Catherine Howard’s letter to Thomas Culpepper
One letter survives from Catherine to Thomas Culpepper. It reads like a love letter, not like a communication from a blackmail victim. Though, Rethe Warnicke points out that “Master Culpeper,” is “quite abrupt” since he was a knight, she suggests maybe it was an attempt to “placate him with politeness,” and points out that phrases such as “at your commandment” were part of the “elaborate contemporary formula of letter-writing.”
It does seem like a very, very risky letter to have written. In his interrogations, Culpepper, who was certainly not tortured, was remarkably frank about their relationship. He was probably doomed anyway, but one defence was that they had not actually had sex, and Catherine vehemently denied anything other than innocent physical contact. And yet he admitted to his interrogators that “he intended and meant to do ill with the Queen and that likewise the Queen so minded with him.”
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.
Yet 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
The Confessions of Catherine Howard
It was probably on 6th and 7th November 1541 that Archbishop Cranmer came with a delegation to see Catherine; she had for many days been aware that something untoward was going on, she knew her ex-lover Francis Dereham was taken; but this was the first confirmation that her pre marital life had come to light – though not yet her meetings during her time as Queen to Thomas Culpepper. During the 24 hours, Thomas Cranmer worked with an often hysterical Catherine, and eventually she calmed down, principally when a message came from the king that since these affairs predated her marriage, it was not a matter of high Treason and he would show her mercy.
There were three confessions written down. The first does not survive, and reproduced below are the second and third. The style is very different – the third is much more concise, direct and moving, and is normally used; the second is much more rambling, it’s like a setting down of everything Catherine could think of after her questioning. It’s possible that Cranmer helped her craft the third version, and helped her thereby construct a better case.
Because the second version takes a quite different approach to her relationship with Dereham – actually it is more condemning, speaking of a broadly equal and consensual relationship. The final letter plays very effectively of Catherine’s youth and vulnerability; that the time she was probably 15 or 16, and Dereham 23 or 24. She relates that “Francis Dereham by many persuasions procured me to his vicious purpose”, and asks Henry “to consider the subtle persuasions of young men and the ignorance and frailness of young women.”
Second confession of Catherine Howard
Being examined by my lord of Canterbury of contracts and communications of marriage between Dereham and me: I shall here answer faithfully and truly, as I shall make answer at the last day of judgement; and by the promise that I made in baptism, and the sacrament that I received upon Allhallows-day last past.
First, I do say, that Dereham hath many times moved unto me the question of matrimony; whereunto, as far as I remember, I never granted him more than before I have confessed: and as for these words, I promise you, I do love you with all my heart, I do not remember that I ever spake them. But as concerning the other words, that I should promise him by my faith and troth, that I would never have other husband but him, I am sure I never spake them.
Examined what tokens and gifts I gave Dereham, and he to me: I gave him a band and sleeves for a shirt. And he gave me a heart’s-ease of silk for a new-years-gift and old shirt of fine Holland or Cambric, that was my lord Thomas[’s] shirt, and my lady did give it to him. And more than this, to my remembrance, I never gave him, nor he to me, saving this summer ten pounds about the beginning of the progress.
Examined whether I did give him a small ring of gold upon this condition, that he should never give it away. To my knowledge I never gave him no such ring, but I am assured upon no such condition.
Examined whether the shirt, band, and sleeves were of my own work. They were not of my own work; but, as I remember, Clifton’s wife of Lambeth wrought them. And as for the bracelet of silkwork, I never gave him none; and if he have any of mine, he took it from me. As for any ruby, I never gave him none to set in a ring, nor for other purpose. As for the French fennel, Dereham did not give it me, but he said there was a little woman in London with a crooked back, who was very cunning in making all manner of flowers. And I desired him to cause her to make a French fennel for me, and I would pay him again when I had money. And when I first came to court, I paid him as well for that, as for diverse other things, to the value of five or six pound. And truth it is, that I durst not wear the said French fennel, until I had desired my lady Breerton to say that she gave it to me. As for a small ring with a stone, I never lost none of his, nor he gave me none. As for the velvet and satin for billyments, a cap of velvet with a feather, a quilted cap of sarcenet and money, he did not give me, but at my desire he laid out money for them to be paid again. For all which things I paid him, when I came into the court. And yet he bought not for me the quilted cap, but only the sarcenet to make it of. And I delivered the same to a little fellow in my lady’s house, as I remember, his name was Rose, an embroiderer, to make it what work he thought best, and not appointing him to make it with Freer’s knots, as he can testify, if be a true man. Nevertheless, when it was made, Dereham said, ‘What wife here be Freer’s knots for France.’ As for the indenture and obligation of an hundred pound, he left them in my custody, saying, that if he never came again, he gave them clearly unto me. And when I asked him whether he went, he said he would not tell me until his return.
