Howard, Thomas, third duke of Norfolk (1473–1554), magnate and soldier
by Michael A. R. Graves

Howard, Thomas, third duke of Norfolk (1473–1554), magnate and soldier, was the eldest son of , and his first wife, Elizabeth (d. 1497), the daughter of Frederick Tilney of Ashwellthorpe Hall, Norfolk, and widow of Sir Humphrey Bourchier.

Early years and political rise

The Howards were under a political shadow in the early years of Henry VII's reign. Thomas Howard's father and grandfather had prospered under the Yorkist kings, and both fought for Richard III at Bosworth. Thus his own marriage on 4 February 1495 to Anne [Anne, Lady Howard (1475–1511)], the fourth surviving daughter of and thus King Henry's sister-in-law, represented an important step in his family's rehabilitation. As a young child Anne had been intended for Philip, the only son of Archduke Maximilian and Edward IV's niece Marie. The marriage was in negotiation by July 1479 and was agreed by treaties in the following year, despite Edward's determination to give no dowry with his daughter. But the match fell through when Edward's foreign policy collapsed in 1482. One of the princesses whose safety Richard III guaranteed on 1 March 1484, Anne took part in court ceremonies after 1485, though her own and her sisters' claims to a share of the Yorkist inheritance made them a potential embarrassment to the new dynasty. On 1 July 1510 Henry VIII made Anne and her husband a grant of lands in several counties in compensation for her rights, but limited its descent to the heirs of her body. In the event, the four children of the marriage all died young, and Anne had no surviving issue when she herself died in November or December 1511.

Meanwhile Thomas Howard had continued his progress into royal favour. In 1497 he served first against the Cornish rebels and then, in September, against the Scots, in the latter instance under the command of his own father, who knighted him on 30 September. In April 1510, following the accession of Henry VIII, he was made a knight of the Garter, and he was often employed as a soldier. On 22 May 1512 he was appointed lieutenant-general (under the second marquess of Dorset) of an army sent to Spain to co-operate with Ferdinand of Aragon in an Anglo-Spanish invasion of southern France. Lack of Spanish support caused the expedition to return home. On 4 May 1513 Howard became lord admiral (an office he held until 1525), and on 9 September he was prominent in the defeat of the Scots at the battle of Flodden. The English army was commanded by Sir Thomas's father, the earl of Surrey, who appointed his son to lead the vanguard. As the two armies moved to face each other Thomas sent a provocative message to King James IV concerning Andrew Barton, a Scottish sea captain whom Howard and his brother had killed in a sea fight in 1511. Sir Thomas called Barton a pirate and declared that he was there to justify his death. He also warned that he would take no prisoner except the king, because he himself expected no mercy from the Scots. On 9 September the English army manoeuvred itself between James's forces and Scotland. Sir Thomas then led the vanguard ahead of the rest of the army and his own artillery, in the process exposing himself to the much larger Scottish forces, positioned above him on Branxton Hill. Fortunately for his son and vanguard, Surrey brought up the rest of the army in time. Thomas Ruthal, bishop of Durham, reported afterwards that in the ensuing battle and crushing defeat of the Scots, ‘Surrey, and my Lord Howard, the admiral, his son, behaved nobly’ (LP Henry VIII, 1/2, no. 2283).

Sir Thomas's loyalty and service brought their reward. When his father was created duke of Norfolk on 1 February 1514 he resigned the earldom of Surrey in favour of his eldest son. It is clear that the latter did not merely succeed to his father's earldom. According to letters patent issued on the same day, he was created ‘as Earl of Surrey, for life, with annuity of £20’, and received a grant, also for life, of two castles and eighteen manors in Lincolnshire. This was ‘[i]n consideration of the timely assistance he rendered his father … at the battle of Branxton, 9 Sept. last. This creation is made on surrender by the said Duke … of the title of Earl of Surrey’ (LP Henry VIII, 1/2, no. 2684 (2)). In the third session of Henry VIII's second parliament (23 January – 4 March 1514) a grace act, in the form of a petition bearing the royal sign manual, confirmed the letters patent. The preamble stated that the king, by his ‘most noble and habundaunt grace’ and ‘[i]n consideration of the true and feithfull service of your said Suppliant done unto your Highnes, hath made and creatid your said Suppliaunt Erle of Surrey’ (Statutes of the Realm, 11 vols., 1810–28, 3.99).

