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Howard, Lord Williamlocked

  • Richard Ovenden
  •  and Stuart Handley

Howard, Lord William (1563–1640), antiquary and landowner, was born at Audley End, Essex, on 19 December 1563, the younger son of Thomas Howard, fourth duke of Norfolk (1538–1572), and his second wife, Margaret (1540–1564), only daughter and heir Thomas, Lord Audley of Walden and widow of Lord Henry Dudley. Howard's mother died shortly after his birth and he was brought up at Audley End with his elder brothers, Philip Howard, later thirteenth earl of Arundel, and Thomas Howard, later first earl of Suffolk. Both William and Thomas were tutored for a time in 1568–9 by Gregory Martin, a Catholic who resigned his fellowship at St John's College, Oxford, on 16 December 1568 to take up the post, and who fled to Douai in 1569 or 1570.

Marriage and a contested inheritance

Norfolk's third wife, Elizabeth Leybourne (d. 1567), was the widow of Thomas, fourth Baron Dacre, with whom she had a son, George, who died in 1569, and three daughters, who became coheirs of the extensive Dacre estates in northern England. Norfolk's plan was to marry his three sons, Philip, Thomas, and William, to the three daughters, by now his wards, and they were duly betrothed in 1569, although the Dacre heiress designed for Thomas died after only one year of marriage in 1578. In 1572, following the execution of his father, William and Thomas were committed to the care of his elder half-brother Philip, and the guardianship of William Cecil, Lord Burghley. However, as planned by his father, on 28 October 1577 William duly married Elizabeth Dacre (1564–1639). They had at least seven sons and three daughters.

About 1577 Howard entered St John's College, Cambridge, probably shortly after his elder brother Thomas. William may have been the Mr Howard who gave a piece of plate to the college in 1575 or 1576. Both brothers seem also to have been tutored there by George Laughton, a fellow of King's College, Cambridge, and, unlike Martin, a protestant, who complained that William was 'slower of perception and to my great wonder, weaker in retaining what he has perceived' (Pollen and MacMahon, 18) than Thomas. William's arms are painted in the college's 'Liber memorialis' in recognition of a gift to the college, possibly the £100 he gave for the acquisition of books in 1629.

During the early 1580s Howard and his wife lived at Mount-Pleasant, Enfield Chase, Middlesex, and at Arundel House in London. Their first child, Philip, was born on 6 December 1581. During the 1580s Howard began to embrace Catholicism openly, probably due to the influence of his brother Philip, with whom he was incarcerated in the Tower of London in 1583 and again in 1585–6. As early as 1583 there were references to mass being celebrated at Howard's house in London, and he was to remain an ardent Catholic throughout his life. In 1584 the Howards' less secure position at court encouraged Francis Dacre, fourth son of the third Baron Dacre, in his efforts to claim the family estates. Similarly the earl of Leicester appears to have turned one of the Howards' local agents, Gerard Lowther (who was married to a Dudley), against the family and encouraged him to pursue a royal claim to the Dacre inheritance on the grounds that it was forfeit to the crown. In 1585 Elizabeth I duly sequestrated the estates, thereby adding to the litigation between the Howard brothers and the Dacre girls' uncles. Nor was the conflict confined to Cumberland: in 1587 both William and his brother Philip were arguing with Francis Dacre over Henderskelfe Castle in Yorkshire, eventually to become the site of Castle Howard. Howard responded to the Dacre and Lowther threats by building allegiances with his tenants, sometimes extending patronage to reiving families. During the 1590s the power vacuum created by Dacre's self-exile in Spain and Howard's absence in the south allowed members of the Lowther family to obtain local offices at the expense of Howard protégés.

Antiquary and collector

Throughout the 1580s Howard began to associate with leading antiquaries, book collectors, and scholars. During his second period in the Tower, Howard was joined by the antiquary Nicholas Roscarrock, who may have provided him with an entrée into erudite circles. By 1587 Howard was acquiring important manuscripts, such as a copy of Ranulf Higden's Polychronicon from Bath Abbey, and by 1589 his collecting was in full swing with no less than eleven medieval manuscripts bearing inscriptions with that date joining his collection, and the years between 1587 and 1595 saw him acquire at least twenty-six significant medieval manuscripts. Altogether he accumulated a very significant library of manuscripts and printed books, now dispersed, which contained at least 128 medieval manuscripts, at least twenty-one of which came from identifiable British monastic libraries. The Durham antiquary William Claxton refers to contacts between Howard and the London antiquary John Stow, and five of Howard's manuscripts bear Stow's annotations. John Dee was another source of manuscripts for Howard, four volumes having moved from Dee to Howard between 1589 and 1607. Howard also acquired manuscripts from members of the circle which had surrounded Matthew Parker during the 1560s and 1570s, indicating contact with Parker's son John, with John Twyne, with the London merchants William and Christopher Carye, and with the Kentish antiquary William Lambarde. James Ussher visited Naworth (Howard's seat in Cumberland from at least 1604) to consult the Magna tabula from Glastonbury Abbey some time before 1639. When the duke of Buckingham proposed the revival of the Society of Antiquaries in 1617 Howard's reputation was such that his name was found at the head of a list of 'persons of proven worth, fit to keep up, and celebrate' (Gough, xvi).

