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Howard [née Stafford], Elizabeth, duchess of Norfolklocked

  • Michael A. R. Graves

Howard [née Stafford], Elizabeth, duchess of Norfolk (1497–1558), noblewoman, was the eldest daughter of Edward Stafford, third duke of Buckingham (1478–1521)—and so a descendant of Edward III—and Eleanor (d. 1530), eldest daughter of Henry Percy, fourth earl of Northumberland (c. 1449–1489). She was educated at home and betrothed to her father's ward Ralph Neville, fourth earl of Westmorland. She later wrote, '[H]e and I had loved together two year, and … I had married [him] before Christmas', if the widowed Thomas Howard (1473–1554), the earl of Surrey's heir, had not made vigorous suit to her father (LP Henry VIII, 12/2, no. 976). They were married in 1513, when Howard received her dowry of 2000 marks and she was promised an annual jointure of 500 marks, an undertaking that was not kept. She had entered court in 1509 as lady-in-waiting to Katherine of Aragon, whose devoted friend she became and remained. She was also, she later asserted, a dutiful and devoted wife: 'I was daily waiter in the Court sixteen years together, when he hath been from me more than a year on the King's wars' (ibid., 12/2, no. 143). She accompanied her husband to Ireland, where he served in 1520–22, and as late as 1524, when he became third duke of Norfolk, they appeared to be bonded by mutual love and loyalty.

In 1527, however, Norfolk took a mistress, Elizabeth Holland, the daughter of his private secretary. The duchess described 'Bess' as a harlot, a drab and 'a churl's daughter', who was but 'washer of my nursery' for eight years (ibid., 12/2, no. 143; Harris, Edward Stafford, 63). Bess Holland's family was, however, of gentry stock and she became one of the ladies-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn, with whom the duchess had a quarrel of her own, due to Anne's insistence that Elizabeth Howard's daughter Mary should marry Henry VIII's illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy. All this doubtless reinforced the duchess's loyalty to Katherine of Aragon during the long annulment crisis. In 1531 she was exiled from court, 'because she spoke too freely, and declared herself more than they liked for the Queen' (LP Henry VIII, 5, no. 238), and two years later she refused to attend Anne's coronation.

During the 1530s Lady Norfolk's marriage collapsed. In March 1534 the duke 'locked me up in a chamber, [and] took away my jewels and apparel' (LP Henry VIII, 12/2, no. 976). She was then moved to Redbourne, Hertfordshire, where she lived apart and, as she complained, in a state of virtual imprisonment with a meagre annual allowance of only £200. Despite Norfolk's offers of material awards and the return of her jewels and clothes, she refused to agree to a divorce. Instead, in a series of letters to Thomas Cromwell between 1535 and 1539, she aired her grievances and sought a fair financial arrangement. Three times she wrote how women of the household had bound her, pummelled her, and sat on her breast until she spat blood. She also made the claim, uncorroborated and strenuously denied by Norfolk, that while she was in labour with their daughter Mary in 1519, he had dragged her by her hair out of bed and around the house, wounding her in the head with his dagger. Her publicly aired complaints and accusations isolated her from her eldest son and her daughter, while her brother Henry Stafford condemned her for her 'wild language' and her 'sensual and wilful mind' (ibid., 6, nos. 474–5).

In the 1540s Elizabeth Howard was reconciled to her brother. But Norfolk remained with his mistress, and when he was accused of treason in December 1546 the duchess and her rival were both living in his house at Kenninghall near Thetford, and were taken into custody together. Elizabeth Howard subsequently gave evidence against the duke, and after his attainder her apparel at Kenninghall was restored to her—at the time of her arrest she had little in the way of valuables, 'all being very bare and her jewels sold to pay her debts' (LP Henry VIII, 21/2, no. 548). When Mary Tudor became queen in 1553 Lady Norfolk was also, at last, restored to the court, accompanying the queen into London on 3 August, and bearing her train at her coronation. She was not named in the will of her husband when he died on 25 August 1554. Elizabeth died on 30 November 1558 and was buried in the Howard chapel, Lambeth. Her brother Henry wrote her epitaph:

Thou wast to me, both far and near,A Mother, sister, a friend most dear.

Sessions, 61Three of her children survived childhood: Henry Howard, styled earl of Surrey; Thomas, Viscount Bindon; and Mary Fitzroy, duchess of Richmond.


  • B. J. Harris, Edward Stafford, third duke of Buckingham (1986)
  • B. J. Harris, ‘Marriage sixteenth century style: Elizabeth Stafford and the third duke of Norfolk’, Journal of Social History, 15/2 (1981), 371–82
  • D. M. Head, The ebbs and flows of fortune: the life of Thomas Howard, third duke of Norfolk (1995)
  • W. A. Sessions, Henry Howard, the poet earl of Surrey: a life (1999)
  • C. Rawcliffe, The Staffords, earls of Stafford and dukes of Buckingham, 1394–1521, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought, 3rd ser., 11 (1978)
  • M. J. Tucker, The life of Thomas Howard, earl of Surrey and second duke of Norfolk, 1443–1524 (1964)
  • LP Henry VIII, 5, no. 238; 6, nos. 474–5; 12/2, nos. 143, 976; 21/2, no. 548
  • R. M. Warnicke, The rise and fall of Anne Boleyn (1989)
  • BL, Cotton MS Titus B.i, fol. 383c
  • GM, 2nd ser., 23 (1845), 259–67
  • GEC, Peerage, new edn, 9.619–20


  • double portrait, tomb effigy (with her husband), Framlingham church, Suffolk
J. S. Brewer, J. Gairdner, & R. H. Brodie, eds., , 23 vols. in 38 (1862–1932); repr. (1965)
Gentleman's Magazine
G. E. C. [G. E. Cokayne], , 8 vols. (1887–98); new edn, ed. V. Gibbs & others, 14 vols. in 15 (1910–98); microprint repr. (1982) and (1987)