Surrey continued to serve the king in a variety of ways. He escorted Henry's sister Mary to France for her marriage in September 1514. In 1517 he led soldiers into London to quell the May day riots, whereupon the rioting apprentices ‘scattered by sudden fright, just like sheep at the sight of the wolf’ (Anglica historia, 245). Royal trust also brought promotion to positions of responsibility in the government: in particular he became a member of the king's council (before May 1516), while on 4 December 1522 he was made lord treasurer, when his aged father resigned the office. He remained treasurer until 12 December 1546. He was also one of Henry VIII's close companions, with daily livery and lodging at court.

Royal service, 1520–1525

Early in 1513 Sir Thomas Howard took as his second wife the fifteen-year-old Elizabeth (1497–1558), daughter of Edward Stafford, third duke of Buckingham, and Eleanor Percy, daughter of the fourth earl of Northumberland [see ]. On 10 March 1520, as earl of Surrey, he was appointed lord lieutenant of Ireland, possibly because Henry VIII or Wolsey wanted him out of the way while his father-in-law was arrested, tried, convicted, and, on 17 May 1521, executed for treason. He disapproved of the change in royal policy whereby Ireland was to be pacified by friendship rather than force, being of the opinion that ‘this londe will never be broght to dew obeysaunce but only with compulsion and conqwest’ (Head, 57). After eighteen months of attempts to reconcile the Fitzgeralds and the Butlers and repeated requests for money and manpower he secured his recall late in 1521 because he was ill with dysentery. But in June 1522 he acted as admiral in escorting the emperor Charles V back from England to northern Spain. He then raided Brittany, sacked Morlaix, and sailed home laden with booty. In August and September 1522 he led an Anglo-Burgundian force from Calais through northern France on an expensive and destructive march which served no military purpose and which had to be abandoned in October as winter approached. Nevertheless the poet John Skelton sang his praises:
… the good Erle of Surray
The Frenche men he doth fray.
And vexeth them day by day
With all the power he may.

Of chivalry he is the floure:
Our lorde be his soccoure!
(Walker, 26)
In 1523 Surrey was appointed warden-general of the Scottish marches and also (on 26 February) lieutenant-general of the army against Scotland. During the summer he ravaged parts of southern Scotland, then when the duke of Albany marched south late in October and besieged Wark Castle, Surrey moved to its relief and Albany hurriedly retreated. Skelton praised ‘our stronge captaine’ in a poem commissioned by Wolsey (ibid., 29–30). Surrey himself had reported a few weeks earlier feeling ‘decayed in body, as well as worn out in purse, by these four years, during which he has been continually in the wars’ (LP Henry VIII, 3/2, no. 3384).

On 21 May 1524 Surrey succeeded his father as third duke of Norfolk; his title as earl of Surrey then passed to his son. Although he served again on the Scottish borders later in the year, eventually he was allowed to retire to his Norfolk home of Kenninghall. He was there on 1 April 1525, when he reported his early efforts to raise money due to the government from the so-called ‘amicable grant’. This new exaction soon prompted an uprising, however, centred on Lavenham, Sudbury, and Hadleigh but extending into much of East Anglia, and Norfolk, along with the duke of Suffolk, was soon diverted from collecting the levy to trying to control popular resistance to it. They acted swiftly in raising troops, but Norfolk, unlike his fellow duke (and in contrast with his own policy in Ireland), preferred to resolve the crisis by negotiations rather than by force. Ultimately the two men proceeded with tact and skill, and ‘so wysely handeled themselfes, that the commons were appeised’ (Hall, fol. 141v). They also obtained the rebels' public submission to the king's authority. Wolsey gave thanks for their pains and their diplomatic and restrained conduct, for which, he said, they deserved high praise from the king. John Foxe, too, later wrote of their ‘wisdom and gentleness’ (Acts and Monuments, 4.590).

