Thomas Culpeper
Sir Thomas Culpeper was a courtier
A courtier is a person who is often in attendance at the court of a king or other royal personage. Historically the court was the centre of government as well as the residence of the monarch, and social and political life were often completely mixed together...

 of Henry VIII
Henry VIII of England
Henry VIII was King of England from 21 April 1509 until his death. He was Lord, and later King, of Ireland, as well as continuing the nominal claim by the English monarchs to the Kingdom of France...

 and the lover of Henry's fifth queen, Catherine Howard
Catherine Howard
Catherine Howard , also spelled Katherine, Katheryn or Kathryn, was the fifth wife of Henry VIII of England, and sometimes known by his reference to her as his "rose without a thorn"....

. He was born to Alexander Culpeper of Bedgebury
Bedgebury Cross
Bedgebury Cross is a hamlet located, as its name suggests, in the Bedgebury Forest area of Kent, England. It is located on the B2079 road connecting Goudhurst with the A21 road at Flimwell. The term "cross" refers to a wayside cross that originally existed at this site, this cross is replicated in...

, to the south of Maidstone
Maidstone is the county town of Kent, England, south-east of London. The River Medway runs through the centre of the town linking Maidstone to Rochester and the Thames Estuary. Historically, the river was a source and route for much of the town's trade. Maidstone was the centre of the agricultural...

 in Kent
Kent is a county in southeast England, and is one of the home counties. It borders East Sussex, Surrey and Greater London and has a defined boundary with Essex in the middle of the Thames Estuary. The ceremonial county boundaries of Kent include the shire county of Kent and the unitary borough of...

, and his second wife, Constance Harper. He was the middle child and his older brother, also named Thomas, was a client of Thomas Cromwell. The brothers were known for collecting valuable items for the royal family during their time at court. He was distantly related to the Howard
Howard family
The Howard family is an English aristocratic family founded by John Howard who was created Duke of Norfolk by Plantagenet monarch Richard III of England in 1483. However, John was also the eldest grandson of the 1st Duke of 1st creation...

 clan, who were immensely powerful at the time, and was a distant cousin of Joyce Culpeper
Joyce Culpeper
Jocasta "Joyce" Culpeper, of Oxon Hoath was the mother of Catherine Howard, the fifth wife and Queen Consort to King Henry VIII.-Early life:...

, Catherine Howard's mother. They were particularly influential after the fall of Cardinal Wolsey in 1529, and for a brief time under the reign of Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn ;c.1501/1507 – 19 May 1536) was Queen of England from 1533 to 1536 as the second wife of Henry VIII of England and Marquess of Pembroke in her own right. Henry's marriage to Anne, and her subsequent execution, made her a key figure in the political and religious upheaval that was the...

, who was one of their cousins.

Royal service

In 1535, Culpeper was acting as courtier for the Viscount Lisle
Arthur Plantagenet, 1st Viscount Lisle
Arthur Plantagenet, 1st Viscount Lisle, KG was an illegitimate son of King Edward IV of England, and an important figure at the court of Henry VIII...

 and his wife, Honor. During that time he collected a number of items for them. In 1538, Honor presented Culpeper with a hawk and during that same year, Culpeper worked with Richard Cromwell to gain a hawk for King Henry VIII.

Culpeper was described as 'a beautiful youth' and he was a great favourite of Henry. It was because of this favouritism that Culpeper had major influence with the King and was often bribed to use his influence on others’ behalf. In 1539, a Thomas Culpeper was accused of raping
Rape is a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse, which is initiated by one or more persons against another person without that person's consent. The act may be carried out by physical force, coercion, abuse of authority or with a person who is incapable of valid consent. The...

 a park-keeper’s wife and then murdering a villager. However there is a possibility that the rapist was Culpeper's elder brother, also called Thomas. Whoever was the guilty party, through influence on the King, a pardon was given. Culpeper was given the honour of being keeper of the armoury and Henry eventually made Culpeper gentleman to the King's Privy Chamber
Privy chamber
A Privy chamber was the private apartment of a royal residence in England. The gentlemen of the Privy chamber were servants to the Crown who would wait and attend on the King and Queen at court during their various activities, functions and entertainments....

, 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
Anne of Cleves
Anne of Cleves was a German noblewoman and the fourth wife of Henry VIII of England and as such she was Queen of England from 6 January 1540 to 9 July 1540. The marriage was never consummated, and she was not crowned queen consort...

 when she arrived in England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 for her marriage.

From 1537-1541, Culpeper was given several gifts, including keeper of the manor at Penshurst Palace and property in Kent
Kent is a county in southeast England, and is one of the home counties. It borders East Sussex, Surrey and Greater London and has a defined boundary with Essex in the middle of the Thames Estuary. The ceremonial county boundaries of Kent include the shire county of Kent and the unitary borough of...