A significant facet of Howard's manuscript collecting was his penchant for illuminated books. A number of these—such as the Howard-Fitton psalter and the Luttrell psalter, both now in the British Library—he inherited from Howard or Arundel sources. Others, such as the De Lisle and the Eadui psalters (British Library), he acquired either through the book trade or through his contacts with other antiquaries. In 1592 Howard published an edition of the Chronicon ex chronicis of John of Worcester, thought at the time to be by Florence of Worcester. His edition was dedicated to Burghley and taken from a manuscript borrowed from William Lambarde and now in Trinity College, Dublin. The text was printed in London by Thomas Dawson for the stationer Richard Watkins, and was reprinted for the benefit of continental scholars in Frankfurt in 1601 together with the Flores historiarum of Matthew of Westminster.

In 1599 William Camden undertook a great northern antiquarian tour in the company of Sir Robert Cotton, and the two men were entertained at Naworth by Howard, who acted as their host and guide. Camden referred to him in the Britannia as 'a singular lover of venerable antiquity and learned with all' (Camden, 783), as Howard had copied inscriptions for him for inclusion in later editions of Britannia. Howard introduced the two men to Hadrian's Wall and other remains of Roman Britain, and attempted to convey Roman inscribed stones to Cotton in 1608. Howard owned a number of properties which included sections of the wall and other Roman remains, and gathered many Roman inscribed stones at Naworth, now mostly dispersed, but seen by numerous eighteenth-century visitors such as William Stukeley, Thomas Pennant, and John Horsley. Cotton and Howard formed a close friendship, with numerous loans of manuscripts taking place between them. Howard's daughter Margaret married Cotton's son Thomas about 1620.

Naworth Castle and the borders

In 1601 Queen Elizabeth relented and allowed Howard's wife and the widowed Lady Arundel to buy back the forfeited Dacre lands; this was confirmed by letters patent of 19 December 1601. Howard's share included Naworth Castle, although it is not clear when he took possession of the Dacre estates. In 1602 he repurchased the barony of Gilsland from the crown. He was probably in residence at Naworth by 1604 and in 1607 Francis Dacre abandoned his claims to the property. In the 1607 edition of Britannia, Camden reported that Howard was involved in repairing Naworth Castle. One of the two great towers at Naworth is known as Lord William's tower, in which he housed his library in a room decorated with an ornate ceiling brought there from the Dacre castle at Kirkoswald, and statuary and part of a panelled screen brought from the ruins of Lanercost Priory, situated less than a mile to the north and closely associated with the Dacre family. In 1608 Howard was regranted the sequestered lands of his father. Howard was thus able to gather around him at Naworth a small community of like-minded individuals. One such was Roscarrock, who had joined the Naworth circle by 1607, the close friendship between the two symbolized in the Langdale rosary, an important piece of late medieval English jewellery with later beads inscribed for both men. Another significant artefact owned by Howard was the Howard grace cup, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, arguably the finest piece of English renaissance silverware, and acquired by Howard from the estate of his uncle of Northampton, who also left him £2000 in recompense for the manor of Clun, which Howard's father had originally intended for him.

Howard was unable to play a full role in the politics of his day because of his religion. As James I noted in 1606, 'notwithstanding the infinite trust I had in the faithfulness of his brother [Thomas, earl of Suffolk] and uncle [Henry, earl of Northampton], yet I durst never bestow any preferment upon him in my days only because of his religion and devotion to the Jesuits' (Peck, 55). In both 1608 and 1616 there are references to Naworth being a refuge of religious conservatism presided over by Howard and his Benedictine chaplain, Augustine Hungate. Nevertheless, from his base at Naworth, Howard began to assert himself in the north-west, assisted by a policy of maximizing his estate revenues. This manifested itself in strong seigniorial leadership, Howard playing a key part in the pacification of the Cumberland borders, stamping out reiving, enforcing local justice, and even attempting to establish a unified policy on both sides of the border. Any opposition to his actions on the grounds of religion foundered on the protection offered by the king. Indeed, in 1616 recusancy proceedings were quashed by royal command. He was assisted in this by the influence at court of his relatives, first his uncle Henry Howard, earl of Northampton (d. 1614), and his brother Suffolk (until his disgrace in 1618), and then his nephew Thomas Howard, fourteenth earl of Arundel (who had succeeded Philip in 1595). The peak period of his influence in border politics followed the death of the earl of Dunbar in 1611, but gradually, in the 1620s and 1630s, the balance of local power shifted to the Cliffords.