Norfolk and Wolsey, 1516–1530

According to Polydore Vergil and Herbert of Cherbury (and also some more recent historians), the political ascendancy of Cardinal Wolsey in the king's counsels aroused the hostility and opposition of the Howards. This does not in fact appear to have been true of Surrey's father, who as the Venetian ambassador observed was very intimate with the cardinal. Surrey himself, however, was more ambitious, and was also possessed of a violent temper and quick to take offence. He did not respond calmly when, on 31 May 1516, with the marquess of Dorset and Baron Abergavenny, he was expelled from the council, on Wolsey's orders, for breaching the laws against armed retainers. When his father died in 1524 and Surrey became duke of Norfolk and accordingly more prominent politically, his liking for war, and for the honour, glory, and rewards it could bring, was frustrated by Wolsey's preference for diplomacy as the main instrument of foreign policy. This feeling was shared by Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk. The two men were not intimate friends or firm allies, but they were alike in their suspicion, sometimes even hostility, towards the ecclesiastical power which Wolsey personified.

In 1525 Norfolk was appointed a commissioner for peace negotiations with France. Although he later received a pension from François I, at this time the duke was a pensioner of Charles V, and Wolsey's preference for Anglo-French amity clashed with Norfolk's pro-imperial position. Relations had earlier worsened when in 1523 Wolsey secured the reversion to the duke of Suffolk of the office of earl marshal on the death of Norfolk's father, and when the duke of Richmond replaced Norfolk himself as admiral in 1525. Pushed aside from the centre of affairs, Norfolk spent much time away from court in 1525–7 and 1528. His differences with Wolsey had a public airing in spring 1527 when duke and cardinal had a heated exchange over foreign policy in the king's presence. By this time, however, Norfolk's political fortunes were reviving as he became increasingly involved in the politics surrounding the annulment of Henry VIII's first marriage, especially as the chosen successor to Katherine of Aragon was Norfolk's niece Anne Boleyn. He was the king's obedient servant, sometimes to Wolsey's discomfort as the cardinal's efforts to secure an annulment failed. By 1529 matters of state were being increasingly handled by the two dukes and the Boleyns, who together pressed Henry to remove Wolsey. In July the king chose Norfolk and Suffolk to demand a judgment from the legatine court, where Wolsey sat as one of the two judges of his marriage; in October the king sent them to obtain the great seal from Wolsey; and early in 1530 it was Norfolk who directed the cardinal to retire to York. When the duke visited Wolsey during his fall from power, they embraced, dined together courteously, and afterwards ‘continued in consultation a certain season’ (Cavendish, 117–20). Nevertheless he remained nervous that his capricious king might recall Wolsey. On 6 February 1530 the imperial ambassador Eustache Chapuys reported that Norfolk ‘began to swear very loudly that rather than suffer this he would eat him up alive’ (LP Henry VIII, 4/3, no. 6199). He need not have worried, however, for the following November the cardinal was arrested on a charge of treason, though he died on his way south to stand trial.

Norfolk benefited from Wolsey's fall. In November 1530 the Venetian ambassador Lodovico Falieri reported that the king ‘makes use of him in all negotiations more than any other person … and every employment devolves to him’ (CSP Venice, 1527–33, 294–5). He became the leading councillor, thwarted Suffolk's attempt to become lord chancellor, and was a warm friend of Henry's choice for that office, Sir Thomas More. In particular he dutifully served Henry VIII in his search for divorce and remarriage. In 1531 and 1533 he attempted, unsuccessfully, to obtain Katherine's submission. He was described to Charles V in 1532 ‘as a man who willingly takes trouble in this matter, but would suffer anything for the sake of ruling’ (LP Henry VIII, 5, no. 1059).

The 1530s: competing with Cromwell

Although Norfolk remained conservative in religion and consistently hostile to the reformed faith, swearing that he neither had nor would ever read the scriptures, he adopted an anti-clerical stance in public. He criticized the clergy's wealth and privileges, and in January 1531 and February 1532, according to Chapuys, he denied papal jurisdiction in matrimonial and all other causes except heresy. But he had no new strategy to offer Henry VIII and saw papal consent as the only answer to the king's dilemma, even though he expatiated to Chapuys on the English king's imperial status, with its implicit rejection of papal sovereignty. It was this line which Thomas Cromwell subsequently followed in order to resolve Henry's marital problems and earn his unrivalled favour. Meanwhile, Norfolk's failure to achieve a solution by putting pressure on the papacy caused his relations with his niece to deteriorate. Anne Boleyn's pregnancy in 1533 finally sidelined Norfolk and led to the adoption of an internal English solution for the divorce.

