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Thomas Culpeper ( 1635 - 1689 )  Category ( Historical_Figures ) [suggest a correction]

Thomas CulpeperSaid to be strikingly handsome, "a beautiful youth," by his contemporaries, Thomas Culpeper's presence at the court of King Henry VIII during the later years of the king's reign, spelled disaster for Culpepper, Henry's fifth queen, and others.

Henry was getting older and the years had been unkind to his visage and physique. He was obese, arthritic, and had a large, weeping sore on his leg (acquired by a jousting injury years before). He was hardly the romantic figure of his youth, and an inappropriate choice of husband for the teenaged Katherine Howard.

Still stinging from his disastrous fourth marriage to Anne of Cleves, Henry hastily married Katherine, who was a distant cousin of his second wife, Anne Boleyn. Thomas Culpeper was one among the delegation welcoming Anne of Cleves to England, and this is when he first appears in the official court record. He was also a distant relative of the Boleyns, through their kinsmen, the powerful Howards.

Culpepper quickly became a great favorite of the king, and was invited to become a gentleman to the king's privy chamber. This allowed Culpeper greater access to the inner court, to the king himself, and Culpeper participated in dressing and undressing the king each day. Naturally, Culpeper had intimate access to those close to the king, including his new, teenaged bride, Katherine. The two young people began to spend a great deal of time together, including late at night. They were assisted in their secretive efforts by Lady Rochford, Anne Boleyn's sister-in-law. Such behavior went largely unnoticed by the king, who apparently could not believe that any woman would ever betray him in his own household.

However, Thomas Cramner, the Archbishop of Canterbury, did take notice, and investigated Katherine's sexual history. He discovered that she had had previous lovers and that she was involved in an extra-marital affair with Culpepper. He brought Culpepper in for questioning. Both parties denied the affair, but a love letter written by Katherine to Culpepper emerged as powerful evidence to the contrary. While no proof was ever discovered, circumstances pointed to profound disloyalty to the king. Once the king was made aware of the indiscretions, he ordered Culpeper arrested and tried for treason, along with another former suspected lover of the queen, Francis Dereham. The queen was portrayed as a seductress who proved irresistible to Culpeper. The two men were tortured to confession, then found guilty of charges against them and sentenced to death.

Henry's male ego must have been particularly wounded, as the ordered method of death was particularly cruel, involving hanging, drawing and quartering. Culpeper, due to his close association with the king, had his sentence commuted to a simple, swift beheading. Both men were executed in late 1541. Their heads, as was custom, were displayed on London Bridge. Two months later both Queen Catherine and Lady Jane Rochford were executed.

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