Tuesday, 10 January 2017

A Tudor Poet – Henry Howard II

Thetford Priory
A Death in the Family

Norfolk passed the post of Lord Treasurer on to his son in 1522. Two years later the old duke died in May 1524, having served four kings and his son Thomas was elevated to his father’s position. The Howards had kept their place in the royal courts with a ruthlessness that was unrivalled. The hereditary post as Earl Marshall transferred to the new duke at the old duke’s death. Henry became Earl of Surrey in his father’s place.

In June 1524[i] Henry and the rest of the family arrived at Thetford for the funeral and elaborate ceremonies transferring the Howard responsibilities from the second to the third duke at the Priory where all the Howards were buried. The service and ceremonies were conducted by the Bishop of Ely.

Earl of Oxford
Thomas inherited an annual income that varied from £3,000 - £4,000[ii]; an amount greatly in excess of the average peer’s income of £801[iii]. Life at Thetford Hall became increasingly more complex; the new duke took on many of his father’s retinue along with his half-sister Anne, Lady Oxford, relict of the 14th Earl, who had been dispossessed of her possessions by the new Earl of Oxford, a second cousin of her husband’s.

Christmas that year was celebrated with ducal magnificence and so many people arrived that Tendring Hall was overcrowded. Thomas decided to transfer his main home to Kenninghall and employed an army of builders to expand and extend the house into an H shaped building with upwards of seventy rooms.


The poor and indigent were not ignored by the new duke; hermits and gypsies were welcomed at the Howard table. But Thomas retained in many of his lands the villenage of his predecessors, much to the disgust of his bondsmen who complained that the duke treated them;

‘With much more extremity than his ancestors did.’[iv]

From 1527 onward Norfolk was afflicted by an undiagnosed illness that was to plague him for the rest of his long life[v]. He was prone to discussing his ailment with the king and council, giving them details of his bowel movements. It possibly made him more cranky and remote from his children

Butley Priory gatehouse
Henry’s education now expanded to include subjects approved by the Humanists. His studies were focussed on the liberal arts; rhetoric, Latin, moral philosophy, history, literature and the scriptures. His favourite authors were Virgil and Martial. As a future courtier Henry learnt French, Spanish and Italian, dancing and singing. Henry was a precocious student and Norfolk often gloated over his son’s Latin translations when at court.

Henry loved hunting and his father indulged him while, at the same time, teaching his heir his future responsibilities. Henry accompanied his father while Norfolk undertook his duties as duke. On 16th September 1526 Norfolk went hunting with his sons at Scuttegrove Wood in East Suffolk, spending the night at nearby Butley Priory. On the following day Henry was with the duke when he ordered the desalination of the salt marshes at Hollesley.

The King’s Private Matter

Charles V
Thomas Howard was a hard man; he had to be to survive the vicissitudes of the Tudor court; for over a decade he had been jousting for power with the low-born Thomas Wolsey and generally losing. When his niece Anne Boleyn[vi] became the king’s latest infatuation Thomas found himself in favour and returned as a royal counsellor and companion.

Anne was canny enough not to give in to the king; she had no desire to be one of his discarded mistresses. Even then she may have had marriage in mind putting her in direct opposition to Wolsey who, even then, was considering a divorce for his royal master. Rather than a scion of the Howard family, Wolsey had his eye on a French princess to replace Queen Katherine whose continued failure to produce an heir, other than Princess Mary, was of concern to both king and minister.

Wolsey asked the pope Clement VII for an annulment of the marriage, but the pope was not inclined to overturn the judgement of his predecessor[vii]. The matter rumbled on until Katherine’s nephew’s troops sacked Rome where they found the pope in hiding. The Holy Roman Emperor’s control of the pope meant that his aunt’s annulment was not the done deal that both Wolsey and the king had hoped. This failure to produce a divorce from the faded and aging queen was to cost Wolsey dear. Wolsey’s fall was to produce opportunities for one of his greatest enemies.

