1572: Thomas Howard, Ridolfi plotter

5 comments June 2nd, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1572, the Duke of Norfolk lost his head for a conspiracy to overthrow Queen Elizabeth.

Thomas Howard was a born plotter. Literally.

The fourth Duke of Norfolk, he inherited the title from the third Duke of Norfolk — his eponymous grandfather, the scheming courtier who had maneuvered nieces Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard into disastrous matrimony with Henry VIII.

Having run afoul of his ruthless sovereign, this elder Howard then had the distinction of dodging execution only because the king himself dropped dead the very day before Howard was to have been beheaded.

The Norfolk title, however, did skip a generation, because grandpa Howard’s son Henry Howard was not so lucky, and abdicated his birthright at the block.*

That left our day’s principal, a mere boy of 10 when his father got axed, as his lucky grandfather’s heir apparent — to carry on the Howard scheming against his second cousin, Anne Boleyn’s lucky daughter Queen Elizabeth.

And young Thomas Howard would prove to be a chop off the old block.

Howard’s sympathies for Catholicism and for swinging an ever-bigger dick led him into a machination to wed Elizabeth’s northern rival Mary, Queen of Scots.

Lucky to get off with just a slap on the codpiece, Howard went right back at it with an unabashed Spanish-supported conspiracy to depose Elizabeth, again in favor of Mary — the Ridolfi Plot.

This chicanery was sniffed out by Elizabeth’s pervasive spy network, and while Mary’s royal status enabled her to survive the revelation, Norfolk had already got down to his last chance.

The conflict between Elizabeth and Norfolk, heavily fictionalized and climaxing in the Ridolfi Plot, is essentially the plot of of the 1998 movie Elizabeth.

Having endured so much trouble from these nettlesome Howards, the crown left the Duke of Norfolk title vacant for nearly a century after this date’s beheading. It was finally restored to a mentally deficient Howard descendant with the post-Cromwell Stuart restoration.

* And that’s just on the dad’s side. His maternal grandfather and great-grandfather from the Stafford family also met their ends on the scaffold.

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1540: Thomas Cromwell

14 comments July 28th, 2009 Headsman

“Who cannot be sorrowful and amazed that he should be a traitor against your majesty? He that was so advanced by your majesty, he whose surety was only by your majesty, he who loved your majesty, as I ever thought, no less than God; he who studied always to set forward whatsoever was your majesty’s will and pleasure; he that cared for no man’s displeasure to serve your majesty; he that was such a servant, in my judgment, in wisdom, diligence, faithfulness, and experience, as no prince in this realm ever had …

If he be a Traitor, I am sorry that ever I loved him, or trusted him, and I am very glad that his treason is discovered in time; but yet again I am very sorrowful; for who shall your grace trust hereafter, if you might not trust him? Alas!”

Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, writing to King Henry VIII upon news of the arrest of Thomas Cromwell

It was on this date in 1540 that the Machiavellian minister of Henry VIII fell by the instrument he had wielded so ably against so many others.

While Henry strove to get his end away, Thomas Cromwell made the Reformation, setting his energetic hand to the needfully violent reordering of England.

In almost a decade as the king’s chief minister, he had dissolved so many monasteries, annulled so many noble prerogatives, backstabbed so many courtiers, and sent so many of every class to the scaffold that most at court had some reason to hate him. (Cranmer was the only one to (cautiously) object to his old partner’s arrest.)

Every matter of importance in 1530’s England concerned Cromwell. He raised and then destroyed Anne Boleyn; he managed the realm’s religious turmoil so fearsomely that his ouster was one of the demands of the Pilgrimage of Grace; he did what he had to do in the matter of Sir Thomas More.

Hilary Mantel’s acclaimed Man-Booker Prize-winning 2009 novel Wolf Hall humanizes Cromwell’s side of his clash with Thomas More. (Review)

Though it may be, as Edward Hall recorded, that “many lamented but more rejoiced” at Cromwell’s fall from the very height of his power — “and specially such as either had been religious men, or favoured religious persons; for they banqueted and triumphed together that night [of his execution], many wishing that that day had been seven year before” — the reasons for it are murky enough to invite recourse to the royal person’s irrationality.

The bedroom politics get all the press: Cromwell’s bit of marital statecraft arranging Henry’s marriage to Anne of Cleves was a famous dud, but negotiations to end it were well on their way by the time of Cromwell’s arrest.

Why, too, should the minister have been ennobled Duke of Essex in April 1540, months after the disastrous union? That Cromwell, whose own security rested upon the stability of the realm, was a radical Protestant promulgating inflammatory religious ideas — and he was condemned for both treason and heresy, incidentally giving the king wide latitude for just how painfully to kill his former servant — seems to beggar belief.

Once fallen, Cromwell was kept alive long enough to add testimony to the Cleves divorce; that much is clear. But then why keep him alive still three weeks more?