Examined whether I called him husband, and he me wife. I do answer, that there was communication in the house that we two should marry together; and some of his enemies had envy there at, wherefore, he desired me to give him leave to call me wife, and that I would call him husband. And I said I was content. And so after that, commonly he called me wife, and many times I called him husband. And he used many times to kiss me, and so he did to many other commonly in the house. And, I suppose, that this be true, that at one time when he kissed me very often, some said that were present, they trowed that he would never have kissed me enough.
Whereto he answered, ‘Who should let him kiss his own wife?’
Then said one of them, ‘I trowe this matter will come to pass as the common saying is. What is that?’ quoth he.
‘Marry,’ said the other, ‘That Mr Dereham shall have Mrs Katherine Howard.’
‘By St John,’ said Dereham, ‘you may guess twice, and guess worse.’
But that I should wink upon, and say secretly, ‘What and this should come to my lady’s ear?’ I suppose verily there was no such thing. As for carnal knowledge, I confess as I did before, that diverse times he hath lain with me, sometime in his doublet and hose, and two or three times naked: but not so naked that he had nothing upon him, for he had always at least his doublet, and as I do think, his hose also, but I mean naked were his hose were put down. And diverse times he would bring wine, strawberries, apples, and other things to make good cheer, after my lady was gone to bed.
But that he made any special banquet, that by appointment between him and me, he would tarry after the keys were delivered to my lady, that is utterly untrue. Nor I never did steal the keys my self, nor desired any person to steal them, to that intent and purpose to let in Dereham, but for many other causes the doors have been opened, sometime over night, and sometime early in the morning, as well at the request of me, as of other.
And sometime Dereham hath come in early in the morning, and ordered him very lewdly, but never at my request, nor consent. And that Wilkes and Baskerville should say, what shifts should we make, if my lady should come in suddenly. And I should answer, that he should go into the little gallery. I never said that if my lady came he should go into the gallery, but he hath said so himself, and so he hath done indeed.
As for the communication of my going to the court, I remember that he said to me, that if I were gone, he would not tarry long in the house. And I said again, that he might do as he list. And further communication of that matter, I remember not. But that I should say, it grieved me as much as it did him, or that he should never live to say thou hast swerved, or that the tears should trickle down by my cheeks, none of them be true. For all that knew me, and kept my company, knew how glad and desirous I was to come to the court.
As for the communication after his coming out of Ireland, is untrue. But as far as I remember, he then asked me, if I should be married to Mr Culpepper, for so he said he heard reported. Then I made answer, ‘What should you trouble me therewith, for you know I will not have you; and if you heard such report, you heard more than I do know.
This confession was recorded in The History of the Reformation of the Church of England, published in 1679 and written by Gilbert Burnet, Bishop of Salisbury. The original of the letter was destroyed by fire fifty years later. This version is from Young and Damned and Fair: The Life and Tragedy of Catherine Howard at the Court of Henry VIII by Gareth Russell
Third and Final letter of confession from Catherine Howard, 7th November 1541
I, your Grace’s most sorrowful subject and most vile wretch in the world, not worthy to make any recommendation unto your most excellent Majesty, do 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 accustomed mercy extended unto all other men undeserved, most humbly on my hands and knees do desire one particle thereof to be extended unto me, although of all other creatures I am 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 wholly unto Your Grace’s pity and mercy.
First, at the flattering and fair persuasions of Manox, being but a young girl, I suffered him a 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 used me in 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.
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 favour, and so blinded by with the 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.
Nevertheless, the sorrow of mine offences was ever before mine eyes, considering the infinite goodness of your Majesty toward me from time to time ever increasing and not diminishing. Now, I refer the judgment of my offences with my life and death wholly unto your most benign and merciful Grace, to be considered by no justice of your Majesty’s laws but only by your infinite goodness, pity, compassion and mercy, without which I acknowledge myself worthy of the most extreme punishment.