Historical Profile of Henry Howard

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Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey as played by David O'Hara



Henry Howard,

Earl of Surrey

1517 - 1547
(30 years old)

'The Poet Earl'

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey


  • In his childhood, he found favour with King Henry VIII and formed a deep friendship with Henry Fitzroy, the Duke of Richmond, being approximately just 2 years younger than the illegitimate son. His sister Mary Howard would marry Henry Fitzroy but became his widow when he died at aged 17 a couple of months after Anne Boleyn's execution.

  • His classical education at the hands of scholars and his study of Virgil later gave him a poetical talent two hundred years ahead of his time. He is to this day referred to as `The Poet Earl'.

  • His ties with Sir Thomas Wyatt, who was fifteen years his elder and of opposite politics, seem to have been rather literary than personal. He appears to have entered into closer relations with his son, the younger Wyatt. In company with whom, he amused himself by breaking the windows of the citizens of London on 2 Feb 1543. For this he was accused by the Privy Council, a second charge being that he had eaten meat in Lent. In prison probably he wrote the satire on the city of London, in which he explains his escapade by a desire to rouse Londoners to a sense of their wickedness.
  • His pride of ancestry and his foolhardiness in the dangerous days at the close of Henry VIII's reign left him open to the intrigues of those who plotted for the court supremacy which would come after the King's death.
  • In 1546 his father petitioned for a second time for his sister, Mary Fitzroy, Duchess of Richmond (see below) to be married to Thomas Seymour. The King gave his approval for the match but Henry objected strongly, as did his sister the Duchess herself, and the marriage did not take place.

  • Surrey then suggested that the Duchess should seduce the aged King, her father-in-law, and become his mistress, to "wield as much influence on him as Madam 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.
  • He was tried for treason on fabricated charges at Guildhall on l3th January 1547 and executed on the 2lst.
  • According to the Chronicle of Anthony Anthony, an officer of the Ordnance of the Tower :

    "The said Henry Howard, submitting himself to the law, saying that he was justly condemned by the law & was come to die under the law & humbly desired God to forgive him his offences & also requiring of the King's Majesty to forgive him his trespasses & so made his position to God & so he was beheaded".

    The Spanish Chronicle, on the other hand recorded that Surrey 'spoke a great deal' in his own defence, until 'they would not let him talk anymore'.

    Surrey's younger son Henry claimed a poem was 'the last thing that he wrote before his end' called :

    Botum est mibi quod humiliasti me [It is good for me that you have humiliated me]

    The storms are past, these clouds are overblown,
    And humble cheer great rigour hath repressed;
    For the default is set a pain foreknown,
    And patience graft in a determined breast.
    And in the heart where heaps of griefs were grown
    The sweet revenge hath planted mirth and rest;
    No company so pleasant as mine own
    [missing line]
    Thraldom at large hath made this prison free;
    Danger well past remembered works delight.
    Of lingring doubts such hope is sprung pardie,
    That nought I find displeasant in my sight.
    To think alas, such hap should granted be
    Unto a wretch that hath no heart to fight,
    To spill that blood that hath so oft been shed
    For Britain's sake, alas, and now is dead

    Source: Henry VIII's Last Victim by Jessie Childs (2008)

" The crime that led to Surrey's death was the use of the arms of Edward the Confessor and the unusual nature of this transgression has led many to conclude that this was merely a pretext for judicial murder, that Henry was bent on bringing down the Howards, either for their aristocratic pretensions or for their religious conservatism, although in fact that conservatism is by no means proven. Instead we should look more closely at this heraldic misdemeanour, because to Henry the point of it was that he believed Surrey and his father aimed at the crown. Surrey certainly held the opinion that his father was the only fit person to serve as Protector to the young King Edward in the event of Henry VIII's death. Surrey died and Norfolk very nearly did, because of the potential threat they posed to the balance of power in the next reign.

Henry was dying and he was afraid. His disquiet was behind much of the menace of these closing months of the reign. Just as the wound was suppurating in his leg, so the wound of religious division was weakening his nation. "
- Lucy Wooding in her book "Henry VIII" (2009)

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey by Holbein
Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey
in his younger years, by Hans Holbein

"The Tudors were constantly on the watch that the Howards limit their ambitions to Tudor women and refrain from casting greedy eyes upon the Tudor crown. Henry Howard, first cousin to Katherine
and heir to the dukedom, was relieved of his head in
1546 for having openly used, and traitorously caused to be depicted, mixed, and conjoined with his own arms and ensigns, the said arms and ensigns of the King . The heraldic pretensions of the Howard family were tantamount to an assertion that Howard blood was the equal of Tudor blood and that a Howard might yet succeed a Tudor upon the throne. The folly of young Henry Howard was twofold, for not only did he arouse the most fundamental and predatory instincts of the Tudors but he also exposed
himself and his family to the enmity of personal and dynastic hatred. The Howards were envied by those who coveted their dignity, intrigued against by those who feared their power, and detested by those who abhorred their policy. Once the artful and
persuasive whisper of the opposing faction had inflamed the King's natural suspicions, Henry Howard's fate was sealed. Social status, political influence, and marriage to royalty were coveted
dignities, but the price came high: the Howards found them selves surrounded by a host of rivals who were only too willing to replace them in the blissful and lucrative light of royal favour. "
~ A Tudor Tragedy by Lacey Baldwin Smith

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey by Holbein
Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey by Hans Holbein


"Several other persons whose names are eminent in the Literature of our country have at different times been prisoners in the Fleet. Among these may be mentioned "the darling of the Muses," Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, who about the year 1542 , when in the zenith of his fame as a poet and a soldier, was at two different times committed to this prison. On the first of these occasions it was on account of a private quarrel on the second, for eating flesh in Lent and breaking the windows of the citizens of London with stones from his cross-bow the latter, as Mr. Campbell observes "a strange misdemeanour indeed, for a hero and a man of letters". His own excuse was that he acted from religious motives. "He perceived" he said "that the citizens were sinking into papacy and corrupt manners and he was desirous, by an unexpected chastisement, to demonstrate to them that Divine retribution was about to overtake them". Lord Surrey describes the Fleet as "a noisome place with a pestilent atmosphere".

