Thomas Culpeper (Catherine Howard's lover)

Male, #8603, (circa 1514 - 10 Dec 1541)
Name-AltSpell This surname is sometimes spelled Colepeper. 
Name Variation He was also known as Thomas Culpeper gentleman of the Privy Chamber. 
Name-AltSpell This surname is sometimes spelled Culpepper. 
Birth*circa 1514 Thomas was born circa 1514. The ancestry of Thomas is unknown. Wikipedia claims he was the son of Alexander Culpeper (ID: 8451), but Alexander's will only mentions one son named Thomas, not two. Further research is needed.1 
Deed*Jan 1541 Thos. Culpeper, a gentleman of the Privy Chamber. Lease of parcels (specified and tenants named) of the manor of Michelham Parkegate, in Wanok and Erlington; of the manor of Sharnefold, in Westham, Fokington, and Jevington; of the manor of Downeashe, in Haylsham; and of the manor of Isenherst, in Mayfeld, Sussex; which premises belonged to Thos. Crumwell, late earl of Essex, attainted; for 21 years; at 17l. 3s 4d. rent, and 2s. increase. Hampton Court, 20 Dec. [tricesimo] (fn. 11) secundo. Del. 8 Jan. anno subscripto.-P.S. Pat. 32 Hen. VIII., p. 8, m. 47.2 
Biographycirca May 1541 Letter of Queen Catherine Howard of England to Thomas Culpeper (Catherine Howard's lover)
     This is the only surviving letter written by Henry VIII's fifth wife. It was written in the spring of 1541, roughly eight months after she married the king. After Catherine's fall from grace, Culpeper was among the men charged with committing adultery with the queen. It was a treasonable offense, and he was executed for it (along with Francis Dereham.) Culpeper tried to save himself by arguing that he had met with Catherine only because the young queen was 'dying of love for him', and would not let him end the relationship. Catherine, for her part, argued otherwise; she told her interrogators that Culpeper ceaselessly begged her for a meeting, and she was too fearful to refuse. However, the letter clearly supports Culpeper's version of events. After all, the queen did write 'it makes my heart die to think what fortune I have that I cannot be always in your company.'
     Catherine was not as well educated as Henry's other wives, though her mere ability to read and write was impressive enough for the time. This letter taxed her greatly, as she points out in the closing lines. It is transcribed here as originally written, and the grammatical mistakes are Catherine's own (she messes up her tenses, for instance.)


Master Culpeper,
     I heartily recommend me unto you, praying you to send me word how that you do. It was showed me that you was sick, the which thing troubled me very much till such time that I hear from you praying you to send me word how that you do, for I never longed so much for a thing as I do to see you and to speak with you, the which I trust shall be shortly now. That which doth comfortly me very much when I think of it, and when I think again that you shall depart from me again it makes my heart die to think what fortune I have that I cannot be always in your company. It my trust is always in you that you will be as you have promised me, and in that hope I trust upon still, praying you that you will come when my Lady Rochford is here for then I shall be best at leisure to be at your commandment, thanking you for that you have promised me to be so good unto that poor fellow my man which is one of the griefs that I do feel to depart from him for then I do know no one that I dare trust to send to you, and therefore I pray you take him to be with you that I may sometime hear from you one thing. I pray you to give me a horse for my man for I had much ado to get one and therefore I pray send me one by him and in so doing I am as I said afor, and thus I take my leave of you, trusting to see you shortly again and I would you was with me now that you might see what pain I take in writing to you.

Yours as long as life endures,

One thing I had forgotten and that is to instruct my man to tarry here with me still for he says whatsomever you bid him he will do it.3
Death*10 Dec 1541 He died on 10 Dec 1541. 
Biography* Thomas Culpeper was a courtier of Henry VIII and the lover of Henry's fifth queen, Catherine Howard. He was distantly related to the Howard clan, who were immensely powerful at the time. They were particularly influential after the fall of Cardinal Wolsey in 1529, and for a brief time under the reign of Anne Boleyn, who was one of their cousins.

Royal service. It seems that Culpeper entered royal service during Anne's time, although there is no record of any meeting between either Anne Boleyn or Jane Seymour and Culpeper, which would suggest that his real prominence did not begin until after 1537.

Culpeper was reportedly exceedingly attractive. He was described as 'a beautiful youth' and he was a great favourite of the king's. Henry eventually made Culpeper gentleman to the King's Privy Chamber, giving him intimate access to the king, as the role involved dressing and undressing Henry and often sleeping in his bedchamber. He was part of the group of privileged courtiers who greeted Henry's German bride Anne of Cleves when she arrived in England for her marriage.

Affair with Catherine Howard. In 1540, Culpeper caught the attention of Henry's new teenage bride, Catherine Howard. By 1541 they were spending time together, often alone and late at night, abetted by Catherine's lady-in-waiting, Lady Rochford, the widowed sister-in-law of Anne Boleyn. The affair would cause the downfall of all involved.

Stories of the queen's premarital indiscretions had meanwhile come to the attention of Thomas Cranmer, then Archbishop of Canterbury. During Cranmer's investigations, he came across rumours of an affair between the queen and Culpeper. Culpeper was arrested for questioning. Both he and the queen denied the allegations, but a love letter from Catherine to Culpeper found during a search of Culpeper's quarters, provided the evidence Cranmer was looking for. Whether the affair between Culpeper and the queen was ever consummated is still debated by historians, but the letter gives clear evidence of Catherine's feelings for Culpeper. Also in the love letter was a reference to Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford.

It is, however, speculative about how much of Culpeper's desire for the queen came from love and how much from political ambition. With Henry in poor health and with only his very young son Edward to succeed him, being Catherine's favourite would undoubtedly have put Culpeper in a very strong political position. However, he misjudged the whole affair, relying too heavily on his friendship with the king and on the queen's discretion.

Downfall and execution. Culpeper was arrested on orders from the king. In December 1541, Culpeper was tried for treason alongside Francis Dereham, who was separately accused of sexual relations with the queen before her marriage to Henry. Catherine had not hidden the affair with Culpeper from members of her household, who now testified against her to protect themselves.

The queen was portrayed as having seduced Culpeper at Chenies Palace, although it could easily have been the other way around. With testimony given of private meetings at Hatfield House and during the royal progress to the north of England in the summer of 1541, his fate was sealed. Culpeper admitted after torture to having had sexual relations with Catherine. Both Culpeper and Dereham were found guilty and sentenced to death.

The means of death was to be particularly gruesome. They were both to be hanged, drawn and quartered. That is, to be hanged by the neck, cut down while still alive, disemboweled, beheaded and quartered. Both men pleaded for leniency; Culpeper, presumably because of his former closeness to the king, received a commuted sentence of simple beheading. Dereham received no such mercy.

Culpeper was executed along with Dereham at Tyburn on 10 December 1541, and their heads were put on display on London Bridge. Culpeper was buried at St Sepulchre-without-Newgate church in London. Queen Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Rochford were both subsequently executed on 13 February 1542.4 
Last Edited2 Mar 2014


  2. British History Online, University of London & History of Parliament Trust
    British History Online is the digital library containing some of the core printed primary and secondary sources for the medieval and modern history of the British Isles. Created by the Institute of Historical Research and the History of Parliament Trust, it aims to support academic and personal users around the world in their learning, teaching and research.
  3. Marilee Hanson, Tudor England, 1485-1603, "Letters of the Six Wives of Henry VIII."
  4. Thomas Culpeper. (2010, May 17). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 18:37, July 26, 2010, from