The Parish Church of St George the Martyr, Waterlooville

Some years ago, the St George’s annual Parish trip went to Arundel Castle where we learnt a little of the history of the Dukes of Norfolk. This series of articles follows on from that trip to put in greater detail some of the history behind this famous family.

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 Howard 3rd Duke born 1473 died 1554

Thomas  Howard 4th Duke born 1538  beheaded 1572 attainted

Sir Philip Howard Earl of Arundel born 1557  died 1595 (Saint Philip)

Thomas Howard Earl of Arundel born 1585 died 1646 (Collector Earl)

Henry Frederick Earl of Arundel born 1608  died 1652

Thomas 5th Duke (from 1660) born 1627 died 1677

Henry 6th Duke born 1629 died 1684

Henry 7th Duke, born 1655, died 1701

Henry 6th Duke was succeeded by his eldest son also called Henry. The political and religious troubles of the late seventeenth century could have  spelt disaster for the Norfolk line; that it did not is largely due to Henry 7th Duke of Norfolk. Henry was a man who managed to bend with the prevailing wind and managed to fence sit until the political situation was settled. By conforming to the established church at the time of the Titus Oates plot in 1679, seeming to support James II during his brief reign and promptly moving over to support William III in 1688 he ensured that the family floated above the upheavals of the time. Sadly, however, Henry was best known for the long drawn out divorce of his wife Mary of Mordaunt, a proceeding stimulated more by a lack of money than for any moral scruples.

Born on 11 January 1655 and educated at Magdalen College, Oxford, Henry received a degree at the age of 13. He was styled Earl of Arundel from 1677 and was called to the House of Lords in 1678. Initially Henry withdrew from the House when he saw that an oath of allegiance was required but, seeing which way things were going, he changed his mind and conformed to the established church by publicly taking the Sacrament and taking the Oath. He was created Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire and Surrey, and Governor and Constable of Windsor Castle. He succeeded his father on 13th January 1684. Cleverly he stuck to his father’s arrangement whereby all his estates were vested in the hands of Anglican trustees, just to be on the safe side.

His change of religion seemed to do him no harm when the Catholic James II came to the throne and James was eager to keep the Norfolk family on his side as, despite their conforming to the Anglican faith, he was certain that their Catholic sympathies were not far under the surface. Henry’s wife who had not changed to the Anglican fold, was appointed as Lady of the Bedchamber to the Queen, Mary of Modena. In 1686 the King installed Henry as Knight of the Garter, the first such installation of his reign. Despite these honours from a Catholic King, Henry remained Protestant throughout the reign.

In 1688 James II fled the country and Parliament issued the invitation to William of Orange to accept the English throne.  Whilst not a signatory to the document you can be sure that Henry was fully in favour of the move. He managed to ‘sit the fence with masterly firmness’ as the Editor of Complete Peerage once put it. However as Earl Marshall, Henry called out the militia in defence of William III on his arrival in the country.

Henry acted as Earl Marshall for the coronation of William and, as well as retaining all the honours and benefits given him by James, William made him a Lord  of the Privy Council and Henry remained  as one of William's most trusted supporters until his death.

Despite his salaries and honours Henry found it hard to keep his financial head above water and towards the end of the century he was forced to sell many of his properties, mostly to his cousin Thomas Howard. It was these financial straits which caused Henry to start proceedings against his wife for divorce because several of the manors which he wished to sell were encumbered with a life interest to his wife under their marriage settlement. So if he wanted to realise these assets he had to divorce his wife first.

There had been a scandal surrounding the Duchess for some time, and there began to unfold a scenario not unlike French farce.  It had long been rumoured that the Duchess had succumbed to the charms of one, Sir John Germain, who may have been King Williams’s illegitimate  half brother. He was a ‘gamester’ living by his gambling wits. Her affair was discovered by Henry when he was being painted by Verelst. When the artist opened a cupboard to leave his paints and brushes he found some articles of men’s clothing. This news spread  and the Duke separated from his wife removing her from court and placing her in a convent in Paris.  Not finding this to her liking she petitioned her husband to allow her return which was allowed so long as she signed away her life interest in the manors.  

It was not long, however, before the Duchess was up to her old tricks with Germain and Henry introduced his first bill for divorce in the House of Lords. He met opposition at every stage. By now the divorce had become fashionable entertainment for the world at large and on 23 January no fewer than 28 witnesses were sworn in against the Duchess. However sympathy remained with the Duchess as it was said that the Duke himself was no paragon of virtue and had encouraged his wife in many respects by introducing her to bad company. The upshot was that the divorce could not proceed until the Duke had firmer evidence in Common Law so on 24th November 1692 the Duke took out an action in the Court of King’s Bench, Westminster claiming 100,000 damages from Germain for ‘lying with the Duchess’.

The general view was that the Duke had brought the honourable post which he held into shame, and had turned a quiet scandal into a matter of public amusement. He was booed by an audience in the Playhouse  which led to the play being suspended.  Eventually the jury found in favour of the Duke but awarded a paltry one hundred marks. The Duke then brought a second bill before the House of Lords but this was thrown out by six votes.

The pair parted and the Duchess retired to her house in Drayton in Northhamptonshire where she lived quietly with Germain whom she eventually married. A later bill presented by the Duke was eventually passed but with a proviso that he repaid the Duchess 10,000 which she had once given him. This he never did because a year later he died of apoplexy at the age of 46. He left no children (hardly surprising from such a marriage) so was succeed by his nephew Thomas, son of his brother who had drowned some years earlier en route to France from Ireland on the King’s service.

Thomas was a very different stamp from his Uncle, being a devout Catholic, a man of sincere convictions, a Tory and a Jacobite.

Tony Rice-Oxley



Festival Edition 2011

The Dukes of Norfolk