Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Trials and Deaths of Anne Boleyn & Katherine Howard

The Queen's Adultery

Henry VIII, portrait
Henry VIII, portrait

In February 1541, Henry fell into a state of depression. There were three primary matters that concerned him. First was his steadily declining health due to an infected abscess on his leg that left him chair-bound. The second matter was the fact that Katherine was still not pregnant after more than six months of marriage. To make matters worse, the king was angered with Katherine because she did not comfort him in the manner he deemed befitting of a wife. His disappointment with Katherine caused him to distance himself from his kingly duties and from his marriage.

During the spring of 1541, Henry temporarily came out of his depression when his leg began to heal. During that time, his feelings for Katherine also seemed to return. Weir wrote that in November, Henry publicly thanked God for his marriage in a special mass held in the Chapel Royal. However, his gratefulness for his wife was short-lived.

That same day, Henry heard a rumor that Katherine was not as virtuous a woman as he initially believed. The archbishop, Thomas Cranmer, informed the king that he had written testimony by credible witnesses that the queen had given into carnal pleasures before her marriage. Therefore, the allegation charged Katherine with not being a virgin when she married the king.

Thomas Cranmer as archbishop
Thomas Cranmer as

Henry was incredulous and hurt. He immediately ordered Katherine to be confined to her apartments until the matter could be further investigated. Within a week, the king's disbelief gave way to rage when he learned that the allegations were true.

Cranmer paid several visits to Katherine in her apartments where he interviewed her extensively. At first, Katherine refrained from the truth out of fear for her life. Eventually, she tearfully confessed to Cranmer that she engaged in foreplay during her youth with her music teacher Henry Manox. Moreover, she also stated that she actually consummated on many occasions her relationship with her ex-lover Francis Dereham.

On November 11, Queen Katherine was arrested and imprisoned within three somewhat comfortable chambers within Syon Abbey. Since she was still the queen, she was afforded the most basic respect, but was refused the luxuries she had known. While Katherine was in captivity, Dereham and Manox were also arrested and extensively questioned concerning their relationship with the queen. It didn't take long for the men to confess their past transgressions. Manox was eventually released but Dereham was held due to the severity of his offense.

Although Katherine displayed "abominable behavior," the charges against her were not enough to warrant a divorce from Henry. However, Cranmer eventually discovered more information that would prove to have greater consequences. He learned that Manox and Dereham were not the only men to have had sex with the queen.

Copy of letter to Culpeper
Copy of letter to Culpeper

Thomas Culpeper, a cousin of Katherine's, was also believed to have had an intimate affair with her while she was still a lady in waiting. At the time of Katherine's arrest, Culpeper held a position as gentlemen to the King's Privy Chamber. According to Starkey, he was responsible for the more intimate needs of the king's, needs such as dressing and undressing, and he even slept at the foot of the king's bed on many occasions, in order to better offer service to his highness at any hour.

Katherine and Culpeper vigorously denied they ever had a relationship. However, a search of Culpeper's chamber turned up a letter from Katherine. The contents of the letter were particularly passionate and clearly revealed that their relationship went beyond mere cousins or friends. The letter also mentioned an accomplice to Katherine's indiscretions named Lady Rochford, who supposedly offered her chambers and stood guard during the couple's numerous meetings.

The king and his council immediately rounded up as many witnesses as they could. Testimony provided by acquaintances further supported the allegation that the two had a sexual relationship.

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