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Portrait of Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Surrey, 2nd Duke of Norfolk (1443-1524)
Thomas Howard's signature as Earl of Surrey
Thomas Howard's signature as Duke of Norfolk, from Doyle's 'Official Baronage'
Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Surrey, 2nd Duke of Norfolk (1443-1524)

THOMAS HOWARD, I Earl of Surrey and second Duke of Norfolk of the Howard house (1443-1524), warrior and statesman, was only son of Sir John Howard, afterwards first duke of Norfolk, by his wife Catharine, daughter of William, lord Moleyns. He was born in 1443, was educated at the school at Thetford, and began a long career of service at court as henchman to Edward IV.

He took part in the war which broke out in 1469 between the king and the Earl of Warwick, and when, in 1470, Edward was driven to flee to Holland, Howard took sanctuary at Colchester. On Edward's return in 1471, Howard joined him and fought by his side in the battle of Barnet. On 30 April 1472 he married Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of Sir Frederick Tilney, and widow of Humphrey, lord Berners. Soon afterwards he went as a volunteer to the camp of Charles, duke of Burgundy, who was threatening war against Louis XI of France. He did not see much service, and after the truce of Senlis came back to England, where he was made esquire of the body to Edward IV in 1473. In June 1475 he led six men-at-arms and two hundred archers to join the king's army in France; but Edward soon made peace with Louis XI, and led his forces home without a battle.

Howard then took up his abode at his wife's house of Ashwellthorpe Hall, Norfolk, where he lived the life of a country gentleman, and in 1476 was made sheriff of the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk. On 18 Jan. 1478 he was knighted by Edward IV at the marriage between the king's second son, the young Duke of York (then created also Duke of Norfolk), and Lady Anne Mowbray, only child of John, duke of Norfolk. Anne Mowbray died in 1483, before the consummation of her marriage, and the direct line of the Mowbrays became extinct, whereupon Howard's father, as next of kin, was created Duke of Norfolk, and his son Earl of Surrey. In the same year Surrey was made knight of the Garter, was sworn of the privy council, and was appointed lord steward of the household.

Surrey had now taken his place as a courtier and an official, and henceforth was distinguished by loyalty to the actual wearer of the crown, whoever he might be. He acquiesced in Richard III's usurpation, and carried the sword of state at his coronation. He and his father fought for Richard at Bosworth Field, where his father was killed and he was taken prisoner. He was attainted by the first parliament of Henry VII, and his estates were forfeited. He was also committed to the Tower, where he remained for three years and a half, receiving the liberal allowance of £2 a week for his board.

Misfortune did not shake his principle of loyalty to the powers that be, and he refused to seek release by favouring rebellion. When, in June 1487, the Earl of Lincoln invaded England, and the lieutenant of the Tower offered to open the doors to Surrey, he refused the chance of escape. Henry VII soon saw that Surrey could be converted into an official, and would serve as a conspicuous example to other nobles. In January 1489 he was released, and was restored to his earldom, though the calculating king kept the greater part of his forfeited lands, and gave back only those which he held in right of his wife, and those which had been granted to the Earl of Oxford. In May he was sent to put down a rising in Yorkshire, caused by the pressure of taxation. The Earl of Northumberland had been slain by the insurgents, whom Surrey quickly subdued and hanged their leader in York. The care of the borders was now entrusted to Surrey, who was made lieutenant-general of the north, was placed on the commission of peace for Northumberland, and was appointed sub-warden of the east and middle marches, which were under the nominal charge of Arthur, prince of Wales. In the spring of 1492 he showed his vigilance by putting down a rising at Acworth, near Pomfret, so promptly that nothing is known of it save an obscure mention.

Surrey was now reckoned the chief general in England, and though summoned southwards when Henry VII threatened an expedition against France, was chiefly employed in watching the Scottish border against the Scottish king and Perkin Warbeck. In 1497 James IV laid siege to Norham Castle, but retreated before the rapid advance of Surrey, who retaliated by a raid into Scotland, where he challenged the Scottish king to battle; but James did not venture an engagement, and bad weather forced Surrey to retire. Surrey's services received tardy recognition from Henry VII; in June 1501 he was sworn of the privy council, and was made lord treasurer. His knowledge of Scotland was used for diplomatic purposes, and in the same year he was tent to arrange the terms of peace with that country on the basis of the marriage of Henry VII's daughter Margaret to James IV. In 1503 he was at the head of the escort which conducted the princess from her grandmother's house of Colliweston, Northampton, to Edinburgh, where he was received with honour. After this he stood high in the king's confidence, was named one of the executors of his will, and was present on all great occasions at the court. In October 1508 he was sent to Antwerp to negotiate for the marriage of Henry's daughter Mary with Charles, prince of Castile. It was not, however, till after twenty years of hard service that Henry VII, shortly before his death, made a restoration of his forfeited manors.

On the accession of Henry VIII, Surrey's age, position, and experience marked him out as the chief adviser of the new king and the most influential member of the privy council. In March 1509 he was one of the commissioners to conclude a treaty with France. In July 1510 he was made earl marshal, and in November 1511 was a commissioner to conclude a treaty with Ferdinand the Catholic. But Surrey felt that, though he was valued by the young king, he did not become his trusted adviser, and he looked with jealous eyes on the rapid rise of Wolsey. He suspected Wolsey of encouraging the king in extravagance, and fostering his ambition for distinction in foreign affairs contrary to the cautious policy of his father. He consequently gave way to outbursts of ill-temper, and in September 1512, 'being discountenanced by the king, he left the court. Wolsey thinks it would be a good thing if he were ousted from his lodging there altogether' (Brewer, Calendar, i. No. 3443).