, Essex
Essex is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan county in the East region of England, and one of the home counties. It is located to the northeast of Greater London. It borders with Cambridgeshire and Suffolk to the north, Hertfordshire to the west, Kent to the South and London to the south west...

, Gloucestershire
Gloucestershire is a county in South West England. The county comprises part of the Cotswold Hills, part of the flat fertile valley of the River Severn, and the entire Forest of Dean....

, and Wiltshire
Wiltshire is a ceremonial county in South West England. It is landlocked and borders the counties of Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. It contains the unitary authority of Swindon and covers...


Affair with Catherine Howard

Culpeper had close access and often came into contact with the Queen and her attendants. Thomas Culpeper was first introduced into Catherine Howard
Catherine Howard
Catherine Howard , also spelled Katherine, Katheryn or Kathryn, was the fifth wife of Henry VIII of England, and sometimes known by his reference to her as his "rose without a thorn"....

’s personal life in March 1541, when King Henry VIII went on a trip to Dover
Dover is a town and major ferry port in the home county of Kent, in South East England. It faces France across the narrowest part of the English Channel, and lies south-east of Canterbury; east of Kent's administrative capital Maidstone; and north-east along the coastline from Dungeness and Hastings...

 and left Catherine behind at Greenwich
Greenwich is a district of south London, England, located in the London Borough of Greenwich.Greenwich is best known for its maritime history and for giving its name to the Greenwich Meridian and Greenwich Mean Time...

. At this time Culpeper began asking favours of Catherine, who was distantly related to him. The private meetings between them are thought to have begun sometime around May of that same year. Catherine’s lady-in-waiting, Jane Boleyn
Jane Boleyn, Viscountess Rochford
Jane Boleyn, Viscountess Rochford was an English noblewoman who lived in the reign of Henry VIII. She was a sister-in-law of Henry's second wife Anne Boleyn and lady-in-waiting to his fifth wife Catherine Howard, with whom she was executed.-Early life:Born Jane Parker, she was the daughter of...

 or Lady Rochford, arranged the meetings between Culpeper and Catherine. On these occasions only she and another lady-in-waiting, Katherine Tilney, were allowed entrance to the Queen’s chamber.

On June 30 Catherine and King Henry VIII travelled north to York
York is a walled city, situated at the confluence of the Rivers Ouse and Foss in North Yorkshire, England. The city has a rich heritage and has provided the backdrop to major political events throughout much of its two millennia of existence...

 in the hope of meeting James V of Scotland
James V of Scotland
James V was King of Scots from 9 September 1513 until his death, which followed the Scottish defeat at the Battle of Solway Moss...

. They arrived at Lincoln
Lincolnshire is a county in the east of England. It borders Norfolk to the south east, Cambridgeshire to the south, Rutland to the south west, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire to the west, South Yorkshire to the north west, and the East Riding of Yorkshire to the north. It also borders...

 on August 9, where Culpeper met Catherine for another secret meeting in her bedchamber. These meetings continued in Pontefract Castle
Pontefract Castle
Pontefract Castle is a castle in the town of Pontefract, in the City of Wakefield, West Yorkshire, England. It was the site of the demise of Richard II of England, and later the place of a series of famous sieges during the English Civil War-History:...

, after the court arrived on August 23. It is believed that the infamous letter Catherine sent to Culpeper was sent during these proceedings. In this letter she wishes to know how he is and is troubled that he is ill. Catherine also writes, “I never longed so muche for [a] thynge as I do to se you and to speke wyth you, the wyche I trust shal be shortely now,” and “my trust ys allway in you that you wolbe as you have promysed me...” These statements cause some audiences to believe that their affair was not one of passion, but rather centred towards Culpeper’s political agenda. With Henry in poor health and only his very young son Edward
Edward VI of England
Edward VI was the King of England and Ireland from 28 January 1547 until his death. He was crowned on 20 February at the age of nine. The son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, Edward was the third monarch of the Tudor dynasty and England's first monarch who was raised as a Protestant...

 to succeed him, being Catherine's favourite would undoubtedly have put Culpeper in a very strong political position. As a well-liked member of the King’s Privy Chamber he enjoyed a close relationship with Henry. If the promise Catherine mentioned was in reference to his possible knowledge about her previous sexual relationship, Culpeper was most likely using this as leverage to gain power and control over the Queen herself. In her letter Catherine states that she longs to talk with Culpeper but does not mention any desire to be intimate with him.

