Catherine Howard: Love letter and Confessions

Catherine HowardCatherine 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.”


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.

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

William Fitzwilliam, Earl of SouthamptonIt 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

Thomas Cranmer

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.

42 thoughts on “Catherine Howard: Love letter and Confessions

    1. Catherine Howard was not your great grandmother. First, she was executed more than 400 years ago. Second, she had no children, meaning it would be a physical impossibility for her to have grandchildren.

    2. There’s no way she was your great grandmother
      1. She lived like 500 years ago, if she was your great grandmother you would’ve been alive during like the 17th or 18th century
      2. She never had any children, so you can’t be a descendant of her

  1. Dick Bean, if Catherine Howard was your Great grandmother then you are obviously 359 years old. She was executed almost 500 YEARS ago. I’ve no idea who you think you’re referring to but it was most certainly not Catherine Howard, 5th wife of King HenryVIII. I suppose you have I down princess blood in your veins and Daniel Boone was your Uncle too?

    1. I touched the secret parts of Catherine Howard’s body and used her as a man doth his wife after while we were both rolling on MDMA. Now we know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall.

  2. If not catherine Howard you might find one of Henry’s mistresses with whom he did have other children

  3. I recently gave a speech at my daughters wedding. I hate speeches giving them or hearing them. So near the beginning of my speech I said “ As Henry the Eighth said to all his wives. I won’t keep you long”

  4. I don’t believe the third and final letter of confession was actually written by Catherine Howard. The tone and grammar are very different to that of the second letter which seems more appropriate for a young girl of neglected upbringing and possibly fragmented education. The third letter seems to be more finely constructed, as though someone else penned what they felt to be the facts of the whole tragic affair. Whichever way you look at it though it was a sad end for a very young girl in a very dangerous position.

    1. I agree wth you. There is a completely different style and tone in words.
      More than likely a forced transcript.
      Sad times for so many. 🙁

  5. Beware of Law: Love letter alone is her own Other confession written statements were cunningly received before her execution. How to get statement is clearly expressed by its style, phenomena, and investigation.

  6. Sad and tragic… Hebert was a despotic pig and a monster… my heat goes out to Katherine… I have 3 daughters and I know the frailties if the human condition… I hope, even after 500 years that Katherine Howard rests in peace..

    1. Herbert was a bit of a rotter too I think…!

      Yes, Catherine was not fortunate with the men in her life it’s a horribly tragic story.

  7. Catherine was sexually exploited whilst still a minor. Today she would be regarded as a victim of sexual abuse by those in a position of trust. Hardly surprising that she could not possibly conduct herself in relationships and that she paid the price for the sexual hypocrisy of the time

    1. Saying that Catherine Howard was “exploited” and the victim of “sexual abuse” is presentism at its worst.

      She wasn’t exploited by Henry Manox, because she was a noblewoman ( or noble girl, if you prefer, although of course childhood ended much earlier in Tudor times) and he was a servant. He just could not have forced her to do anything against her will, and if you want to say she was exploited anyway because of her age, well, Lady Margaret Beaufort gave birth to Henry VIII’s father when she was just thirteen and nobody thought she was exploited, although a few thought her husband had been unwise in making her pregnant at that age. A thirteen-year-old in Tudor times was not the same as a thirteen-year-old today.

      And Francis Dereham…no way. She was at least in her midteens then, absolutely a fully grown woman by Tudor standards, and a very willing participant.

      1. yuck. 13 year old girls can’t consent to sex. no matter the time period. they were raised differently, groomed into being ok with sex and marriage at such a young age. and your views of the standing of women aren’t correct. she was higher class, sure, but the advances of a 36 year old man are not less wrong because he had no social class to stand on. societally she was groomed and 36 year old men trying to sleep with 13 year old girls is grooming no matter what. even if she consented to sex, which isn’t unlikely, it does not matter due to her age. beyond that, the attention of someone older at such a young age is grooming. he knew that she was a child and knew that he was her teacher and her elder. he had opportunity to groom her into it being her teacher, his attentions would have been flattering to her due to his age, and he chose to seduce a child. I understand fully the context which with you must look at historical relationships, but understanding the context and saying a 13 year old wasn’t raped are very different. I understand that girls back then faced sexual abuse. doesn’t mean it isn’t abuse. they were young girls forced to act as women. they knew their roles in society and were likely consenting to sex in many cases, but it does not change the fact that they were children and they weren’t given the choice to say no in so many ways. if you grow up being told you must fit into this role and you aren’t even given the chance to say no to it or the chance to become an adult before the role is thrust upon you, how in the world is that not coerced consent? **** the historical takes. she was 13. kids shouldn’t be having sex and 36 year old men know damn well that children are easy to control.

      2. Janice Robinson – NO WAY! If you had been exploited (a perfect word in this scenario) at 13, do you think you’d be saying this? I seriously doubt it. Poor Katherine would not have had any lessons in saying no to these men, and she probably wouldn’t have even realised they would think that of her until it was too late. Henry Mannox was an adult responsible for her safety, he was higher up the social ladder than “just a servant”, and how could Katherine have known people were capable of making a victim of a young girl?