During and after the lengthy annulment crisis, Norfolk profited handsomely from his loyalty and prominence in royal service, even though he had the temerity to beat the king at bowls and so win £21 from him in 1532. He was created earl marshal on 28 May 1533, and a knight of the French order of St Michel at a meeting between Henry VIII and François I in 1532. He received grants of monastic lands in Norfolk and Suffolk and he had the opportunity to purchase other East Anglian estates. Meanwhile the king employed him on diplomatic service in 1533, on a futile embassy to France to meet François I and Pope Clement VII. He was also one of Henry's more experienced and realistic advisers on Ireland, though his influence on Irish affairs declined as Thomas Cromwell, with whom he disagreed in council in 1533–4, rose in the king's favour and confidence. This simply reflected his diminishing role in government during the time of Cromwell's predominance. Nevertheless his services were still needed, and as lord steward, for the occasion he presided at the trials of Lord Dacre in June 1534 and of his niece Anne Boleyn, Viscount Rochford, and others in May 1536.

When the Pilgrimage of Grace broke out in Lincolnshire and the north late in 1536, Norfolk cited an old Latin text on the rights of the earl marshal as justification for his taking command of the king's forces, though in the end he shared it with the fourth earl of Shrewsbury. In fact his dealings with the pilgrims in Yorkshire do more than anything else to show Norfolk's stature, for it is hardly an exaggeration to say that for a few weeks late in 1536 the future of the Tudor dynasty lay in his hands. Having grasped the unprecedented scale of the crisis, he perceived, as King Henry did not, that it was not one which could be resolved by force. His basic honesty may be doubted, since he begged Henry to ‘take in gode part what so ever promes I shall make unto the rebells (if any suche I shall by th'advyse of others make) for sewerly I shall observe no part theroff’ (Dodds and Dodds, 1.259). Nevertheless he assured the pilgrim leaders of his good faith, and for several weeks applied himself, ultimately successfully, to persuading the rebels to disperse, on promise of a pardon and of a parliament which would consider their grievances. But when further rebellions erupted in January 1537 he carried out a policy of brutal retribution and supervised executions in five northern counties. Religious conservative though he was, he later reflected that if loyal preachers ‘had been continually in these parts instructing the unlearned [people], no such follies would have been attempted’ (LP Henry VIII, 12/1, no. 1158). His hope that the pilgrimage ‘will ultimately work the ruin and destruction of his competitor and enemy, Cromwell’ was not realized (CSP Spain, 1536–8, 268). He even had cause to be grateful to Cromwell when, in 1537, the minister helped him to obtain former monastic property. Norfolk was also still active and honoured at court: in 1537 he was godfather to Prince Edward and a commissioner for Queen Jane Seymour's funeral; he was granted Clerkenwell nunnery in 1539; and with Suffolk he attended Anne of Cleves on her arrival in England at the end of 1539.

By then Norfolk was presenting an increasingly serious challenge to Thomas Cromwell and the reformed faith. In 1539 Henry VIII sought from parliament an end to diversity in religious opinion and some kind of statutory declaration on doctrine. On 5 May the House of Lords responded by appointing a committee which represented wide-ranging opinions. Although Norfolk was not a member of the committee, it was he who on 16 May reported to the Lords on its lack of progress. As the committee had failed to reach any conclusions he presented six conservative articles of religion for consideration, as the basis for discussion which might lead to religious unity and the drafting of a penal statute to punish those who would not conform. Whether Norfolk was encouraging, even manoeuvring, the king in a conservative direction, or simply promoting the wishes of a conservative monarch, is not clear. Then on 20 May, five days before Whitsunday recess, Norfolk proposed to the house a week-long prorogation. Ostensibly intended to provide members with time to contemplate the grant of appropriate supply to the king for his good governance, reformation, and defence of the kingdom, in fact the interval gave Norfolk and the other conservatives time to promote their cause. When parliament reconvened, on 30 May, the six articles and accompanying penalties for failure to conform were enacted into law, and on 28 June received the royal assent. Although Thomas Cromwell was vicegerent and Norfolk had not been on the parliamentary committee, the duke seems to have scored a victory over the reformists.

