Henry Howard's Poetry page

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Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey
The Poetry of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey

"Father of the English Sonnet"

Surrey continued in Sir Thomas Wyatt, the Elder's footsteps on the English Sonnet Form form. Wyatt and Surrey, both often titled "father of the English sonnet", established the form that was later used by Shakespeare and others: three quatrains and a couplet, with a rhyme scheme of abab cdcd efef gg. Surrey was also the first English poet to publish in blank verse, in his translation of part of Virgil's Aeneid. Book 4 was published in 1554 and Book 2 in 1557.

Surrey's poetry circulated in manuscript form at court. He published his Epitaph on Sir Thomas Wyatt [below], but most of his poetry first appeared in 1557, ten years after his death, in printer *Richard Tottel's Songs and Sonnets written by the Right Honorable Lord Henry Howard late Earl of Surrey and other. Until modern times it was called simply Songs and Sonnets; but now it is generally known as Tottel's Miscellany . Sir Philip Sidney lauded Surrey's lyrics for "many things tasting of a noble birth, and worthy of a noble mind".

*Tottel, Richard , c.1530–1594?, London publisher. He is chiefly remembered as the compiler of the poetry anthology The Book of Songs and Sonnets (1557), known as Tottel's miscellany. It is important because it preserves the extant original verse of Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, and because it inaugurated the long series of poetry anthologies that were popular in Elizabethan England.

Within a few months of Anne Boleyn's execution the tyrannical disposition of Henry VIII was manifested towards Surrey's uncle. Lord Thomas Howard, who was committed to the Tower for having married the Lady Margaret
Douglas without the King's permission. After being confined for two years he died of a broken heart, an event which made a deep impression upon the poet, and he adverts to it in one of his poems:

" It is not long ago. Sith that for knave one of the race did end his life in woe,
In tower both strong and high, for his assured truth.
Whereas in tears he spent his breath, alas ! the more the ruth.
This gentle beast so died, whom nothing could remove.
But willingly to lese his life for loss of his true love."


MARTIAL, the things that do attain
The happy life be these, I find:—
The richesse left, not got with pain;
The fruitful ground, the quiet mind;

The equal friend; no grudge, no strife;
No charge of rule, nor governance;
Without disease, the healthful life;
The household of continuance;

The mean diet, no delicate fare;
True wisdom join'd with simpleness;
The night dischargèd of all care,
Where wine the wit may not oppress.

The faithful wife, without debate;
Such sleeps as may beguile the night:
Contented with thine own estate
Ne wish for death, ne fear his might.



SO cruel prison how could betide, alas,
As proud Windsor, where I in lust and joy,
With a Kinges son, my childish years did pass,

In greater feast than Priam's sons of Troy.
Where each sweet place returns a taste full sour.
The large green courts, where we were wont to hove,1
With eyes cast up into the Maiden's tower,
And easy sighs, such as folk draw in love.
The stately seats, the ladies bright of hue.
The dances short, long tales of great delight ;
With words and looks, that tigers could but rue ;
Where each of us did plead the other's right.
The palme-play, where, despoiled for the game,
With dazed eyes oft we by gleams of love
Have miss'd the ball, and got sight of our dame,
To bait her eyes, which kept the leads above.
The gravel'd ground, with sleeves tied on the helm,
On foaming horse, with swords and friendly hearts ;
With chere, as though one should another whelm,
Where we have fought, and chased oft with darts.
With silver drops the mead yet spread for ruth,
In active games of nimbleness and strength,
Where we did strain, trained with swarms of youth,
Our tender limbs, that yet shot up in length.
The secret groves, which oft we made resound
Of pleasant plaint, and of our ladies' praise ;
Recording oft what grace each one had found,
What hope of speed, what dread of long delays.
The wild forest, the clothed holts with green ;
With reins availed, and swift y-breathed horse,
With cry of hounds, and merry blasts between,
Where we did chase the fearful hart of force.
The void vales eke, that harbour'd us each night :
Wherewith, alas ! reviveth in my breast
The sweet accord, such sleeps as yet delight ;
The pleasant dreams, the quiet bed of rest ;
The secret thoughts, imparted with such trust ;
The wanton talk, the divers change of play ;
The friendship sworn, each promise kept so just,
Wherewith we past the winter night away.
And with this thought the blood forsakes the face ;
The tears berain my cheeks of deadly hue :
The which, as soon as sobbing sighs, alas !
Up-supped have, thus I my plaint renew :
' O place of bliss ! renewer of my woes !
Give me account, where is my noble fere ?
Whom in thy walls thou d[id]st each night enclose ;
To other lief ; but unto me most dear.'
Echo, alas ! that doth my sorrow rue,
Returns thereto a hollow sound of plaint.
Thus I alone, where all my freedom grew,
In prison pine, with bondage and restraint :
And with remembrance of the greater grief,
To banish the less, I find my chief relief.


