John Lascelles

John Lascelles, the second of three children, was born in around 1510. He was the brother of Mary Lascelles. After studying at Furnival's Inn, in the 1530s he entered the household of Sir Francis Bryan. He now joined the service of Thomas Cromwell and in 1539 he helped him obtain the post of sewer in the king's privy chamber. According to his biographer, Alec Ryrie, the "chamber was a nest of evangelicals, and Lascelles quickly found himself among kindred spirits". (1)

Lascelles was a member of the group associated with opposition to conservatives such as Bishop Stephen Gardiner. When he was visiting his sister, Mary Hall, she told him about the teenage activities of Catherine Howard, the new wife of Henry VIII. Mary claimed that while working in the household of Duchess Agnes Howard at Chesworth House near Horsham, she observed Catherine have sexual relations with Henry Manox, Francis Dereham and Thomas Culpeper. (2)

John Lascelles took this information to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. He had never approved of Henry's marriage to Catherine. Cranmer did not personally dislike her but he was a strong opponent of her grandfather, Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk. If Lascelles's story was true, it gave him the opportunity to discredit her supporters, the powerful Catholic faction. With her out of the way Cranmer would be able to put forward the name of a bride who like Anne Boleyn favoured religious reform. (3)

John Lascelles & Thomas Cranmer

Cranmer had a meeting with Mary Hall. She told him that when she heard about Catherine's relationship with Manox in 1536 she went to see him and warned him of his behaviour. Manox replied: "Hold thy peace, woman! I know her well enough. My designs are of a dishonest kind, and from the liberties the young lady has allowed me, I doubt not of being able to effect my purpose. She hath said to me that I shall have her maidenhead, though it be painful to her, not doubting but I will be good to her hereafter." Hall then told of Catherine's relationship with Dereham. She claimed that for "a hundred nights or more" he had "crept into the ladies dormitory and climbed, dressed in doublet and hose" into Catherine's bed. (4)

On 2nd November, 1541, Archbishop Cranmer, presented a written statement of the allegations to Henry VIII. Cranmer wrote that Queen Catherine had been accused by Hall of "dissolute living before her marriage with Francis Dereham, and that was not secret, but many knew it." (5) Henry reacted with disbelief and told Cranmer that he did not think there was any foundation in these malicious accusations; nevertheless, Cranmer was to investigate the matter more thoroughly. "You are not to desist until you have got to the bottom of the pot." (6) Henry told Thomas Wriothesley that "he could not believe it to be true, and yet, the accusation having once been made, he could be satisfied till the certainty hereof was known; but he could not, in any wise, that in the inquisition any spark of scandal should arise against the Queen." (7)

Jane Boleyn (Lady Rochford) was interviewed in some depth. She had previously given evidence against her husband, George Boleyn, and sister-in-law, Anne Boleyn. She claimed that at first Catherine rejected the advances of Culpeper. She quoted her as saying: "Will this never end?" and asking Lady Rochford to "bid him desire no more to trouble me, or send to me." But Culpeper had been persistent, and eventually the Queen had admitted him into her chamber in private. Lady Rochford was asked to stand guard in case the King came. Rochford added that she was convinced that Culpeper had been sexually intimate "considering all things that she hath heard and seen between them". (8)

Antonia Fraser, the author of The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1992), is highly critical of the evidence provided by Lady Rochford: "Lady Rochford attempted to paint herself as an innocent bystander who had somehow been at the other end of the room where the Queen was meeting Culpeper, without knowing what was going on. Catherine on the other hand reversed the image and described a woman, like Eve, who had persistently tempted her with seductive notions of dalliance; while Culpeper too took the line that Lady Rochford had 'provoked' him into a clandestine relationship with the Queen... Once again, as with the technicalities of the Queen's adultery, absolute truth - and thus relative blame - is impossible to establish." (9)