The fall of Cromwell: political resurgence

The tensions between Norfolk and Cromwell had already been given public expression on 29 June 1539, when the two dukes and Cromwell dined with the king as guests of Archbishop Cranmer. They fell to heated discussion about Wolsey, during which Cromwell charged Norfolk with disloyalty and the latter called the lord privy seal a liar. Thereafter their rivalry and hostility could not be concealed. Cromwell's initiative and organization of Henry's marriage to Anne of Cleves played into Norfolk's hands. The king was disillusioned when he met the uninspiring princess in January 1540, enabling Norfolk to promote his niece Katherine Howard [see ] as a desirable replacement later in the year. At the same time Cromwell's position was weakened by his protection of religious reformers. Although Norfolk failed to secure an Anglo-French alliance when he went on a diplomatic mission to Paris in February, 1540 marked a decisive upward turn in his fortunes. His greatest triumph came on 10 June, when Cromwell was arrested in the council chamber on charges of high treason. Norfolk himself, ‘after reproaching him with some villanies, tore the St George from his neck’ (CSP Spain, 1538–42, 540). The subsequent charges against Cromwell and the phrasing of the act of attainder also suggest the duke's handiwork.

On 9 July 1540 Henry's marriage to Anne of Cleves was annulled, leaving him free to remarry. On 28 July Thomas Cromwell was executed, and on the same day Norfolk's niece Katherine became the king's fifth wife. The marriage brought significant benefits. Norfolk enjoyed political prominence, royal favour, and material rewards. However, the Howards' ascendancy was brief. Katherine's premarital sexual indiscretions and her alleged adultery with Thomas Culpeper were exposed and revealed to the king. His wrath turned on to the Howard family, members of whom were accused of concealing the young queen's misconduct. On 15 December 1541 Norfolk wrote an abject letter to the king, in which he deserted his implicated relatives, figuratively prostrated himself, and earnestly hoped that Henry's gentle heart would not be ill disposed towards one who never had a thought which might cause discontent in his royal master. These were the words of an experienced, self-interested courtier. Queen Katherine was condemned by act of attainder and executed on 13 February 1542. By then, as the French ambassador Marillac wrote on 17 January, Norfolk had escaped punishment and had been received back in court ‘apparently in his full former credit and authority’ (LP Henry VIII, 17, no. 34).

The 1540s: struggling for position

Renewed outbreaks of war helped Norfolk to secure his position. On 29 January 1541 he was appointed lieutenant-general north of the Trent, and in August 1542 captain-general against the Scots. In October he burnt and pillaged the Scottish borderlands without meeting serious resistance. His military reputation and apparent sympathies with France caused the imperial ambassador to write on 21 November 1542 that ‘The Duke being too much of a Frenchman, I am afraid he will perhaps do us harm and spoil our game’ (CSP Spain, 1542–3, 182). However, diplomatic positions often reflected court rivalries rather than genuine preferences for an imperial or a French alliance, and it has been suggested that in the early 1540s ‘Norfolk's pro-French stance was as much the result of his opposition to Cromwell as attributable to any real affection for the French’, just as ‘the thwarting of the duke and his pro-French influence was a cornerstone of the lord privy seal's policy’ (Head, 193, 167). Nevertheless his receipt of a French pension (handsomely increased in 1532) had encouraged Norfolk to support the continuance of Henry VIII's pro-French position in the 1530s, and he was a natural choice for a secret diplomatic mission to the French court in February 1540 in an attempt to detach King François from Charles V. He also held intermittent talks with the French ambassador Marillac over a six-month period in 1541. Henry VIII, however, was turning increasingly towards an Anglo-imperial alliance and a renewal of war with France, so that by 1542 Norfolk's desire for agreement with France left him increasingly isolated in the privy council. His relatively unrewarding northern campaign against the Scots that year, moreover, harmed his reputation, causing him to regard war against the French as a means of restoring his prestige and political place. Indeed, it was Norfolk who in June 1543 declared war on France in King Henry's name and was appointed lieutenant-general of the army. During the campaign of May–October 1544 he besieged Montreuil, while Henry himself captured Boulogne before returning home. Henry had never, however, made it clear what he expected Norfolk to achieve. The duke repeatedly lamented his lack of provisions and munitions, and having raised the siege of Montreuil and left Boulogne garrisoned, he withdrew to Calais. He was a realist about Boulogne who ‘certainly knoweth the realm of England not possible to bear the charges’ of defending that town for long (LP Henry VIII, 20/2, no. 738). For his withdrawal he received a stinging rebuke from the king who none the less appointed him captain-general of the army raised in East Anglia in 1545 to resist an anticipated French invasion.

