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Portrait of Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk (1473-1554)

Thomas Howard's (II) signature as Duke of Norfolk, from Doyle's 'Official Baronage'
Thomas Howard, 2nd Earl of Surrey, 3rd Duke of Norfolk (1473-1554)

THOMAS HOWARD, 2ND EARL OF SURREY AND 3RD DUKE OF NORFOLK of the Howard house, warrior and statesman, was the eldest son of Thomas Howard by his wife Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of Sir Frederick Tilney of Ashwellthorpe Hall, Norfolk. He was born in 1473, and, as a sign of the close alliance between Richard III and the Howard family, was betrothed in 1484 to the Lady Anne (born at Westminster 2 Nov. 1475), third daughter of Edward IV.1  The lady had been betrothed by her father by treaty dated 5 Aug. 1480 to Philip, son of Maximilian, archduke of Austria, but Edward IV's death had brought the scheme to nothing. After the overthrow of Richard, despite the change in the fortunes of the Howards, Lord Thomas renewed his claim to the hand of the Lady Anne, who was in constant attendance on her sister, Queen Elizabeth [Elizabeth of York], and Henry VII permitted the marriage to take place in 1495.2 The queen settled upon the bride an annuity of 120l. (confirmed by acts of parliament 11 and 12 Hen. VII), and the marriage took place in Westminster Abbey on 4 Feb. 1495.

Howard subsequently served in the north under his father, by whom he was knighted in 1498. In 1511 he joined his younger brother, Edward, the lord admiral, as captain of a ship in his encounter with the Scottish pirate, Andrew Barton. In May 1512 he was made lieutenant-general of the army which was sent to Spain under the command of the Marquis of Dorset, with the intention of joining the forces of Ferdinand for the invasion of Guienne. The troops, ill supplied with food, grew weary of waiting for Ferdinand and insisted upon returning home, in spite of Howard's efforts to persuade them to remain.3 Henry VIII invaded France next year. Sir Edward Howard fell in a naval engagement in March, and on 2 May 1513 Lord Thomas was appointed lord admiral in his stead. He was not, however, called upon to serve at sea, but fought under his father as captain of the vanguard at the battle of Flodden Field (September 1513), where he sent a message to the Scottish king that he had come to give him satisfaction for the death of Andrew Barton.

When his father was created Duke of Norfolk on 1 Feb. 1514, Lord Thomas Howard was created Earl of Surrey. In politics he joined with his father in opposing Wolsey, and was consoled, like his father, for the failure of his opposition to the French alliance by being sent in September 1514 to escort the Princess Mary to France. But Surrey did not see the wisdom of abandoning his opposition to Wolsey so soon as his father. There were stormy scenes sometimes in the council chamber, and on 31 May 1516 we are told that Surrey 'was put out, whatever that may mean.'4 His wife Anne died of consumption probably in the winter of 1512-13, and about Easter 1513 he married Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, by Lady Elinor Percy, daughter of the Earl of Northumberland. The girl, who was little more than fifteen, had already been betrothed to her father's ward, Richard Neville, afterwards fourth Earl of Westmorland.

The alliance with such families as those of Buckingham and Northumberland strengthened in Surrey the natural objection which he felt to Wolsey's power, and to the policy of depressing the old nobility, but the execution of Buckingham in 1521 taught him a lesson of prudence. When the trial of Buckingham took place, Surrey was in Ireland as lord-lieutenant, and it was said that he had been sent thither of set purpose that he might be out of the way when the nobles received that severe caution. In July 1520 Surrey entered upon the thankless task of endeavouring to keep Ireland in order. His letters contain accounts of attempts to pacify the rival factions of Kildare and Ormonde, and are full of demands for more money and troops.

A the end of 1521 Surrey was recalled from Ireland to take command of the English fleet in naval operations against France. In July 1522 he burned Morlaix, in September laid waste the country round Boulogne, and spread devastation on every side, till the winter brought back the fleet to England. When, in December 1522, his father resigned the office of high treasurer, it was bestowed on Surrey, whose services next year were required on the Scottish border. The Duke of Albany, acting in the interests of France, was raising a party in Scotland, and threatened to cripple England in its military undertakings abroad. Surrey was made warden general of the marches, and was sent to teach Scotland a lesson. He carried out the same brutal policy of devastation as he had used in France, and reduced the Scottish border to a desert. but he did not venture to march on Edinburgh, and Albany found means to reach Scotland from France and gather an army, with which he laid siege to Wark Castle on 1 Nov.; but, when he heard that Surrey was advancing to its relief, he ignominiously retreated. This was felt to be a great victory for Surrey, and Skelton represented the popular opinion in his poem, 'How the Duke of Albany, like a cowardly knight, ran away.'

