2 December 1546 – Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, is arrested

Posted By on December 2, 2015

Henry_Howard_Earl_of_Surrey_1546 On 2nd December 1546, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, poet, courtier, soldier and the eldest son of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, was arrested after Richard Southwell, his former friend, gave evidence against him.

François van der Delft, the imperial ambassador, reported to Emperor Charles V on 14th December that Surrey had been “detained” but that “The reason for this is still unknown”, going on to write of how the gossip was that Surrey and his father, who had also been detained by that point, “held secretly some ambiguous discourse against the King, whilst the latter was ill at Windsor six weeks ago; the object being to obtain the government of the Prince.”1

The actual charge against Surrey, however, was 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. As Edmond Bapst, Surrey’s 19th century biographer points out, though, 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.”2 As I pointed out in my previous article on Surrey’s arrest, Southwell’s information was enough for Surrey’s enemies to use against him and bring him down and the already paranoid Henry VIII, who was now in the last weeks of his life, could easily be made to believe that the Howards had designs on the regency.

On 13th January 1547, Surrey was found guilty of treason at London’s Guildhall and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. The sentence was commuted to beheading and he was beheaded on Tower Hill on 19th January 1547. His father was more fortunate. The King died before he was due to be executed and although he was kept in prison for the whole of Edward VI’s reign, he was released in 1553 when Mary I pardoned him.

Notes and Sources

  1. Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 8, 1545-1546, 364.
  2. Bapst, Edmond (originally 1891 in French, translated into English 2013) Two Gentleman Poets at the Court of Henry VIII: George Boleyn and Henry Howard, p. 294.

8 thoughts on “2 December 1546 – Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, is arrested”

  1. bruno says:

    Another example for showing that in K H’s mind, any stuff was useful in order to wipe out the Howards, too famous, too glorious for a weak man, whose own power was now beyond himself.
    I indeed take for sure that in this case, Richard Southwell was nothing else than a royal tool.
    The charhes raised here ? Just rumors.
    We can guess that, would this family have hatched a plot against the king, they’d rather have been discreet on the matter (rather than paint royal arms on their shields).
    This fact – proved false as we know by now – does not match with these rumors.
    But it did not matter, in K H’s opinion.
    England lost a brave soldier and a poet of 29, that again did not matter either.
    High time for Henry to get his realm rid of himself indeed…
    This behaviour was just neronian – paranoid is a kind word, I think

  2. Edurne Goñi says:

    Hello, Bruno, just a simple question on your comment.
    Don’t you think that we are critizising King Henry with our minds of the 21st. century? I’m not defending him, but I consider that we lack many ideas that they had and, maybe, this prevent us from fully understanding his behaviour.
    Here, in Spain there is a king I can`t stand for being a machiavelic figure, but I still think that, perhaps, I can’t understand all his behaviour(well, but treason, treason has always been treason) just because I don’t have in my hand all the balls he had to play with.

    1. Banditqueen says:

      Treason has always been treason. Well yes, but also treason is also according to the fears of the government or monarchy and has evolved with Tudors, Edward i and iii and later paranoid British government. Treason used to mean planning to kill or thinking about killing the King, then questioning the succession, the marriage, thinking about sleeping with the Queen, then accident of royal birth, then protesting against hunger, poverty and the right to vote, being the wrong religious faith, being a political radical, criticised the government, wanting Irish independence and so on. People in the time of Queen Victoria could still be hung, drawn and quartered for political protests. This was called treason as the government still feared a revolution. Hanging remained on the statute books for treason, as in giving away government secrets or acts of terrorism until 1996. This is more than 40 years after we abolished the death penalty for murder. Treason may be treason, but the majority of offences listed here are not treason. In the minds of pwer hungry governments and monarchy anything can be treason if people are forbidden to criticise them. Today we have a loyal opposition and other political parties and the right to protest and tell the government what we think, mostly, but certain things are still treason, although this is mostly trying to destroy the government or putting the country and people in grave danger. The Brighton bomb for example was treason as it aimed and succeeded in killing five members of the Queens Government. It was not tried as treason due to the sensitive nature of problems with Northern Ireland and the Government refused to see the terrorists and murderers as political prisoners. Trial for treason would only create martyrs and the British government would not do that. Even a group of famous spies in the 90s were imprisoned for treason, but not hung under the official secrets act, section 2. The death sentence was not deemed appropriate in other cases and abolished. So the accusations against Surrey can only be seen in light of the paranoid Tudor crisis at the time, even though he had done nothing by the standards of his peers or in breach of the laws at the time to justify this action against him.

  3. bruno says:

    Hello Edurne, hope you are all right,

    In order to answer your question – in case my poor english allows me to understand its meaning, what you really want to know/understand about my comment.