Politically Norfolk lost ground during the king's last years. The increasingly influential Edward Seymour, earl of Hertford, and Queen Katherine Parr both favoured the reformed faith, whereas the duke remained staunchly conservative and hostile to ‘stirrers-up of heresy’ (CSP Spain, 1545–6, 555–6). An attempt by Norfolk, Bishop Gardiner, and other conservatives to secure Archbishop Cranmer's arrest in 1543 was unsuccessful. Hertford, established by 1544–5 as Henry's leading general, rose steadily in royal favour and Norfolk's proposal for a marriage alliance between Howards and Seymours came to nothing.

The fall of the Howards, 1546–1547

In an increasingly tense political climate, in 1546 the Seymours and William Paget sought to manipulate the king against the conservatives, especially the Howards and Stephen Gardiner. Although by the end of 1546 Henry VIII was increasingly ill and vulnerable, he continued to exercise a degree of control as the rival politicians sought his support. Against this dangerous background Norfolk attempted to safeguard his interests with further proposals for an alliance with the Seymours, through the marriage of his widowed daughter Mary to Hertford's brother Thomas, but his efforts were fatally undermined by the conduct of his heir, . Surrey's provocative and arrogant conduct had alienated many; his adoption of armorial bearings, which quartered the royal arms, seemed to signal monarchic ambitions. On 12 December Surrey and his father were arrested and sent to the Tower. Next day Norfolk wrote to the king pleading his innocence and offering his lands to Henry as a mark of his loyalty. He begged ‘that he may know what is laid to his charge and have some word of comfort from his Majesty’, and also wrote to the privy council, asking ‘that he meet his accusers face to face before the King or else before the Council’ (LP Henry VIII, 21/2, nos. 540, 554). The duke received no ‘word of comfort’ from the king, however, and gambling on a restoration to favour if he confessed all, on 12 January 1547 he made his submission:
I have offended the King in opening his secret counsels at divers times to sundry persons to the peril of his Highness and disappointing of his affairs. Likewise I have concealed high treason, in keeping secret the false acts of my son, Henry earl of Surrey, in using the arms of St. Edward the Confessor, which pertain only to kings. (ibid., no. 696)
Norfolk requested that his estates go to Prince Edward and the king decided to keep them, except for certain properties in Sussex and Kent.

None of Norfolk's hopes was realized. In Henry's last days he received no mercy. His family, including his estranged wife, his daughter the duchess of Richmond, and his mistress, Elizabeth Holland [see below], all gave evidence against him. On 27 January 1547 he was attainted by statute, without trial. The assent of the dying king was given by royal commissioners, who were authorized by letters patent signed by the dry stamp. It was rumoured that he would die the next day. Odet de Selve, the French ambassador, reported to François I on 31 January that the duke had been secretly beheaded on the previous day. In fact his execution was not carried out, because after the king's death on 28 January the council decided to avoid bloodshed at the beginning of a new reign. Norfolk's estates were plundered by the ruling clique in Edward VI's reign. His receiving lands worth £1626 10s. per annum from Queen Mary indicates the extent of his losses under her brother.

Survival and revival, 1547–1554

Norfolk stayed in the Tower throughout the reign of Edward VI. His daughter the duchess of Richmond made persistent efforts to obtain his release, and even had the bishops of Lincoln, Rochester, and St David's, evangelicals to a man, sent to minister to him on Christmas eve 1549. But if this was an attempt to win his compliance with religious reform it failed, and he remained in the Tower until the accession of Mary Tudor, who released and pardoned him in August 1553. He was resworn a privy councillor, and as lord high steward he presided at the trial of the duke of Northumberland on 18 August. As earl marshal he bore the crown at Mary's coronation on 1 October and as steward, assisted by his young heir , Surrey's eldest son, the aged duke supervised the coronation banquet. Later that year, in response to his petition, Mary's first parliament nullified his attainder.