Stories of the Queen's premarital indiscretions had meanwhile come to the attention of Thomas Cranmer
Thomas Cranmer
Thomas Cranmer was a leader of the English Reformation and Archbishop of Canterbury during the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI and, for a short time, Mary I. He helped build a favourable case for Henry's divorce from Catherine of Aragon which resulted in the separation of the English Church from...

, then Archbishop of Canterbury
Archbishop of Canterbury
The Archbishop of Canterbury is the senior bishop and principal leader of the Church of England, the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and the diocesan bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury. In his role as head of the Anglican Communion, the archbishop leads the third largest group...

. During Cranmer's investigations, he came across rumours of an affair between the Queen and Culpeper; Culpeper was soon 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 for which Cranmer was looking. Whether the association 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.

Downfall and execution

Culpeper was arrested on orders from King Henry and, in December 1541, was tried for adultery alongside Francis Dereham
Francis Dereham
Francis Dereham was a Tudor courtier whose involvement with Henry VIII's fifth Queen, Catherine Howard, in her youth was a principal cause of the Queen's execution.-Life:...

, who was separately accused of adultery 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
Chenies Manor House
Chenies Manor House, at Chenies, Buckinghamshire, southern England, a Grade I Listed Building, known formerly as Chenies Palace, was owned by the Cheyne family who were granted the manorial rights in 1180. The current house was built around 1460 by Sir John Cheyne...

 in Buckinghamshire
Buckinghamshire is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan home county in South East England. The county town is Aylesbury, the largest town in the ceremonial county is Milton Keynes and largest town in the non-metropolitan county is High Wycombe....

, although it could easily have been the other way around. With testimony given of private meetings at Hatfield House
Hatfield House
Hatfield House is a country house set in a large park, the Great Park, on the eastern side of the town of Hatfield, Hertfordshire, England. The present Jacobean house was built in 1611 by Robert Cecil, First Earl of Salisbury and Chief Minister to King James I and has been the home of the Cecil...

 in Hertfordshire
Hertfordshire is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan county in the East region of England. The county town is Hertford.The county is one of the Home Counties and lies inland, bordered by Greater London , Buckinghamshire , Bedfordshire , Cambridgeshire and...

, and during the royal progress to the north of England in the summer of 1541, his fate was sealed. Culpeper admitted under torture
Torture is the act of inflicting severe pain as a means of punishment, revenge, forcing information or a confession, or simply as an act of cruelty. Throughout history, torture has often been used as a method of political re-education, interrogation, punishment, and coercion...

 to having had sexual relations with Catherine. Both Culpeper and Dereham were found guilty and sentenced to death
Death Sentence
Death Sentence is a short story by the American science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov. It was first published in the November 1943 issue of Astounding Science Fiction and reprinted in the 1972 collection The Early Asimov.-Plot summary:...


The means of death was to be particularly gruesome: they were both to be hanged, drawn and quartered
Hanged, drawn and quartered
To be hanged, drawn and quartered was from 1351 a penalty in England for men convicted of high treason, although the ritual was first recorded during the reigns of King Henry III and his successor, Edward I...

. Both men pleaded for mercy; 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
Tyburn, London
Tyburn was a village in the county of Middlesex close to the current location of Marble Arch in present-day London. It took its name from the Tyburn or Teo Bourne 'boundary stream', a tributary of the River Thames which is now completely covered over between its source and its outfall into the...

 on 10 December 1541, and their heads were put on display on London Bridge
London Bridge
London Bridge is a bridge over the River Thames, connecting the City of London and Southwark, in central London. Situated between Cannon Street Railway Bridge and Tower Bridge, it forms the western end of the Pool of London...

. Culpeper was buried at St Sepulchre-without-Newgate
St Sepulchre-without-Newgate
St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, also known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre , is an Anglican church in the City of London. It is located on Holborn Viaduct, almost opposite the Old Bailey...

 church in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

. Queen Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Rochford were both subsequently executed on 13 February 1542.

Popular fiction

Within popular fiction, very little is told about Thomas Culpeper, save his association with King Henry VIII’s fifth wife. However, he is portrayed in several plays and several writings, but always closely associated with Catherine.

Portrayal in literature

In the book A Tudor Tragedy; The Life and Times of Catherine Howard, the author writes that there were rumours during the time period that Thomas Culpeper and Catherine Howard intended to be married, before Henry VIII set his sights on her. The book describes Thomas Culpeper as a young man in his twenties, hence his appeal to Catherine, who, during the time of her marriage to Henry VIII, witnessed his steadily declining physical state and overall health. This was in conjunction with his steadily declining sanity; during his last year with Catherine Howard, Henry VIII was seen as more and more emotionally erratic.