Despite the importance of his life at Naworth, Howard continued to make frequent visits to London, to judge from references to expenses there in his household books. When there he stayed in Arundel House, which had passed to his elder brother Philip, but which from 1607 was the property of Thomas Howard, fourteenth earl of Arundel. Howard also visited other parts of Britain, his accounts referring to purchases of old books made in Worcester in 1628.

Howard's wife died on 9 October 1639 and Howard himself died on 7 October 1640, in the ancient Dacre stronghold of Greystoke, Cumberland, to which he had fled fearing the incursions of the Scottish army at the more vulnerable Naworth. He was buried in Greystoke church on 9 October. He left ten children, his son William appearing to be his principal heir, although much of his library passed to his nephew, the second earl of Arundel.


  • [G. Ornsby], ed., Selections of the household books of the Lord William Howard of Naworth Castle, SurtS, 68 (1878)
  • H. Howard, Indications of memorials, monuments, paintings, and engravings of persons of the Howard family (1834–6)
  • D. Mathew, ‘The library at Naworth’, For Hilaire Belloc, ed. D. Woodruff (1942), 117–30
  • Nicholas Roscarrock's lives of the saints: Cornwall and Devon, ed. N. Orme, Devon and Cornwall RS, new ser., 35 (1992)
  • H. S. Reinmuth, ‘Lord William Howard (1563–1640) and his Catholic associations’, Recusant History, 12 (1973–4), 226–34
  • C. G. C. Tite, ‘Lost stolen or strayed: a survey of manuscripts formerly in the Cotton Library’, Sir Robert Cotton as collector: essays on an early Stuart courtier and his legacy, ed. C. J. Wright (1997), 262–306
  • D. Howarth, ‘Sir Robert Cotton and the commemoration of famous men’, Sir Robert Cotton as collector: essays on an early Stuart courtier and his legacy, ed. C. J. Wright (1997), 40–67
  • K. Sharpe, Sir Robert Cotton, 1586–1631: history and politics in early modern England (1979)
  • N. Williams, Thomas Howard, fourth duke of Norfolk (1964)
  • R. T. Spence, ‘The pacification of the Cumberland borders, 1593–1628’, Northern History, 13 (1977), 59–160
  • J. A. Hilton, ‘The Cumbrian Catholics’, Northern History, 16 (1980), 40–58
  • J. H. Pollen and W. MacMahon, eds., The Ven. Philip Howard, earl of Arundel, 1557-1595: English martyrs, Catholic RS, 21 (1919)
  • S. J. Watts and S. J. Watts, From border to middle shire, Northumberland, 1586–1625 (1975)
  • H. S. Reinmuth, ‘Border society in transition’, Early Stuart studies: essays in honour of David Harris Wilson, ed. H. S. Reinmuth (1970), 231–50
  • P. Williams, ‘The northern borderland under the early Stuarts’, Historical essays, 1600–1750, presented to David Ogg (1963), 1–17
  • L. L. Peck, Northampton: patronage and policy at the court of James I (1982)
  • J. C. Henderson, ‘Dacre, Francis’, HoP, Commons, 1558–1603
  • W. Camden, Britain, or, A chorographical description (1610)
  • R. Gough, ‘Introduction, containing an historical account of the origin and establishment of the Society of Antiquaries’, Archaeologia, 1 (1770), xvi


  • Castle Howard, Yorkshire, corresp. and accounts
  • U. Durham, Howard of Naworth books
  • U. Durham, Howard of Naworth estate MSS
  • Arundel Castle, Sussex, letters to earl of Arundel
  • BL, Arundel MSS 29, 150
  • Coll. Arms, Arundel MSS
  • Cumbria AS, Carlisle, Aglionby MSS
  • Cumbria AS, Carlisle, Howard of Naworth MSS


  • C. Janssens, portrait, oils, 1630, Naworth Castle, Cumbria
  • W. K. Ashford, lithograph (after C. Johnson), BM, NPG; repro. in Howard, Indications of memorials
, Church of Jesus Christ of the Latterday Saints
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P. W. Hasler, ed., , 3 vols. (1981)
Surtees Society
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