5th May 1542 – Duchess Agnes Pardoned

Posted By on May 5, 2012

Katherine Howard, the step-granddaughter of the Duchess

Today, we have a guest article from author and historian Marilyn Roberts who wrote a series of articles on the Howards for us before Christmas. Over to Marilyn…

We last met Agnes, Dowager Duchess of Norfolk and the other prisoners on 13th February 1542, pondering their futures on the day of her step-granddaughter Katherine Howard’s beheading. By the first week in May the old woman had been living in fear of her life in the Tower since mid-December, and had endured a month of interrogation prior to that.

(Poor betrayed Henry VIII, however, had perked up considerably after the First Reading of the Bill of Attainder that would pave the way for the death of Queen Katherine, and by the end of January was actually paying attention to the wife of Sir Thomas Wyatt, who had repudiated her for adultery but had been forced by the King to take her back! Before the end of February the wife of the Duchess’s son, Lord William, and most of the ladies implicated with the late Queen were set free, and by the end of March Henry had been so perfectly charming towards Lady William there was speculation her husband, and even the Duchess of Norfolk herself, would soon be freed.)

The old Dowager was pardoned on 5th May after nearly five months in the Tower, but her son remained incarcerated for another three months. Free she might be, but her life would never be the same again: she had lost her home, and her goods were still to be forfeit and added to the King’s inventory of his money, jewels, plate, tapestries and other valuables then in the process of being recorded. On May 20th Duchess Agnes had some of her former manors restored, but not her beloved Norfolk House, which, in January 1543, was granted to her stepson, the third Duke of Norfolk.

The Novotel, Lambeth Road, on the site of Norfolk House. © Marilyn Roberts 2012

Agnes Tilney, Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, appears to have lived her remaining thousand or so days in relative obscurity in East Anglia, dying in Norfolk in 1545 aged at least 68, a very good age for those times. She was buried on 31st May in Thetford Priory, but on 13th October her remains were removed to the church of St Mary-at-Lambeth, Surrey, as she had directed in her will; sadly nothing remains there to indicate the splendour of the edifice that was once her tomb, or of the tombs of other members of the Howard family. A magnificent book now in the possession of the Dukes of Norfolk shows just how elaborate the funeral brasses were. In 1779 J.C. Brook (Somerset Herald) wrote to a colleague after he had seen the book and the brasses of Agnes and the long-suffering wife of the third Duke,
There are also two other brasses for duchesses of Norfolk at Lambeth, now destroyed; so rich and sumptuous that your Joyce Tiptoft at Enfield [still extant in the 21st century and one of the finest surviving examples of a medieval brass] will appear an orange wench [orange seller] to them. The brasses are done with gold lackered [sic] over in such a manner that they appear exactly like the real metal, and then the lines in black are traced upon it. The book was done by Henry Lilly, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant, who died in 1638.

The Howard Chapel in the church of St-Mary-at-Lambeth is now the café for the Garden Museum: Duchess Agnes and Elizabeth Boleyn are thought still to lie beneath where the circular tables are positioned now. © Marilyn Roberts 2012

I have seen this marvellous book in the Archives of the present Duke of Norfolk at Arundel Castle, and the images are indeed beautiful to behold. Agnes is depicted as a mature rather than an old woman, wearing a traditional gable hood surmounted by an oversized ducal coronet. Her face is heart-shaped, lips full, eyes large and wide open, but overall the expression is one of weariness. Her neck, which mercifully was spared the axe, is long, and is the neck of woman younger than Agnes’s 68 or so years at time of death. Her long fingers are touching in prayer, and the heraldry surrounding her and etched into her golden robe is a testament to the noble connections within the Howard family. Ancient Mowbray heraldry is present but not prominent. Already by 1633, when the book was being prepared, vandals had struck, for in the perfect and very legible script that accompanies the illustration we are told that in the Howard Chapel,
…is a faire tomb in the middle of the said chappell erected to the memorie of Agnes Duchesse of Norffolke second wife of Thomas the victorious Duke the inscription stolen away the armes on the sides and endes defaced.

This beautiful image of Agnes Tilney will feature in the forthcoming book Trouble in Paradise, possibly on the cover, and the photographs have already been taken and the fee is about to be paid. However, for copyright reasons (© His Grace the Duke of Norfolk) I am not able to reproduce it here, as it would fall outside the conditions of use agreed.

