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Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1516/1517 – January 19, 1547), KG, (courtesy title), was an English nobleman, politician and poet. He was one of the founders of English Renaissance poetry and the last known person execution by King Henry VIII. He was a first cousin of both Queen Anne Boleyn and Queen Catherine Howard, second and fifth wives of King Henry VIII.

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey

Henry Howard, was born in Hunsdon, Hertfordshire, the eldest son of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk by his second wife Elizabeth Stafford, a daughter of Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham. He was thus descended from King Edward I on his father’s side and from King Edward III on his mother’s side.

He was brought-up at Windsor Castle with Henry FitzRoy, 1st Duke of Richmond and Somerset, the illegitimate son of King Henry VIII. He became a close friend, and later a brother-in-law, of Fitzroy following the marriage of his sister, Lady Mary Howard, to him. Like his father and grandfather, he was a soldier, serving in Henry VIII’s French wars as Lieutenant General of the King on Sea and Land.

Howard was repeatedly imprisoned for rash behaviour, on one occasion for striking a courtier, on another for wandering through the streets of London breaking the windows of houses whose occupants were asleep. Henry Howard assumed the courtesy title Earl of Surrey in 1524 when his grandfather, Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk (1443-1524) died and his father, Thomas Howard, became 3rd Duke of Norfolk.

In 1532 he accompanied Anne Boleyn (his first cousin), King Henry VIII, and the Duke of Richmond to France, staying there for more than a year as a member of the entourage of King François I of France during the Field of the Cloth of Gold. The Field of the Cloth of Gold was a site in Balinghem that hosted a tournament field as part of a summit from June 7-24 1520, between the French king and King Henry VIII of England.

Frances de Vere, Countess of Surrey

The Earl of Surrey married Frances de Vere, a daughter of John de Vere, 15th Earl of Oxford, (by his wife Elizabeth Trussell). His first son was born, Thomas Howard (later 4th Duke of Norfolk) in 1536 and in the same year Anne Boleyn was executed on charges of adultery and treason. Also that same year the Duke of Richmond, the illegitimate son of Henry VIII died at the age of 17 and was buried at Thetford Abbey, one of the Howard seats. Another event in 1536 is when the Earl of Surrey also served with his father in the suppression of the Pilgrimage of Grace, a rebellion against the Dissolution of the Monasteries.


Henry VIII, King of England of Ireland

King Henry VIII, consumed by paranoia because of his increasing illness, became convinced that the Earl of Surrey had planned to usurp the crown from his son the future King Edward VI. The Earl of Surrey suggested that his sister Mary FitzRoy, Duchess of Richmond and Somerset (a widow of Henry’s illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy) should seduce the aged King, her father-in-law, and become his mistress, to “wield as much influence on him as Madame d’Etampes doth about the French King”. The Duchess, outraged, said she would “cut her own throat” rather than “consent to such villainy”. She and her brother fell out, and she later laid testimony against Surrey that helped lead to his trial and execution for treason.

Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk

The matter came to a head when the Earl of Surrey quartered the attributed arms of King Edward the Confessor into his family coat-of-arms. Although the arms of the Earl of Surrey’s ancestor Thomas Mowbray, 1st Duke of Norfolk shown that he was entitled to bear Edward the Confessor’s arms, Henry VIII thought that doing so was an act of pride and rebellion against him. In consequence, on December 12, 1546 both the Earl of Surrey and his father Thomas Howard 3rd Duke of Norfolk were arrested and sent to the Tower.

On December 24, 1546, the elder Howard 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 in compensation. The Duke of Norfolk’s family, including his estranged wife, his daughter Mary Fitzroy, Duchess of Richmond, and his mistress, Elizabeth Holland, all gave evidence against the father and son.

The two were sentenced to death on January 13, 1547 without a formal trial. On January 19, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey was beheaded for treason. The dying King Henry VIII gave his assent to the death of the Earl of Surrey’s father, Thomas Howard 3rd Duke of Norfolk, by royal commissioners, and it was rumoured that he would be executed on the following day. However, King Henry VIII died on January 28, and was succeeded by his eldest son as King Edward VI. The Duke of Norfolk’s execution was stayed because the king’s Council did not want to inaugurate the new king’s reign with bloodshed.

The Earl of Surrey’s son, Thomas Howard became heir to the Dukedom of Norfolk in place of his father, which title he inherited on the 3rd Duke’s death in 1554.