Agnes Howard, Duchess of Norfolk - Dowager Duchess

Dowager Duchess

The Dowager Duchess remained in favour after her husband's death. Ordinances issued at Eltham in 1526 indicate that she was accorded first place in the Queen's household after the King's sister Mary Tudor.

On 23 May 1533 Archbishop Thomas Cranmer declared Henry VIII's marriage to his first Queen, Catherine of Aragon, a nullity. On or about 25 January 1533 the King had already married the Dowager Duchess's step-granddaughter Anne Boleyn in a secret ceremony. Anne was crowned Queen on 1 June 1533. The Dowager Duchess bore Anne's train in the coronation procession, and was godmother at the christening of Anne's daughter, Princess Elizabeth. Anne's two subsequent miscarriages caused the King misgivings about the marriage, but Anne's downfall ultimately came about as a result of her conflict with the King's chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, over the distribution of the spoils from the dissolution of the monasteries. Anne was charged with adultery and high treason, and on 19 May 1536 was beheaded at Tower Green.

The King then took Jane Seymour as his third wife. Two years after her death, at Cromwell's instigation the King wed Anne of Cleves on 6 January 1540. However the King's physical revulsion for his new bride led to a speedy annulment of the marriage by Act of Parliament on 12 July 1540. By then the 15-year-old Katherine Howard, another of the Dowager Duchess's step-granddaughters, had already caught the King's eye. Henry and Katherine were married at a private ceremony at Oatlands on 28 July 1540. Despite the fact that Henry was much in love with her, referring to her as his "rose without a thorn", the marriage quickly came to a disastrous end. While the King and Queen were on progress during the fall of 1541, the religious reformer John Lassells and his sister Mary Hall brought to the attention of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, the Queen's sexual indiscretions with her music master, Henry Manox, and a Howard kinsman, Francis Dereham, while she had been a young girl living in the Dowager Duchess's household at Lambeth.

On 1 November 1541 Cranmer revealed these matters in a letter to the King. The King immediately ordered that the Queen be confined to her apartments, and never saw her again. The Dowager Duchess, hearing reports of what had happened while Katherine had been under her lax guardianship, reasoned that 'If there be none offence sithence the marriage, she cannot die for that was done before'. Unfortunately for the Queen and the Dowager Duchess, further investigations by Cranmer and the Council revealed that with the connivance of one of her attendants, Lady Rochford, Katherine had allegedly had an affair with Thomas Culpeper, one of the King's favourite gentlemen of the privy chamber, after her marriage to the King.

Dereham, Manox and other members of the Dowager Duchess's household were arrested and interrogated by the Council. Norfolk was sent to search the Dowager Duchess's house at Lambeth and question members of the household, who revealed that the Duchess had attempted to destroy evidence by burning the papers of Dereham and his friend William Damport. The Duchess was sent to the Tower. Towards the end of November she was questioned by the Council, but could add little to what was already known by her interrogators. On 1 December Dereham and Culpeper were arraigned on charges of treason. Both were convicted at trial, and sentenced to death. Dereham and his friend William Damport were tortured in an attempt to wring confessions from them concerning Queen Katherine's alleged adultery, and on 10 December 1541 Dereham and Culpeper were executed at Tyburn. On the same day the Dowager Duchess was again questioned, and admitted to having promoted her niece as a prospective bride for the King while having knowledge of her prior misconduct, to having persuaded the Queen to take Dereham into her service, and to having burned Dereham's letters.

By mid-December the Dowager Duchess's eldest son, William Howard, his wife, and the Duchess's daughter Anne Howard were committed to the Tower. About the same time another of the Duchess's daughters, Katherine Daubeney, Lady Bridgewater was also arrested. On 14 December 1541 the Duchess' stepson, the Duke of Norfolk, fearful for his own safety, denounced his stepmother and kin in a letter to the King. On 22 December William Howard and his wife and a number of servants who had been witnesses to the Queen's misconduct, including Malyn Tilney, the mother of Edmund Tilney, Queen Elizabeth's future Master of the Revels, were arraigned for misprision of treason 'for concealing the evil demeanour of the Queen, to the slander of the King and his succession'. All were sentenced to life imprisonment and loss of goods, although most were pardoned after Queen Katherine's execution. The Dowager Duchess, although included in the indictment, was not brought to trial as she was 'old and testy', and 'may die out of perversity to defraud the King's Highness of the confiscation of her goods', but like the others she was sentenced to imprisonment and forfeiture of lands and goods.

On 6 February 1542 a bill of attainder against Queen Katherine and Lady Rochford received final reading, and on 13 February 1542 the Queen and Lady Rochford were beheaded on Tower Green. The King was of the view that there was as much reason to convict the Dowager Duchess of treason as there had been to convict Dereham. However the Council urged leniency, and she was eventually released from the Tower on 5 May 1542. Her stepson, the Duke of Norfolk, escaped punishment, but was never fully trusted again by the King.

Read more about this topic:  Agnes Howard, Duchess Of Norfolk

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