The Parish Church of St George the Martyr, Waterlooville


The Dukes of Norfolk - The Third Duke

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

In that the second Duke had such a varied and interesting life that it took 2 issues to fully cover his life, the third Duke is similar. He was the one we all know (or should know) about as he was the main support to Henry VIII for the majority of his reign.  Consequently his story will also be told in two parts beginning with part 1 here….

The Flodden Duke was succeeded by his eldest son, Thomas, born at Ashwell Thorpe in 1473 and was brought up there with his brothers and half brother Lord Berners. Thomas was an unscrupulous yet brilliant man. For long periods he was the most powerful  nobleman in the kingdom. Uncle to two Queens of England and leader of the conservative reaction at Henry VIII's court, he was responsible for the overthrow of both Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell, as well as for stopping the religious revolution in the 1530s, although much damage had already been done by that time.

Thomas gave the impression of being a kindly, intelligent and approachable man. He had an easy way with all classes. However he was in fact cunning, ruthless and without mercy. His military methods were calculatingly cruel even by the standards of those times.  He was best not trusted. Henry VIII, not the most merciful of men, once  felt the need to apologise to the French for the “Duke’s foul warfare”. He was among the most oppressive of landowners in the 16th century and one of the very few to retain villeinage on his estates. Marillac the French ambassador was disgusted at the Duke’s heartlessness at the time over the execution of his niece, Queen Katherine Howard.

There was a huge discrepancy between his private meanness and his public show of open handedness. He received 200 travellers each day on his estate and they were entertained in a manner of a Ducal household. Yet he kept his family short with pitiful allowances to his wife and son.  His son, the Earl of Surrey, became dependant upon loans from local friendly abbots whilst the Duchess spent much of her time writing to the King and Council complaining of the Duke’s miserliness towards her. The Duke wore his fur lined court clothes until they were threadbare.

When he was 22 Thomas married a Royal Princess in Westminster Abbey, Lady Anne Plantagenet, daughter of Edward IV and sister in law of Henry VII. The marriage although magnificent was unprofitable and unproductive as Anne had no dowry and all their sons died in infancy. After her death at the age of 40, Thomas remarried Elizabeth Stafford, daughter of the Duke of Buckingham (who was beheaded 9 years later as already documented). The marriage began well producing two sons and a daughter but eventually turned sour when the Duke became infatuated with Bess Holland, the daughter of his Steward at Kennighall. After several years of bitterness the Duchess eventually moved out leaving Bess in command at Kenninghall and moved to Redbourne from where she bombarded the court with frequent letters about the Duke’s wrongdoings.  

Up to the age of 36 the Duke does not seem to have achieved much. It was only on the accession of Henry VIII that he came into his own, mainly due to his prowess as a military expert. The young King wanted a belligerent policy and a glorious war against France. His accession gave the warmongers such as Thomas Howard a cause and an outlet for their talents on both land and sea.  Henry was keen to revive the military glories of Henry V and throughout his reign he mounted a series of expensive and futile campaigns against the French. He went to war for the first time in 1512 and on this first expedition Thomas Howard emerged as almost the only Commander of the English forces who could be relied upon. While Thomas was active on land his brother Edward was at sea as Lord High Admiral in charge of the English fleet in the Channel. However Edward was killed in a foolhardy attack at Brest in 1513 dramatically tearing his Admiral badge from his cloak and diving into the sea as the French closed in on him.  Thomas was appointed Lord High Admiral in his brother’s place in 1513.

Henry crossed the channel in August 1513 where he took part in the Battle of the Spurs at Tournai. The Howards, as has been mentioned in last month’s episode, were left behind to guard the Kingdom where the victory at Flodden was such a spectacular victory that it over shadowed the King's continental escapades. Thomas played a leading role in the battle tactics and was created Earl of Surrey at the same time as his father was restored as Duke of Norfolk on Candlemas 1514.

From then on Thomas played an increasingly active role in public affairs. In the ten years between 1514 and 1524 when he succeeded to the Dukedom, he held four important posts, Lord Admiral, Lord Deputy of Ireland, Lieutenant General of the Anglo Imperial army in France and Kings Lieutenant of the Northern Border.  He was now firmly established in national affairs.

His appointment as Lord Deputy of Ireland was not so much promotion as an attempt by Wolsey to get rid of him from Court for he was becoming a serious threat to  Wolsey who was scheming the downfall of the Duke of Buckingham and he wanted him out of the way. His time in Ireland was not wasted with several treaties being drawn up but at the end of his time there in 1522, little long term value had been achieved.

The following year he was appointed  as Lieutenant General of the English army against Scotland following the return of the Scottish regent, Albany. In 1523 and 1524 he carried out a series of  punitive raids along the border mainly to remind the Scots of the Flodden defeat. In all this he proved himself to be honest, reliable, hardworking and conscientious. His exile to Ireland at Wolsey’s hand had been the last straw and Thomas was also furious over the execution of his father-in- law in his absence in Ireland.  This ‘jumped up butchers boy’, as Wolsey was known, had gone too far. The chance came to rid the country of this little upstart when his foreign policy failed at the Treaty of Cambrai, when the other countries ignored England and Wolsey’s downfall was complete when he failed to secure a papal annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon.

Norfolk conspired with his niece, Anne Boleyn to have Wolsey removed and on 18th October 1529 had the satisfaction of receiving the Great Seal from Wolsey. He subsequently contrived the Cardinal’s removal from Court to his Diocese of York and for the next three years Thomas was president of the council. In 1530 through an unpleasant piece of intrigue he managed to secure Wolsey’s arrest for high treason but the Cardinal died in Leicester Abbey on his way to London for trial.

Tony Rice-Oxley

To be continued

Easter and Spring Edition 2010