Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1516/1517 – January 19, 1547), KG, was an English nobleman, politician and poet. He was one of the founders of English Renaissance poetry and was the last known person executed at the instance of King Henry VIII. He was a first cousin of the king’s wives Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard.
His name is usually associated in literature with that of the poet Sir Thomas Wyatt. Owing largely to the powerful position of his father, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, Surrey took a prominent part in the court life of the time, and served as a soldier both in France and Scotland.
He was a man of reckless temper, which involved him in many quarrels, and finally brought upon him the wrath of the ageing and embittered Henry VIII. He was arrested, tried for treason and beheaded on Tower Hill.
Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey 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 too on his mother’s side.
Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey as 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 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.
He was repeatedly imprisoned for rash behaviour: on one occasion for striking a courtier and on another for wandering through the streets of London breaking the windows of houses whose occupants were asleep. He assumed the courtesy title Earl of Surrey in 1524 when his grandfather died and his father became 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. 1536 was a notable year for Howard: his first son was born, namely Thomas Howard (later 4th Duke of Norfolk), Anne Boleyn was executed on charges of adultery and treason, and Henry FitzRoy, Duke of Richmond died at the age of 17 and was buried at Thetford Abbey, one of the Howard seats.
In 1536 Howard also served with his father in the suppression of the Pilgrimage of Grace, a rebellion against the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
Marriage and progeny
He married Frances de Vere, a daughter of John de Vere, 15th Earl of Oxford, (by his wife Elizabeth Trussell) by whom he had two sons and three daughters:
1. Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk (10 March 1536 – 2 June 1572), who married three times: (1) Mary FitzAlan (2) Margaret Audley (3) Elizabeth Leyburne.
2. Henry Howard, 1st Earl of Northampton, who died unmarried.
3. Jane Howard, who married Charles Neville, 6th Earl of Westmorland.
4. Katherine Howard, who married Henry Berkeley, 7th Baron Berkeley.
5. Margaret Howard, who married Henry Scrope, 9th Baron Scrope of Bolton. She was born after her father’s execution.
The Howards had little regard for the “new men” who had risen to power at court, such as Thomas Cromwell and the Seymours. Howard was less circumspect than his father in concealing his disdain. The Howards had many enemies at court. Howard himself branded Cromwell a ‘foul churl’ and William Paget a ‘mean creature’ as well as arguing that ‘These new erected men would by their wills leave no nobleman on life!’
Henry VIII, consumed by paranoia and increasing illness, became convinced that Howard had planned to usurp the crown from his son the future King Edward VI. Howard suggested that his sister Mary FitzRoy, Duchess of Richmond and Somerset (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 Howard that helped lead to his trial and execution for treason. The matter came to a head when Howard quartered the attributed arms of King Edward the Confessor. John Barlow had once called Howard “the most foolish proud boy that is in England” and, although the arms of Howard’s ancestor Thomas Mowbray, 1st Duke of Norfolk, show that he was entitled to bear Edward the Confessor’s arms, doing so was an act of pride.
In consequence, the King ordered Howard’s imprisonment and that of his father, sentencing them to death on January 13, 1547. Howard was beheaded on January 19, 1547 on a charge of treason by quartering the royal arms.
His father escaped execution as the king died the day before that appointed for the beheading, but he remained imprisoned. Howard’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.