2 December 1546 – The Arrest of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey
Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey
On this day in history, 2nd December 1546, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, poet, courtier and soldier, was arrested after his former friend, Richard Southwell, gave evidence against him.

What was Surrey’s crime?

Well, he was charged with improper heraldry. According to Southwell, Surrey had used the arms of his ancestor Edward the Confessor in a shield he’d had painted at Kenninghall, something which only the King was entitled to do, and he had placed the arms of England in the first quarter of his shield, indicating that he had a direct claim to the crown. According to Edmond Bapst, Surrey’s biographer, this last accusation was false: “Surrey had placed the royal arms in the second quarter, and had been careful to differentiate them by collaring the leopards.” However, it was enough for his enemies to bring him down. Surrey was held at Ely Place, then led on foot on the 12th December to the Tower of London, where he was joined by his father, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk.

Surrey was sentenced to death after being found guilty of treason on 13th January 1547 and was executed on the 19th January 1547. His father was lucky because King Henry VIII died before he was due to be executed. Norfolk was kept in the Tower during Edward VI’s reign, but released in 1553 when Mary I pardoned him.

Also on this day in history…

  • 1586 – Parliament met following their request for Elizabeth I to sanction the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the commissioners’ meeting in the Star Chamber where they condemned her to death. A draft proclamation of sentence, written by Elizabeth and William Cecil, Lord Burghley, was published at the Parliament, and this was followed by the drafting of an execution warrant by Sir Francis Walsingham.

Notes and Sources

  • Bapst, Edmond (translated by J A MacFarlane and Claire Ridgway). Two Gentleman Poets at the Court of Henry VIII

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7 thoughts on “2 December 1546 – The Arrest of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey”
  1. Terrible waste of someone who might have been loyal to Edward VI and in general.I think Henry Howard was rash and despite some of his comments I think he was most likely loyal to Henry VIII.He did have the examples of Anne and Katherine in front of him.Also,he probably felt entitled to the arms as long as he differentiated them because he was Plantagenet.

  2. It was typical of Henrys paranoia to execute Surrey just because he had displayed the arms of his ancestor, it should not have mattered to Henry he could have just left him in the tower for a few weeks to teach him a lesson then let him go, another needless death really and he was only young with a wife and family.

  3. I think Henry was determined to stamp out even the slightest hint that anyone else might have a claim to the crown. He had to have known by this time that he would not live to see Edward’s majority. His own childhood must have been steeped in the history of the War of the Roses and his own father had fought repeatedly to put down threats to Tudor rule. What concern he must have had for Edward – look at how he set up for the minority reign, trying desperately to prevent any one faction from emerging as the power behind the throne – and always in the back of his mind must have been the reminder of what had happened the last 3 times a child inherited the crown (Richard II, Henry IV, and his own uncle Edward V)!

    Of course, the King was not the only one who foresaw his approaching death. In the subtle scramble for who would have power in the next reign, any new or different use of the royal arms might have been seen by (or presented to) the dying king as a threat against his hard-won male heir. Surrey’s death was certainly unjustified, but the King had been overly protective of his royal prerogative for quite a while and his courtiers knew it. Not the sagest of maneuvers on Surrey’s part, pointing out his Plantagenet blood at such a time.

    1. I agree, I think there is enough evidence to show that any reason to get rid of someone with a claim was a good enough reason for Henry, when it suited him. If he had no love for the person then they only represented threat.

  4. As the Howards are the first and second cousins of the Plantagenets; they have the right to have their arms quartered with the royal arms. It seems that until Henry was approaching the end of his life and was no longer fully able to function, and was aware that his son would soon take his place that he was quite happy to support Surrey and his father in royal service and that the Tudors relied on their military skills. True things had not gone well for the Howards in recent years and perhaps Henry was suspicious of them after the Katherine Howard affair, but he had still given Surrey commands in France and in Scotland and indulged him when he got into trouble. Surrey has also recently ran into trouble in France over Bolougne when he lost 600 men and many of his commanders in the fron line at Saint Etienne and was in some disgrace over this. He had made a brief recovery of favour but he had rivals at court and the new order wanted him out of the way. Surrey was arrested because he was subject to a frame up.

    It seems that Henry is also involved in some kind of clean up operation, getting rid of those who have any claim over the Prince or over royal authority, rivals with royal blood and that means Norfolk and his son Surrey. The charges are a complete farse and Henry knew it. And as for dodgy claims to the throne: the Tudors were not exactly from the greatest royal stock and they knew that as well. They had never really sat very securely on the throne and in the last decade of his life Henry became paranoid. The last of the White Rose: the last people with a Yorkist claim to the throne: the direct descendants of Richard, Duke of York and his third son George Duke of Clarance, and thus Edward III; the children and grandchildren of the latter; the Poles have been arrested and executed in dubious circumstances. Again they were also charged with having the royal arms as well, despite being entitled to them.

    That was just the start. Henry wants to secure all for his young son; he wants anyone who might be trouble out of the way and he strikes on any pretext. The Seymours have also risen to be all powerful and the most influential people at the court, moving into position as the future guardians of the kingdom and the royal heir. They are not going to tolerate any rivals either; it is not surprising that they appear to have a hand in all of this. If Edward succeeds as a minor; the Seymour brothers want to be the power behind the throne: they cannot do that if the Howards, as the premier nobles gain that right; a power struggle would have resulted. May-be Henry acts to prevent this as well. Whatever his true motivation; there was nothing in the charges he brought against Surrey; his fellow peers even protested that they did not find any fault in him when they heard the evidence; only to be told to find him gulty or else. It was a stich up, as with most Tudor treason trials.

  5. All the Howard’s seemed to have had a death wish they appeared to actually court disaster, Anne Boleyn was a Howard on her mothers side, then there was Catherine, then the Earl of Surrey and the Duke, maybe the family were cursed.

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