THE CUCKOLDRY OF HENRY VIII • by NickGallup

Young Francis Deerham and Sir Thomas Culpepper stood wearily in the dock. Their trial was a sham, with little permitted in the way of defense. The Archbishop of Canterbury himself, Thomas Cranmer, acted as prosecutor, and he was especially theatrical and boisterous. Culpepper knew it was because Henry lurked behind the curtain near where he and Deerham stood. They were offered no chairs or refreshment, as witness after witness attested to their guilt. Some readily so; others bore signs of persuasion. Culpepper occasionally heard movement behind the curtain and speculated it was Henry trying to cross his fat legs.

Culpepper had accepted his fate, but Deerham doggedly fought on.

“Your Grace,” he cried plaintively to the archbishop, “Her Majesty and I were but fifteen years of age when we lay together. Had I known she would one day be queen, I would never have dared. I love our good king and would never do him dishonor.”

“Yet you admit that you stole the queen’s maidenhood?”

Deerham’s head slumped. “Yes, my lord, but…”

“Did you advise His Majesty of that fact before he and Catherine Howard wed?”

The young courtier’s head slumped lower still. “No, Your Grace.”

The archbishop slammed a pale fist onto the table. “And by failing to do so, Deerham, you violated the law and committed treason.”

 “Your Grace, I knew of no such law.”

 “It’s being written as we speak,” the archbishop informed him.

Several lords in attendance guffawed, but a dark look from the archbishop quickly reminded them that the dock had room for more than two.   

Cranmer was done now with Deerham and turned his attention to Culpepper.

“And you, Thomas Culpepper, is your defense still that her majesty summoned you to her chambers only to bid you to convey her love to our gracious King Henry?”

“It is, Your Grace.”

“Why you, Culpepper?”

“She knew that I had the king’s ear.”

“What time of night was this?”

“I think the clock had just struck two.”

“An odd time to meet with an emissary.”

“I thought so as well, Your Grace.”

“Then why go?”

“Do you not obey when Her Majesty summons?”

“No longer. Were you not abed with Her Majesty when His Majesty’s guards burst into the room?”

“Abed with Her Majesty? Indeed not,” Culpepper said indignantly and with a straight face. “We were seated in chairs by a window Her Majesty had opened to coax a breeze.”

“So, the Captain of the Guard lies when he says he found you and the queen in her bed fornicating?”

“He does, and if you will but give us both sword we will let God decide who tells the truth. Or is the court afraid to let God render testimony?”

“There is no need to hear from God. Your confession seals your doom.”

Culpepper laughed contemptuously. “The rack confessed after I was stretched near a foot.”

“Were you innocent, you would have found the strength to resist the rack.”

“I doubt that, Your Grace. Christ himself renounced God upon suffering the agonies of the cross.”

“Now you add blasphemy to your list of crimes against the throne.”

“Then the Bible be blasphemy, for that is what it says.”

“Any other crimes you care to add to the list of charges?”

“No crimes, only truth. The last words our queen spoke to me before our gallant captain of guards burst into her chamber with 20 of his troop was she loved our noble sovereign dearly, and her heart had been broken when she lost his love.”

It was a lie, of course, but it was Deerham’s parting gesture to his queen. He had some small hope that an appeal to the king’s vanity might result in the sparing of her life.

The verdict was unanimous and quick in coming. Both Deerham and Culpepper were to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. They appealed for mercy. Surprisingly, or at least to Culpepper’s reckoning, Deerham had committed the greater crime by stealing Catherine’s maidenhood. His sentence stood. The king commuted Culpepper’s sentence to simple beheading.

They had several weeks to wait. Catherine Howard was next to be tried. God himself would have had trouble gaining her an acquittal, given the absurdity of English justice with its torture-induced confessions and courtiers eager to advance their positions by swearing to whatever lies the court asked them to. Well, that and the fact Culpepper and Queen Catherine were guilty. They had indeed been caught abed, locked in embrace and fornicating, when the king’s guard broke down the door.

“We are doomed!” Catherine cried.

Culpepper managed to get to his sword and slay two of the guardsmen before he was subdued. He suffered a grievous wound and hoped he might succumb to it and thus be spared an ignoble death. His wound delayed his trial, angering the king, but he was eventually adjudged to be fit for trial by torture. Culpepper withstood it better than most, but eventually confessed to treason, although he preferred to call it cuckoldry of the king.

Deerham cried each day as they awaited execution.

“Come, Francis, face your fate. If crying would do any good, I would gladly join you.”

“She wasn’t queen when we lay together. It’s unjust.”

“’Tis England.” Culpepper laughed.

Eventually they came for them, Deerham first. They dragged him from the cell, he loudly proclaiming his innocence. Though they took him a quarter-league away to Tower Green to be hanged, drawn, and quartered, Culpepper could still hear poor Deerham’s screams and the mob’s approving roars. Silence finally, and then they came for him.

“Tell me, sire. Were your many nights with the lady worth the ax?” One of the guards inquired.

Culpepper smiled as he offered his hands for the shackles.

“The best mare e’er I mounted,” he proclaimed.

Their heads were later displayed on London Bridge. Some say they could detect a smile on Culpepper’s face.

 Gagner sans risquer est de triompher sans gloire.


NickGallup is an Army veteran and a retired Department of Defense mid-level contracting official. He is a has-been, would-be novelist, who now fights off senility by writing short stories. He advises us that his story should give you some indication as to how well his struggle against senility is faring. Nick reside in Cape Coral, FL.


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