Mary Hall testified that she saw Catherine and Culpeper "kiss and hang by their bills (lips) together and as if they were two sparrows". Alice Restwood said that there was "such puffing and blowing between (Catherine and Dereham) that she was weary of the same". Margaret Benet admitted that "she looked out at a hole of a door and there saw Dereham pluck up (Catherine's) clothes above her navel so that he might well discern her body". Benet went on to say she heard the couple talk about the dangers of her becoming pregnant. She heard "Dereham say that although he used the company of a woman... yet he would get no child". Catherine replied that she also knew how to prevent having children. She told Dereham that she knew "how women might meddle with a man and yet conceive no child unless she would herself". (10) David Starkey has asked the question: "Was this confident contraceptive knowledge? Or merely old-wives' tales? In either case, it explains why Catherine was prepared to have frequent sex with no apparent heed to the risks of pregnancy." (11)

Execution of Catherine Howard

Thomas Culpeper appeared before the Privy Council to give evidence in his defence. He claimed that although Lady Rochford had "provoked him much to love the Queen, and he intended to do ill with her and likewise the Queen so minded to do with him, he had not passed beyond words". Edward Seymour told Culpeper that his intensions towards Queen Catherine were "so loathsome and dishonest" that in themselves they would be said to constitute high treason and so therefore he deserved to die. (12)

The trial of Culpeper and Dereham began on 1st December, 1541 in Westminster Hall. Dereham was charged with "presumptive treason" and of having led the Queen into "an abominable, base, carnal, voluptuous and licentious life". He was accused of joining the Queen's service with "ill intent". It was claimed that Dereham once told William Damport that he was sure he might still marry the Queen if the King were dead. Under the 1534 Treason Act, it was illegal to predict the death of the King. (13)

Culpeper was accused of having criminal intercourse with the Queen on 29th August 1541 at Pontefract, and at other times, before and after that date. During the trial Culpeper changed his plea to guilty. Dereham continued to plead his innocence but both men were found guilty. Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk, sentenced them to be drawn on hurdles to Tyburn "and there hanged, cut down alive, disembowelled, and, they still living, their bowels burnt; the bodies then to be beheaded and quartered". (14)

Thomas Culpeper was beheaded at Tyburn on 10th December 1541. "The place was unusual for such a sentence - beheadings were normally carried out in relative privacy at Tower Hill - but the council had required that he be drawn on a hurdle to Tyburn in order to make his execution notable". (15) Francis Dereham then suffered the full horror of being hanged, castrated, disembowelled, beheaded and quartered. Both heads were set up on pikes above London Bridge. (16)

Catherine Howard and Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, were executed on 13th February, 1542. Before her execution she said she merited a hundred deaths and prayed for her husband. According to one witness Catherine said she "desired all Christian people to take regard unto her worthy and just punishment". The executioner severed her head in a single blow. (17) Lady Rochford followed her to the block. Eustace Chapuys reported that she was "in a frenzy" brought on by the sight of Catherine's "blood-soaked remains being wrapped in a black blanket by her sobbing ladies". It was reported that she made an speech where she called for the preservation of the King before she placed her head "on a block still wet and slippery with her mistress's blood." (18)

John Lascelles's biographer, Alec Ryrie, has pointed out that after hearing his sister's story "John Lascelles... immediately took the matter to Archbishop Cranmer, and so set in motion the process which ended with the queen's destruction. He maintained that he revealed the information to avert a charge of misprision of treason, which may well be true, but he can hardly have regretted the destruction of so prominent a Howard. (19)

Anne Askew

Anne Askew, a supporter of Martin Luther, was married to Thomas Kyme, a Catholic. Anne rebelled against her husband by refusing to adopt his surname. From her reading of the Bible she believed that she had the right to divorce her husband. For example, she quoted St Paul: "If a faithful woman have an unbelieving husband, which will not tarry with her she may leave him"? (20)

In 1544 Askew decided to travel to London and request a divorce from Henry VIII. This was denied and documents show that a spy was assigned to keep a close watch on her behaviour. (21) She made contact with Joan Bocher, a leading figure in the Anabaptists. One spy who had lodgings opposite her own reported that "at midnight she beginneth to pray, and ceaseth not in many hours after." (22) During her time in London she was also introduced to John Lascelles. (23)

