Howard, Thomas, second duke of Norfolk (1443–1524), magnate and soldier
by David M. Head

Howard, Thomas, second duke of Norfolk (1443–1524), magnate and soldier, was the eldest son of , a kinsman of the Mowbray dukes of Norfolk and first Howard duke, and Catherine (d. 1465), daughter of William, Lord Moleyns. He was probably born at Tendring Hall, Stoke by Nayland, Suffolk, and educated at home and at a grammar school, perhaps at Thetford but more probably Ipswich. His upbringing was chivalric in character and modelled on his father's career as a soldier and gentleman.

Early career and marriage

Little is known of Howard's early life; he was in his twenties when he entered royal service between 1466 and 1469 as a henchman to Edward IV. At some point before the autumn of 1471 he was at the court of Charles the Bold, duke of Burgundy. When Edward was driven to the Low Countries by the earl of Warwick, Howard took sanctuary at St John's Abbey, Colchester. He was badly wounded fighting for Edward at Barnet in April 1471, but recovered to be appointed an esquire of the body and continued in close personal attendance on Edward IV until 1477.

On 30 April 1472 Howard married Elizabeth, daughter of Frederick Tilney and widow of Humphrey Bourchier, who had been killed at Barnet, and took up residence at her manor of Ashwellthorpe, Norfolk. The marriage was a blow to the Pastons, as they had sought her hand, and it marked the growing status of the Howards in East Anglia. Howard had with Elizabeth three sons and two daughters who lived to maturity; the eldest son, , born in 1473, succeeded as earl of Surrey and third duke of Norfolk. In 1475 Howard accompanied Edward IV to France, witnessed the treaty signed at Picquigny, and was granted a French pension. Until the end of Edward's reign he served as a justice of the peace for Norfolk and as sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk; he was a member of parliament for Norfolk in 1477 and again, after a disputed election, in 1483. He was knighted on 14 January 1478 at the marriage of the king's second son, Richard, newly created duke of York and Norfolk, and Anne Mowbray, heir to the last Mowbray duke of Norfolk. This marriage extinguished the Howards' faint claim to lands and titles of their Mowbray kinsmen, and it may have determined their role in the events that followed.

Relations with Richard III

Despite taking ceremonial roles in Edward IV's funeral the Howards supported the usurpation of Richard, duke of Gloucester, and reaped handsome rewards for their service. They were intimates of Richard in the weeks preceding his coronation; Thomas Howard helped to arrest Lord Hastings at the Tower of London on 13 June, and he and his father may have participated in the murder of Edward V and Richard, duke of York and Norfolk, an act from which they had much to gain (Sutton and Hammond, 26). Richard saw the Howards as being among his most important supporters, for, on 28 June, John was created duke of Norfolk and Thomas earl of Surrey; both were granted lands and Thomas Howard an annuity of £1000. Norfolk acquired the bulk of the former Mowbray lands in East Anglia, Sussex, and Surrey, as well as forfeited estates from Lord Rivers and the earl of Oxford, which established him as the greatest landed baron in the south-east of England. Surrey was sworn of the council and elected to the Order of the Garter. At Richard's coronation Surrey bore the sword of state and served as steward at the coronation feast, entering Westminster Hall on horseback. That autumn Norfolk and Surrey demonstrated their loyalty by suppressing the rebellion of Henry Stafford, duke of Buckingham, which led to the latter's execution. Both Howards remained close to Richard throughout his brief reign. Interestingly, Thomas Howard's funeral monument, which bore a lengthy autobiographical inscription, glossed over this period, blandly asserting that the Howards ‘both served the said King Richard truly as his subjects during his life, lying at home in their own countries and keeping honorable houses’ (Weever, 835).

When Henry Tudor challenged for the throne, the Howards came to Richard's defence. Norfolk was slain and Surrey wounded and taken prisoner at Bosworth on 22 August 1485 as Henry VII claimed the crown. Surrey was attainted in Henry's first parliament and, stripped of titles and lands, languished in the Tower of London for three years. Offered escape during the rebellion of the earl of Lincoln in 1487, Thomas Howard refused, perhaps convincing Henry of his loyalty. In May 1489 he was restored as earl of Surrey, although most of his lands were withheld, and sent north to quell rebellion in Yorkshire. Having shown his value to the new regime Surrey continued in the north as king's lieutenant until 1499, residing at Sheriff Hutton Castle, Yorkshire. In 1497 he repelled an attack on Norham Castle by James IV of Scotland in support of the pretender Perkin Warbeck and followed with a raid into Scotland to seize Ayton Castle. However, Henry sought peace rather than war with Scotland, and Surrey concluded a truce and began negotiations for the marriage of James IV to Henry's daughter Margaret.

