Henry Howard, the eldest son of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk and Elizabeth Stafford Howard, was born in 1516. His sister was Mary Howard. He spent most of his early life in Ireland, where his father was serving as Lord Lieutenant.
Upon the death of his grandfather, Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk, in 1524 Henry Howard, became known as the Earl of Surrey. According to his biographer, Susan Brigden: "During his boyhood the Howard household moved between the family mansions at Lambeth and Tendring Hall in Stoke by Nayland, Suffolk, in the summers and Hunsdon in Hertfordshire for the winters. In 1526–7 the household was living at the ducal castle at Framlingham, Suffolk." (1)
Henry Howard received a good education and as a young boy he was making translations from Latin, Italian and Spanish. In 1529 he joined the household of Henry FitzRoy, Duke of Richmond, the illegitimate son of Henry VIII and the two men became close friends. (2)
In 1529 it was suggested by Anne Boleyn that Howard should marry Princess Mary. This idea was later rejected and in 1533 he married Lady Frances de Vere, daughter of John de Vere, 15th Earl of Oxford. David Loades has described Howard as a "reckless, arrogant man". (3) David Starkey agrees and points out that he was very different from the rest of the family: "Most early sixteenth century Howards were dull dogs: hard, hard-nosed and dourly efficient. Surrey was quite different. There was something in him of his uncle Sir Edward, killed in action against the French in 1513... There was more, however, of the darker heredity of his maternal grandfather, Edward Stafford, last Duke of Buckingham. Surrey inherited all Buckingham's grand pride in blood and aristocracy, and all his determination that noblemen should once more come into their own. Perhaps it was from his mother's side too that he got his most dangerous trait: a rashness and a violence that bordered on madness. Add to all this an intelligence that was both penetrating and fast and the result was one of the most remarkable men of the age." (4)
In 1535 Henry VIII began to close the monasteries in England. Most people living in the North of England were still strong supporters of the Catholic faith. Geoffrey Moorhouse, the author of The Pilgrimage of Grace (2002), has pointed out, that these people were more opposed to this policy. "The monasteries as a whole might spend no more than five per cent of their income on charity, but in the North they were a great deal more generous, doubtless because the need was greater in an area where poverty was more widespread and very real. There, they still did much to relieve the poor and the sick, they provided shelter for the traveller, and they meant the difference between a full belly and starvation to considerable numbers of tenants, even if they were sometimes imperfect landlords." (5)
On 28th September 1536, the King's commissioners for the suppression of monasteries arrived to take possession of Hexham Abbey and eject the monks. They found the abbey gates locked and barricaded. "A monk appeared on the roof of the abbey, dressed in armour; he said that there were twenty brothers in the abbey armed with guns and cannon, who would all die before the commissioners should take it." The commissioners retired to Corbridge, and informed Thomas Cromwell of what had happened. (6)
The following month disturbances took place at the market town of Louth in Lincolnshire. The rebels captured local officials and demanded the arrest of leading Church figures they considered to be heretics. This included Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and Bishop Hugh Latimer. They wrote a letter to Henry VIII claiming that they had taken this action because they were suffering from "extreme poverty". (7)
Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk, and Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey, were was sent to Lincolnshire to deal with the rebels. In a age before a standing army, loyal forces were not easy to raise. (8) "Appointed the king's lieutenant to suppress the Lincolnshire rebels, he advanced fast from Suffolk to Stamford, gathering troops as he went; but by the time he was ready to fight, the rebels had disbanded. On 16th October he entered Lincoln and began to pacify the rest of the county, investigate the origins of the rising, and prevent the southward spread of the pilgrimage." (9)
The Pilgrimage of Grace was eventually defeated and it is estimated that about 200 people were executed for their part in the rebellion. This included Robert Aske, Thomas Darcy, Francis Bigod, Robert Constable, John Hussey, John Bulmer and Margaret Cheyney. The heads of two of the largest religious houses, Abbot William Thirsk of Fountains Abbey and Abbot Adam Sedbar of Jervaulx Abbey, were also put to death. (10)
Henry Howard was a talented poet and was friends with others interested in literature, including Thomas Wyatt. He spent time at Fontainebleau. It was here that he encountered the works of art of the Italian Renaissance. (11) According to John Edward Bowle Howard was a master of new Italianate meters and was the "first of all Englishmen in translating Virgil". (12)
Howard also became close to the artist, Hans Holbein. "Howard seems to have sat to the great Holbein more frequently than anyone else. The portrait sequence shows both the man's obsession with himself and his self-development, from the fresh-faced youth of 1532; through the rather uncertain young man of a few years later, to the set-piece portrait of about 1542. In the last he is dressed all in black; his eyes stare raptly into the distance, ignoring the spectator; and his left-hand clutches his gown nervously to his breast. He is part poet, part malcontent." (13)
At his trial Thomas Darcy claimed that Henry Howard was a supporter of the Pilgrimage of Grace. Others agreed with Darcy and Henry VIII ordered him to be confined at Windsor Castle. According to his sister, it was while in custody that he developed hostile feelings towards Thomas Cromwell and other leading figures surrounding the king. He was granted his freedom in November 1537 and was a principal mourner in the funeral procession of Jane Seymour.