In the end, maybe it was inevitable that one in his position, at his time and place, had to follow to the scaffold the many he had sent thither, just the Tudor version of that familiar “bad advisors” trope: it were not treason to murmur against the aide whose ill counsel did wrong by His Majesty, and so Cromwell stood to accumulate the share of hostility that properly belonged to his sovereign. As an expert practitioner of the game of power politics, Thomas Cromwell could hardly be in a position to complain.

Oh, and by the by: with the German princess on the outs, the king’s wandering eye had fallen upon a niece of Cromwell’s enemy. On the day that Cromwell lost his head, Henry married Catherine Howard. No matter your brilliance, in Henrican England you only had to lose at court politics once, even if the king would be lamenting this injudicious trade within months.

Henry gave his loyal servant the easiest death, beheading on Tower Hill (although it turned out to be a botched job) — alongside a distinctly undercard attraction, Walter Hungerford, the first person executed under the Buggery Act.

Hall records Cromwell playing ball with a fine entry in the scaffold-speech genre that kept his son in the peerage.

I am come hether to dye, and not to purge my self, as maie happen, some thynke that I will, for if I should do so, I wer a very wretche and miser: I am by the Lawe comdempned to die, and thanke my lorde God that hath appoynted me this deathe, for myne offence: For sithence the tyme that I have had yeres of discrecion, I have lived a synner, and offended my Lorde God, for the whiche I aske hym hartely forgevenes. And it is not unknowne to many of you, that I have been a great traveler in this worlde, and beyng but of a base degree, was called to high estate, and sithes the tyme I came thereunto, I have offended my prince, for the whiche I aske hym hartely forgevenes, and beseche you all to praie to God with me, that he will forgeve me. O father forgeve me. O sonne forgeve me, O holy Ghost forgeve me: O thre persons in one God forgeve me. And now I praie you that be here, to beare me record, I die in the Catholicke faithe, not doubtyng in any article of my faith, no nor doubtyng in any Sacrament of the Churche.* Many hath sclaundered me, and reported that I have been a bearer, of suche as hath mainteigned evill opinions, whiche is untrue, but I confesse that like as God by his holy spirite, doth instruct us in the truthe, so the devill is redy to seduce us, and I have been seduced: but beare me witnes that I dye in the Catholicke faithe of the holy Churche. And I hartely desire you to praie for the Kynges grace, that he maie long live with you, maie long reigne over you. And once again I desire you to pray for me, that so long as life remaigneth in this fleshe, I waver nothyng in my faithe.

And then made he his praier, whiche was long, but not so long, as bothe Godly and learned, and after committed his soule, into the handes of God, and so paciently suffered the stroke of the axe, by a ragged and Boocherly miser, whiche very ungoodly perfourmed the Office.

If Cromwell’s dying sentiment concealed any lasting bitterness for the crown, maybe his spirit would take some satisfaction a century later when another of his name and family rose high enough to behead a king.

* Cromwell’s bit about the “Catholic faith” in his dying confession is to be carefully handled; it’s sometimes rendered “the traditional faith,” and occasionally treated by later Protestant polemicists as a phony addition made by Roman apologists. It’s not, appearances aside, walking back the Reformation; according to Charles Carlton’s “Thomas Cromwell: A Study in Interrogation” (Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies, Vol. 5, No. 2 (Summer, 1973)) our day’s victim “did not see himself as a Catholic separate from the Church, but as a Christian, who, with his King, had escaped the Pope’s usurped authority.” Cromwell is also explicit in this passage about rejecting sacramentarianism, which was part of the heresy accusation against him.

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1542: Kathryn Howard, the rose without a thorn

18 comments February 13th, 2009 Lara Eakins

(Thanks to Lara Eakins of the TudorHistory.org Blog for the guest post. -ed.)

On this date in 1542, Henry VIII’s fifth queen, Kathryn Howard, was beheaded in the Tower of London for high treason. She was the second of Henry’s queens to face this fate, the other being Kathryn’s first cousin Anne Boleyn.

This Hans Holbein miniature is generally thought to be Kathryn Howard, though the identification is uncertain. From the TudorHistory.org blog Kathryn Howard gallery.

Kathryn Howard* was born sometime between 1518 and 1524 to Lord Edmund Howard (a younger brother of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk) and his wife Joyce Culpepper. Joyce died while Kathryn was young and her father took a post in Calais, leaving Kathryn in the charge of her step-grandmother, Agnes Tilney the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. The Duchess oversaw Kathryn’s education, but apparently didn’t keep as close an eye on other aspects of the girl’s life.

Kathryn’s first physical relationship that we know of occurred in around 1536 with her music teacher Henry Manox. In her later confession she told of “the fair and flattering persuasions of Mannock, being but a young girl, suffered him at sundry times to handle and touch the secret parts of my body…”. In late 1538, Kathryn began a sexual relationship with Francis Dereham, which was to become part of her downfall as Queen.