Norfolk's last service to the crown was given against Sir Thomas Wyatt's rising in January 1554. Having been appointed lieutenant-general, he led a force which included 500 Londoners against Wyatt at Rochester. At Rochester Bridge, however, the Londoners changed sides and the royal commanders hastily retreated, ‘both void of men and victory, leaving behind them both six pieces of ordnance, and treasure’ (Acts and Monuments, 6.543). Norfolk was clearly now in fragile health—a contemporary described him as ‘by long imprisonment diswanted from the knowledge of our malicious World’ (Loades, Conspiracies, 60 n. 1)—and he died at Kenninghall on 25 August 1554 and was buried at St Michael's Church, Framlingham, Suffolk. He was survived by only two of his children, both from his second marriage: Thomas, created Viscount Howard of Bindon in 1559, and , widow of the duke of Richmond. His property passed into the crown's hands during the minority of his grandson and heir.

Norfolk the man

In 1531 the Venetian ambassador had described the 58-year-old duke as ‘small and spare in person, and his hair black’. In contrast, the Holbein portrait, painted when Norfolk was about sixty-seven, masks his slightness of figure with the symbols of status, office, power, and honour. He is clad in silk, satin, and ermine; the golden George of a knight of the Garter hangs from his neck; and he bears in one hand the white staff of the lord treasurer, and in the other the gold baton of the earl marshal. The ambassador thought him a ‘prudent, liberal, affable and astute’ man who ‘associates with everybody’ (CSP Venice, 1527–33, 295). Chapuys, after an evening as Norfolk's guest in 1529, attested that he was sociable, even gregarious, but always to a purpose, because he was driven by an appetite for prestige, position, and power. His wife, Elizabeth, observed that he could dissemble, appearing as amicable to his enemy as to his friend. She was one of those best qualified to pronounce on his unreliability, their married life, apparently mutually affectionate at first, having been overshadowed when in 1527 the duke took a mistress. Elizabeth Howard became increasingly isolated, the more so as she formally separated from her husband in the 1530s. She claimed to have suffered physical maltreatment at the hands of Norfolk and members of the ducal household, and when the duke was charged with treason at the end of 1546, she gave evidence against him. Not surprisingly, perhaps, he left her nothing in his will.

The woman who thus came between the duke and duchess of Norfolk was Elizabeth Holland (d. 1547/8), also known as Bess Holland, who was the daughter of the duke's secretary and household treasurer. At the time her liaison with Norfolk began she was one of Anne Boleyn's attendants. He installed her in the Howard household, thereby deepening his estrangement from his wife, but when he and his son fell from grace in 1546–7, Bess looked after her own interests. Under cross-examination she reported damaging statements by the duke: that the king ‘loved him [Norfolk] not because he was too much lov'd in his country’, and that Henry was sickly and could not last long (Herbert, 627). Her jewellery, new house, and estate were seized, but were later restored as reward for her co-operation. She married Henry Reppes, an East Anglian JP and landowner, and became pregnant in 1547, but she died after childbirth, before April 1548.

The third duke of Norfolk was a powerful regional magnate, the controller of parliamentary boroughs in Norfolk and Sussex, and the wealthiest English peer. He was a skilful gambler, not only in court politics, where he was above all a survivor, but also at cards and dice, on one occasion winning £45 from Henry VIII. Like many contemporaries he was publicly loyal and ingratiating, but underneath he was unscrupulous, guileful, and ruthlessly ambitious. His representation by Nigel Davenport in the 1966 film of Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons, as a model of hearty straightforwardness, was probably true to Norfolk's public persona, but did not hint at his darker qualities. His personal acquaintances, his relations, and above all the king's protesting or rebellious subjects could all have borne witness to his capacity for violence, even brutality. His considerable pride, however, was not matched by his ability, in which he was much inferior to both Wolsey and Cromwell. On the other hand he was no mere philistine, for he ‘was fluent in French, knew the Burgundian world of romance, and was quite literary in his way’ (Sessions, 74). Norfolk reputedly saved Cardinal College at Oxford from dissolution after Wolsey's fall, and on 8 September 1540 he was appointed steward of Cambridge University. His surviving buildings, too, shed light on Norfolk's taste. With an income of about £3000 per annum from land in 1546 he could afford the best, and seems to have aspired to have it. At Framlingham he had the chancel of the parish church pulled down and replaced by a substantial extension, primarily to house family tombs, notably that of his son-in-law, Henry Fitzroy, duke of Richmond. His own handsome memorial was also placed there. But the work was still unfinished in 1549, and may not have been completed by the third duke. In the late 1520s the latter was building what John Leland referred to as a fine new house at Kenninghall. Recorded by the antiquary Francis Blomefield as H-shaped, ‘having a porter's lodge, and all things else in the grandest manner’ (Blomefield, 1.215), after Norfolk's attainder it made an appropriate residence for Princess Mary. But except for a single service wing it was demolished in the mid-seventeenth century.



