13 January 1547 – Henry Howard is tried for treason

Posted By on January 13, 2018

Henry Howard HolbeinOn this day in history, 13th January 1547, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, poet and soldier, and son of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, was tried for treason at a common inquest at Guildhall, London.

Charles Wriothesley records the trial in his chronicle:

“The 13th daie of Januarie was arraigned at the Guildhall Henrie Haward, knight of the noble Order of the Garter, Earle of Surrey, and sonne and heire of Thomas Duke of Norfolke, and that daie was condemned of highe treason, my lord major sitting as cheife, my Lord Chauncelor, my great master, the Erle of Hertford, the Erle of Arundell, the Erle of Essex, my Lord Admirall, with all the judges, Sir Anthonie Browne, and Mr. Pagett, the Kinges Secretarie, being Commissioners, my Lord Chauncelor geuving him his judgmente, and for his jurie that were charged for him were knightes and squires of Norfolke, Sir William Person, knight, being foreman of the jurie; he had such pleading for himself that he kept the Commissioners from nyne of the clocke in the forenoune till five of the clocke at night or he had judgment.”

Thomas Wriothesley, Lord Chancellor, read out the indictment which had been agreed by a jury at Norwich Castle on 7th January. According to this indictment: “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.'” That is to say that Surrey was being charged with treason for combining his arms with royal arms. These royal arms were 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.” As William Sessions points out in his book on Surrey, the earl did actually have “thehereditary right to bear in his own coat of arms the arms of St Edward the Confessor, the sign of the English monarch”, but his redesign of his arms was twisted into evidence that Surrey was looking to usurp King Henry VIII and the now paranoid king believed it.

Surrey pleaded “not guilty” to the charge of high treason and, as you can see from Charles Wriothesley’s account, Surrey defended himself from 9am until 5pm – 8 hours! But however spirited his defence, he ended up being found guilty. He was sentenced to be “led through the city of London to the gallows at Tiborne [Tyburn], hanged, disembowelled, &c. (as usual).”

As he was a gentleman, his sentence was commuted to beheading and he was executed on Tower Hill on 19th January 1547.

Notes and Sources

  • Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume XXI. ii. 697.
  • Sessions, W. A. (2003) Henry Howard, the Poet Earl of Surrey: A Life, Oxford University Press, p. 393-34.

6 thoughts on “13 January 1547 – Henry Howard is tried for treason”

  1. Michael Wright says:

    You would think at this late stage in Henry’s reign with him at his most tyrannical people would learn not to give him any reason to be suspicious of treason. Even Surrey’s father Thomas Howard, one of the Kings most loyal servants will be thrown in prison for treason and condemned to death. Thankfully for his sake Henry will die before the sentence is carried out.

    1. Michael Wright says:

      For a comprehensive history on the Howard family I would recommend a book by Robert Hutchinson called ‘House of Treason: The Rise and Fall of a Tudor Dynasty. This book covers the period 1485 to 1604. It has about 70 pages of notes and other appendices. Very very informative and entertainingly written.

  2. Christine says:

    Henry was becoming ever more tyrannical it’s true but he had ever been sensitive about his family’s hold on the throne, we must not forget the Tudor dynasty was just a baby compared to the Plantaganets who had ruled for four hundred years, Surrrey was a talented man, a poet and a member of the Howard’s who some said were more Royal than the Tudors, Henry was ever aware of this and also there may have been a certain amount of envy for this handsome young man who strutted around the court, maybe he saw himself in him twenty years before and made himself only to aware of how old and infirm he was, and so fat to, the old are always jealous of the young, it is not so much a longing to be like them merely to have their youth back again, he was also a cousin to Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, his two ex treacherous wives, even more reason to dislike him, he must have thought that Surrey was bear baiting him in re designing his coat of arms, but Surrey was a descendant of kings himself and could in all innocence have meant no insult to the King, as Sessions says he had the hereditary right to quarter his arms with those of the Confessor, but Parliament said it was treason, was this a new act Henry had bought in previously or was it just something he had added after he heard of what Surrey had done, Surrey was known to be inordinately proud of his heritage and everyone at court knew how touchy Henry was, the Duke of Buckingham was a not so distant memory at court and Lady Margaret Poles shocking death still reverberated, these people were two high born members of the old dynasty that Henrys father had wiped out at Bosworth, the remaining Plantaganets were a thorn in the side to Henry V11 and his son, It had made Henrys desire to have a male heir much more important, it would make his fathers dynasty and claim on the throne more secure, Surreys trial must have been so interesting to hear, this witty man ably defended himself for eight hours, how he must have impressed the judges but as we have seen it did him no good, his father must have thought him such a fool and he had a young wife to, he died on the block but must have died boldly, his character reminds me a little of his cousin Anne Boleyn who was also bold and reckless and a mistress of repartee, so it was with Surrey, one chilly day in January his life ended, was he guilty of treason though or just pride in his family’s lineage, England lost a talented young poet that day that much we know, it was also a dire warning to others who thought about re designing their own coat of arms.

