Tuesday, 3 January 2017

A Tudor Poet – Henry Howard

Thomas Howard (as 3rd Duke of Norfolk)
Heir to the Howard Grandeur

Henry Howard, future heir to the Dukedom of Norfolk, was born in the spring of 1517. Henry was the son of Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, and his second wife Elizabeth Stafford. The couple already had one child, a daughter named Katherine after the queen. The heir was christened Henry, in honour of the king, at the church of St Mary’s Lambeth[i]. The couple’s third child Mary was born in 1519. Mary was followed by Thomas born in circa 1520, another brother called Charles died in 1520 and then, lastly, came Muriel[ii].

Some years later Elizabeth was to allege that when she gave birth to Mary her husband attacked her, Norfolk repudiated his wife’s claims that;

‘I should draw her out of the bed by the hair of her head, about the house, and with my dagger gave her a wound in the head…….she had the scar in her head fifteen months before she was delivered of my said daughter.’[iii]

Indeed he claimed that he had witnesses to his wife having had the scar some fifteen months before Mary’s birth.

Norfolk’s first wife, Anne Plantagenet[iv], had died in November 1511 and, aged thirty-five and desperate for an heir, her widower remarried in January 1513; his bride was 15. Elizabeth’s dowry was 2,500 marks[v] along with land, an income for life, goods and jewels. Elizabeth had been due to marry Ralph Neville[vi] until Thomas pressured her father Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham into the match. The marriage also brought political connections for the Howard family; including Henry Lord Stafford and George Neville, Lord Abergavenny.

The Parents

Thomas Howard 2nd Duke of Norfolk
The family spent the summer months at Tendring Hall, Stoke by Nayland in Suffolk and at Kenninghall[vii]. In the winter the Howards were to be found at Hunsdon Hall[viii] in Hertfordshire while Henry’s paternal grandfather Thomas Howard, the 2nd Duke of Norfolk, and oftimes his father, was in London; the Howard males needed to be close to court in order to be seen and to protect their interests against the king’s erratic whims.

Thomas Howard was an ambitious man, having grown up at a time when the Howard family were in disgrace[ix]. He was determined that the Howards would retain, at all cost, the pre-eminence that the second duke had earned for his family. A servant informed Henry that;

‘I heard my lord say that he would rather bury you and the rest of his children before he should give his consent to the ruin of this realm.’[x]

The servant could well have added the ruin of the Howard family. Thomas Howard the younger was by turns affable, cruel, charming, ruthless, bluff or obsequious. He showed a different face to everyone as the times dictated. He could be affectionate to the children, but rarely saw them. The affairs of state or the Howard family took precedence.

Elizabeth Howard was one of the Queen’s ladies in waiting and could be away for three months at a time. When she was home Elizabeth’s duties as Countess of Surrey ensured that she was out visiting the neighbours, visits which could last the best part of a week. When she was at home Henry would have breakfast with his mother on a daily basis in her bedchamber.

Elizabeth was a strict disciplinarian who made no allowance for the follies of youth despite her own comparative youth. When his parents were home Henry was expected to ask for their blessing while on his knees. He stayed there until he had received it. Henry had a gentleman usher who slept outside the door of his bedchamber, ready to attend to his young master’s needs.


The Howard account books show that in the summer of 1519 Henry was given his very own piece of blue ribbon, and that in this and the following year the children were given sweets, silks and shoes. Henry joined his parents for dinner in his father’s chamber where he would have been enjoined to sit quietly, learning to gauge his parents’ moods from their body language.

Earl of Essex
Life for the Howard children was one of grandeur; by the age of six Henry was hosting guests in the house in his parent’s absence; he must have learned the rules of etiquette by this time; coughing, hiccupping, scratching and retching were all forbidden; one contemporary manual warning against;

‘Put not your hands in your hosen your codware for to claw.’[xi]

On 16th September 1623 the Howard household books show that the Earl of Essex arrived at Tendring Hall with four retainers and dined with the small boy, dressed in his finest clothes, at the head of the table.