On 21 May 1524 Surrey, by his father's death, succeeded as Duke of Norfolk, but was still employed in watching Scotland and in negotiating with the queen regent, Margaret. In 1525 he was allowed to return to his house at Kenninghall, Norfolk, where, however, his services were soon needed to quell an insurrection which broke out at Lavenham and Sudbury against the loan which was necessitated by the expenses of the French war.5 Norfolk's tact in dealing with the insurgents was successful, but the demand for money was withdrawn. Want of supplies meant that peace was necessary, and in August Norfolk was appointed commissioner to treat for peace with France.

When the war was over, the great question which occupied English politics was that of the king's divorce. Norfolk was entirely on the king's side, and waited with growing satisfaction for the course of events to bring about Wolsey's fall. He and the Duke of Suffolk did all they could to increase the king's anger against Wolsey, and enjoyed their triumph when they were commissioned to demand from him the great seal. Norfolk was Wolsey's implacable enemy, and would be content with nothing short of his entire ruin. He presided over the privy council, and hoped to rise to the eminence from which Wolsey had fallen. He devised the plan of sending Wolsey to his diocese of York, and did not rest till he had gathered evidence which raised the king's suspicions and led to Wolsey's summons to London and his death on the journey.

Norfolk hoped to fill Wolsey's place, but he was entirely destitute of Wolsey's genius. He could only become the king's tool in his dishonourable purposes. In 1529 he signed the letter to the pope which threatened him with the loss of his supremacy in England if he refused the king's divorce. He acquiesced in all the subsequent proceedings, and waxed fat on the spoils of the monasteries. He was chief adviser of his niece, Anne Boleyn, but followed the fashion of the time in presiding at her trial and arranging for her execution.

But, after all his subservience, Thomas Cromwell proved a more useful man than himself. A fruitless embassy to France in 1533, for the purpose of winning Francis I to side with Henry, showed that Norfolk was entirely destitute of Wolsey's diplomatic skill. But there were some points of domestic policy for which he was necessary. he was created earl marshal in 1533, and presided over the trial of Lord Dacre, who, strange to say, was acquitted. In the suppression of the Pilgrimage of Grace, Norfolk alternately cajoled and threatened the insurgents till their forces melted away, and he could with safety undertake the work of official butchery. He held the office of Lord President of the Council of the North from April 1537 till October 1538, when he could boast that the rebellion had been avenged by a course of merciless punishment.

On his return to court Norfolk headed the opposition against Cromwell. He allied himself with Gardiner and the prelates of the old learning in endeavouring to present an alliance with German protestantism. In the parliament of 1539 he laid before the lords the bill of the Six Articles, which became law. 'It was merry in England,' he said, 'before the new learning came up,'6 and henceforth he declared himself the head of the reactionary party. In February 1540 he again went to Paris as ambassador, to try if he could succeed on this new basis in detaching Francis I from Charles V and gaining him as an ally to Henry VIII.7  Again he failed in his diplomacy, but after his return he had the satisfaction on 10 June of arresting Cromwell in the council chamber.

The execution of his rival threw once again the chief power into Norfolk's hands, and a second time he made good his position by arranging for the marriage of a niece with the king. But the disgrace of  Catherine Howard was more rapid than that of Anne Boleyn, and Norfolk again fell back into the position of a military commander.  In 1542 he was sent to wage war against Scotland, and again wreaked Henry VIII's vengeance by a barbarous raid upon the borders. It was the terror of his name, and not his actual presence, which ended the war by the disastrous rout of Solway Moss.  When Henry went to war with France in 1544, Norfolk in spite of his age was appointed lieutenant-general of the army.  The army besieged Montreuil, and, after a long siege, captured Boulogne, but Norfolk could claim no glory from the war. Again he found himself superseded in the royal favour by a powerful rival, the Earl of Hertford, whom he failed to conciliate by a family alliance which was proposed for his acceptance. Under the influence of his last queen (Catherine Parr) and the Earl of Hertford, Henry VIII favoured the reforming party, and Norfolk's counsels were little heeded.  As the king's health was rapidly failing, it became Hertford's object to remove his rivals out of the way, and in 1546 Norfolk's son, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, was accused of high treason.

The charge against the son was made to include the father, and Norfolk's enemies were those of his own household. His private life was discreditable, and shows the debasing effect of the king's example on those around him. Norfolk quarrelled with his wife, who, although of a jealous and vindictive temper, was one of the most accomplished women of the time. She patronised the poet Skelton, who wrote, while her guest at Sheriff Hutton, Yorkshire, 'A goodly Garlande or Chapelet of Laurell.' But with her husband she was always on bad terms, and accused him of cruelty at the time of her daughter Mary's birth in 1519. The duke soon afterwards took a mistress, Elizabeth Holland, 'a churl's daughter who was but a washer in my nursery eight years,' as his wife complained to Cromwell.8 in 1533 he separated from his wife, who withdrew to Redborne, hertfordshire, with a very scanty allowance. Appeals of husband and wife to Cromwell and the king failed to secure a reconciliation, and the duchess refused to sue for a divorce. The discord spread among the other members of the family, and they were all at variance.