The King’s Son

Henry Fitzroy
At the tail end of 1529 Norfolk won what he must have felt was a coup; the king entrusted him with the care of his only son Henry Fitzroy[viii] Duke of Richmond and Somerset. Henry was to be a companion and someone for the young duke to emulate. Norfolk confided in Eustace Chapuys, Charles Vs ambassador, telling him that;

‘I told you that I was on many accounts delighted to see my son making so much progress in his studies and following the path of virtue. The King has entrusted to me the education of his bastard son, the Duke of Richmond….that he may obtain knowledge and virtue, so that a friendship thus cemented promises fair to be very strong and firm.’[ix]

Henry was more likely to impress the young Fitzroy with his prowess in the hunt or on the tennis court rather than with his scholarship; Fitzroy had not inherited his father’s erudition and was not one for books.

The meeting of the two boys who were to be best friends took place at Windsor in the spring of 1530. Fitzroy was eleven to Henry’s thirteen. Norfolk intended that Henry’s bonding with the young boy, who was believed to be intended for high office, would strengthen Howard ties with the throne.

At Windsor

Both boys were hot-headed and very competitive with a tendency towards an arrogance born of their high stations in life. The two boys shared a love of sport and ogling pretty women at court. The boys played Real Tennis together and, if there were females in the spectators’ gallery, they would strip off to display their manly torsos as Henry later wrote[x];

‘’The palme-play [tennis court], where, despoiled [stripped] for the game,

          With dazed eyes oft we by gleams of love,

          Have miss’d the ball, and got sight of our dame,

          To bait her eyes, which kept the leads above….’[xi]

Real Tennis Court Hampton Court
At dances the two boys would often act in tandem, each pleading the other’s case to the desired belle and would later compare notes, no doubt giggling like the adolescent boys they were. Although these two boys were among the most eligible  youths in the country, their advances were frequently rejected and upon occasion being on the receiving end of ‘looks that tigers could but rue‘, They shared chambers in the castle, hung with tapestries, some with a chivalric theme, one depicted the story of Paris and Helen.

The two boys started their military training at Windsor. They practised their jousting skills in the tiltyard and learnt to use a sword on foot and on horseback with and without armour. Their trainers encouraged a friendly rivalry between the two boys. Fitzroy and Henry went hunting as often as possible.


Henry VIII’s Last Victim – Jessie Childs, Vintage Books 2008

The Ebbs and Flows of Fortune – David M Head, University of Georgia Press 2009

House of Treason – Robert Hutchinson, Phoenix 2009

Henry VIII – Robert Lacey, Weidenfeld & Nicholson & Book Club Associates 1972

The Earlier Tudors – J D Mackie, Oxford University Press 1992

Bastard Prince – Beverley A Murphy, Sutton Publishing 2001

Rivals in Power – David Starkey, MacMillan London Ltd 1990

The Six Wives of Henry VIII – Alison Weir, Pimlico 1992


[i] The duke had lain in state in the chapel at Framlingham Castle for a month
[ii] In 2015 the relative: historic standard of living value of £3,000 is £1,855,000.00 labour earnings of that income or wealth is £17,000,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £59,780,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £894,000,000.00. In 2015 the relative: historic standard of living value of £4,000 is £2,473,000.00 labour earnings of that income or wealth is £22,660,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £79,710,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £1,192,000,000.00 www.measuringworth.com
[iii] In 2015 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £495,300.00 labour earnings of that income or wealth is £4,538,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £15,960,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £238,700,000.00 www.measuringworth.com
[iv] Henry VIII’s Last Victim - Childs
[v] He died in 1554 at the age of 81
[vii] Allowing for the marriage between Henry VIII and Katherine, despite her prior marriage to Henry’s brother Arthur
[ix] Henry VIII’s Last Victim - Childs
[x] A poem written while in the Tower
[xi] Rivals in Power - Starkey

No comments:

Post a Comment