12th December 1546 – The Duke of Norfolk and the Earl of Surrey Go to the Tower

Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk

On this day in history, 12th December 1546, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey was led through the streets of London from Ely Place, where he had been held since the 2nd December, to the Tower of London. There, he was joined by his father, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, who was taken to the Tower by barge along the Thames. In desperation, Norfolk wrote to the King the next day, proclaiming his innocence, confirming his loyalty to the King and offering the King his lands1:-

“Begs for grace. Some great enemy has informed the King untruly; for God knows, he never thought one untrue thought against the King or his succession, and can no more guess the charge against him than the child born this night. Desires that his accusers and he may appear before the King, or else the Council. Knows not that lie has offended any man, or that any are offended with him, “unless it were such as are angry with me for being quick against such as have been accused for Sacramentaries.” As for religion I have told your Majesty and many others that knowing your virtue and knowledge I shall stick to whatsoever laws you make; and for this cause divers have borne me ill will, “as doth appear by casting libels abroad against me.” Begs that he may recover the King’s favour, the King taking all his lands and goods; and that he may know what is laid to his charge and have some word of comfort from his Majesty.”2

Unfortunately for Howard, the King ignored him.

On the 12th January 1547, in the hope of saving himself, Norfolk made the following confession:

“I, Thomas duke of Norfolke do confess and knowledge myself to have offended the King in opening his secret counsels at divers times to sundry persons to the peril of his Highness and disappointing of his affairs. Likewise I have concealed high treason in keeping secret the false acts of my son, Henry earl of Surrey, in using the arms of St. Edward the Confessor, which pertain only to kings of this realm, whereto the said earl could make no claim. Also I have without authority borne in the first and principal quarter of my arms, ever since the death of my father, the arms of England with a difference of three labels of silver, which are the proper arms of my Lord the Prince. I confess my crime no less than high treason and, although I do not deserve it, humbly beg his Highness to have pity upon me, and I shall daily pray to God for the preservation of his noble succession. Written 12 Jan. in the year of our Lord God 1547”3

On the 27th January 1547, he was found guilty of treason by attainder and sentenced to death. His son, Surrey, had been found guilty of treason earlier that month, on the 13th January, when he was tried in front of a common inquest at Guildhall4. Despite pleading ‘not guilty’ and defending himself vigorously, he was found guilty, Historian Susan Brigden writes that “the records of the trial are now lost, but from evidence recorded by Lord Herbert of Cherbury it is clear that charges were brought and evidence given which concerned overt conspiracy as well as the usurpation of the royal arms”5. Surrey was sentenced to death.

Surrey was executed on the 19th January 1547 at Tower Hill, but his father was lucky because King Henry VIII died before he was due to be executed. He was kept in the Tower during Edward VI’s reign but released in 1553 when Mary I pardoned him.

Notes and Sources

  1. ‘Howard, Thomas, third duke of Norfolk (1473–1554)’, Michael A. R. Graves, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  2. LP xxi. Part 2. 540
  3. LP xxi. Part 2. 696
  4. ‘Howard, Henry, earl of Surrey (1516/17–1547)’, Susan Brigden, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  5. Ibid.

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10 thoughts on “12th December 1546 – The Duke of Norfolk and the Earl of Surrey Go to the Tower”
  1. THanks, Claire. I have always been amazed at the father’s piece of good luck, not having to face execution because Henry died before he could do it. I think the stuff agasint Surrey was a little trumped up–I was under the impression that his family had been able to use those ancient arms because of some blood connection. Is this true or did I dream it up? I am very much LOVING the Advent calendar–just brillliant! And also looking forward to the webcast on the 15th. Hope you are having a lovely holiday season–

    1. Thanks, Anne, I’ve been ill over the weekend but am on the mend now and nothing will stop me doing the webinar! I’m glad you’re enjoying the advent calendar. I’m not sure about them having been allowed to use the arms in the past, I’ll have to do some digging.

  2. Claire was the Duke of Norfolke Elizabeth Howard brother and uncle to Anne? Also was he one of the judges at her trial?Sorry to here u were ill get better soon.

    1. Yes, Baroness, he was Anne’s uncle and the brother of Anne’s mother Elizabeth. . Also, yes, he did preside over her trial. Thanks, I’m feeling a bit better now. 🙂

  3. THX Claire,I thought he was going back to her trial, I often wonder how hard it must have for her family to watch there beloved Anne put to death . I donot think that the Duke could beleave he would follow in the same fate as his neice and so many others. Wonder what he was thinking when he faced his death at the axe? Very good read, makes one wonder.

  4. While I would not call myself a fan of Norfolk, I really think he is one of the more vilified people of the Tudor times. Always portrayed as a power hungry schemer who would even sacrifice family members for his ambitions. That’s hugely blown out of proportion in my opinion.

    For example on every other webpage out there he gets credited with having made a remark to Princess Mary of ‘smashing her head against the wall like a boiled apple’. To my knowledge there is no contemporary source that he was the one who made that remark (Chapuys reported ‘someone’ saying it).

    Also many Anne Boleyn fans seem to hold it against him that he sat at her trial and voted guilty, without taking his position into account. As the highest ranking peer it was his duty to preside over such an important trial and he also voted last because of his rank. It seems to me he would have had to be out of his mind to vote innocent after everyone else had voted guilty already. It would have accomplished nothing for his niece and just made him and the rest of the family vulnerable.

    After all, he and his father had worked diligently to get back into the King’s good graces after supporting Richard III at Bosworth and they served the Tudors loyally.

    His arrest and the execution of his son were certainly undeserved and it must have been very hard for him. Especially at his age.

    1. I’ve seen the threat to Mary attributed to the Earl of Essex and, as you say, Chapuys just states “one of them”, so the Duke has been maligned. Like Thomas Boleyn, he is always portrayed as power hungry and manipulative, and it’s a shame that people don’t dig deeper than that.

      Thanks for your comment!

  5. The Howards’ Mowbray ancestors were descended from Thomas of Brotherton, the younger son of Edward I. When Thomas Mowbray (c.1366-1399) was created first Duke of Norfolk by Richard II he was allowed to impale the arms of Brotherton, and also of Edward the Confessor. Henry Howard’s revival of these arms was perfectly legal, but the alterations he proposed to make, contrary to the advice of the herald Garter King at Arms, was what the insecure Henry VIII saw as a challenge to Tudor rule, and therefore treason. In fact it was just an extra string to King Henry’s bow in his attempt to be rid of Surrey and formed only part of the charges against him. The story can be found in ‘Henry VIII’s Last Victim: The Life and Times of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey’ by Jessie Childs.

  6. Thomas Howard’s first wife was Anne of York, daughter of Edward IV and Henry VIII’s aunt.

    His father spent several years in the Tower after the Battle of Bosworth. I am sure Thomas Howard remembered that time well in his life. His mother, Elizabeth Tylney Bourchier Howard, took her children to a location near the Tower while her husband was in the Tower based on a letter she wrote. The second Duke was eventually freed from the Tower by Henry VII.

    I find him a very fascinating person. Both father (2nd Duke) and 3rd Duke lived to be 80 years old. Both saw an incredible amount of history and made an incredible amount of history.

    If you read Henry VIII’s papers, Thomas Howard (third Duke) was favored by Francois I and preferred to deal with him. The Howards long had a special connection with France and Burgundy.

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