Excerpt from : London: It's Celebrated Characters and Remarkable Places By J. Heneage Jesse - in the chapter on Fleet Prison

Frances de Vere, Countess of Surrey
Henry's wife, Frances de Vere by Hans Holbein

Frances de Vere and Henry Howard were betrothed when they were both 15. She does not appear to a large extent in the history of the time, perhaps being overshadowed by the circumstances revolving round the great family into which she had married. After Surrey was executed she was `relieved' of the upbringing of her children, their care being entrusted to the Duchess of Richmond [Mary Howard - wife of Henry Fitzroy].

They had five children, two sons, Thomas & Henry
and 3 daughters, Catherine, Margaret & Jane.

During the reign of Edward VI, Frances married
Thomas Steyning/Staynings of Woodbridge
and they lived at Earl Soham Lodge,
in the neighbouring village to Framlingham.
She died at Earl Soham in 1577 aged about 61
and was buried at Framlingham.

Subjects of his Poetry
name has been long connected with the 'Fair Geraldine', to whom his love poems were supposed to be addressed. 'Geraldine' was the daughter of the Earl of Kildare, Lady Elizabeth Fitzgerald, who was brought up at the English court in company with the Princess Elizabeth Tudor. She was ten years old when in 1537 Surrey addressed to her the sonnet 'From Tuskane came my ladies worthy tace', and nothing more than a passing admiration of the child and an imaginative anticipation of her beauty can be attributed to Surrey.

A 'Song'... to a lady that refused to dance with him, is addressed to Anne Stanhope, Lady Hertford, wife of his bitter enemy (Edward Seymour); and the two poems are addressed to his wife, to whom, at any rate in his later years, he seems to have been sincerely attached.

His poems, which were the occupation of the leisure moments of his short and crowded life, were first printed in 'Songs and Sonettes written by the ryght honorable Lorde Henry Howard late Earle of Surrey', and other (apud Richardum Tottel, f 557). A second edition followed in Jul 1557, and others in 1559, 1565, 1567, 5574, 1585 and 1587.

Although Surreys name, probably because of his rank, stands first on the title-page, Thomas Wyatt was the earlier in point of time of Henrys courtly makers. Surrey, indeed, expressly acknowledges Wyatt as his master in poetry. As their poems appeared in one volume, long after the death of both, their names will always be closely associated. Wyatt possessed strong individuality, which found expression in rugged, forceful verse. Surrey contributions are distinguished by their impetuous eloquence and sweetness.

* See Henry Howard's Poetry page

"...it is a disgusting fact that the Duchess of Richmond [Howard's sister pictured right] was one of the witnesses against her father and her brother. ...

The Duchess of Richmond declared that he had spoken with asperity of Hertford [[[Edward Seymour]]], to whom he attributed his late imprisonment ; that he had shown dislike to the new nobility ; had complained that the King expressed displeasure for the defeat at Boulogne in the preceding year; that he had dissuaded her from reading too far in the scriptures ; and that he had erected an altar in a church at Boulogne : but in the conclusion of her deposition, she maliciously insinuated that the earl had surmounted his arms instead of with a coronet, with what seemed to her much like a close crown, and a cipher which she took to be the king's cipher...

[Source : The Aldine Edition of the British Poets; The Poems of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey]

The Duchess never remarried and her presence at court dwindled not long after Henry VIII died in January 1547. She, knowing how merciless her family was about power, and perhaps not wanting to be involved in another scandal, possibly chose to stay out of their plans in order to live a quiet life. She died in late 1557 aged about 38.
Mary Fitzroy, Duchess of Richmond
Mary Howard, Henry's older sister who became wife to Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond,
King's illegitimate son by Elizabeth Blount.
- drawing by Hans Holbein
Tomb of Henry Howard

Following his execution in 1547, the Earl of Surrey's remains were buried at All 05howard01compHallows church in Tower Street , London . Before his own death in 1613 Henry Earl of Northampton , Surrey 's youngest son, made provision for his father's body to be removed to Framlingham and the present memorial erected in 1614.

The effigies at the foot of the tomb represent, at Surrey 's feet, his sons, Thomas who became 4th Duke of Norfolk and at his side, Henry, Earl of Northampton . At their parents' head are the daughters, Jane, wearing a coronet, who became Countess of Westmoreland; in the centre Katherine, who married Henry Lord Berkeley; and Margaret, who married Henry Lord Scrope of Bolton .

Henry Howard's tomb
note the coronet by the side of his effigy
showing he was beheaded


Henry Howard; Henry VIII's last victim by Jessie Childs

  • Henry VIII's Last Victim: The Life and Times of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey by Jessie Childs
  • Henry Howard, the Poet Earl of Surrey: A Life by W.A. Sessions and David Starkey
  • Neale, Elizabeth. Wyatt, Surrey and Early Tudor Poetry London ; New York: Addison Wesley Longman, 1998.
  • Jentoft, Clyde W. Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard of Surrey,A Reference Guide, Boston: G. K. Hall, c1980.

Sir Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk
Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk;
son of Henry, Earl of Surrey and his wife.
He was executed under his cousin, Elizabeth I.

Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton
Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton;
son of Henry, Earl of Surrey and his wife.