        You are right about one thing – 13 was a very different age then. You would only have ever been schooled in reading, writing, household managements and some arts and crafts, if it wasn’t for the fact that people could marry so young I would say 13 was a younger age then than now.

        Plus, she was only 13-14 when Francs Dereham showed up, and yes, she was willing on the surface, but really, she’s never been taught that this isn’t some sort of test, or normal behaviour. She was a very young 13, to be blackmailed by these men.

        And as for “noble girl, if you prefer, although of course childhood ended much earlier in Tudor times”, there’s no “if you prefer” about it. Even by Tudor standards, she was far, far too young for this to happen to her. 36-year-old men should know far better, though they must both have been aware that children are very easy to control. I fully support/agree with the other reply: 36 year old men trying to sleep with 13 year old girls is grooming no matter what.

    1. There was no standardized spelling for anything until like the late 18th century, particularly for a name like Catherine which can be spelled a number of ways while being pronounced the same. Whether you spell it Katherine, Catherine, Katheryn or some other way is a personal preference, as the women themselves and records referring to them usually didn’t keep a consistent spelling either.

  8. ‘Presentism’ or not, no one deserves to be beheaded because they had sex before or even during marriage with other men. Now, if you are caught red handed, your husband might find some other way to dispatch you, but he couldn’t get a court to sanction it.

    1. Actually, you have hit the nail on the head in explaining why it’s so often stated that Catherine was “groomed”, and “exploited”, or the victim of “rape” and “sexual abuse.”

      People feel sorry for her because she was a female who was executed at the age of 18 or 19, and she had not committed first degree murder, which is the only crime that most of the world, in the 21st century, feels merits death.

      Except it was different in the 16th century and when you’re married to a King. In the 16th century, having sex with another man when you’re married to a King was treason. Even engaging in foreplay was treason. Catherine knew that, and forged ahead with Culpepper anyway. She knowingly committed treason. (And it’s worth noting that she was executed solely for her behavior with Culpepper. Henry was going to spare her life when he thought it was only Manox and Dereham before the marriage. Learning about Culpepper during the marriage changed that.)

      1. The thing is, we don’t actually know how old she was. She could’ve been as young as 15 when she was beheaded. Which means she could’ve been around 10 with Manox and around 13 with Dereham, then 15 when she married Henry and 17 when she died. She most likely didn’t even know what sex was when Manox came along and therefore couldn’t consent. People feel for her because her story is incredibly sad and no one deserves the life she lived.

        1. 10? I’ve never heard this before, but if that’s true, then WOW JANICE, how can you honestly think she’s in the wrong?! Even if she was 13 when it all began, it’s not her fault. Hell, it wouldn’t be her fault if she was 15 when she was raped for the first time. It’s a matter of principal. Not sure you quite know what that is, considering some of your comments, but I’ll mention it anyway. Plus, she was likely desperate for a friend, and was risking treason and edging too close to lover for someone to talk to, poor girl wan’t out of puberty when she married Henry. Not that she had a choice in that. Here. Educate yourself. The writing may not be academic but it’s certainly true to life:

  9. I feel so sorry for poor K Howard, she was only 13 when Mannox forced her into things, and she can’t have had any/much experience of what’s wrong and right, and how to say no/if she can even say no at all. I definitely recommend the song All You Wanna Do from SIX the Musical, it’s very factually correct and shines a light on her predicament, more than she lets on in her letters, especially how, while she was still young, she was very idealistic about how long Mannox and Dereham would want to spend with her, then later when she realises that Culpeper wants more than friendship, even though she is married to the king and is desperate for a friend that she can trust. It also shows how little a choice she had about marriage, and how unschooled she was in saying no to all these older men. I wish she had had a better life, she is described as very sweet and friendly, almost giddy, and she loved animals. At her execution (though I dislike the word execution in relation to Katherine – it justifies killing a child victim), she was so scared that she had to be supported onto the scaffold although she gathered enough strength to confess that her sentence was justified – but you would, wouldn’t you? She can’t have wanted her family harmed. As a slightly less horrible fact, she was nicknamed Kitty by contemporary writers, and for anyone who would like a literary comparison, the character of Kitty (from Ghosts 2019) reminds me a great deal of how her character was described, also Anna from Frozen.

  10. Can someone please tell me wtf a French fennels supposed to be? Google gives no information on it. Lame.

  11. Omg! This was me! My mom said she named me after one of Henry VIII who was beheaded which is obviously Katherine. My sister’s name is Elizabeth Anne and my little brother’s middle name is Edward ( older brother must not be a part of our lives back then) so I would like to thank you for telling the story of me because I forgot, ya know being 500 years ago and all.

    1. Wanted to add: I can’t ask my mom about it anymore because she decided that she was going to selfishly die of cancer in 2021. I mean who the F does that?!?!

      I’m thinking about asking her through a spirit board but I really don’t want to accidentally see Henry, I know it’s been over 500 years but like, I’m still kinda annoyed about the whole losing my head” thing.

      Think I should ask my mom? I’m like on the fence about it. Thoughts and prayers for answers. Thanks!

      1. Hi Katherine, and it is a wonderful thing that Katherine’s story continues to inspire and touch people – including your Mum I see! And it might be 500 years, but I think that’s because it’s so clearly such a traegy, to which every stage in her life contributes.

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