19 January 1547 – Henry Howard is beheaded

Tomb of Henry Howard at Framlingham
Tomb of Henry Howard at Framlingham

On 19th January 1547, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, the famous Tudor poet, courtier and soldier, was executed. This son of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, and cousin of Queens Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, was beheaded on Tower Hill and his remains laid to rest at All Hallows-by-the-Tower (All Hallows Barking). His remains were moved by his son, Henry, Earl of Northampton, in 1614 to their present resting place in a tomb in the family church, St Michael’s at Framlingham. Above is a photograph of his tomb, isn’t it beautiful?

You can read all about Surrey’s fall in my previous article 19 January 1547 – Execution of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey.

Trivia: Surrey is best known for his poetry and is referred to as the “Father of the English Sonnet”.

If you want to know more about Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, I can recommend the following two books:

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4 thoughts on “19 January 1547 – Henry Howard is beheaded”
  1. This is something I have wondered about for quite some time; I’m not sure if it has been addressed previously, but I thought I’d go ahead and ask now…

    Why was Henry Howard buried in a proper tomb, and not at St. Peter ad Vincula like the other members of his family who were also executed? I’ve always thought it was because he was a Howard, but it finally clicked in my head that that doesn’t explain his cousin, Queen Catherine. So, I’m a little confused. I would be very grateful if someone could shed some light on this for me!

  2. Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, last victim of Henry Viii. Henry Howard was one of the more colourful characters at the court of Henry Viii and also one of the more successful. He had a distinguished career in France, he was a poet and a soldier, a royal cupbearer, reserved as a service done by those most in favour and one of great honour and trust, he served during the 1544 and 1545 campaign and he was well liked by the King. He was also elevated to being a Knight of the Garter, which was extremely elitist and honourable. However, Surrey also had a very active life in the less attractive parts of town, drinking and mixing with people in taverns and ending up in court. He was arrested for breaking windows in the precinct of the court and for drunken behaviour but Henry freed him and he was also arrested for buying meat on the black market during Lent. Again a letter to the King and he was released. Henry expressed administration for him and affection, so what went wrong?

    In 1546 Henry Howard led a military march in France which was attacked and the campaign ended in disaster with most of the officers and several hundred men being killed. He was recalled to explain himself and rebuked. However, he was back at court soon afterwards, but a power struggle was in full flow as it became clear that the King was in decline. Factions were gathering around the young Prince of Wales and struggles over his future fought out in Council. The Howards should have been natural leaders but represented the old order, the old faith and two wives, beheaded as convicted traitors and adulterers, had come from Howard stock. (Anne Boleyn of course was set up and innocent and the evidence against Katherine Howard is ambiguous at best). From the point of view of both King and Council these were not the qualifications for the guardians of the next King, who was only nine years old. A row broke out during one meeting and one Counsellor was struck in the face. The Seymour brothers were pushing for the job of Regent and wanted anyone out of the way who opposed them. Surrey saw them as upstarts and there have been suggestions from some historians that they had something to do with Surrey’s downfall.

    He was charged with trying to usurp the royal arms by quartering them with his own but he placed his royal leapard in the second quarter and he had the right to use these arms granted to him by Richard ii. He was also descended from Edward I and by marriage Edward iii. He had ancient rights to the arms of Edward the Confessor. The judges could not see anything wrong and it was not treason to bear the arms as he had. However, the pressure on the court and jury was great and they were told to convict in any event. Surrey tried to escape the Tower down the drain under the loo in his cell but was caught. This was given as proof of his guilt and he was convicted and condemned.

    As a nobleman Henry Howard was given the quicker death of beheading and although originally buried as above in the church near the Tower was eventually moved to the family church in Framlington.

    Henry Howard, poet and courtier, soldier and noble cousin to Tudor Queens, rest in peace.

  3. I will always hold the growing Seymour faction guilty of the downfall and fake trial of Henry Howard, our poet Earl. They had motive, means and opportunity and that makes them accessories to murder. Yes, he had a trial, yes, he made an impassioned defence and did well, yes, he was formally charged with treason and yes, he was executed on the approval of the King; but, this was a personal and political set up.

    Henry Viii in January 1547 was dying. He could still speak, he could make some decisions but he was no longer fully in charge of his Council, kingdom or the future of the Prince. Henry Howard and his family should have been amongst those chosen to rule in the name of Prince Edward but the blood family, Tom and Edward Seymour and the reformed party had other ideas. They saw Howard as rivals and persuaded an ill and paranoid and therefore susceptible to influence, Henry Viii that his long faithful henchmen were trouble and trying to usurp power. Father and son were arrested and the trial began. The Lords could find nothing treasonous to proceed on and protested. However, they were told to get on with it and I believe the Seymour faction pushed this agenda. This was their opportunity to get rid of the old guard and if Henry thought they were dangerous to his throne or that of his son and heir, covered in the 1534 Treasons Act, he would agree to doom a man he was actually fond of and had protected a number of times, to his inevitable fate.

    Henry Howard was held for weeks before he was tried and he even tried to escape from the Tower of London, by moving the loo in his cell and going down the sewer pipes into the moat below. He was actually caught red handed attempting to do this one night. This was a criminal offence and could also carry the death penalty. When he was eventually put on trial the charges were ridiculous and false. He was accused of making his heraldic beasts to match those of the King but in fact his leopards were in the second sector and collared to distinguish them. His family were descended from Edward I and entitled to bear the arms of Edward the Confessor and he proudly declared this fact. In fact he was set up by an old friend and he made that clear as well. Surrey gave a brilliant account of himself at his trial, talking all day and many thought he would walk free, but the jury had been directed and his fate was sealed.

    With the dry seal on the warrent, which probably never even reached Henry, the Earl was beheaded as fits his status, buried not in Saint Peter’s but very close by in All Hallows, then moved at a later date to his family Chapel in Suffolk. His tomb as above is magnificent. Henry H was a soldier, courtier, poet, man of the world, he drank and partied and broke windows and lived on the edge. To his enemies the greatest message is that which is on his garter from the Knights of the Garter: Evil be to him who evil thinks or in modern terms Up Yours! Rest in peace, my hero. Amen. YNWA

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