. The affair may have been brief but the consequences were brutal. Culpepper only admitted to sexual relations with Catherine under torture (the thought of which is horrifying). His previous favour with Henry and his noble background meant that he was shown some mercy as unlike Dereham, Culpepper meet a swift end at Tyburn at the end of an axe, Dereham however was hung drawn and quartered. Their young and once handsome heads that caught the eye of a Queen were displayed on pikes on Tower bridge.
Culpepper was at least given some dignity his remains minus his head were laid to rest in the church of St Sepulchre without Newgate. Dereham would have been treated like other common criminals buried at a crossroad in unconsecrated grown with no marker.
In this time of media spotlight into the private lives of the royals and celebrity’s it is hard to image that this is a suitable way to deal with an affair, but we can not and should not judge the actions of the past by today’s liberal and human time. Monarchy were viewed very differently, they were appointed by God the kings wife was therefore off limits. If anything their story shows how the young have always been fearless, they never think they will be caught and will live forever. Also shows that teenagers have been hormonal since the beginning of time.