Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk

Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk
Thomas Howard
Duke of Norfolk
The Duke of Norfolk by Hans Holbein.
Spouse(s) Anne of York
Lady Elizabeth Stafford
Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey
Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond
Thomas Howard, 1st Viscount Howard of Bindon
Katherine Howard[1]
Noble family House of Howard
Father Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk
Mother Elizabeth Tilney
Born 1473
Died 25 August 1554

Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, KG, Earl Marshal (1473 – 25 August 1554) was a prominent Tudor politician. He was uncle to Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, two of the wives of King Henry VIII, and played a major role in the machinations behind these marriages. After falling from favour in 1546, he was stripped of the dukedom and imprisoned in the Tower, avoiding execution when the King died. He was released on the accession of Queen Mary. He aided Mary in securing her throne, setting the stage for alienation between his Catholic family and the Protestant royal line that would be continued by his great-niece, Queen Elizabeth.


Early life

Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, was the eldest son of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk (1443–1524), and his first wife, Elizabeth (d. 1497), the daughter of Frederick Tilney and widow of Sir Humphrey Bourchier.[2] He was descended in the female line from Thomas of Brotherton, 1st Earl of Norfolk, the third son of King Edward I.[3] Both his father, then styled Earl of Surrey and his grandfather, John Howard, 1st Duke of Norfolk fought for King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth, in which the latter was killed. The family's titles were forfeited after the victory of King Henry VII at Bosworth.[2]

Howard's first marriage was politically advantageous. On 4 February 1495 he married Anne (1475–1510), the fifth daughter of King Edward IV and the sister-in-law of King Henry VII. The couple had four children, none of whom survived to adulthood.[4]

Howard was an able soldier, and was often employed in military operations.[2] In 1497 he served in a campaign against the Scots under the command of his father, who knighted him on 30 September 1497.[2] On 4 May 1513 he was appointed Lord Admiral, and on 9 September helped to defeat the Scots at the Flodden. He was made a Knight of the Garter after the accession of King Henry VIII, and became the King's close companion, with lodgings at court.[2]

Howard's first wife Anne died in 1510,[5] and early in 1513 he married Elizabeth, the daughter of Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham and Eleanor Percy, the daughter of Henry Percy, 4th Earl of Northumberland.

On 1 February 1514 Howard's father was created Duke of Norfolk, and by letters patent issued on the same day Howard was created Earl of Surrey for life.[2] Surrey was a member of the King's council before May 1516.

On 10 March 1520, Surrey was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. After 18 months he was able to secure his recall to England. In June 1522 he escorted the Emperor Charles V from England to northern Spain, and raided Brittany on the return journey. In August and September 1522 Surrey led an Anglo-Burgundian force through northern France on a military expedition which had to be abandoned in October.

Rise to power

On 4 December 1522 Surrey was made Lord Treasurer upon his father's resignation of the office, and on 21 May 1524 he succeeded his father as 3rd Duke of Norfolk.[2] His liking for war brought him into conflict with Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who preferred diplomacy in the conduct of foreign affairs. In 1523 Wolsey had secured to the Duke of Suffolk the reversion of the office of Earl Marshal which had been held by Norfolk's father, and in 1525 the Duke of Richmond had replaced Norfolk as Lord Admiral. Finding himself pushed aside, Norfolk spent considerable time away from court in 1525–7 and 1528.[2]

In 1526 Norfolk's niece Anne Boleyn had caught the King's eye,[6] and Norfolk's political fortunes revived with his involvement in the King's attempt to have his marriage to Queen Catherine of Aragon annulled. By 1529 matters of state were being increasingly handled by Norfolk, Suffolk and the Boleyns, who pressed the King to remove Wolsey. In October the King sent Norfolk and Suffolk to obtain the great seal from the Cardinal. In November Wolsey was arrested on a charge of treason, but died before trial. Norfolk benefited from Wolsey's fall, becoming the King's leading councillor and applying himself energetically in the King's efforts to find a way out of his marriage to Queen Catharine. His loyalty and service to the King brought him ample rewards. He received grants of monastic lands in Norfolk and Suffolk, was employed on diplomatic missions, and was created a knight of the French Order of St Michael in 1532 and Earl Marshal of England on 28 May 1533. As Lord High Steward, he presided at the trial of his niece, Queen Anne Boleyn, in May 1536.[2]