  3. Banditqueen says:

    The charges were nonsense. The arms were quartered in the second quarter, which from what I have read in an earlier post, is less significant and he was entitled as the Howard decent from Edward I via the Mowbray inheritance, through the female line. He was not the only noble to have royal arms quartered with his own and his family would have had permission to bear them. Take a look for example of Suffolk’s arms, quartered with those of his wife, Mary Tudor. Henry must have known full well that the Howard arms were quartered but now any excuse was needed to remove the Howard domination on the Council, in Parliament, in the Court and much of the South of England. As cousins to the Kings of England, back to the Plantagenets and premier Dukes (a title originally only given to the sons of Kings or other male relatives, but now granted more widely) and men at the heart of Tudor power and political life, with their years of loyal service and pedigree, the Duke of Norfolk and his son, Henry, Earl of Surrey could naturally expect a high place in the Council which oversaw the minority of Edward vi.

    A power struggle had gone on for a good couple of years between the old guard and the new for the future governance of Prince Edward. A recent discussion on his future had resulted in fisty cuffs when one Counsellor struck another over control over Edward and his household. Surrey had enemies in the Seymour clan. It was the Seymour clan who wanted to control their nephew, their boy, just like the Wydeville clan before them. They manoeuved themselves into position and courted allies from across the religious and political divide in order to gain support for a place being assigned on that Council and favours there after. The Howard family represented the old powers, the highest nobility, the old ways and the Seymour family, the new Faith, new ways, the future and as Uncles of the heir, they saw themselves back in power and control as they ruled through young Edward. I am saying all of this because some historians believe that the Seymour faction had a hand in the downfall of Surrey and his father.

    Henry was ill at this point and at his most vulnerable and paranoid. He was probably easily persuaded that there was something more sinister in the arms being shown and that the Howard family were a threat. Just why Surrey would want to usurp a dying monarch and why anyone would believe it, is beyond bazaar. Henry made a determination to be rid of Surrey, which is really odd as he had shown great tolerance and affection for Surrey. Surrey was a colourful character, who had been arrested on a few occasions for loutish behaviour, such as drinking, fighting and breaking windows. He was also accused on one time of getting illegal meet during Lent on the black market. Henry had always ordered his release and restored him to favour. His most recent failure was harder to forgive, however, because it was a military disaster in France, which resulted in loss of life and many officers as well as 500 ordinary soldiers. Surrey was in disgrace for a time, but was back in favour, much to the upset of his detractors. His whole trial and imprisonment was one big set up. Henry was persuaded that he sought to control young Edward and he consented to this trial.

    There was great concern over the rightness of the trial and several Commissioners stated that they found nothing treasonous in his statement or the charges or any evidence against him. However, they were more or less ordered to find him guilty and that sealed his fate. Surrey also tried to escape from the Tower, by climbing down the loo shaft into the river but he was caught. This was believed to be proof of guilt and was actually a capital offence. He had done nothing wrong, but like so many others, he was found guilty because of jealousy, factions, paranoia and because it was convenient that he and his father should now be out of the way.

    On a more personal recollection, when I was in school we were told that Henry Howard was tried for treason because his poetry was better than the King’s. Now I know this was not true, but given the flimsy excuse used against him, it was as good a reason as any.

    1. Christine says:

      That’s very interesting Bq as I hadn’t realised the Seymour’s could have been responsible for stitching up Surrey, as you mention it was all about power struggles between the old and new factions at court, the old nobility who owed their place to their lineage and the newcomers like the Boleyns and Seymour’s who they viewed as upstarts, and who owed their positions to a member of their families who married into royal family.

  4. Christine says:

    Apart from Thomas Boleyn of course who got where he was on his own merit, for eg his skills as a diplomat and linguist, he was appreciated by both Henry V11 and his son but it was his daughter the seductive Anne who really gave them power by marrying the King, the Seymour’s were country gentlefolk but could trace their ancestry back to Edward 111 and were relatively newcomers at court, thought Janes mother had been in service to Henrys first wife they first tasted glory when their sister becomes Henry V111’s third wife, her brothers were both ambitious and yes it’s easy to see why they resented Surrey on the council, Somerset could see himself as the power behind the throne when his nephew became King, they would have wanted him out the way, they appeared to shed no tears for Anne Boleyn likewise their sister who stepped over her dead body to become Henry’s queen, they appear just as ruthless as the Boleyns themselves, but Surrey defended himself well and like the poet, he was a romantic and reckless figure, to me he was the Tudor version of a Lord Bryon, RIP Henry Earl of Surrey.

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