Taken from the foot of Lambeth Bridge: the gatehouse of Lambeth Palace is on the left, beside St Mary-at-Lambeth (the Garden Museum) where the Dowager Duchess, her daughter and Elizabeth Boleyn are buried. The yellow building on the right is the Novotel, on the site of Norfolk House. © Marilyn Roberts 2012

For all its history and royal connections there is precious little readily-available information surviving about what became of Norfolk House itself and one has to dig deep, which is why the research has taken so much longer than anticipated, not helped by the fact that I live some distance from London. I want to finish this article with our thoughts still on the old Duchess and, if Claire is willing, will look at the subsequent life of the house later in the year.
If I have achieved nothing else with these articles on the downfall of Duchess Agnes, I hope to have helped dispel the widespread misconception that Katherine Howard lived at the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lambeth Palace in her somewhat adventurous youth.

Old Paradise Street cuts across what was the south elevation of Norfolk House and the Duchess’s gardens.

The Queens-Haven Publications website is being redesigned and will feature a section on Marilyn’s forthcoming book Trouble in Paradise: Queen Katherine Howard, the Dowager Duchess and Norfolk House, Lambeth.

You can read Marilyn’s previous articles:-

7 thoughts on “5th May 1542 – Duchess Agnes Pardoned”

  1. Lina says:

    Thanks, for a wonderful series of articles about Norfolk House and the Norfolk family. I’m really looking forward to read your book. Do you know if it will be available on amazon (for kindles’ international customers)?

  2. Conor Byrne says:

    I am looking forward to reading your study, Marilyn, because I am currently researching Katherine Howard’s life and have written two articles on her, one on her much disputed birth date and the other I am writing at the moment, is concerned with the nature of her fall.

  3. Nannette says:

    I just wanted to thank everyone connect with this site. The exploration of the individuals in the Tudor period is fascinating. There is so much written about the major players but not about those around them. Some of these people were pulled into the orbit of the court and discarded at the Sovereign’s pleasure. It is so nice to see them fleshed out into 3 dimensional people instead of just background for the Henry VIII story. Again my thanks to all.

  4. QueenFletch82 says:

    Wonderful article!!!! Question didn’t the Duchess have a daughter also in the Tower?Do you think if Catherine was open to Henry about her past she would of been or aleast have a chance to of lived a happy life queen or not. Thank-you, Jessica Rose : )

  5. Marilyn R says:

    Thank you for very encouraging comments.

    Lina: thank you for your continued interest in the book; I remember you enquired about it earlier. I have been much longer over it than planned because finding information on Norfolk House is a ‘needle in a haystack’ sort of job. It could almost go to print now but I had to finish a book on Queen Victoria (do look the lovely old photo of her on the website with two of her little grandchildren in 1886: http://www.queens-haven.co.uk) and I need a final trip to Lambeth and the Garden Museum. The printer is preparing the ‘Queen Victoria’ for Kindle in case we want to go for it later, and I think we’ll also give it a go with ‘Trouble in Paradise’.

    Conor: I was struggling with Katherine’s age but from her behaviour with Manox at Horsham I thought she might have been 19-20 when she married Henry, otherwise she would have been just a child when Manox was chasing her. Having said that, I think it was Joanna Denny who said she had been perhaps as young as 10, but the argument wasn’t very strong. Her age doesn’t matter too much for my purposes, but I would be intrigued to hear what you think.

    Nannette: two other real characters from this sorry tale I wanted to know more about are Sir Thomas Wriothesley and Sir Richard Rich – believe me, you didn’t want to be interrogated by those two!

    QueenFletch: Yes, her daughter Lady Bridgewater (yet another Katherine Howard) was in the Tower as well. It was she, according to witnesses, who warned young Katherine that the midnight feasting and late nights would spoil her beauty. What she knew about the rest is anybody’s guess. Katherine Bridgewater’s second husband was Henry Daubeney, Earl of Bridgewater. Her first, Rhys ap Griffith FitzUrvan, was beheaded in 1531for allegedly plotting against Henry VIII with the King of Scots.

    I do have a short piece in the book about what made Henry behave as he did. I think the involvement of his trusted servant Thomas Culpeper was just too much for him. The intent to deceive, under his own roof at that, made such a laughing stock of the King all over Europe that he could never have taken her back. There are also hints that Henry could already have been losing interest in Katherine, and I do wonder if his actions really were as cut-and-dried as we think.

  6. Marilyn R says:

    Hi Claire,

    May I just say that the website is experiencing some difficulties with Explorer and Chrome, although Firefox seems ok. Namesco are trying to sort it; it appears to be fixed and then goes again.

    Thank you,


  7. Baroness Von Reis says:

    It was really good to no that the Duchess of Norfolk kept her head and was pardoned,how nice of them!!As for Queen Katherine Howard how sad,but she should have take lesson on what the KING,and CROMWELL were capable of doing,true or not,as long as the KING got his way,pretty testy King.If this King did’nt get wanted,,he just took what he wanted,,and if did not want you around ,God help you as you were most likely history.

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