Francis Dereham and Thomas Culpepper Executed for Treason as Kathryn Howard’s Lovers

by AlexandriaIngham

Francis Dereham and Thomas Culpepper were executed for treason on December 10, 1541, but were they really the men people believe them to be?

December 10, 1541, the people of London stopped their day to watch the execution of two men who had committed treason against their King Henry VIII. These men were ‘lovers’ of Queen Kathryn Howard, the fifth wife of the King of England, and were Francis Dereham and Thomas Culpepper. When they were convicted of their crimes on December 1, they were both of be hanged, drawn and quartered. However, Culpepper was given the more merciful death of beheading.

For those who have seen The Tudors, you may have a view of these two men. Culpepper was portrayed as a rapier and murderer, while Dereham was shown as a ruthless, blackmailing, arrogant man. Are these portrayals true, or was artistic license taken since they were going to be shortly killed off?

The Truth About Francis Dereham

Francis Dereham knew Kathryn Howard from before she was Queen Consort of England.

Kathryn Howard had a relationship with Francis Dereham in the past.Francis Dereham was a member of Agnes Tilney’s staff. Tilney was the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, and step-grandmother to Kathryn Howard. Since the young Howard girl was living with her step-grandmother, the two had the chance to meet. However, Dereham was definitely not her first interest. Kathryn had already shown an interest in her music teacher, Henry Mannox.

It was her relationships with Mannox and Dereham that caused the initial search into her background. Henry VIII believed that his fifth wife was a virgin when he married her, but it turned out that at least one other man had carnal knowledge of her—Francis Dereham. Doing the right thing, Dereham admitted to the treason, but he made it clear that there was a promise of them being husband and wife. Dereham had left for Ireland for business, but he promised Kathryn that he would marry her upon his return. They had already called each other husband and wife.

When Dereham did return, Kathryn Howard was already married to the King of England. He was not going to tell the King about the pre-contract! Unfortunately for him, Kathryn denied the pre-contract but did admit to calling him her husband and lying with him. Had she admitted to the pre-contract, all their lives may have been saved.

Rumours spread that she wanted to rekindle her romance with the man, and that was her reason for making him her personal secretary. There is no proof of this, and it is possible that she simply wanted to care for her friends. The Tudors shows Dereham blackmailing the Queen, but this is unlikely. While she would have had a long way to fall, he would have also fallen by sharing the news of their previous relationship with the King of England.

Thomas Culpepper Gets Involved in the Fall of Kathryn Howard

Francis Dereham was not going to fall by himself, and involved Thomas Culpepper.

A love letter between Kathryn Howard and Thomas CulpepperThomas Culpepper seemed to get away with everything at first. However, Dereham opened his mouth and explained to those questioning—and possibly torturing—him that he was no longer an interest for the Queen. Culpepper had surpassed him in that position. Eyes turned on the member of the King’s Privy Chamber, and he was arrested.

Culpepper admitted that he planned to do “ill things with the Queen” and that she wanted to do the same. He never elaborated on those ill things, but it was certainly treason. Many historians believe that he found someone who could help him gain power after the King’s death. A dowager queen was a wealthy woman. Of course, even thinking about the King’s death was treason.

Some historians believe that Culpepper may have conspired to rape the queen. They believe that he was the Thomas Culpepper who raped the game keeper’s wife and murdered the man who caught him. However, that may have been his older brother, also called Thomas.

To try and weaken the blow, Culpepper dragged one more person into the plot; Jane Boleyn. Jane had previously been under interrogation five years ago when her husband was accused of incest with Anne Boleyn. She lost everything when he was executed, but Thomas Cromwell found her a place in Jane Seymour’s household, where she remained until her execution on February 13, 1542.

A Portrait of the Execution Site for Traitors
A Portrait of the Execution Site for Traitors

The Executions of Thomas Culpepper and Francis Dereham

Francis Dereham and Thomas Culpepper were convicted of treason on December 1, 1541, and executed nine days later.

Both men were convicted and sentenced to the death of a traitor, and both petitioned to have their sentenced reduced to beheading. Only Culpepper was given that right, but there is nothing to explain why. The Tudors has Henry VIII state that Dereham would die a traitor’s death because he knew Kathryn intimately first. Henry was a jealous man, and it is possible that this was his reasoning.

They were both taken from the Tower of London to Tyburn, where Culpepper was executed first. Dereham was then hanged until almost dead, cut down and then dismembered. He watched as his bowels and intestines were removed and burned on the fire in front of him. He possibly passed out from shock, but he would have still been alive until he was beheaded. It was a terrible way to go, and the only good thing for Dereham was possibly knowing that he would at least die in the end.

Kathryn Howard would later see the heads of her ‘lovers’. They were placed on Tower Bridge, which she would pass on her way to her own execution on February 13, 1542. There was a two month delay for her execution, since parliament needed to pass a bill so that she was guilty of a crime. There was no proof that she ever had an affair with Thomas Culpepper, but Henry VIII wanted to see her pay for her past.

A Fan Made Video of the Henry VIII/Kathryn Howard/Thomas Culpepper Love Triangle

More Articles About Kathryn Howard

Kathryn Howard, the fifth wife of Henry VIII, was a young girl, flirtatious and full of life. She may have been able to save her life had she admitted just one thing.
Kathryn Howard eventually admitted to her "crimes" but what were they? Did they have anything to do with an affair with Thomas Culpepper?
Updated: 12/10/2013, AlexandriaIngham
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Snurre on 12/11/2013

Very interesting read, Alex. The execution toll is unbelievable.

frankbeswick on 12/10/2013

Well observed, Alexandra. The name Bloody only came to be applied to Mary much later, it was not during her own time or immediately afterwards.

Henry gives me great sadness, because of all the evil that he did to my country and the Catholic Church

AlexandriaIngham on 12/10/2013

It really is sad. I learned the other day that some contemporary sources put Henry VIII's execution toll at 35,000. I feel more sorry for Mary I who gained the nickname "Bloody Mary", although based on the number of people within the spaces of the two reigns, she isn't the Tudor who deserves it!

ologsinquito on 12/10/2013

I get very sad when I read about the life of Henry VIII. He did a lot of wicked, evil deeds.

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