LONDON ! hast thou accused me
Of breach of laws ? the root of strife !
Within whose breast did boil to see,
So fervent hot, thy dissolute life ;
That even the hate of sins, that grow
Within thy wicked walls so rife,
For to break forth did convert so,
That terror could it not repress.
The which, by words, since preachers know
What hope is left for to redress,
By unknown means it liked me
My hidden burthen to express.
Whereby it might appear to thee
That secret sin hath secret spite ;
From justice' rod no fault is free
But that all such as work unright
In most quiet, are next ill rest.
In secret silence of the night
This made me, with a rechless breast,
To wake thy sluggards with my bow :
A figure of the Lord's behest ;
Whose scourge for sin the Scriptures shew.
That as the fearful thunder's clap
By sudden flame at hand we know ;
Of pebble stones the soundless rap,
The dreadful plague might make thee see
Of God's wrath, that doth thee enwrap.
That pride might know, from conscience free,
How lofty works may her defend ;
And envy find, as he hath sought,
How other seek him to offend :
And wrath taste of each cruel thought,
The just shape higher in the end :
And idle sloth, that never wrought,
To heaven his spirit lift may begin :
And greedy lucre live in dread,
To see what hate ill got goods win.
The lechers, ye that lusts do feed,
Perceive what secrecy is in sin :
And gluttons' hearts for sorrow bleed,
Awaked, when their fault they find,
In loathsome vice each drunken wight,
To stir to God this was my mind.
Thy windows had done me no spight ;
But proud people that dread no fall,
Clothed with falsehood, and unright
Bred in the closures of thy wall.
But wrested to wrath in fervent zeal
Thou hast to strife, my secret call.
Indured hearts no warning feel.
O ! shameless ***** ! is dread then gone ?
Be such thy foes, as mean thy weal ?
O ! member of false Babylon !
The shop of craft ! the den of ire !
Thy dreadful doom draws fast upon.
Thy martyr's blood by sword and fire,
In heaven and earth for justice call.
The Lord shall hear their just desire !
The flame of wrath shall on thee fall !
With famine and pest lamentably
Stricken shall be thy lechers all.
Thy proud towers, and turrets high
Enemies to God, beat stone from stone :
Thine idols burnt that wrought iniquity :
When, none thy ruin shall bemoan ;
But render unto the righteous Lord,
That so hath judged Babylon,
Immortal praise with one accord.

The simple explanation of that poem is that,
when in confinement, Surrey gratified his spleen
against the citizens, whose complaint produced his
imprisonment, by a satirical allusion to their vices,
and he wittily says, that his conduct was intended
as a punishment of their crimes. His companions
deny but he had very evil doings therein, submitting himself, therefore, to such punishment as should to then be thought good ; whereupon he was committed to the Fleet.*'
— Privy Council Book of the reign of Henry VIII,

♦ Nott's Memoirs of Surrey, page lii.

