Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk
Died: August 25, 1554
Kenninghall, Norfolk, England (Age c. 81)
Surrey/Norfolk in History
As a member of the rising Howard family, Thomas Howard's early childhood was a promising one. Both his father, Thomas, and his grandfather, John, were high-ranking officials during the reigns of the Yorkist Kings Edward IV and Richard III, and John and the elder Thomas were created Duke of Norfolk and Earl of Surrey, respectively, by the latter king for their services in helping him obtain the throne (the Howards were descendants of the Mowbray dukes of Norfolk through the female line). However, in 1485, Henry Tudor, an obscure Lancastrian claimant to the throne, returned from his lengthy exile in Brittany to depose Richard III and take the throne for himself. Tudor's forces met with those of the king at Bosworth in a battle that saw a decisive victory for the rebels. Richard III himself was killed, along with the Duke of Norfolk. Surrey was taken captive and spent the next two years in prison under close watch from the new King Henry VII. The Howards were all attainted and stripped of their lands and titles.
Surrey regained favor, however, when he declined to escape prison and participate in the Battle of Stoke, led by the Yorkist Earl of Lincoln. The elder Howard was restored to his earldom and lands, and throughout the remainder of Henry VII's reign, the Howard family gradually became active and loyal participants in the king's government. Henry VII's son, Henry VIII, succeeded him in 1509, and Thomas was made a Knight of the Garter. The biggest victory for the Howards came in 1513, while the king was away campaigning in France and the Scots decided to invade England. Both Thomas and his father Surrey (a man now of seventy) met the Scottish royal forces at Flodden where they handed their enemies a crushing defeat. Thousands of Scottish lives were lost, including a majority of the nobility and, most significantly, the Scottish King James IV himself. As a reward for their services, Surrey was upgraded to Duke of Norfolk and Thomas was awarded the title Earl of Surrey. After the victory at Flodden, the Howards continued to increase their power and influence at Henry VIII's court. The new earl was made a member of the king's council and promoted to lord treasurer, a title he would hold for thirty years.
However, the influence of the Howard family would wane somewhat due to the presence of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, a commoner who had ambitiously worked his way up the political and ecclesiastic ladder until he reached the position of cardinal and top adviser to the king. Although the elder Howard does not seem to have held any animosity towards the cardinal, Surrey genuinely hated his diplomatic and anti-war approach to governmental affairs. Surrey did continue to be a leading figure in the king's court, being assigned important duties on the Scottish marches and in Ireland, but was gradually losing ground to Wolsey. In 1524, upon the death of his aged father, Surrey inherited the Dukedom of Norfolk (his eldest son Henry, in turn, became Earl of Surrey), giving him a much more significant place in governmental affairs.
This aristocratic upgrade, combined with the fact that the duke showed considerable support for the king in his quest for a marriage annulment from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, would ultimately lead to Norfolk gaining the upper hand over the Cardinal. Wolsey had been assigned the task of attaining the annulment from the Pope but had been unsuccessful in doing so. Norfolk had more political leverage because the woman who Henry VIII wanted to take as his second wife in place of Catherine was the duke's own niece, Anne Boleyn, who the king had been lusting over for quite some time by this point. Wolsey was placed in a very difficult position and ultimately could not take the pressure. He was dismissed from the king's presence and forced to live quietly on his York estates until he was finally arrested for high treason (on continued pressure from Norfolk and the Duke of Suffolk) and died on his journey south to attend his trial.
The fall of Wolsey had most certainly helped Norfolk gain back some of his influence, but the rise of yet another commoner, Thomas Cromwell, to the king's favor, assured that he would, once again, be kept in check. To make matters more complex, the king's insistence on breaking with Rome and attaining an annulment had brought on the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation within England. Norfolk, though in complete support of the king and his niece's rise to the throne, was a staunch conservative and reserved a special sort of hatred for extreme reformers such as Cromwell and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (the king himself, though for the reformation so he may attain his annulment, was still considered a religious conservative). Just as the case was with Wolsey though, Norfolk continued to take a large part in governmental affairs. He was created earl marshal (1533) and was used as a soldier and adviser on military matters.