Henry VIII married Catherine Howard on 8th August 1540 at Hampton Court. Catherine was Henry Howard's cousin and this helped him gain the confidence of the king and in July 1541 Henry Howard was elected knight of the Order of the Garter. (14) The situation changed when Catherine was accused of having a sexual relationship with Francis Dereham and Thomas Culpeper. Catherine was executed on 13th February, 1542. (15)
Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, was a strong supporter of the Catholic Church and Henry Howard had been brought up in the traditional religion. However, he abandoned his father's faith and became a close associate of Edward Seymour, and was a regular visitor to their home "where an evangelical coterie gathered". (16) However, his sister, the Duchess of Richmond, asserted that he had always adhered to the old religion in his heart. (17)
In July 1542 Surrey was sent to Fleet Prison, for challenging John à Leigh to a duel. He was a close associate of Cardinal Reginald Pole who was now living in exile and had been supporter of Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher. Pole's mother, Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, had been executed the previous year. Jasper Ridley, the author of Henry VIII (1984) has argued: "It was the executions of the Carthusians and Fisher and More which decided Pole to come out into the open and to become Henry's greatest enemy. He was conscious of the dept of gratitude which he owed to Henry for his education; he was, indeed, being constantly reminded of it by Henry's counsellors and spokesmen. But he became more and more convinced that his duty to God required him to denounce his benefactor as a bloody tyrant who had martyred the champions of the Faith in England." (18)
On 7th August 1542 he was released and two months later he accompanied his father on the expedition into Scotland and took part in the burning of Kelso. He returned to London and on 2nd February 1543, along with a group of friends "ran wild through the city, breaking the windows of churches and grand city houses with their stone bows, and throwing stones at the whores of the Bankside stews". In a poem that he wrote soon after he justified "as a warning to the citizens of London, sunk in their seven deadly sins, in idolatry and spiritual blindness, of their impending doom". (19) It later transpired that the young men had "eaten flesh in Lent, and on Fridays and fast-days" and that there were overtones of "Protestantism". (20)
In October 1543 Henry VIII sent Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, to help Emperor Charles V in his campaign in northern France, hoping that he would acquire the experience in war which would make him a successful military commander in the future. Howard joined the English forces at the Siege of Landrecy. Later, the Emperor praised Howard for his fighting abilities. In 1544 Howard was rewarded by being appointed cupbearer to the king. (21)
In June 1544 the Earl of Surrey was appointed marshal of the army sent to capture Montreuil. He was wounded and failed in this venture. Surrey recovered from his injury to evacuate the retreating army to Calais. That summer he was sent to command the vanguard of the army to defend Boulogne. By 9th August 1545 he had marshalled 5,000 men, and on 15th August he sailed to Calais to gather a further 3,000. In early September he was appointed lieutenant-general of the king on sea and land for all England's continental possessions.
Henry Howard suffered a terrible defeat on 7th January 1546 at St Étienne. His unpaid and underfed troops, fled from the battleside. It was later claimed that he considered committing suicide by "falling on his sword". On 19th February, Sir William Paget sent Surrey the news that Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, would replace him as lieutenant-general. On 21st March the privy council summoned him home, as Henry VIII had received reports of "treachery, of irregularities and mismanagement regarding victuals and munitions".
