12 December 1546 – The Duke of Norfolk and the Earl of Surrey are taken to the Tower of London

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey
Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey

On 12th December 1546, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, and his son, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, were arrested and taken from Lord Chancellor Wriothesley’s house in Ely Place, Holborn, where they had been interrogated, to the Tower of London. Norfolk was taken to the Tower by barge but his son suffered the humiliation of being led through the streets of London on foot.

Surrey’s biographer, Edmond Bapst, writes of how Surrey handled this humiliation:

“Probably the Earl’s enemies had calculated that this march through populous neighbourhoods would a painful experience and that all those who had once suffered his haughtiness would hurry to cover him with boos and jeers now that he was disarmed and almost certainly destined to die. No such thing occurred. Though Surrey had cared little for what the people thought of him, he had conquered them with his lordly ways; London liked this brilliant, fiery young man, so lofty of appearance, so chivalrous of temperament; and so, as he went captive through the streets, the crowd offered nothing but loud sympathy, saying aloud that it was a pity to put so fair a knight in the Tower.”

The two men had been interrogated after accusations had been made regarding Surrey incorporating the royal arms into his coat of arms, showing that he had “monarchic ambitions”, and allegedly telling his sister, Mary, widow of the Duke of Richmond, to try and become the King’s mistress so that her family would be favoured. There were, of course, many at court who wanted to see the fall of this powerful family.

You can read more about the fall of the Howards in my previous article 12th December 1546 – The Duke of Norfolk and the Earl of Surrey go to the Tower.

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8 thoughts on “12 December 1546 – The Duke of Norfolk and the Earl of Surrey are taken to the Tower of London”
  1. The charges against Surrey seem to be very petty: was he not entitled to quarter his arms with those of the Plantagenets or the royal arms: the Howard’s were related to them. Elizabeth Howard was the grand-mother of the future Elizabeth; Thomas, 4th Duke was directly a cousin of Elizabeth; John, the 1st Duke had been Richard111’s beloved cousin. The inter-marriage with two Howard nieces of the third Duke; Anne and Katherine allowed the Tudor and Howard arms to be intertwined and the sister of Surrey, Mary, as Countess of Richmond was married to Henry’s illegitimate son. And so on: relationships and marriage gave them the right to bear the royal arms with their own. This, in the Tudors Henry Howard was shown declaring that the arms had been theirs for 300 years; they had a greater pedigree than the Tudors.

    And why would Mary Howard want to be the King’s mistress? After what had happened to the other two Howard-Boleyn women that encountered Henry romantically and entered into marriage with him, I would think the Howard family would have wanted to run a thousand miles in the opposite direction than get entangled like that again. There were other charges, but they too seemed spurious as if they had been dug out in the desperation of their enemies.

    Henry Howard was a colourful young man, he drank, gambled, got into scrapes, was in and out of jail, an adventurer, a soldier, romantic and a talented poet. Whether he was smashing windows in the streets around the court or leading his troops into battle; he seemed to have panash. He was a man that I believe I would have liked; a bit of a bad boy, but a man with a good heart and a devoted husband and father. He may not have lked the fact that Henry promoted men to the council and court household on talent and not noble birth; but he, I do not believe had any real ambitions to take over the government as shown in the Tudor’s. His enemies saw the opportunity when he and his father where arrested to bring down the last of the old powerful houses in order to promote their own aims in the forthcoming reign. In short, I think their arrests and trial was a set up.

    I would like to finish on a personal note; when we were studying this incident in school; I recall the book we used saying that Henry Howard wrote better poetry than the King and this was the real reason he was arrested and executed. The treason trial was just an excuse by a jealous King to get rid of a rival. I do not think this really holds water as Henry was actually quite fond of Surrey and showed him toleration in a number of cases. But it does add colour to the story of this poetic, brilliant and romantic man, who was cut down far too soon; and whose poetry I really admire.

  2. Hi Claire,

    As I said in the responses to your previous article, Surrey had the right to bear royal arms, and also the arms of Edward the Confessor, through his descent from the Mowbray Dukes of Norfolk. It was foolish and arrogant of him to revive the use of the Confessor’s arms – although not illegal – and start tinkering with other heraldic achievements at a time when Henry VIII was so unpredictable, and in spite of Garter King of Arms advising against it.