In March 1546 she was arrested on suspicion of heresy. She was questioned about a book she was carrying that had been written by John Frith, a Protestant priest who had been burnt for heresy in 1533, for claiming that neither purgatory nor transubstantiation could be proven by Holy Scriptures. She was interviewed by Edmund Bonner, the Bishop of London who had obtained the nickname of "Bloody Bonner" because of his ruthless persecution of heretics. (24)

Execution of John Lascelles

After a great deal of debate Anne Askew was persuaded to sign a confession which amounted to an only slightly qualified statement of orthodox belief. With the help of her friend, Edward Hall, the Under-Sheriff of London, she was released after twelve days in prison. Askew's biographer, Diane Watt, argues: "It would appear that at this stage Bonner was concerned more about the heterodoxy of Askew's beliefs than with her connections and contacts, and that he principally wanted to rid himself of a woman whom he found obstinate and vexatious. Her treatment during her first examination suggests, therefore, that Askew's opponents did not yet view her as particularly influential or important." (25) Askew was released and sent back to her husband. However, when she arrived back to Lincolnshire she went to live with her brother, Sir Francis Askew.

In February 1546 conservatives in the Church of England, led by Stephen Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, began plotting to destroy the radical Protestants. (26) He gained the support of Henry VIII. As Alison Weir has pointed out: "Henry himself had never approved of Lutheranism. In spite of all he had done to reform the church of England, he was still Catholic in his ways and determined for the present to keep England that way. Protestant heresies would not be tolerated, and he would make that very clear to his subjects." (27) In May 1546 Henry gave permission for twenty-three people suspected of heresy to be arrested. This included John Lascelles and Anne Askew.

Woodcut, The Death of Anne Askew (1563)
Woodcut, The Death of Anne Askew (1563)

John Lascelles, Anne Askew, John Hadlam and John Hemley were executed on 16th July 1546, Agnew "still horribly crippled by her tortures" was carried to execution in Smithfield in a chair as she could not walk and every movement caused her severe pain. (28) It was reported that she was taken to the stake which had a small seat attached to it, on which she sat astride. Chains were used to bind her body firmly to the stake at the ankles, knees, waist, chest and neck. (29) Askew's executioner helped her die quickly by hanging a bag of gunpowder around her neck. (30)

John Bale wrote that “Credibly am I informed by various Dutch merchants who were present there, that in the time of their sufferings, the sky, and abhorring so wicked an act, suddenly altered colour, and the clouds from above gave a thunder clap, not unlike the one written in Psalm 76. The elements both declared wherein the high displeasure of God for so tyrannous a murder of innocents." (31)

Primary Sources

(1) Alison Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (2007)

Lord Chancellor Wriothesley was in charge of the interrogation, and he saw this chance as another to incriminate the Queen. When Anne Askew proved obdurate, he ordered her to be put on the rack, and, with Sir Richard Rich, personally conducted the examination. Anne Askew later dictated an account of the proceedings, in which she testified to being questioned as to whether she knew anything about the beliefs of the ladies of the Queen's household. She replied that she knew nothing. It was put to her that she had received gifts from these ladies, but she denied it. For her obstinacy, she was racked for a long time, but bravely refused to cry out, and when she swooned with the pain, the Lord Chancellor himself brought her round, and with his own hands turned the wheels of the machine, Rich assisting. Afterwards, Anne's broken body was laid on the bare floor, and Wriothesley sat there for two hours longer, questioning her about her heresy and her suspected involvement with the royal household. All in vain. Anne refused to deny her Protestant faith, and would not or could not implicate anyone near the Queen. On 18th June, she was arraigned at the Guildhall in London, and sentenced to death. She was burned at the stake on 16th July at Smithfield, along with John Lascelles, another Protestant, he who had first alerted Cranmer to Catherine Howard's pre-marital activities. Anne died bravely and quickly: the bag of gunpowder hung about her neck by a humane executioner to facilitate a quick end exploded almost immediately.