When, by 1536, Queen Anne had failed to produce a male heir, she was accused of adultery with five different men (including her own brother George) and was sentenced to death. Norfolk presided over the trials of both his niece and nephew. Later that year, it was Norfolk who played the biggest part in subduing the Pilgrimage of Grace, a rebellion of the northern commoners against the king's wicked advisers, with Cromwell's name at the top of the list. In the end, rebellion was put down with stunning barbarity, with not only the leaders, but a number of the commoners and their families being ruthlessly slaughtered. Norfolk had hoped this occasion would bring about the fall of his enemy Cromwell (considering it had demonstrated his extreme unpopularity amongst the people), but this did not happen and the duke would be forced to wait for several more years in order to attain a victory over his rival.
Cromwell's downfall swiftly began in 1539 when he suggested that the king (who had been without a wife since the death of Jane Seymour, his third queen, [who had finally given him a son] in 1537) should marry Anne, sister of the Duke of Cleves, who would be a valuable Protestant ally. The marriage, however, was a failure when the king was physically disgusted by his new bride. This event, combined with Cromwell's continued support for reformers (remember, the king was still considered a conservative), led to his arrest and execution in 1540. On the same day as Cromwell's execution, the king took Kathrine Howard, yet another of Norfolk's nieces, as his fifth wife (the marriage to Anne of Cleves had been quickly annulled). Norfolk had, once again, eliminated his enemies in order to come out stronger than before. But, once again, he would be put back in his place.
In 1542, Queen Catherine was executed as a result of her adulterous affairs (this time the accusations were likely true, unlike in Anne Boleyn's case), and Norfolk, yet again, fell from the king's good graces. As in the past, Norfolk still played a role in government, being assigned a number of important duties. But, the disgraceful and immature behavior of his son and heir Henry, Earl of Surrey, combined with the rising power of Edward Seymour (brother to Jane Seymour and therefore uncle to Prince Edward) and Catherine Parr (the king's sixth and final wife), both staunch reformists, assured the downfall of the Howard family. Norfolk made strong attempts to form an alliance with Edward Seymour and his brother Thomas, but they seemed set on destroying conservative influence from the realm, and both Norfolk and his son Surrey were arrested on trumped up charges (claiming that Surrey had been brandishing royal arms) and imprisoned in the tower in early 1547. Despite pleadings from the duke of his innocence, Surrey was executed, and Norfolk was set to die next. Fortunately for him, Henry VIII died the day before Norfolk's execution was scheduled, sparing his life and commuting his sentence to imprisonment.
Norfolk, who had been stripped of all his possessions due to the act of attainder passed against him, spent the entirety of the reign of Henry VIII's successor, the boy-king Edward VI, in prison. This is no surprise considering the two guardians, Edward Seymour (then Duke of Somerset) and John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, and the young king himself were staunch reformists. However, Edward VI was not meant to live long and passed away in 1553 at the age of fifteen. Although he had left the throne to his cousin, Jane Grey (a fellow Protestant, it was seized by his sister Mary, a Catholic. Norfolk was immediately released from prison and restored to royal favor, as well as to all his lands. By this point, though, Norfolk was a man of eighty and in failing health. His last service to the crown was in the form of an attempt to put down the rebellion of Thomas Wyatt. Norfolk's efforts failed (though the rebellion was put down soon after), and he retired to his estates where he died later that year (1554). There is no question that Norfolk's character was highly flawed and that he had elements of treachery in his personality. But, he was certainly a survivor, enduring a crushing regime change; attacks from numerous political rivals; and, as an old man, a lengthy stay in prison.
Surrey/Norfolk in Shakespeare
Appears in: Henry VIII
Thomas Howard does not appear in the first half of Henry VIII as he is away in Ireland, where he was sent as a way of being put out of the way so that Wolsey was free to gain more influence. When he returns, Surrey (the title he bears within the play) joins his father and the other lords against the cardinal and is overjoyed when he falls from power. There is always much confusion within the play between Surrey and his father, the Duke of Norfolk. The old duke was alive for the events in play's earlier acts but was certainly dead by Princess Elizabeth's birth which occurs at the end of the play. At this point, Surrey became Duke of Norfolk and his son became Earl of Surrey. However, Surrey's son was only a young teenager at the time of Elizabeth's birth and unlikely played any role in politics as of yet. Therefore, it is safe to assume that Shakespeare merely ignores the old duke's death for the sake of simplicity. See the page for the Duke of Norfolk within Henry VIII for more details.