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  • Tudor Sex Romps October 26, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback


    The lovemaking of other ages is often obscured from us. A natural reticence, which the twenty-first century has largely given up on, draws a veil around medieval or Tudor sex. Our few exceptions include some rare pornographic accounts and a handful of legal descriptions where sex was getting someone in trouble and needed to be recorded in great detail. A fascinating instance of this appears in the case over Catherine Howard, unquestionably the silliest of Henry VIII’s queens.  Francis I of France called her ‘lewd and naughty’ and the image above is our one certain and telling portrait.

    Catherine Howard, for those who don’t know her sad history, was fifteen or sixteen when she married Henry VIII in 1540. She was executed, sixteen months later, in 1541. Her crimes had been two. First, she had evidently had ‘indiscretions’ before marrying the king with one Francis Dereham. She was not a virgin when she arrived in the king’s bed. Henry who considered himself a connoisseur in these things had actually refused Anne of Cleves because he believed that she had already lost her virginity: he had, allegedly determined this, by feeling her breasts… But with Catherine no such suspicions were recorded.

    Catherine’s second crime really did for her: the first could conceivably have been forgiven or at least might not have ended in her death. Catherine had had an affair while she was married to the king with Thomas Culpeper, the king’s best friend. She may have had this affair for pleasure, or simply because she was desperate for an heir to make Henry happy. It should be noted before we get the Kleenex out that there is no question of Catherine’s guilt: and messing around with the blood line of the English royal family was a serious matter. Anne Boleyn had almost certainly been falsely accused of adultery and incest: the only interesting question there is whether Henry believed that Anne was guilty. With Catherine the proof was overwhelming.

    In any case to the evidence. Here is an extraordinarily intimate scene from the archbishop’s questioning of silly Catherine: written out in her own hand. The antipasto are the gifts between Francis Dereham and Catherine. But the main course includes this remarkable description of the lovers together in bed.

    [Francis Dereham] hath lain with me, sometime in his doublet and hose and two or three times naked; but not so naked that he had nothing upon him, for he had always at the least his doublet and as I do think his hose also. But I mean naked when his hose were put down. And diverse times, he would bring wine, strawberries, apples and other things to make good cheer after my lady [the chaperone] was gone to bed.

    The two planned that Dereham would run into the ‘little gallery’ should anyone come into Catherine’s chamber. Catherine perhaps thought here that frankness would save her: the archbishop describes her desperate state in questioning. These romps came, after all, before her marriage to Henry. About Culpeper her later lover, she was far less forthcoming, but there Henry’s Gestapo discovered letters exchanged between the two. ‘I heard you were sick and never longed much for anything as to see you’. Catherine was never going to survive a line like that. She was lucky, in fact, her head came off with one clean blow.

    Poor kid.

    More on Catherine: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com