The affair seems to have always attracted the attention of authors who are looking to write about scandal. One such particular writer was a Spanish
Spanish people
The Spanish are citizens of the Kingdom of Spain. Within Spain, there are also a number of vigorous nationalisms and regionalisms, reflecting the country's complex history....

 chronicler who may have been at King Henry VIII’s court, who wrote his very romantic — and for the greater part inaccurate — interpretation of Catherine’s career. In his version of the story, he portrays King Henry VIII as the cruel, selfish husband, who bullied the unwilling Catherine into marrying him against her will, despite her previous involvement with Thomas Culpeper, who is portrayed as the devoted and heartbroken hero who resisted his love for Catherine for as long as he possibly could, until one day he secretly slipped her a note declaring his love for her. When their love was discovered by the King, Thomas was arrested and tortured but, according to the writings, he bravely stated: “Gentlemen, do not seek to know more than that the King deprived me of the thing I loved best in the world, and, though you may hang me for it, I can assure you that she loves me as well as I love her, although up to this hour no wrong has ever passed between us. Before the King married her, I thought to make her my wife, and when I saw her irremediably lost to me I was like to die.” According to the story, the Duke of Somerset
Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset
Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, 1st Earl of Hertford, 1st Viscount Beauchamp of Hache, KG, Earl Marshal was Lord Protector of England in the period between the death of Henry VIII in 1547 and his own indictment in 1549....

 retorted to this monologue with, ”You have said quite enough, Culpeper, to lose your head.”

In Ford Madox Ford
Ford Madox Ford
Ford Madox Ford was an English novelist, poet, critic and editor whose journals, The English Review and The Transatlantic Review, were instrumental in the development of early 20th-century English literature...

's trilogy on Catherine Howard, entitled The Fifth Queen
The Fifth Queen
The Fifth Queen trilogy is a series of connected historical novels by English novelist Ford Madox Ford. It consists of three novels, The Fifth Queen; And How She Came to Court , Privy Seal and The Fifth Queen Crowned , which present a highly fictionalized account of Katharine Howard's arrival at...

, Culpeper is portrayed as an intimate of Catherine's who, early on in the novel, arrives with her in tow on a mule as the wedding with Anne of Cleves
Anne of Cleves
Anne of Cleves was a German noblewoman and the fourth wife of Henry VIII of England and as such she was Queen of England from 6 January 1540 to 9 July 1540. The marriage was never consummated, and she was not crowned queen consort...

 is about to take place. In dragging the mule forward, as a riot is starting outside the King's garden, he is described as "a man in green at the mule's head, [who] ... sprang like a wild cat under the beast's neck. His face blazed white, his teeth shone like a dog's, he screamed and struck his dagger through the butcher's throat [someone trying to block his and Catherine's way]. His motions were those of a wild beast". His introduction to Court is brought about through Catherine. He is sent to Calais
Calais is a town in Northern France in the department of Pas-de-Calais, of which it is a sub-prefecture. Although Calais is by far the largest city in Pas-de-Calais, the department's capital is its third-largest city of Arras....

 to keep him from getting in trouble at Court for his brawling. He is often mentioned as having sold property to buy his impoverished cousin Catherine a proper dress and is not at all consistent with the historical record.

On-screen portrayals

In the 1933 film The Private Life of Henry VIII
The Private Life of Henry VIII
The Private Life of Henry VIII is a 1933 film about Henry VIII, King of England. It was written by Lajos Biró and Arthur Wimperis, and directed by Sir Alexander Korda.Charles Laughton won the 1933 Academy Award as Best Actor for his performance as Henry...

, Culpeper was played by Robert Donat
Robert Donat
Robert Donat was an English film and stage actor. He is best-known for his roles in Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps and Goodbye, Mr...

, and in the BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

 series The Six Wives of Henry VIII, he was played by Ralph Bates
Ralph Bates
Ralph Bates was an English film and television actor, known for his role in the British sitcom Dear John and for being one of Hammer Horror's best-known actors from the latter period of the company....

. In the Showtime television
Cable television
Cable television is a system of providing television programs to consumers via radio frequency signals transmitted to televisions through coaxial cables or digital light pulses through fixed optical fibers located on the subscriber's property, much like the over-the-air method used in traditional...

 series The Tudors
The Tudors
The Tudors is a Canadian produced historical fiction television series filmed in Ireland, created by Michael Hirst and produced for the American premium cable television channel Showtime...

, Thomas Culpeper is portrayed by Torrance Coombs
Torrance Coombs
Torrance Coombs is a Canadian film, theatre and television actor.-Early life, education and early acting work:He was born and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada....

; in this series, he is characterised as a cruel, arrogant man whose interest in Catherine is purely sexual. The series does not mention his knighthood.

External links

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