Surrey's marriage to his second wife, Elizabeth, which had apparently been mutually affectionate at first, deteriorated in 1527 when he took a mistress, Elizabeth Holland (d. 1547/8), whom he installed in the Howard household. Elizabeth Howard formally separated from her husband in the 1530s. She claimed that in March 1534 the Duke ‘locked me up in a chamber, [and] took away my jewels and apparel', and then moved her to Redbourn, Hertfordshire, where she lived a virtual prisoner with a meagre annual allowance of only £200. She also claimed to have been physically maltreated by the Duke and by household servants.[7]

When the Pilgrimage of Grace broke out in Lincolnshire and the northern counties late in 1536, Norfolk shared command of the King's forces with the Earl of Shrewsbury, persuading the rebels to disperse by promising them a pardon and that Parliament would consider their grievances. However when further rebellions erupted in January 1537 he carried out a policy of brutal retribution.[2]

By 1539 Norfolk was seriously challenging the religious reforms of the King's chief minister Thomas Cromwell. In that year the King sought to have Parliament put an end to diversity in religious opinion. On 5 May the House of Lords appointed a committee to consider questions of doctrine. Although he was not a member of the committee, on 16 May Norfolk presented six conservative articles of religion to Parliament for consideration. On 30 May, the Six Articles and the penalties for failure to conform to them were enacted into law, and on 28 June received royal assent.[2]

On 29 June 1539, Norfolk, Suffolk and Cromwell dined with the King as guests of Archbishop Cranmer. During a heated discussion about Cardinal Wolsey, Cromwell charged Norfolk with disloyalty and Norfolk called Cromwell a liar. Their mutual hostility was now out in the open.[2] Cromwell inadvertently played into Norfolk's hands by taking the initiative in the King's marriage to Anne of Cleves. The King's disillusionment with Anne's physical appearance when he met her in January 1540 and his desire after the wedding had taken place to have the marriage annulled gave Norfolk an opportunity to bring down his enemy.[8] On 10 June 1540 Cromwell was arrested at a Privy Council meeting on charges of high treason, and Norfolk personally 'tore the St George from his neck’. On 9 July 1540 Henry's marriage to Anne of Cleves was annulled.[2] On 28 July 1540 Cromwell was executed, and on the same day the King wed Norfolk's niece Katherine Howard as his fifth wife.[9] As a result of this marriage Norfolk enjoyed political prominence, royal favour, and material rewards for a time. However when Katherine's premarital sexual indiscretions and her alleged adultery with Sir Thomas Culpeper were revealed to the King by Archbishop Cranmer, the King's wrath turned on the Howard family, who were accused of concealing her misconduct.[2] Queen Katherine was condemned by a bill of attainder and executed on 13 February 1542.Several other members of the Howard family were sent to the Tower, including Norfolk's stepmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk.[9] However the French ambassador Marillac wrote on 17 January 1541 that Norfolk had not only escaped punishment, but had apparently been restored to his 'full former credit and authority'.[2]

Norfolk was appointed Lieutenant-General north of Trent on 29 January 1541, and Captain-General in a campaign against the Scots in August 1542. In June 1543 he declared war on France in the King's name and was appointed Lieutenant-General of the army. During the campaign of May–October 1544 he besieged Montreuil, while the King captured Boulogne before returning home. Complaining of lack of provisions and munitions, Norfolk eventually raised the siege of Montreuil, and realizing that Boulogne could not realistically be held by the English for long, left it garrisoned and withdrew to Calais, for which he was severely rebuked by the King.[2]