Second marriage, 1497, and continental diplomacy

In April 1497 Surrey's wife, Elizabeth, died, and he married Agnes Tilney (d. 1545) [see ], a cousin of Elizabeth, on 8 November 1497. This marriage produced six surviving children, including the naval commander ; through his five sons and six daughters, Howard had marital ties to most of the leading English families. Having demonstrated beyond doubt his loyalty and usefulness as a soldier and administrator, Surrey was recalled to court in 1499 and accompanied Henry VII on a state visit to France the next year. In 1501 he was sworn of the council and, on 16 June, made lord treasurer. Along with Richard Fox, lord privy seal, and William Warham, the chancellor, Surrey became part of Henry's executive triumvirate. As Surrey proved his loyalty, he steadily recovered lands once held by his father, mainly in East Anglia, and until 1513 he continued to accumulate lands and consolidate his holdings in the region. By 1500 his East Anglian lands alone had a net value of over £600 a year, and after the death of the dowager duchess of Norfolk in November 1506 he gained other, mainly East Anglian, lands, with an additional net value of some £600 a year.

Surrey took an active role in diplomacy, including the 1501 negotiations for Katherine of Aragon's marriage to Prince Arthur, and also supervised Arthur's funeral in April 1502. In 1503 he conducted Princess Margaret to Scotland for her wedding to James IV. Despite their past battles James and Surrey got along splendidly as fellow chivalrous knights, and Surrey left Scotland laden with gifts—much to Margaret's chagrin, since her new husband seemed to prefer Surrey's company to her own. Surrey had accompanied Henry VII to Calais in 1500 to meet Philippe, duke of Burgundy, and went to Flanders in 1507 to seek a marriage between Philippe's son and heir, the future Charles V, and Henry's second daughter, Mary. The marriage was agreed upon in 1508 with Surrey leading negotiations with the emperor Maximilian in Antwerp, although the wedding never took place.

Serving Henry VIII

At Henry VII's death in April 1509 Surrey was an executor of the king's will and played a prominent role in his funeral and in the coronation of Henry VIII, when he served as earl marshal, an office which was later granted for life. Surrey sought to become the young king's leading minister, but by 1511 Thomas Wolsey had emerged as the dominant figure at court, and this led Surrey, after a final attempt to retain his position in September 1511, to a reconciliation with Wolsey and an acceptance of his supremacy. The main point of contention was foreign policy. Surrey had joined Fox and Thomas Ruthal in March 1510 in signing an Anglo-French truce, but Wolsey, sensing Henry's ambition, sought a policy of war. Surrey led the negotiations with Ferdinand of Spain which bound England to attack France in the spring of 1512, and his sons Edward (killed at sea in 1513) and Thomas served as Henry's admirals in a series of engagements along the channel. Surrey went north to muster soldiers and inspect defences for an invasion of France in 1513 which he expected to lead.

Defeating the Scots on Flodden Field, 1513

Instead Surrey was left behind when Henry departed for Calais on 30 June 1513. Perhaps the king did not want the old soldier at his elbow during his first campaign; certainly Wolsey was happy to have his rival out of the way. Yet while Henry played at war in France, Surrey won his family's and one of his kingdom's greatest victories. Henry had hardly left the realm when James IV launched an invasion. Surrey, with the aid of his sons Thomas and Edmund and such nobles as Henry had left behind, scraped together an army and met James's much larger force near Flodden on 9 September 1513. Surrey, low on supplies and unable to delay the confrontation, boldly divided his forces and took the fight to James in a series of flanking attacks which, combined with superior English weapons in the longbow and bill, threw the Scots into confusion. In a battle lasting from 4 p.m. until nightfall the Scots may have lost as many as 10,000 men, most in the confused last stages of the battle, and King James was killed. While Henry fought the meaningless battle of the Spurs and seized Tournai and Thérouanne, Surrey sent his master the blood-soaked coat of a king and won great popular renown.

Howard was rewarded for his service on 1 February 1514 when he was created duke of Norfolk and his son Thomas was made earl of Surrey, each with grants of land and annuities. All of Norfolk's new lands lay outside East Anglia, with thirty manors scattered across the realm from Kent to Nottinghamshire. The Howard arms were augmented in honour of Flodden with an escutcheon bearing the lion of Scotland pierced through the mouth with an arrow. The new duke of Norfolk held a major role in affairs, and in 1514 he joined Wolsey and Fox in negotiations for the marriage of Princess Mary to Louis XII of France. Norfolk and his family led the grand party which escorted Mary to France for the wedding in the autumn. Norfolk again irritated a princess to please a king by clearing Mary's court of her English servants, which had the further effect of displacing many handpicked by Wolsey.

