On this day in 1542, Queen Katherine Howard, the fifth wife of King Henry VIII, was beheaded. Her alleged pre- and extramarital liaisons had come to light in the previous year, during the King’s so-called ‘Great Progress‘ to York, undertaken with the aim of demonstrating Henry’s power and authority in the north of England, in the wake of the failed popular rising known as the Pilgrimage of Grace, which was partly a protest at the break with Rome and the dissolution of the monasteries.
Business transacted by the Privy Council at its meeting back in London on 14 November 1541 included the sending of letters to the Deputy of Calais and the ambassadors in Flanders, France and the Holy Roman Empire, declaring ‘the story of the Queen’s misdemeanour’. On 1 December Richard Rich was appointed as one of the three privy councillors to examine Francis Dereham, William Damport and Joan Bulmer in the case against the Queen, and he was also a member of the special commission appointed to try Thomas Culpeper and Dereham at Guildhall the same day. The indictment against Katherine contained the accusation that she:
queen of England, formerly called Kath. Howard, late of Lambeth, Surrey, one of the daughters of Lord Edmund Howard, before the marriage between the King and her, led an abominable, base, carnal, voluptuous and vicious life, like a common harlot, with divers persons, as with Francis Dereham … maintaining however the outward appearance of chastity and honesty. That she led the King by word and gesture to love her and (he believing her to be pure and chaste and free from other matrimonial yoke) arrogantly coupled herself with him in marriage …
Katherine (who had been stripped of her title of Queen on 23 November) was accused of having continued her relations with Dereham, and of having seduced Culpeper, during the Progress at Pontefract, among other places. On 6 December Rich was involved, with other members of the Council, in examining the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, suspected of complicity with the accused. While Rich and other councillors remained in London to deal with the Howard affair (Culpeper and Dereham were executed at Tyburn on 10 December, Katherine herself being beheaded on 13 February 1542), the King went away to try to recover his spirits after this latest marital disaster.
Several of these characters, particularly the great survivor Richard Rich, feature throughout the pages of my book The Burning Time.