But Henry VIII was wise enough to see the advantage of maintaining a balance in his council, and he knew the worth of a man like Surrey. When, in 1513, he led his army into France, Surrey was left as lieutenant-general of the north. He had to meet the attack of James IV of Scotland, which was so decisively repelled on Flodden Field (9 Sept. 1513), a victory due to the energy of Surrey in raising troops and in organising his army, as well as to the strategical skill which he showed in his dispositions for the battle. This is the more remarkable when we remember that he was then in his seventieth year. As a recognition of this signal service Surrey, on 1 Feb. 1514, was created Duke of Norfolk, with an annuity of £40 out of the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, and further had a grant of an addition to his coat of arms—on a bend in his shield a demi-lion, gules, pierced in the mouth with an arrow.

Though Norfolk had gained distinction he did not gain influence over the king, whose policy was completely directed by Wolsey on lines contrary to the wishes of the old nobility. Norfolk was opposed to the marriage of the king's sister Mary with Louis XII of France, and vainly tried to prevent it. To console him for his failure he was chosen to conduct Mary to her husband, and waited till he was in France to wreak his ill-humour by dismissing Mary's English attendants. This act only threw Mary more completely on Wolsey's side, and so increased his influence. Norfolk must have felt the hopelessness of further opposition when, on 16 Nov. 1515, he and the Duke of Suffolk conducted Wolsey, after his reception of the cardinal's hat, from the high altar to the door of Westminster Abbey. He gradually resigned himself to Wolsey's policy, and the Venetian envoy Giustinian reports that he was 'very intimate with the cardinal.'

In February 1516 the Duchess of Norfolk was godmother to the Princess Mary, and in the same year Norfolk was a commissioner for forming a league with the emperor and Spain in defence of the church. In May 1517 he showed his old vigour in putting down a riot of the London apprentices against foreigners, which, from the summary punishment it received, was known as 'Evil May day.' When the king went to the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520, Norfolk was left guardian of the kingdom. But a painful task was in store for him: in May 1521 he was appointed lord high steward for the trial of Edward, duke of Buckingham, on the charge of treason. Buckingham was his friend, and father of the wife of his eldest son; and few incidents are more characteristic of the temper of the time than that Norfolk should have consented to preside at such a trial, of which the issue was a foregone conclusion. With tears streaming down his face Norfolk passed sentence of death on a man with whose sentiments he entirely agreed, but had his reward in a grant of manors from Buckingham's forfeitures.

In spite of his great age Norfolk still continued at court, and was present at the reception of Charles V in May 1522. In December, however, he resigned the office of treasurer, but was present at parliament in April 1523. After that he retired to his castle of Framlingham, where he died on 21 May 1524, and was buried at Thetford Priory, of which he was patron. A tomb was raised over him, which at the dissolution of the monasteries was removed to the church of Framlingham. It is said that his body finally remained in the Howard Chapel at Lambeth, where his second wife was also buried.

The career of Howard is an excellent example of the process by which the Tudor kings converted the old nobility into dignified officials, and reduced them into entire dependence on the crown. Howard accepted the position, worked hard, abandoned all scruples, and gathered every possible reward. Polydore Vergil praises him as 'vir prudentia, gravitate et constantia praeditus.' By his first wife, Elizabeth Tilney, he had eight sons [incl. Howard, Thomas II, and Howard, Sir Edward], of whom five died young, and three daughters; by his second wife, Agnes, daughter of Sir Philip Tilney, he had three sons, including William Howard, first lord Howard of Effingham and four daughters. By the marriages of this numerous offspring the Howard family was connected with most of the chief families of England, and secured a lasting position.

Creighton, Mandell. "THOMAS HOWARD, I Earl of Surrey and II Duke of Norfolk."
Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. XXVIII. Sidney Lee, Ed.
New York: Macmillan and Co., 1891. 62-64.

Other Local Resources:

Books for further study:

Brenan, Gerald and Edward Phillips Statham. The House of Howard. Vol I.
            Hutchinson & Co, 1907.
            Available free at Internet Archive.

Claiden-Yardley, Kirsten. The Man Behind the Tudors: Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk.
           Pen & Sword, 2020.

Robinson, John Martin. The Dukes of Norfolk: A Quincentennial History.
            Oxford University Press, 1983.

Tucker, Melvin. The Life of Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey and Second Duke of Norfolk.
            Mouton, 1964.

Sir Thomas Howard on the Web:

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This page was created on April 14, 2009. Last updated on April 11, 2023.

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Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex
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Thomas Percy, 7. E. Northumberland
Henry Percy, 8. E. Northumberland
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William Herbert, 1. Earl of Pembroke
Charles, Lord Howard of Effingham
Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk
Henry Howard, 1. Earl of Northampton
Thomas Howard, 1. Earl of Suffolk
Henry Hastings, 3. E. of Huntingdon
Edward Manners, 3rd Earl of Rutland
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Chart of the English Succession from William I through Henry VII

Medieval English Drama

London c1480, MS Royal 16
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