    When I read the latter again, I admit being a bit hasty-tempered when telling about K H’s behaviour towards his innocent victims.
    But you know, crime is crime and these “expeditious justice” cases also horrified both foreign courts and – I guess – english people even if they would not dare make it know.
    French court (king François I, but also Marie de Lorraine, mother-to-be of the famous queen of Scots Marie Stuart) openly hint at the way K H got rid of his near relations and especially his wives, as we know .
    That might show that even then people did not consider these facts normal.

    I of course can’t show any claim of historical knowledge – and it is the reason why I find this site so useful and interesting.
    We got Historians whose proposals for debate are based on sturdy information.
    We got readers, more or less learnt of course, who react as they can.
    I think it is just as it should be ; I might not be interested in all comments I read, but respect every opinion – if not, a debate would rather be an horrific fighting between preconceptions…

    To your spanish king – I did not understand whom you were refering to, Felipe or Juan-Carlos, when writing “treason is treason” and I avow not knowing them at all -, I am very sure you can’t compare with KH, just because they don’t have the same right of life and death on their “subjects” (not sure this word suits the nowadays’ situation).

    Maybe, age did not worsen K H’s temper when considering, he began with getting rid of (that of course meaning, getting them beheaded) Dudley and Empson whose “fault” was to have followed out his own father’s orders – and that as soon as 1510…
    Just an idea of mine – I hope somebody will show me how wrong I am.
    In advance I will thank him – or her – for giving me further arguments and information.

    Thank you all again for fueling our understanding of these past facts indeed… 😉

  4. Maryann Pitman says:

    Perspective is all…..Henry was going to die before his son reached his majority…..the long haul to his first divorce, and the failure of his second marriage to get him a son, the time it took for his third wife to conceive all ensured this…..he was already 46 when Edward was born….older than the average Tudor male at time of death…he needed to ensure Edward would be safe on the throne, and raised as Henry wanted, not as a RC, but as a Protestant.
    The only means of doing this was to draw the fangs of the conservative faction. This he did.
    The Seymours would safeguard Edward, the Howards might or…might not. The Duke himself had a lucky escape-had Henry lived a few more days, he would have lost his head as well.

    What Henry did not address was the incipient trouble on the Protestant side. He did not, with good cause, trust Thomas Seymour, but he did not deal with him either. Because of K Parr? Who knows?

    1. Anyanka says:

      As some-one who dabbles in statistics,this kind of thinking irritates me.

      Henry wasn’t older then the average male at death when Edward was born, since we do not have complete records of every-one’s births and deaths. The stats are deviated due to high infant mortality. If a person reached 15, male or female, the chances of living to their 50s,60’s or even older where a lot higher than most people expect.

      It’s a kin to saying the cohorts born between 1890-1900 or 1910-1920 had a lower chance of reaching their 40’s and ignoring the two world wars..

  5. Banditqueen says:

    The Howards, considering they had remained faithful to Richard iii to the point of death and his ancestors, as his cousins, did a very good job in royal service to the Tudors. Henry viii was dying and I believe he had lost the plot after Katharine Howard and never regained it. The coat of arms used by Surrey, he was entitled to use them and the King was probably aware of this, but Surrey had opened the door to the new gentry, his enemies after his disaster in France. Although he had regained some royal favour, he was never fully there since. Henry was becoming more and more suspicious, he was aware that a power struggle could follow his death and did everything to mitigate this. Rumoured to want to control the Prince, the Howards were not the family Henry could leave in charge of his sons fate. In reality, the Howard claim was now goo remote and they were not interested in pressing it. But if you are going to charge someone with trumped up charges of treason, you need some pretext.

    Henry Howard was a bit of a rebel. He makes the perfect poet. Rebels and poets seem to go hand in hand, Padricg Pearse was a teacher and poet for example. He also had a problem with authority, having been arrested for fighting, being drunk and disorderly and breaking windows a few times. He was a good soldier before the French attack. He was brave and bold and at one point Henry overlooked a number of things to release him to fight in France. He also had diplomatic skills and he was a proud Howard. He was now vulnerable to attack in the same way Anne Boleyn had been back in 1536.

    When Surrey was brought up before the court and demanded his right to trial by God and the country, the court of arms or lords in other words, he was found by the peers not to have done anything worthy of treason. The peers were more or less told to find him guilty. Henry Viii had come to a point were he was so paranoid that the Howards had to go. There was nothing treasonous in what Surrey did, he was railroaded. He was probably lucky to even get a trial. The Courtneys and Poles had been found guilty by Attainment. Katharine Howard had been found guilty the same way. This could also have been about revenge. The Howards had rounded on Thomas Cromwell and some of his associates were involved in the Howard fall. Henry viii feared for his son and had become very suspicious and open to false accusations, more so recently. He was open to the rumours of treason, open to manufacturing of evidence and paranoid over an uncertain future. Henry did not have long to live, so perhaps the removal of the most important Catholic family from the scene would help to promote his great wish for peace between his council in the new reign.

  6. Debbie Mosley says:

    I think that knowing all these things would certainly change a young girl’s mind about wanting to be a Princess!!! Fascinating!!!!

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