Evidence against Norfolk was given, not only by his wife, but by his daughter, the Duchess of Richmond, and even by Elizabeth Holland, who only wished to save herself and her ill-gotten gains. But the evidence was not sufficient for his condemnation, and Norfolk, a prisoner in the Tower, was persuaded to plead guilty and throw himself on the king's mercy. He signed his confession on 12 Jan. 1547,9 and his enemies, who were eager to share the proceeds of his forfeiture, introduced a bill for his attainder into parliament. The bill, of course, passed at once, and the dying king appointed a commission to give it the royal assent. This was done on 27 Jan., and orders were given for Norfolk's execution on the following morning. But in the night the king died, and the lords of the council did not think it wise to begin their rule by an act of useless bloodshed. Norfolk, indeed, had cut the ground from under their feet by sending a petition to the king begging that his estates should be settled on the young Prince Edward, and the king had graciously accepted the suggestion.10

Norfolk remained a prisoner in the Tower during Edward VI's reign, but was released on Mary's accession. He petitioned parliament for the reversal of his attainder on the ground that Henry VIII had not signed the commission to give the bill his assent.11  His petition was granted, and he was restored Duke of Norfolk on 3 Aug. 1553. He was further sworn of the privy council and made a knight of the Garter. His services were required for business in which he had ample experience, and on 17 Aug. he presided as lord high steward at the trial of the Duke of Northumberland and had the satisfaction of sentencing a former opponent to death.

In January 1554 the old man was lieutenant-general of the queen's army to put down Wyat's rebellion. In this he displayed an excess of rashness. He marched with far inferior forces against Wyat, whose headquarters were at Rochester, and in a parley was deserted by a band of five hundred Londoners, who were in his ranks. His forces were thrown into confusion and fled, leaving their guns behind. Wyat was thus encouraged to continue his march upon London. Norfolk retired to his house at Kenninghall, Norfolk, where he died on 25 Aug. 1554. He was buried in the church of Framlingham, where a monument, which still exists, was erected over his grave—an altar tomb with effigies of Norfolk and his second wife.

Norfolk is described by the Venetian ambassador, Falieri, in 1531 as 'small and spare of stature and his hair black. he is prudent, liberal, affable and astute; associates with everybody, has great experience in the administration of the kingdom, handles affairs admirably, aspires to greater elevation.'12  This was written when Norfolk, after Wolsey's death, seemed, as the chief of the English nobles, to be the destined successor of Wolsey; but it soon appeared that the Tudor policy was not of a kind which could be best carried out by nobles. Norfolk influential more through his position than through his abilities, and did no scruple at personal intrigue to secure his power. Still, subservient as he might show himself, he was not so useful as men like Cromwell, and his hopes of holding the chief place were constantly disappointed. He was hot-tempered, self-seeking, and brutal, and his career shows the deterioration of English life under Henry VIII.

Norfolk's four children by his first wife died young; by his second wife, who died 30 Nov. 1558 and was buried in the Howard Chapel, Lambeth, he had two sons (Henry, Earl of Surrey, and Thomas, 1528?-1583, who was educated by Leland, and was created Viscount Howard of Bindon 13 Jan. 1558-9) and one daughter, Mary, who married Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond, natural son of Henry VIII.



1 Buck, History of Richard III, p. 574.
2 The marriage settlement is given by Madox, Formulare Anglicanum, pp. 109-10.
3 Brewer, Calendar, i. No. 3451.
4 Lodge, Illustrations, i. 21.
5 Hall, Chronicle, p. 700.
6 Froude, Hist. ch. xix.
7 State Papers, Hen. VIII, viii. 245-340.
8 Nott, Works of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, App. xxvii-xxxii.
9 Herbert, Reign of Henry VIII, s.a.
10 Nott, App. xxxix.
11 Ib. App. l.
12 Venetian Calendar, iv. 294-5.



      Excerpted from:

      Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. XXVIII. Sidney Lee, ed.
      New York: The Macmillan Co., 1898. 64-77.




Books for further study:

Brenan, Gerald and Edward Phillips Statham. The House of Howard. Vol I.
            Hutchinson & Co, 1907.

Weir, Alison. Henry VIII: The King and His Court.
           New York: Ballantine, 2001.

Wilson, Derek. In the Lion's Court: Power, Ambition,
           and Sudden Death in the Reign of Henry VIII.
           New York: St. Martin's Press, 2001.




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