The Parish Church of St George the Martyr, Waterlooville

The Dukes of Norfolk - The Third Duke - Part 2

Sir Robert Howard,

born  1385, Died 1426

Sir John Howard (1st Duke),

born 1420 Died 1483 at Bosworth Field

Thomas Howard (2nd Duke),

born 1444  Died 1524

Thomas (3rd Duke),

born 1473, Died  1554

With Wolsey out of the way, Norfolk had triumphed but though a competent administrator, he was hardly a great statesman and was unable to progress the King’s divorce.  All this led to the promotion of one Thomas Cromwell,  who gradually took over control leading to the destruction of the medieval church and the start of a reign of terror. His Treason Act of 1534 enabled a ‘traitor’ to be put to death without trial by act of attainder which became a terrible weapon for the King and which, in time, collected its fair share of Howards.

Howard began to strengthen his position by a series of proposed marriage alliances between Howards and the Royal family. His daughter became betrothed to Henry’s illegitimate Son, the Duke of Richmond, and he toyed with the idea of marrying his eldest Son to Princess Mary. In all these schemes he was at first helped by his niece, Anne Boleyn. However she soon tired of this and gradually took against her uncle which, in part, accounts for his callous attitude towards her when she was tried for adultery. He even created the charges and presided over the court during her trial.

The fall of Anne Boleyn allowed Henry to marry Jane Seymour and when she produced a male heir, the Seymours took over as the main advisors to Henry and thus became the Howards most dangerous enemies. The execution of Boleyn and the rise of the Seymours reduced the Howards influence at court but it was not long before an opportunity presented itself for Howard to regain some lost ground.  In the Pilgrimage of Grace several notables in the East and North of England rose against Cromwell’s destruction of their churches, and Norfolk was sent to handle the crisis. His cruel and bloody subjection of the revolt was as much to reingratiate himself with the King as to bring Cromwell’s misadministration into focus. Whether or not The Pilgrimage of Grace was a genuine religious movement as opposed to a popular rebellion is still open to debate.

At first the King and Cromwell were reluctant to give Norfolk a free hand, so he was especially keen to prove his loyalty.  Events played into his hands and day-by-day the rebellion became more serious and Norfolk was promoted to handle the problem personally. He met with the rebellion leaders at Doncaster Bridge on 27 October and took their demands back to Henry. He returned in December with the King’s promise to take the rebels’ petitions seriously if they lay down their arms and returned home peacefully.  However in 1537 Courts Martial were set up to deal with the traitors and overall some 250 prisoners were executed. The Duke reported back the end of the rebellion on 18th April 1537 with the consequent elevation of his standing at Court.

After the defeat of the rebels Cromwell pushed ahead with his programme though his own end was not far off. In 1537 the great Monasteries were dissolved and in 1538 shrines and pilgrimages were also abolished. Cromwell destroyed much of value: a form of religion, notable buildings, works of art and great libraries.

In 1538 began the series of religious struggles, which have continued in some corners of the British Isles to the present day. To one side (the conservatives) were the Howards and Bishop Gardiner with Cromwell and Cranmer as head of the radicals. Norfolk gained the upper hand initially although towards  the end of the reign he lost the battle to the protestant Seymours.

In the Parliament of 1539 the Act of the Six Articles was passed which enforced belief in the old religion’s doctrines: transubstantiation, Communion in one kind, clerical celibacy, the obligation of vows of celibacy, the utility of masses and the necessity of auricular confession. This challenged the opposition Protestant party. Cromwell also suffered another set back when his plan to get the King to marry the Protestant Anne of Cleves failed as the King found her physically repulsive. Cromwell was finally  arrested on 10th June 1540.

Norfolk then promoted his other niece Katherine Howard to the King and Henry was besotted with her. They  married quietly on the very day that Cromwell was beheaded having been convicted by the very Act of Attainder which he had originally invented to dispose of the 80 year old Countess of Suffolk. However the unexpected fall of Katherine threatened Howard’s complete eclipse as the King blamed Norfolk. He in turn turned on Katherine and begged the King’s forgiveness, even laughing when the sentence of death was announced.

The Duke was again saved  by another military crisis when in 1542 there was further trouble on the Scottish borders and Norfolk was dispatched to the North to quell the rebellion. This he did successfully at The Battle of Solway Moss.

As Henry’s reign drew to a close the politics at court descended into a struggle between the Seymours and the Norfolks to become Protectors of the young Prince Edward. As the Prince was of the Seymour lineage they had the upper hand in this struggle. The decline of Norfolk was further accelerated by divisions with his own family and the failure of Norfolk to secure any of his proposed royal marriages to his family.  Additionally Norfolk’s Son, The Earl of Surrey was somewhat of a weakling and was considered more of a liability than a help. This pleasant young man, known as the Poet Earl due to his love of poetry and the arts,  somehow incurred Henry’s and the Seymours’ wrath. As Henry lay on his death bed Surrey was arrested on a myriad of trumped up charges and was condemned to death in January 1547. Soon after Norfolk himself was put in the Tower and an Act of Attainder was raised against him. He was condemned to death in January 1547 despite pleas to the King.

However the Duke’s luck held out as the King died on the very morning planned for Norfolk’s execution. It was not thought lucky to begin a reign with bloodshed! The Duke spent most of King Edward VI’s reign in the Tower. On the death of the young King in 1553 and the accession of Mary, Norfolk was released and the Act of Attainder against him reversed. His lands and property were restored and his place at Court renewed. He died at Kenninghall on 25 August 1554 aged 80, the greatest Nobleman in the country. Not only had he survived. He had triumphed!

He was succeeded as 4th Duke of Norfolk by Thomas, his Grandson the only son of the recently beheaded Earl of Surrey.

Tony Rice-Oxley

Festival Edition 2010