    If anyone would like to see the original award of arms to Thomas Mowbray first Duke of Norfolk by his kinsman King Richard II in 1397, see the Home Page at http://www.queens-haven.co.uk

    1. Yes, I agree, it was foolish but it wasn’t illegal and certainly was not treason. I think it was a case of Henry VIII being rather paranoid at this time about challenges to his throne and about people using this paranoia to get rid of those who stood in their way.

      1. Edmond Bapst explored this topic in his biography of Surrey:
        “On October 7th, in his father’s castle of Kenninghall, he had a panel in his private chambers decorated with an escutcheon he had designed for himself with the arms of all the noble families from which he descended. We do not have the pretension to blazon here this shield, which had no fewer than twelve quarters; suffice it to say that it included the royal arms of England, and those that a clearly false tradition attributed to Edward the Confessor.

        To place emblems belonging to the royal family in his coat of arms was not a novelty on Surrey’s part; he had long quartered the Howards’ cross crosslets with the leopards of England, and this pretension – perfectly justifiable, but which as a sensible courtier his father the Duke of Norfolk avoided – had been remarked on often enough at public occasions that no one could be ignorant of it. Thus in 1543, during the enquiry into the events in London – events we detailed above – a witness deposed that Surrey’s shield contained arms closely resembling the King’s; if this declaration could have caused a grievance, there is no doubt that the City magistrates would have made use of it. But no-one then found it reprehensible that the Earl use his shield to display his royal ancestry. Since then, between his return from Portsmouth and his departure for Guines in 1545, Surrey had had a long discussion with the King at Arms of the Order of the Garter, Christopher Barker, on the matter of his armorial rights; Barker had insisted that no individual had the right to bear those of the Confessor, but Surrey, on the basis of a charter granted to his ancestor Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, by Richard II, had contradicted the specialist and declared that he would not modify his coat of arms; certainly, Barker then warned the Heralds’ College of this discussion, and as this organisation made no further comments to the Earl on the matter, it is clear that he did not deserve any. All in all, we can see that Surrey could not imagine that in having a coat of arms painted on a panel, he was committing even a small offence, and the shield would never have been incriminated had circumstances not given his enemies the idea of using it to bring down the Earl.”

        1. I’ll have to get this book, Claire, when it comes out in paperback.

          It’s interesting what Jessie Childs has to say. I’ve only time to skim through the chapter today in her excellent book ‘Henry VIII’s Last Victim’, but the gist is that, coming from a family of heralds, Thomas Wriothesley knew very well that Surrey’s claim to the arms of the Confessor was valid, ‘ This presented a huge obstacle in any attempt to charge Surrey with heraldic treason.’

  3. His only real crime was incorporating the royal insignia coat of arms in with his own not so much mentioning or putting forward his sister Mary as a potential suitor. As he would of stated if she was to his liking or not just as he did with Anne of Cleeves but I think Surrey took it just a little too far trying to make his sister the kings mistress or new wife Queen is one thing alas but trying to bear arms which are not yours to bear is another. He must of been desperate and greedy for the throne. He was getting to close for comfort. Was it worth it? Loosing your head and life over? He was only young too he had his whole life ahead of him. His father being the elder and wiser should of known better but like his own son like his own niece he did not do anything to stop or oppose it what was and had been going on. Maybe because they knew the King had been in ill health they thought he would not know or be able to do anything but they thought wrong but it was all about power in those days and nothing more and wealth and position and last but not least greed!

  4. I read also in one of the many books on the Howards; and as I have read many, cannot recall which one; but it was also raised in the Tudor’s that the court members and council were concerned about Surrey’s trial as on examination of the ‘evidence’ and his case; they could find nothing against him that was treason. They seemed inclined to find him not guilty but were told by the head judge to mind their concerns and to get on with it; it did not matter what they believed; the King ordered them to do their duty and find him guilty. I do not believe that Surrey had any designs on the crown or to control Henry’s heir at all; he may have hoped to influence the council in some way after Henry’s death; but that was how the Norfolk clan had held power for quite some time: the old nobiltiy saw it as their right. The key to the future may have been who influenced things around the Prince Edward; but then the same things could be said of the Seymours: they certainly were hoping to be at the centre of power, having a stake in the next reign. It seems to be it was about clearing out the old guard and bringing in the new. Making a sister the mistress of the King was nothing new, as the Seymour’s, Boleyn’s and Howards had already done this; but controlling the heir was now a battle royal: Henry was dying: those who rose to the top would be involved in the Protectorate; and rule for the new King. That. I think is what Surrey’s trial was about: a shake down of the old order by rising stars of the future.

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