TV Show: The Tudors - Family History in an unexpected place

Sunday, October 17, 2010

This text is taken from a sharing moment given at the Kelowna & District Genealogy Society on October 4th, 2010.

Who here watches the TV show “The Tudors”?...

Ok, so I know it’s not historically accurate, but I *love* that show. There’s something about seeing history unfold before your eyes and how the intricacies of the plot are played out in a way that you don’t pick up on when you read a book.

So there I was, watching The Tudors. And for those of you that don’t watch it, they are up to the rise and fall of Henry VIIIs 5th wife, Catherine Howard. Maybe you learned this rhyme in school (I know my dad did): Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived. So this is the one who eventually was beheaded as a traitor for adultery and for representing herself as a “maid” prior to her marriage to the King. So imagine my interest when it was mentioned on the show that a young gallant, named Francis Derham, used to visit her in her chambers at night.

Hmmm, well I had to go look in my files. I knew my ancestor Sir Hugh Hamersley (Hamersley is my maiden name) married a Mary Derham, daughter of Baldwin Derham, in 1597, only 50 years later than the period being portrayed on TV. I also knew that she came from “good stock”, her brother was also a Knight. I have done quite a bit of research on her ancestry as she comes from the Audley/Courtenay line that is well documented as descending from King Edward Plantagenet. But I hadn’t done much on the Derham’s although did recently find a book on Google Books published by the Norfolk Genealogy Society based on the Visitation of Norfolk records from 1563. I had printed some pages on the Derham’s including a tree going back several generations that showed Mary and Sir Hugh. So I hunted it down and took a look.

Sure enough Mary did have a great-uncle (her grandfather’s brother) called Francis. And there, right beside his name it said “a traitor, who was executed”. It also said that Francis’ brother, Mary’s grandfather, had bought West Dereham Abbey off King Henry VIII. Aha! This lead was getting hot!

A quick search on Google books for Dereham Abbey revealed:
Thomas Dereham, in 33 Henry VIII, bought it off the king. Shortly after he was fetched out of it to the Tower, about the treason of his brother Francis Dereham, who was executed. Thomas at length was delivered out of prison: he had issue Thomas, Robert, John, and Baldwin, and a daughter.

Source: The History and Fate of Sacrilege - Discovered by Examples of Scripture by Henry Spelman (Google Books).

So now I had made the connection. Francis, the traitor, had a brother Thomas and a nephew named Baldwin. Mary’s father was Baldwin and her grandfather was Thomas.

And now this saga didn’t just affect Francis in isolation, his brother Thomas, my ancestor was also arrested and kept at the Tower of London, eventually being released.

So what was Francis guilty of? Well, it doesn’t appear that he was guilty of anything (and I’m not just saying that because he’s my family).

"The interrogations proceeded intensively through the third week in November, and it is probable that both Culpeper and Dereham were racked. By the 22nd the council was satisfied of the guilt of all three, and it was proclaimed at Hampton Court that Catherine had forfeited the honour and title of Queen, and was to be known only as the Lady Catherine Howard. On 1st December the two men were arraigned, and both pleaded guilty, realizing the futility of any other course. Dereham's treason was actually much more problematic than Culpeper's because he never seems to have had any intention of resuming his relationship with Catherine. However, the fact that the relationship had existed, and that he had gratuitously been given the opportunity to resume it, were deemed to be sufficient. Moreover, it was Dereham rather than Culpeper for whom the King reserved his bitterest hatred, probably because it was he who had spoiled what Henry believed to have been his innocent bride. On 10th December they were taken to Tyburn, where Culpeper was beheaded by the King's mercy, while Dereham suffered the full penalty of hanging, drawing and quartering. Both made 'a good end', confessing their faults, and their heads were displayed on Tower Bridge."

Source: The Six Wives of Henry VIII by David Loades, page 125

So there you have it. An interesting saga about my family, discovered through TV and Google Books.

I encourage you to check out Google Books if you haven’t already. To get to it, go to the main Google page and click on the link Books in the top left corner.

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