Epitaph on Sir Thomas Wyatt's death


YATT resteth here, that quick could never rest :
Whose heavenly gifts increased by disdain ;
And virtue sank the deeper in his breast :
Such profit he by envy could obtain.
A head, where wisdom mysteries did frame ;
Whose hammers beat still in that lively brain,
As on a stithe,
1 where that some work of fame
Was daily wrought, to turn to Britain's gain.
A visage stern, and mild ; where both did grow
Vice to contemn, in virtue to rejoice :
Amid great storms, whom grace assured so,
To live upright, and smile at fortune's choice.
A hand, that taught what might be said in rhyme ;
That reft Chaucer the glory of his wit.
A mark, the which (unperfected for time)
Some may approach, but never none shall hit.
A tongue that serv'd in foreign realms his king ;
Whose courteous talk to virtue did inflame
Each noble heart ; a worthy guide to bring
Our English youth by travail unto fame.
An eye, whose judgment none effect could blind,
Friends to allure, and foes to reconcile ;
Whose piercing look did represent a mind
With virtue fraught, reposed, void of guile.
A heart, where dread was never so imprest
To hide the thought that might the truth advance ;
In neither fortune loft, nor yet represt,
To swell in wealth, or yield unto mischance.
A valiant corpse, where force and beauty met :
Happy, alas! too happy, but for foes,
Lived, and ran the race that nature set ;
Of manhood's shape, where she the mould did lose.
But to the heavens that simple soul is fled,
Which left, with such as covet Christ to know,
Witness of faith, that never shall be dead ;
Sent for our health, but not received so.
Thus for our guilt this jewel have we lost ;
The earth his bones, the heaven possess his ghost.

1 Forge, or anvil.


Love that doth reign and live within my thought
And built his seat withing my captive breast
Clad in arms wherein with me he fought,
Oft in my face he doth his banner rest.
But she that taught me love and suffer pain,
My doubtful hope and eke my hot desire
With shamefaced look to shadow and refrain, Her smiling grace converteth straight to ire.
And coward Love, then, to the heart apace Taketh his flight, where he doth lurk and 'plain, His purpose lost, and dare not show his face. For my lord's guilt thus faultless bide I pain,
Yet from my lord shall not my foot remove,-- Sweet is the death that taketh end by love.

Note: The sonnet above is translated from Petrarch. Compare with Wyatt's sonnet <a class="external" href="http://www.sonnets.org/wyatt.htm#002" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">"The long love that in my heart doth harbor..."</a> or with a <a class="external" href="http://www.sonnets.org/petrarch.htm" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">literal translation from the Italian</a>.


Set me wheras the sun doth parch the green
Or where his beams do not dissolve the ice,
In temperate heat where he is felt and seen;
In presence prest of people, mad or wise;
Set me in high or yet in low degree,
In longest night or in the shortest day,
In clearest sky or where clouds thickest be,
In lusty youth or when my hairs are gray.
Set me in heaven, in earth, or else in hell;
In hill, or dale, or in the foaming flood;
Thrall or at large, alive whereso I dwell,
Sick or in health, in evil fame or good:
Hers will I be, and only with this thought
Content myself although my chance be nought.

From Tuscan came my lady's worthy race;
Fair Florence was sometime her ancient seat.
The western isle whose pleasant shore doth face
Wild Camber's cliffs, did give her lively heat.
Foster'd she was with milk of Irish breast;
Her sire an earl, her dame of princes' blood.
From tender years in Britain she doth rest
With a king's child, where she tastes ghostly food.
Hunsdon did first present her to mine eyen;
Bright is her hue, and *Geraldine she hight;
Hampton me taught to wish her first for mine;
And Windsor, alas, doth chase me from her sight.
Beauty her mate, her virtues from above:
Happy is he that may obtain her love.

Probably composed in 1537, while Surrey was briefly imprisoned at Windsor for striking a courtier within the royal grounds. *Geraldine was Elizabeth Fitzgerald, a daughter of the Earl of Kildare. Born in Ireland ca. 1528, she was brought by her father to England in 1533. She married an old widower in 1543.

A Praise of His Love
Wherein He Reproveth Them That Compare Their Ladies With His

Give place, ye lovers, here before
That spent your boasts and brags in vain;
My lady's beauty passeth more
The best of yours, I dare well sayn,
Than doth the sun the candle-light,
Or brightest day the darkest night.
And thereto hath a troth as just
As had Penelope the fair;
For what she saith, ye may it trust,
As it by writing sealed were;
And virtues hath she many mo
Than I with pen have skill to show.
I could rehearse, if that I wold,
The whole effect of Nature's plaint,
When she had lost the perfit mould,
The like to whom she could not paint;
With wringing hands, how she did cry,
And what she said, I know it, I.
I know she swore with raging mind,
Her kingdom only set apart,
There was no loss by law of kind,
That could have gone so near her heart;
And this was chiefly all her pain;
She could not make the like again.
Sith Nature thus gave her the praise,
To be the chiefest work she wrought;
In faith, methink, some better ways
On your behalf might well be sought,
Than to compare, as ye have done,
To match the candle with the sun.
OF A LADY THAT REFUSED TO DANCE WITH HIM. (Anne Stanhope, Lady Hertford)

