Anyway, while Agnes herself was not immediately familiar to me, I soon realized that she played a significant role in one of Henry VIII's wives lives. She was the often-mentioned great-aunt of Catherine Howard - in whose home the young queen had reportedly dallianced with multiple men, alongside several others around her age. This period of Queen Catherine's life would certainly come back to haunt her only a year into her marriage to King Henry VIII - when her previous actions and sexual relationships would become the focus of a high-profile investigation into her personal conduct (it didn't help, of course, that she was also sleeping with a courtier and committing active adultery at this time).
Consequently, Catherine and the other wards grew up largely unsupervised at Chesworth House and Lambeth, and there she dallied with at least two men - Henry Mannox, her music teacher, and Francis Dereham, the Dowager Duchess's secretary. Agnes was apparently unconcerned about what went on in her household while she was away at court.
When questions about Catherine's current behavior came up in 1541, people who had known her from her childhood began to come forward - including Mary Lascelles, who refused to take up a post in Queen Catherine's household after witnessing her "light" behavior years prior when they lived together at Lambeth. Soon, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was collecting information about Catherine's past conduct, and it was quickly determined that her troubling behavior had occurred while in Agnes's care.
This was all brought up to Agnes sometime late in 1541, but she was reportedly unconcerned. She reasoned "if there be none offence sithence the marriage, she cannot die for that was done before." Almost certainly, she was thinking of her other grand-niece, the doomed Queen Anne, who had been executed five years earlier for her supposed adultery against the king. This was different, Agnes argued (though she clearly did not know about Catherine's current relationship with Thomas Culpeper).
At this point, we can assume that Agnes felt her own life was in danger. It was largely due to her negligence that all of this had happened. Her casual, dismissive attitude towards the investigation suddenly changed. She was questioned again on the same day as the two executions, on 10 December, and she finally admitted to knowing about Catherine's sexual past while still promoting her as a candidate for Henry VIII's fifth bride. She also acknowledged having burned the letters between young Catherine and Francis Dereham.
Days later, two of Agnes's grown children, William Howard and Katherine Daubeney, were arrested and committed to the Tower. Fearful of how this matter was touching so many members of his family, her stepson, Thomas, denounced his her on 14 December, not wishing to be associated with any of it. By now, Agnes was likely very afraid for her life. She had admitted her guilt in being a negligent caretaker, knowing of her grand-niece's sexual past, and still putting her forward as a prospect for the king. She had admitted to destroying evidence, and she had been imprisoned in the Tower for weeks. As more of her family members continued to join her there, she would have certainly begun to expect that she, too, would meet the executioner. Several family members were sentenced to life imprisonment for "concealing the evil demeanour of the Queen, to the slander of the King and his succession".
The investigation of Catherine Howard continued for two months, and on 13 February 1542 the queen was beheaded on Tower Green for treason against her husband - following in the grim footsteps of her cousin. It was at this point that Agnes Tilney received a miracle of peace. King Henry - furious with anyone who had been involved in Catherine's sins against him - believed there was just as much cause to convict and execute the Dowager Duchess as there had been with Dereham. However, likely due to her age, his council urged leniency, and managed to convince him to let the old woman go. She was released from the Tower of London on this day in 1542. As her beloved homes and possessions had been taken from her, little is known about the rest of her life. She seems to have spent her remaining years in East Anglia, dying in May 1545 at the age of 68 She was first buried t at Thetford Priory on 31 May, and later reinterred at Lambeth Church.
Her stepson, Thomas, who had wisely distanced himself from her association, was never fully trusted by the king again, due to the stain on his family name.
And so, on this day we remember one lucky Tudor woman who - while having been very much at fault for Catherine Howard's questionable upbringing - nevertheless found herself escaping the executioner's axe, simply because the Council managed to convince the king to spare her. I, for one, find her story to be a fascinating one (and not only because she's a distant blood relative of mine!).