Imprisonment and release

During the King's final years Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford, and Henry's last Queen, Katherine Parr, both of whom favoured the reformed faith, gained influence with the King while the conservative Norfolk became isolated politically. He attempted to form an alliance with the Seymours through a marriage between his widowed daughter, Mary Fitzroy and Hertford's brother Thomas Seymour,[2] but the effort was forestalled by the provocative conduct of his eldest son and heir, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, who had displayed in his own heraldry the royal arms and insignia.[10] On 12 December 1546 both Norfolk and Surrey were arrested and sent to the Tower. On 12 January 1547 Norfolk acknowledged that he had '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', and offered his lands to the King. Norfolk's family, including his estranged wife, his daughter Mary, and his mistress, Elizabeth Holland, all gave evidence against him. Surrey was beheaded on 19 January 1547,[10] and on 27 January 1547 Norfolk was attainted by statute without trial. The dying King gave his assent to Norfolk's death by royal commissioners, and it was rumoured that he would be executed on the following day. He was saved by the King's death on 28 January and the Council's decision not to inaugurate the new reign with bloodshed. His estates fell prey to the ruling clique in the reign of Edward VI, for which he was later partly compensated by lands worth £1626 a year from Queen Mary.[2]

Norfolk remained in the Tower throughout the reign of King Edward VI. He was released and pardoned by Queen Mary in 1553, and in Mary's first parliament (October–December 1553), his statutory attainder was declared void, thereby restoring him to the dukedom.[11] He was appointed to the Privy Council, and presided as Lord High Steward at the trial of the Duke of Northumberland on 18 August.[2] He was also restored to the office of Earl Marshal and officiated in that capacity at Mary's coronation on 1 October 1553.[11] His last major service to the Crown was his command of the forces sent to put down a rebellion in early 1554 by a group of disaffected gentlemen who opposed the Queen's projected marriage to Philip II of Spain.[12]

The Duke died at Kenninghall on 25 August 1554 and was buried at St. Michael's Church at Framlingham in Suffolk. He was survived by two of the three children of his second marriage: his younger son, Thomas created Viscount Howard of Bindon in 1559, and his daughter Mary, his eldest son and heir, Henry, having been executed in 1547.[2] Although there is debate on the topic, it appears that Norfolk had another daughter Katherine, who was briefly married to Norfolk's ward, Edward Stanley, 3rd Earl of Derby, and died on 15 March 1530.[1] The Duke's property passed into the hands of the Crown during the minority of his grandson and heir, Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk.[2]


Fictional portrayals

Norfolk has been portrayed several times in film. In the 1970 BBC miniseries The Six Wives of Henry VIII, the role was played by Patrick Troughton. In A Man for All Seasons (1966), he was played by Nigel Davenport. In Anne of the Thousand Days (1969), Peter Jeffrey took the role. He went on to reprise the role in a 1996 BBC adaptation of Mark Twain's 1881 novel The Prince and the Pauper. Mark Strong portrayed Norfolk in the 2003 ITV feature Henry VIII. In the Showtime series The Tudors (2007), he was played by Henry Czerny. David Morrissey played the Duke in the film The Other Boleyn Girl. D. L. Bogdan's novels Rivals in the Tudor Court and Secrets of the Tudor Court feature Norfolk as one of the central characters. Norfolk is also one of the characters in the Philippa Gregory novels The Other Boleyn Girl and The Boleyn Inheritance.



See also

Political offices
Preceded by
Sir Edward Howard
Lord High Admiral
Succeeded by
Henry FitzRoy, 1st Duke of Richmond and Somerset
Preceded by
Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk
Lord High Treasurer
Succeeded by
Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset
Earl Marshal
Preceded by
John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland
Earl Marshal
Succeeded by
Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk
Peerage of England
Preceded by
Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk
Duke of Norfolk
3rd creation
Succeeded by
Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk
Earl of Surrey
3rd creation

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