December 2 – The arrest of courtier and poet Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey

Posted By on December 2, 2022

On this day in Tudor history, 2nd December 1546, in the reign of King Henry VIII, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, was arrested.

Surrey was a poet, courtier, soldier the eldest son of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, and first cousin of Queens Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. He was arrested after his former friend, Richard Southwell, gave evidence against him.

Henry VIII had just weeks to live and was increasingly paranoid, so Southwell’s ‘evidence’ came at just the right time for Surrey’s enemies to bring the earl down.

Find out more about Surrey’s downfall, and how his father managed to keep his head…

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, ended up being executed and you can find out more about that my video for 19th January – click here.

Transcript:

Henry Howard’s arrest

On this day in Tudor history, 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.”

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 his home of 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.”

Historian Lady Antonia Fraser points out that Surrey’s real mistake was in having quarrelled with Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, who took over Surrey’s command in France. Surrey was jealous of Hertford and his achievements, so the improper use of the royal arms “could be construed by his rivals as a deliberate advancement of the superior Howard claims to the regency.”

Whatever the case, Southwell’s information on Surrey was enough for his enemies to use against him and bring him down. 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.
In a trial at London’s Guildhall on 13th January 1547, Surrey was found guilty of treason 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, the Duke of Norfolk, 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.

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