Henry Howard continued to associate with religious reformers. He was highly embarrassed when Anne Askew was arrested. Bishop Stephen Gardiner instructed Sir Anthony Kingston, the Constable of the Tower of London, to torture Askew in an attempt to force her to name Catherine Parr and other leading Protestants as heretics. Kingston complained about having to torture a woman (it was in fact illegal to torture a woman at the time) and the Lord Chancellor Thomas Wriothesley and his assistant, Richard Rich took over operating the rack. Despite suffering a long period on the rack, Askew refused to name those who shared her religious views. According to Askew: "Then they did put me on the rack, because I confessed no ladies or gentlemen, to be of my opinion... the Lord Chancellor and Master Rich took pains to rack me with their own hands, till I was nearly dead. I fainted... and then they recovered me again. After that I sat two long hours arguing with the Lord Chancellor, upon the bare floor... With many flattering words, he tried to persuade me to leave my opinion... I said that I would rather die than break my faith." (22)
Afterwards, Anne's broken body was laid on the bare floor, and Wriothesley sat there for two hours longer, questioning her about her heresy and her suspected involvement with the royal household. (23) Askew did not name any of her supporters but she did quote one of Henry Howard's poems just before she was executed at Smithfield on 16th July, 1546. (24)
Jasper Ridley has pointed out that for some time the behaviour of Henry Howard had been causing concern: "The file on the Earl of Surrey went back for some years. This handsom, brave, bragging and much admired young nobleman, soldier and poet wrote charming love poems to the ladies of the court; but he had a less delicate side to his nature, and took rooms in the city of London, where he could indulge his vices more safely than at court or in his father's household." (25)
On 2nd December 1546, Richard Southwell came forward with evidence that Henry Howard was involved in a conspiracy against Henry VIII. Howard was arrested and held at Ely Place, where he was interviewed by Thomas Wriothesley. After several days of strongly denying his guilt he was taken to the Tower of London.
At his trial at the Guildhall on 13th January he pleaded not guilty and defended himself throughout a whole day. Evidence against him was given by former friends such as Edward Warner, Edmund Knyvet, Gawain Carew, Edward Rogers. David Starkey suggests that his friends thought "his tempestuous temperament unsuited him for power: he was fun as a friend; he would be deadly as a ruler." (26)
Henry Howard wrote to Henry VIII begging for mercy. He denied plotting against him and as for religious questions, he would always obey any law that Henry made, knowing that Henry was "a Prince of such virtue and knowledge". He pointed out that during the Pilgrimage of Grace he had fought against Robert Aske, Thomas Darcy, Robert Constable and John Bulmer. (27)
Henry Howard admitted that he was guilty of high treason for having worn the arms of Edward the Confessor in the first quarter of his coat-of-arms ever since his father died in 1524. He was sentenced him to be hanged, drawn and quartered. The King commuted the sentence to beheading and he was executed on Tower Hill on 19th January 1547. (28)
The mid 1540s were a good time to be young. Henry himself, old and dying, still brooded over all like a baleful planet. But once more he was surrounded, as in the earlier days of the reign, with young men. Most were only to make their careers in the next reign. But one stands out: he burned like a meteor and burned out even before the old King was dead. This was Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, eldest son of the Duke of Norfolk. Most early sixteenth century Howards were dull dogs: hard, hard-nosed and dourly efficient. Surrey was quite different. There was something in him of his uncle Sir Edward, killed in action against the French in 1513, whose bold knight errantry and exaggerated chivalry had so attracted Henry VIII. There was more, however, of the darker heredity of his maternal grandfather, Edward Stafford, last Duke of Buckingham. Surrey inherited all Buckingham's grand pride in blood and aristocracy, and all his determination that noblemen should once more come into their own. Perhaps it was from his mother's side too that he got his most dangerous trait: a rashness and a violence that bordered on madness. Add to all this an intelligence that was both penetrating and fast and the result was one of the most remarkable men of the age.