The next year, 1539, Kathryn took a position at court, becoming a maid of honor for Henry’s soon-to-be fourth Queen, Anne of Cleves. The Dowager Duchess of Norfolk later recalled that Henry first took notice of Kathryn at Greenwich in December of 1539 during the preparations for Anne’s arrival. Henry was famously disappointed by his new foreign bride and by early July 1540 the marriage was annulled. During the short marriage to Anne of Cleves, Henry had already begun to send gifts to Kathryn and took her as his fifth Queen on July 28th at Oatlands Palace.

Henry was 49 years old and Kathryn was no older than 22 (and more likely around 19). For all that can be said against this match, the vivacious young girl brought back some of Henry’s zest for life. The King lavished gifts on his young wife and called her his ‘rose without a thorn’ and the ‘very jewel of womanhood’.

Thomas Culpepper, a distant relation of Kathryn’s through her mother, sought favor from the Queen in early 1541 which was probably when their secret meetings began. Their rendezvous were aided by Kathryn’s lady of the privy chamber, Jane Boleyn, sister-in-law to the late Queen Anne Boleyn through Jane’s marriage to Anne’s brother George.** Also at this time, Francis Dereham returned to England from Ireland and gained a position in Kathryn’s household, possibly arranged to keep his silence about their earlier relationship.

During the summer of 1541, Henry and his young queen went on progress to the north of England and returned to Hampton Court on October 29. Just a few days later everything would begin to unravel. On November 2, Archbishop Cranmer sent a letter to the King telling him of his wife’s previous lovers. Henry seemed reluctant to believe the charges at first, but upon the questioning of Dereham and Manox –- who confirmed the allegations –- Henry left Kathryn at Hampton Court and returned to London. He never saw her again.

During the interrogations of the men, Francis Dereham said that Thomas Culpepper had replaced him in the Queen’s affections. Kathryn was presented with these new allegations and admitted to secret meetings with Culpepper (as well as the relationships with Manox and Dereham before her marriage), but denied that a sexual relationship had existed between them. Culpepper was imprisoned in the Tower of London and Kathryn was moved to the former abbey at Syon and deprived of her queenship.

Dereham and Culpepper were found guilty of treason on December 1 and were executed on December 10. Dereham was hanged, disemboweled, beheaded and quartered at Tyburn. Culpepper fared better, owing to his status, and was only beheaded. The former queen and her lady Jane Boleyn never faced a trial for their actions but instead had acts of attainder passed against them. On February 10, 1542, the ladies entered the Tower of London to await their executions.

Kathryn was told on the 12th that her execution would be the next morning and according to Imperial Ambassador Chapuys, she rehearsed the execution for several hours and even requested that the block be brought to her so she would know how to place her head. A merchant named Ottwell Johnson was an eyewitness to the execution on the morning of the 13th and wrote in a letter to his brother that Kathryn and Jane both “made the most godly and Christian end” and that Kathryn, in her scaffold speech, said that her punishment was worthy and just. (The letter is among period correspondence printed in this public-domain book.)

Kathryn’s head was struck from her body with one stoke of the axe, as was Jane’s, a merciful outcome compared to other ladies who shared their fate, such as Margaret Pole and Mary Queen of Scots. Kathryn and Jane were both quickly buried in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula in the Tower precincts, joining Henry’s other beheaded queen, Anne Boleyn and Jane’s husband, George.

[flv:http://www.executedtoday.com/video/Lynne_Frederick_as_Katherine_Howard.flv 440 330]

* Or Catherine Howard, or Katherine Howard, or Katheryn Howard. Spelling at the time, even of proper names, was fluid.

** Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, is popularly supposed to have supplied the explosive incest allegation against her husband, George Boleyn, and his sister Anne Boleyn. Being subsequently hoisted on her own petard in the game of courtly purging, she tends to get short shrift in the sympathy department — though the fact is that we really don’t know much about her.

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1547: Not Thomas Howard, because Henry VIII died first

8 comments January 29th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1547, the Duke of Norfolk was to have been beheaded.

But thanks to the previous day’s death of the corpulent 55-year-old King Henry VIII, the duke’s death warrant was never signed, and the condemned noble died in bed … seven years later.

A force in the gore-soaked arena of English politics for two generations, Thomas Howard had steered two nieces into the monarch’s bed. Both girls had gone to the scaffold,* and the disgrace of the second, Catherine Howard, brought a collapse in the whole family’s fortunes. Thomas Howard’s son Henry was not as lucky as the father: Henry was beheaded just a few days before the king succumbed, on the same charge of treason that almost claimed Thomas this day.

Though Howard pere would survive long enough to see his title restored, this day was far from the last chapter of his grasping family’s encounter with that classic Tudor denouement, the chopping-block. Thomas, his executed son, and his executed grandson today stock the family tombs at St. Michael, Framlingham — itself a sort of late monument to the aristocracy unmade by Henry’s reforms more than by his executioners.

* “She has miscarried of her savior,” Howard famously remarked of the male heir his niece Anne Boleyn delivered stillborn. A few months later, the Duke presided over Anne’s trial and voted to condemn her to death. (Hat tip: Fiz.)

Part of the Themed Set: The English Reformation.

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