Final years, death, and reputation

Despite his disappointment at being eclipsed by Wolsey, who was made cardinal in September 1515, Norfolk continued as a courtier and diplomat and on 1 May 1517 led a private army of 1300 retainers into London to suppress the ‘evil May day’ riots. This episode not only reconfirmed Howard's value as a soldier but also showed the private power of a Tudor magnate. The greatest such figure was Edward Stafford, duke of Buckingham, and when in May 1521 Henry determined to destroy the duke, Norfolk had the painful duty of presiding over the trial as lord high steward—he pronounced the sentence of death with tears streaming down his face.

By the spring of 1522, nearing eighty years of age and in failing health, Norfolk withdrew from court. In December 1522 he resigned as treasurer in favour of his son and, after attending the opening of parliament in April 1523, retired to his ducal castle at Framlingham in Suffolk. He died there on 21 May 1524. His funeral and burial on 22 June at the Cluniac priory at Thetford were spectacular and enormously expensive, costing over £1300 and including a procession of 400 hooded men bearing torches and an elaborate bier surmounted with 100 wax effigies and 700 candles. This was befitting the richest and most powerful peer in England. At the interment, a sermon on the text ‘Behold the lion of the tribe of Judah triumphs’ (Revelation 5: 5) so terrified the congregation that the mourners fled the church. Norfolk left an estate worth £4500 per annum and, according to his funeral monument, when he died ‘he could not be asked one groat for his debt, nor for restitution to any person’ (Weever, 835).

Norfolk was a man of intense determination and courage, cautious when he was able but reckless, as at Flodden, when he needed to be. His role in the usurpation of Richard III raises questions about his character, but he was otherwise staunchly devoted to the crown. His personal and family pride is evident from his funeral and the beginning of his will, dated 31 May 1520, in which he referred to himself in the plural—‘We Thomas, Duke of Norfolk’. To judge from an engraving based on a lost brass, he was small and spare in person, with a long face, straight fair hair worn long, and an aquiline nose. He was a faithful conventional Catholic who endowed churches and supported religious foundations. It may have been well that he died when he did, for it is doubtful he could have given even the reluctant assent his son did to the changes of the English Reformation. Howard was one of the last English feudal barons, a man who made his career by his sword and his counsel to his king and who reaped all the rewards and fame one might so seek. Polydore Vergil described Howard as vir prudentia, gravitate et constantia praeditus (‘a man endowed with prudence, dignity, and firmness’). It still seems a fitting epitaph.



M. Tucker, The life of Thomas Howard, earl of Surrey and second duke of Norfolk, 1443–1524 (1964) · D. M. Head, The ebbs and flows of fortune: the life of Thomas Howard, third duke of Norfolk (1995) · J. Weever, Ancient funerall monuments (1631), 834–40 · Hall’s chronicle, ed. H. Ellis (1809) · J. Gairdner, ed., Letters and papers illustrative of the reigns of Richard III and Henry VII, 2 vols., Rolls Series, 24 (1861–3) · LP Henry VIII · A. F. Sutton and P. W. Hammond, eds., The coronation of Richard III: the extant documents (1983) · M. J. Bennett, The battle of Bosworth (1985) · R. Virgoe, ‘The recovery of the Howards in East Anglia, 1485–1529’, Wealth and power in Tudor England: essays presented to S. T. Bindoff, ed. E. W. Ives, R. J. Knecht, and J. J. Scarisbrick (1978), 1–20 · The Anglica historia of Polydore Vergil, AD 1485–1537, ed. and trans. D. Hay, CS, 3rd ser., 74 (1950) · J. M. Robinson, The dukes of Norfolk (1982) · J. Blatchly, A famous antient seed-plot of learning: a history of Ipswich School (2003)


Arundel Castle, Sussex, papers |  TNA: PRO, SP series · TNA: PRO, tellers' rolls, E 405


engraving (after brass sculpture at Lambeth, now lost), repro. in Bennett, Battle of Bosworth · oils (possibly posthumous), Arundel Castle, Sussex

Wealth at death  

£4500 p.a.: Virgoe, ‘Recovery of the Howards’

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Thomas Howard (1443–1524): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/13939