GEC, Peerage, 9.615–20 · 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) · M. J. Tucker, The life of Thomas Howard, earl of Surrey and second duke of Norfolk, 1443–1524 (1964) · LP Henry VIII, vols. 1–21 · CSP Spain, 1509–58 · G. Walker, John Skelton and the politics of the 1520s (1988) · Edward, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, The life and raigne of King Henry the Eighth (1649) · The Anglica historia of Polydore Vergil, AD 1485–1537, ed. and trans. D. Hay, CS, 3rd ser., 74 (1950) · J. S. Block, Factional politics and the English Reformation, 1520–1540 (1993) · [E. Hall], The union of the two noble and illustre famelies of Lancastre and Yorke, ed. [R. Grafton] (1550) · G. W. Bernard, ed., The Tudor nobility (1992) · N. Williams, Thomas Howard, fourth duke of Norfolk (1964) · DNB · G. Cavendish, The life and death of Cardinal Wolsey, ed. R. S. Sylvester and D. P. Harding (1962) · G. W. Bernard, War, taxation, and rebellion in early Tudor England (1986) · The acts and monuments of John Foxe, ed. J. Pratt [new edn], 8 vols. in 16 (1853–70), vols. 4–6 · D. MacCulloch, ed., The reign of Henry VIII: politics, policy and piety (1995) · N. Williams, Henry VIII and his court (1971) · CSP Venice, 1520–54 · M. H. Dodds and R. Dodds, The Pilgrimage of Grace, 1536–1537, and the Exeter conspiracy, 1538, 2 vols. (1915) · F. Blomefield and C. Parkin, An essay towards a topographical history of the county of Norfolk [2nd edn], 11 vols. (1805–10) · J. Ridgard, ed., Medieval Framlingham: select documents, 1270–1524, Suffolk Records Society, 27 (1985) · TNA: PRO, Exchequer, king's remembrancer, lay subsidy rolls, E 179/69/49, m. 1 · Suffolk, Pevsner (1974) · Norfolk: south and west, Pevsner (1999) · John Leland's itinerary: travels in Tudor England, ed. J. Chandler (1993) · D. M. Loades, Two Tudor conspiracies (1965) · D. Loades, The reign of Mary Tudor: politics, government and religion in England, 1553–58, 2nd edn (1991) · ‘The letters of Richard Scudamore to Sir Philip Holby, September 1549 – March 1555’, ed. M. Dowling, Camden miscellany, XXX, CS, 4th ser., 39 (1990) · C. Ross, Edward IV, new edn (1975) · T. B. Pugh, ‘Henry VII and the English nobility’, The Tudor nobility, ed. G. W. Bernard (1992), 49–110 · ‘Lady Anne Howard’, GM, 2nd ser., 23 (1845), 147–52


Arundel Castle, West Sussex, corresp. and papers · BL, political corresp., Add. MSS 32646–32654 · Holkham Hall, Norfolk, account of his possessions · U. Cal., Berkeley, Bancroft Library, household account book |  BL, Cotton MSS, corresp. with Thomas Wolsey · BL, corresp. with Lord Dacre, etc., Add. MS 24965 · BL, Harley MSS, corresp.


H. Holbein the younger, oils, c.1539–1540, Royal Collection [see illus.] · H. Holbein the younger, oils, second version, Arundel Castle, West Sussex · double portrait, tomb effigy (with his wife), Framlingham church, Suffolk

Wealth at death  

fifty-six manors, thirty-seven advowsons; other extensive estates

© Oxford University Press 2004–16 All rights reserved  

Thomas Howard (1473–1554): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/13940
Anne, Lady Howard (1475–1511): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/13883
Elizabeth Holland (d. 1547/8): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/70742