EACH beast can choose his fere according to his mind,
And eke can show a friendly chere, like to their beastly kind.
A lion saw I late, as white as any snow,
Which seemed well to lead the race, his port the same did show.
Upon the gentle beast to gaze it pleased me,
For still methought he seemed well of noble blood to be.
And as he pranced before, still seeking for a make,
As who would say, 'There is none here, I trow, will me forsake',
I might perceive a Wolf as white as whalèsbone,
A fairer beast of fresher hue, beheld I never none ;
Save that her looks were coy, and froward eke her grace :
Unto the which this gentle beast gan him advance apace,
And with a beck full low he bowed at her feet,

In humble wise, as who would say, 'I am too far unmeet.'
But such a scornful chere, wherewith she him rewarded !
Was never seen, I trow, the like, to such as well deserved.
With that she start aside well near a foot or twain,
And unto him thus gan she say, with spite and great disdain :
'Lion,' she said, 'if thou hadst known my mind before,
Thou hadst not spent thy travail thus, nor all thy pain for-lore.
Do way ! I let thee weet, thou shalt not play with me :
Go range about, where thou mayst find some meeter fere for thee.'
With that he beat his tail, his eyes began to flame ;
I might perceive his noble heart much moved by the same.
Yet saw I him refrain, and eke his wrath assuage,
And unto her thus gan he say, when he was past his rage :
' Cruel ! you do me wrong, to set me thus so light ;
Without desert for my good will to shew me such despite.
How can ye thus intreat a Lion of the race,
That with his paws a crowned king devoured in the place.
Whose nature is to prey upon no simple food,
As long as he may suck the flesh, and drink of noble blood.
If you be fair and fresh, am I not of your hue ?
And for my vaunt I dare well say, my blood is not untrue.
For you yourself have heard, it is not long ago,
Sith that for love one of the race did end his life in woe,
In tower both strong and high, for his assured truth,
Whereas in tears he spent his breath, alas ! the more the ruth.
This gentle beast so died, whom nothing could remove,
But willingly to lese his life for loss of his true love.
Other there be whose lives do linger still in pain,
Against their will preserved are, that would have died fain.
But now I do perceive that nought it moveth you,
My good intent, my gentle heart, nor yet my kind so true.
But that your will is such to lure me to the trade,
As other some full many years trace by the craft ye made.
And thus behold my kinds, how that we differ far ;
I seek my foes ; and you your friends do threaten still with war.
I fawn where I am fled ; you slay, that seeks to you ;
I can devour no yielding prey ; you kill where you subdue.
My kind is to desire the honour of the field ;
And you with blood to slake your thirst on such as to you yield.
Wherefore I would you wist, that for your coyed looks,
I am no man that will be trapp'd, nor tangled with such hooks.
And though some lust to love, where blame full well they might ;
And to such beasts of current sought, that should have travail bright ;
I will observe the law that Nature gave to me,
To conquer such as will resist, and let the rest go free.
And as a falcon free, that soareth in the air,
Which never fed on hand nor lure ; nor for no stale 5 doth care ;
While that I live and breathe, such shall my custom be
In wildness of the woods to seek my prey, where pleaseth me ;
Where many one shall rue, that never made offence :
Thus your refuse against my power shall boot them no defence.
And for revenge thereof I vow and swear thereto,
A thousand spoils I shall commit I never thought to do.
And if to light on you my luck so good shall be,
I shall be glad to feed on that, that would have fed on me.
And thus farewell, Unkind, to whom I bent and bow ;
I would you wist, the ship is safe that bare his sails so low.
Sith that a Lion's heart is for a Wolf no prey,
With bloody mouth go slake your thirst on simple sheep, I say,
With more despite and ire than I can now express ;
Which to my pain, though I refrain, the cause you may well guess.
As for because myself was author of the game,
It boots me not that for my wrath I should disturb the same.'

  • Surrey, Henry Howard, Earl of. The Poetical Works of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1854.
  • <a class="external" href="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0521440866/luminariumA/" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English</a>. Ian Ousby, Ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998
  • Wheatley, Henry B. "London Episodes," The Antiquary, May 1885. in Antiquary. Vol XI. London: Elliot Stock, 1885