12 May 1536 – Appointment of Lord High Steward of England

Thomas Howard, Duke of NorfolkOn 12th May 1536, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, was appointed Lord High Steward of England in readiness for ruling, as Lord President, over the trials of Anne and George Boleyn.

Thomas Howard was the eldest son of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk, and of Elizabeth Tilney. He was the brother of Elizabeth Boleyn (née Howard) and so was uncle to Anne and George. Howard’s father and grandfather had fought on Richard III’s side at the Battle of Bosworth but Howard was able to work his way back into royal favour by fighting for the Crown against both the Cornish rebels and the Scots in 1497. He was made a Knight of the Garter in 1510, was created Earl of Surrey in 1514 and succeeded his father as Duke of Norfolk in 1524. In September 1513 he was prominent in leading the English army in defeating the Scots at the Battle of Flodden.

In the 1520s, he clashed with Cardinal Wolsey over foreign policy – he preferred war and Wolsey preferred diplomacy – and was involved with the Duke of Suffolk’s and the Boleyn family’s push for Wolsey to be removed from power. In the 1530s, Norfolk carried out diplomatic missions and advised the King on the situation in Ireland.

Notes and Sources

  • The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown by Claire Ridgway

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11 thoughts on “12 May 1536 – Appointment of Lord High Steward of England”
  1. Why was Anne and George’s uncle,Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, appointed to rule over their trials? It certainly didn’t help them. This doesn’t make any sense but then none of the trials and arrests made any sense. There was something I read about Anne Boleyn dropping a handkerchief at the May joust which made the King suspicious. Can you please give us some information about that. Thank you.

    1. The story of Anne dropping the handkerchief comes from Nicholas Sander’s book from 1585 – see https://archive.org/stream/riseandgrowthan01sandgoog#page/n284/mode/2up – but I haven’t found any contemporary source which backs up this story. There was no sign of anything being wrong at the joust (Henry VIII even let Norris have his horse to joust with) until the King’s abrupt departure with Norris at the end.

      Re Norfolk, he and Anne had fallen out by the time of her fall so he could be trusted not to let his link to her affect his presiding over the trial. He was an important man, being the premier duke, and so was a natural choice for that role. He had acted in that role in the trial of William, Lord Dacre in 1534 and his father had acted in that role in the trials of the Duke of Buckingham and Sir Edward Sutton, 2nd Baron Dudley.

      1. Thank you for the link to Nicholas Sander’s book. I skimmed through a few pages and it makes for some interesting reading to say the least.

  2. The trial of the Queen would only be over seen by the highest peers in the realm the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, with Norfolk first, the Earl of Surrey his son and so on; and it would not have mattered that he was related to her. Did Thomas Boleyn have to recruse himself as her father? He also would have been appointed as a senior peer being the Earl of Wiltshire and Ormond and the Earl of Northumberland was also one of the court peers. The Lord High Steward position was the most important regal status on such state ocassions and he also held it at her coronation. In fact in May 1533 Norfolk had to ask the King for the honour to revert back to the Howards who had held the long ago. Henry VIII had given the position to Buckingham and later to Brandon who was ordered to give it back for Anne’s coronation. He was not happy about it but was persuaded to hand it over. Norfolk must have been pleased to hold the title and position in that time; but he must have been having mixed feelings when he held the chief justice chair and this title again for this state trial. Norfolk is recorded as weeping as he read out Anne’s death sentence. Even men like Norfolk were not entirely without pity.

  3. Hi Claire,
    this might seem like a stupid question, but I don’t understand how Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, was Anne’s and Katherine Howard’s uncle? What were the exact family relations? I just want to make sure because I’m about to start writing a book and want to know properly because I just don’t understand it!? The Howards and Boleyns were such large families…

  4. But surely his mother was married to Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk? If they were married then his mother would take the surname Howard wouldn’t she so how is her daughter Elizabeth Boleyn?
    Thanks again

    1. I’m not sure what you mean. Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk, was the father of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk and the Lord High Steward in this article, and also father of Elizabeth Howard (Anne Boleyn’s mother) and Edmund Howard (Catherine Howard’s father). Elizabeth became a Boleyn when she married Thomas Boleyn. Elizabeth Tilney was a different Elizabeth and was wife of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk, and mother of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, Elizabeth Boleyn (nee Howard) and Edmund Howard, as well as other children. See https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/anne-boleyns-royal-blood/ for more on Anne Boleyn’s ancestry.


      Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk, married Elizabeth Tilney

      Children: Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk (who married ), Edmund Howard (who with Jocasta Culpeper was the parent of Catherine Howard), Edward Howard, Elizabeth Howard (who married Thomas Boleyn), John Howard, Henry Howard, Charles Howard, another Henry Howard and Richard Howard.

      Hope that makes sense.

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