At Christmas 1523 Henry’s parents spent the holiday at court, leaving their children in the care of servants at Hunsdon. Henry spent the day in the nursery while the servants celebrated in the great hall, although he was served the ‘ten great birds’ for dinner. Contrary to normal there were no visitors until the next day when the local parson visited. On the 27th a group of travelling players performed scenes from the scriptures in the great hall for the Howard children, servants and the parson.


The Pale of Dublin
In May 1520 the family went with Surrey to Ireland where he had been appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland. The family crossed the Irish sea on two galleases and their home was to be in the Pale around Dublin. The plague descended upon the area within weeks of their arrival and Surrey wrote to Henry requesting permission to send his family home.

‘Three of my household folks have sickened in my house and died in the town within seven days past….Most humbly I beseech your grace to give me leave to send my wife and children into Wales or Lancashire.’[xii]

The request was ignored and permission to return home was not given until late in 1521. Howard’s requests for an increased military presence was also ignored by the king. During his time in Ireland Surrey suffered from intermittent bouts of dysentery which cannot have made him any easier to live with.

Surrey apparently treated the Irish humanely and he was also concerned about the ability of his soldiers to live on the meagre wages paid to them, particularly as living costs were rising beyond their ability to pay.

Following the return of the Surrey household to England Henry’s father found himself being posted to various parts of the country to keep the peace. In 1522 Surrey was harrying the French coastline; the following two years found him in the north serving as the King’s Lieutenant fighting against the Scots. During the period between April 1523 and January 1524 he spent 23 days at home.

A Loveless Marriage

Deprived of her love Ralph Neville and with a husband five years older than her father, Elizabeth was soon disappointed in her father’s choice of a husband. Henry’s parents came to detest one another, the duke’s low born mistress Elizabeth Holland[xiii], who was sister to Norfolk’s secretary and steward John Holland, being a very sore point for Elizabeth who claimed her rival was;

‘A churl’s daughter….of no gentle blood’[xiv]


‘A drab who was but a washer of my nursery.’[xv]

Cardinal Wolsey
The deliberate destruction of her father by Cardinal Wolsey[xvi] cannot have improved matters in the Howard household. Surrey’s relations with his father-in-law were strained at the best of times, and, from his exile from court in Ireland, he was unable to assist Buckingham as Wolsey’s trap snapped shut.

In April 1521 Buckingham was summonsed to court to answer allegations of treason. His judge was his son-in-law’s father, the Duke of Norfolk; the verdict was preordained, given Buckingham’s claims of royal descent and his huge landholdings. At his trial he blamed;

‘Surrey hated him the most and had hurt him most to the king’s majesty.’[xvii]

The execution of Henry’s maternal grandfather took place on 17th May 1521. The following year both Norfolk and Surrey received substantial portions of Buckingham’s estates.


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

Rivals in Power – David Starkey, MacMillan London Ltd 1990

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


[i] The family’s parish church in London
[ii] Muriel did not survive childhood
[iii] Rivals in Power - Starkey
[iv] Daughter of Edward IV; she and Norfolk had four children, none of whom survived to adulthood
[v] In 2015 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £1,498,000.00 labour earnings of that income or wealth is £17,070,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £50,650,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £793,500,000.00 www.measuringworth.com
[vii] Residence of the Duke of Norfolk, demolished in circa 1650
[viii] A moated manor house that the king purchased from the family in 1525
[ix] After Bosworth; the second Duke refused to betray Richard III
[x] Henry VIII’s Last Victim - Childs
[xi] Ibid
[xii] House of Treason – Hutchinson
[xiii] One of the Duchess’ former laundry maids
[xiv] House of Treason - Hutchinson
[xv] The Ebbs and Flow of Fortune - Head
[xvi] In a protest against the low born ministers with whom Henry VIII was surrounding himself the Duke of Buckingham had deliberately slopped water over Wolsey’s feet while attending upon the king
[xvii] House of Treason – Hutchinson

1 comment:

  1. the problem for an ambitious family is the enmity of others