28th July 1540. ‘A Rose without a Thorn’.
Today in 1540 Thomas Cromwell, Chief Minister to Henry VIII and three months after being made Earl of Essex and Lord Great Chamberlain, was beheaded on Tower Hill.
It was also the day when the King aged 50 was married to his 5th wife the 19 year old Catherine Howard whom he had described as ‘a rose without a thorn’: she was beheaded two years later.
Both were executed without any recourse to a trial or the law without any evidence or crime specified.
‘Both cases illustrate the arbitrary and unpredictable streak which was to influence much of the King’s reign’, as the Tudor historian G.R. Elton later wrote.
It thus confirmed Henry as the tyrant he was, who condemned to death many others via a ‘packed’ parliament which he used to eradicate any of its powers.
Thomas Cromwell had been the chief suppressor of the Religious Houses-monasteries-under Cardinal Wolsey, but later Henry he was the scapegoat for Henry’s disastrous marriage to Anne of Cleves.
Other charges Cromwell related to a ‘lack of proper orthodoxy-‘sacramentarian heresy’- denying transubstantiation. He was charged with High Treason and Heresy and that he had sworn to marry the King’s daughter Mary in 1538 and usurp the throne.
The charges against Catherine Howard, followed no logic owing to the difficulty of proving any pre-marital liaison, in Canon Law there was no apparent grounds for annulment. In the final analysis, as with Cromwell, all depended on the will of the King.
Henry VIII after the decision to execute Catherine Howard, inserted in the Act of Attainder, noting that Assent by Commissioners: ‘is and ever was and ever shall be as good, as Assent by the Sovereign Person.’
Catherine’s fate was settled in 1541 after a progress to the North with Henry, the purpose of meeting his nephew James V of Scotland at York in September.
The meeting never happened and the journey is best known for Catherine’s alleged liaisons with a member of Henry’s Privy Chamber, Thomas Culpepper.(1)
It was reported that the lovers met at night at Pontefract, Lincoln and York and how nearly they were discovered when Anthony Denny arrived at Catherine’s room to fetch her to the King, only to find the door locked.
Catherine’s alleged further infidelity with Henry Manox and Francis Dereham at Lambeth, saw Dereham, ‘Hanged Drawn and Quartered’. Culpepper was granted the ‘privilege’ of beheading; both at Tyburn on the 10th December 1541.
The ostensibly cuckolded King had Catherine beheaded at the Tower on 13th February, 1542.(2)
(1) In 2000 the Public Record Office displayed the only letter to survive from Henry’s fifth wife Catherine Howard to her lover Thomas Culpepper. It ended: ‘Yours as long life endures.’
(2) As Eustace Chapuy reported to the Queen of Hungary…’The ordinary executioner was in the north doing his duty so a wretched and blundering youth (garconneau) literally hacked at the neck and shoulders in a most pitiful fashion.’
Ref: G.R.Elton, Tudor historian as quoted in Wikipedia.