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Syon House

Residence of the Duke of Northumberland.

This house was built in 1547 on the site of the Carthusian monastery of St Bridget, Syon Abbey, of which elements still exist. Syon is said to be a corruption of Zion – the City of David.

During the dissolution of the monasteries In 1539, the abbey was closed by royal agents and Syon became the property of the Crown.

Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard, was imprisoned at Syon in 1542. Her father had secured her position in the court with Anne of Cleves Henry’s fourth wife.

It is well recorded that Henry’s wandering eye started quickly in his marriage of Anne, for upon meeting her for the first time his face was said to have fallen with disappointment at the sight of her ugliness. He felt the portraitist Hans Holbein the Younger’s depictions of her were misleading, so this is perhaps the first historical example of catfishing.

Others say, the marriage was arranged for political convenience and the King’s loss of interest was because the marriage no longer served a purpose for him. Either way, the actual ceremony went ahead on January 1540 but Henry claimed he was unable to consummate the marriage and it was annulled just 6 months later on 12 July.

During this Cathrine Howard, as lady-in-waiting to Anne had already captivated Henry. He was said to be deeply in love with Catherine, who over 30 years her junior, represented a restoration of his health and vigour. King Henry was approaching 50, and not in good shape. Terrible leg ulcers amongst other ailments kept him in probable, near constant pain and left him often cantankerous.

They were married just days after his last marriage ended on 28 July. Only a teenager (probably about 16 in 1540) Catherine’s youth belied a somewhat raucous past, including a former relationship with a man called Francis Dereham and it was serious enough for them to refer to each other as husband and wife.

Years later, once Catherine was Queen and firmly ensconced in court Dereham appeared, asking her for favours and making it clear to councillors that they had enjoyed a special relationship in the past.

Around this time Thomas Cullper started to pursue the queen. They shared a family connection but it appears he was a cad, accused of previous sexual assault although never brought to justice. Several believe that Catharine was manipulated by the men in her life.

However their union was forged Catherine began a very dangerous affair with Cullpepper, writing him a letter of love which would seal her fate. Several investigations were conducted, as Henry at first was loathed to believe the betrayal. She eventually confessed to adultery and Henry was said to have sunk into a deep depression

On 14 November 1541, the Queen was moved from Hampton Court Palace to Syon where she spent two months considering her fate. On 10 February 1542, when the Lords of the Council came to collect Catherine she screamed and fought them and needed to be carried to the barge which would take her from Syon to her place of execution.

At that time traitors’ heads were displayed on London Bridge. Thomas Culpeper and Francis Dereham the men convicted with her in the betrayal of the King had already been executed. Legend says she saw their rotting heads on sticks as she passed underneath on her way to the Tower of London.

She was killed, decapitated by axe at 7, on the morning of 13 February 1942.

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