Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Execution of Thomas Culpepper and Francis Dereham

One of the most exciting things about writing historical fiction based on real people and real circumstances is that the timelines are verifiable and the events in the novel can be attached to actual dates.

Four hundred seventy-two years ago today, Cat Howard caught a glimpse of her own future--and her own guilt--when Thomas Culpepper and Francis Dereham were executed for their disastrous relationships with her.  Not a happy occasion, to be sure, but in history pinpointed dates are often only set down for births, deaths and weddings, and sometimes not even then.  I have to take my precision where I can get it.

In honor of these two young men--one of whom may or may not have been as bad as I portrayed him, and one of whom may or may not have been as blameless--I'm going to let Kitty tell you how it happened...

In the next few weeks the Tower grew gluttonous on the incarceration of traitors.

They brought in the dowager duchess after she burned a coffer full of papers said to belong to Francis Dereham. The rest of the Coven came, too. The number of prisoners soon exceeded Tower capacity. Lower-ranking and obviously innocent members of the duchess’ household were shipped off to other prisons. But not I.

The duke stood outside the Tower gates, outside the prison, outside the very law itself and exclaimed loudly and constantly that he knew nothing of his slatternly niece’s dubious conduct. He vilified her. Condemned her. Stood free upon the back of her guilt.

The Howard men groveled at the feet of the king, swearing loyalty. And were allowed to go free.

And Edmund Standebanke continued in the king’s service.

Men, I thought. Even guilt can’t shackle them.

But then Francis and Culpepper were executed. Pulled from the Tower by an ox-drawn cart, met with the jeers and silent judgment of Londoners. Culpepper’s sentence was commuted to decapitation. 

Francis was not so lucky.