13 January 1547 – Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, Sentenced to Death

Henry Howard HolbeinOn 13th January 1547, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, poet and soldier, was found guilty of treason at London’s Guildhall and sentenced to death.

At the trial, Lord Chancellor Wriothesley read out the indictment which had been agreed by a jury at Norwich Castle on 7th January. The indictment stated that “one Henry Howard, late of Kennynggale, K.G., otherwise called Henry earl of Surrey, on 7 Oct. 38 Hen. VIII., at Kennynggale, in the house of Thomas duke of Norfolk, his father, 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, with ‘thre labelles sylver.'”
The “said arms” referred to those of Edward the Confessor, which the indictment also stated belonged “to the said King Edward and his progenitors in right of the Crown of England, which arms and ensigns are therefore appropriate to the King and to no other person.”

Surrey was brought to the bar by Sir John Gage, Constable of the Tower of London, and pleaded “Not Guilty” to the charges. His trial lasted a day and he gave a spirited defence. His biographer, Edmond Bapst, wrote:

“For eight hours, Surrey stood up against all attacks, and he more than once succeeded in covering his accusers in confusion, most of whom almost certainly knew less about the rules of heraldry than he.”

It was no good, however. Surrey was found guilty and sentenced to be “led through the city of London to the gallows at Tiborne, hanged, disembowelled, &c. (as usual).”

The sentence was commuted to beheading and he was was beheaded on Tower Hill on 19th January 1547. He was laid to rest at All Hallows-by-the-Tower but was moved in 1614 by his son Henry, Earl of Northampton, to a beautiful tomb in the family church, St Michael’s at Framlingham.

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8 thoughts on “13 January 1547 – Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, Sentenced to Death”
    1. No it was the standard penalty for treason, and it doesn’t get much more treasonable than using the King’s arms as your own.

    2. It’s a long and complicated story and has more to do with Henry VIII’s paranoia and concern about his son’s inheriting the throne while so young, and Surrey’s enemies, than it has to do with treason.

      Here is what Susan Brigden says in her article on Henry Howard:
      ” In August 1545 Surrey had consulted the Garter king of arms at Lambeth about his right to bear the arms of Brotherton and St Edward the Confessor and Anjou and Mowbray quartered, and insisted that he would bear them. Surrey’s sister deposed that he had reassumed the arms of their attainted Stafford grandfather. The earl had claimed, so his servant deposed, that King Edward the Confessor gave the arms of England to his predecessors. A claim to an inheritance of the Saxon kings was a threat to the Tudor heirs of William the Conqueror. Surrey never denied bearing Edward the Confessor’s arms, but claimed it—justly—as a hitherto unchallenged right, immemorially borne by his ancestors, the dukes of Norfolk.”

      And Edmond Bapts says:
      “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…
      It was a childhood friend, Sir Richard Southwell, who took it upon himself to formulate the accusation; he went to the Privy Council to denounce the shield that the Earl had had painted at Kenninghall, affirming that it constituted an act of conspiracy and lèse-majesté. According to Southwell, Surrey had placed the arms of England in the first quarter of his shield, which – still according to Southwell – indicated that the Earl saw himself as having a direct claim to the crown. But the fact was false: Surrey had placed the royal arms in the second quarter, and had been careful to differentiate them by collaring the leopards. Sir Richard claimed to find another sign of treason in the inclusion of Edward the Confessor’s arms on the shield; though the Earl – and Sir Richard recognised the fact – had broken these with a label, but this label was that of Prince Edward, the King’s son and heir presumptive; it was therefore a clear indication of Lord Surrey’s intention to pose as heir to the throne.”

      I don’t believe that Surrey was doing anything wrong, I think it was just a way of getting rid of him. He’d been in a vulnerable position since his return from France and his enemies saw this as the perfect time to bring him down.

  1. The trials of all who were charged with getting on the wrong side of Henry VIII or his advisors in current favour seem to have been a joke. This causes me to wonder if there were, in fact, any trials that were conducted fairly. Perhaps all cases were decided in favour of whomever held more wealth?

    This interests me; any leads as to where to find research on that topic welcomed!!

    1. It’s not a question of wealth. And nor is any charge a joke. Nor if the trials were conducted fairly. Wealth as such is no issue in these cases. All parties involved were in the top of the social pyramid.
      A joke and not fair in our view perhaps. But like politics today these trials were very much part of politics in that day and age. Surrey used some of the emblems that were thought royal. To a legalist mind perfectly justifiable. But to a King and his advisors obsessed with the position of the Tudors and their right to reign and rule, it posed a threat. The Tudors were not alone in that. In the county of Holland, next to the original house that ruled this county, there were some families claiming to be descended from the original counts of Holland. Amont these families the Lords of Brederode. They used the arms of the House of Holland, but not the full arms. The House of Holland died out, and next came the House of Hainault, the House of Bavaria, and the Habsburg. All ruled Holland, based on their claims through a female line. In the 16th century the Lords of Brederode started using the full arms of the House of Holland. Charles V was quick in his response, and the Lord of Brederode was lucky to escape with just a punishment, and he was not executed for treason.
      What does this tell? Rulers felt challenged when any of their people started using what was felt to be the rulers prerogative. And sometimes it was coupled with the position the so called wrong doer had.
      As such, Surrey did nothing wrong. He made the mistake of doing what he did in the wrong kind of time I guess…

      The same (wealth or jokes) applies to other trials. They had little or nothing to do with wealth or jokes. They had to do with politics. Sometimes the end justifies the means. Historically speaking that is (which doesn’t mean that is my personal opinion! LoL). You have a problem, and you think elminating the problem is on the common (or your!) good. To us it may seem unjust, but we always have to look at the broad picture. Why does some one in history act the way he does, is just as important, or perhaps even more important.

      As to where you can find research on this topic? Well, any well researched historical publication will contain at least some information on this topic.

  2. I agree, I do not believe Henry Howard was guilty of anything. He was not the only one who made use of the royal arms quartered with his own; but he is the last of the old nobles to be brought to trial and as a Howard he is doomed by his name. I think that at one time the King had a genuine affection for this young man but in his paranoid state he believed anything against him and that he now wanted to end the Howard influence at court for good. I also think that he had enemies and the new men rising were making their stake in the new reign of Edward VI and the old guard had to go. I recall reading somewhere that he was so valient at his trial that the jury hesitated and did not want to find him guilty but that Wriothsley pointed out that the King wanted a guilty verdict and ordered them to do their duty. Is this true?

  3. I wonder if Fitzroy had lived, if Surrey would have had a better chance of keeping his head. Still, Surrey knew what he was doing, knew it was treason (whether he agreed with it or not) and Henry was paranoia personified.

  4. Henry Howard had a perfect right to the heraldic symbolic coats of arms and to show of his heritage. It was not treason as Henry and everyone knew this had been the coat of arms that the Howards had used for generations. The heraldic rights had been used by his family and it was not treason. He was set up and at the commission before his trial the judges said that they could find nothing to constitute treason against him. Surrey was the victim of a dying, paranoid King cleaning house by sweeping away the last of the old order. The Seymours were waiting in the wings to rule through their sister’s son, Edward, so Surrey was set up and so was Norfolk. The nobles were bullied by Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton who told them it was the King’s will that Surrey be found guilty and that they should obey if they knew what was good for them. Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, poet, soldier, diplomat, flamboyant youth, gambler, drinker, always in trouble, free thinker did not fit the mould and for this reason he had enemies who did not want him or his orthodox, mighty father in the new regime. He was found guilty of trumped up charges because it was the King’s wish, not because he had committed treason by having a coat of arms which he was entitled to displayed too prominently.

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