Student Activities

Henry VIII (Answer Commentary)

Henry VII: A Wise or Wicked Ruler? (Answer Commentary)

Henry VIII: Catherine of Aragon or Anne Boleyn?

Was Henry VIII's son, Henry FitzRoy, murdered?

Hans Holbein and Henry VIII (Answer Commentary)

The Marriage of Prince Arthur and Catherine of Aragon (Answer Commentary)

Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves (Answer Commentary)

Was Queen Catherine Howard guilty of treason? (Answer Commentary)

Anne Boleyn - Religious Reformer (Answer Commentary)

Did Anne Boleyn have six fingers on her right hand? A Study in Catholic Propaganda (Answer Commentary)

Why were women hostile to Henry VIII's marriage to Anne Boleyn? (Answer Commentary)

Catherine Parr and Women's Rights (Answer Commentary)

Women, Politics and Henry VIII (Answer Commentary)

Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (Answer Commentary)

Historians and Novelists on Thomas Cromwell (Answer Commentary)

Martin Luther and Thomas Müntzer (Answer Commentary)

Martin Luther and Hitler's Anti-Semitism (Answer Commentary)

Martin Luther and the Reformation (Answer Commentary)

Mary Tudor and Heretics (Answer Commentary)

Joan Bocher - Anabaptist (Answer Commentary)

Anne Askew – Burnt at the Stake (Answer Commentary)

Elizabeth Barton and Henry VIII (Answer Commentary)

Execution of Margaret Cheyney (Answer Commentary)

Robert Aske (Answer Commentary)

Dissolution of the Monasteries (Answer Commentary)

Pilgrimage of Grace (Answer Commentary)

Poverty in Tudor England (Answer Commentary)

Why did Queen Elizabeth not get married? (Answer Commentary)

Francis Walsingham - Codes & Codebreaking (Answer Commentary)

Codes and Codebreaking (Answer Commentary)

Sir Thomas More: Saint or Sinner? (Answer Commentary)

Hans Holbein's Art and Religious Propaganda (Answer Commentary)

1517 May Day Riots: How do historians know what happened? (Answer Commentary)


(1) Alec Ryrie, John Lascelles : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(2) Jasper Ridley, Henry VIII (1984) page 360

(3) Alison Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (2007) page 444

(4) Mary Hall, testimony to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (October, 1541)

(5) Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, letter to Henry VIII (2nd November, 1541)

(6) Alison Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (2007) page 447

(7) Henry VIII to Thomas Wriothesley (2nd November, 1541)

(8) Jane Boleyn, confession (November, 1541)

(9) Antonia Fraser, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1992) page 349

(10) Alison Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (2007) page 460

(11) David Starkey, Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII (2003) page 670

(12) Alison Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (2007) page 465

(13) Alison Plowden, Tudor Women (2002) page 102

(14) Alison Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (2007) page 470

(15) Retha M. Warnicke, Thomas Culpeper : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(16) David Starkey, Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII (2003) page 680

(17) Ottwell Johnson, letter to his brother, John Johnson (15th February, 1542)

(18) Antonia Fraser, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1992) page 353

(19) Alec Ryrie, John Lascelles : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(20) Diane Watt, Anne Askew : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(21) Peter Ackroyd, Tudors (2012) page 172

(22) J. G. Nichols, Narratives of the Days of the Reformation (1859) page 40

(23) Alec Ryrie, John Lascelles : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(24) Alison Plowden, Tudor Women (2002) page 111

(25) Diane Watt, Anne Askew : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(26) C. D. C. Armstrong, Stephan Gardiner : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(27) Alison Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (2007) page 512

(28) Antonia Fraser, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1992) page 387

(29) Elaine V. Beilin, The Examinations of Anne Askew (1996) page 191

(30) Alison Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (2007) page 518

(31) John Bale, The Examinations of Anne Askew (1996) page 92