October 31 – Lord Thomas Howard’s sad end in the Tower


On this day in Tudor history, 31st October 1537, in the reign of King Henry VIII, Lord Thomas Howard died while imprisoned in the Tower of London.

This second son of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk, was about twenty-five years of age at his death, and he’d ended up in the Tower for falling in love with the wrong woman.

Lord Thomas Howard had become secretly betrothed to King Henry VIII’s niece, Lady Margaret Douglas, daughter of Margaret Tudor, the Dowager Queen of Scotland.

Find out more about Lord Thomas Howard, his relationship with Lady Margaret Douglas, and what happened to them both…


On 31st October 1537, Lord Thomas Howard, second son of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk, and his second wife, Agnes Tilney, died while imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was about twenty-five years of age at his death.

How had the Duke of Norfolk’s son come to this rather sorry end? Well, he’d fall in love with the wrong woman.

Let me tell you a bit more about Lord Thomas Howard and the love affair that led to his undoing.

  • Lord Thomas Howard was born in around 1512 and was the younger half-brother of another Thomas Howard, Thomas Howard 3rd Duke of Norfolk, who was the second duke’s son by his first wife, Elizabeth Tilney.
  • Antiquary John Leland is thought to have been his tutor or companion.
  • Lord Thomas Howard made his debut at court in 1533, when he was about 21, the year that Henry VIII married Howard’s niece, Anne Boleyn. He was appointed as one of the canopy bearers for the christening of Anne’s daughter, the future Elizabeth I, in September 1533.
  • It was at the royal court that he met and fell in love with Lady Margaret Douglas, daughter of Margaret Tudor, Dowager Queen of Scotland, and her second husband Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus. Lady Margaret Douglas was also King Henry VIII’s niece. In early 1536, Margaret and Thomas agreed to marry, but they had not sought the king’s blessing for their relationship and when their relationship was discovered in July 1536 the king was furious. With the king’s daughters both being illegitimate by this point, Margaret had a claim to the throne, she was an important lady.
  • Margaret and Thomas were thrown in the Tower of London for their disobedience and on 18th July 1536 an act of attainder was passed against Thomas accusing the young man of having been “led and seduced by the Devil not having God afore his eyes, not regarding his duty of Allegiance that he oweth to have borne to the King our and his most dread Sovereign Lorde” and going on to say that ‘it is vehemently suspected and presumed maliciously and traiterously minding and imagining to put division in this Realm. And to interrupt impedity and let the said Succession of the Crown contrary to the limitation thereof mentioned in the said act’. The act also sentenced him to death.
  • Margaret fell ill while imprisoned in the Tower and so was moved to Syon Abbey and eventually released on 29th October 1537. However, just two days after her release, her former fiancé, Thomas, died. It was a natural death, rather than the death he’d been sentenced to. Although it was rumoured that he’d been poisoned, it appears he just became ill due to the conditions of his imprisonment.
  • The day after his death, Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, wrote to Thomas Cromwell, the king’s master secretary, saying that he had told the king of Lord Thomas’s death along with a request from Thomas’s mother, Agnes, to have her son’s remains for burial. Hertford stated “His Grace is content she shall have him, so that she bury him without pomp.”
    Chronicler Charles Wriothesley records “his body was carried to Thetford, and there buried”, referring to Thetford Abbey in Norfolk.
  • Trivia: The British Library’s Devonshire Manuscript, a miscellany of early-modern Tudor courtly verse written by a circle which included Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, also contained several poems linked to the lovers, Lord Thomas Howard and Lady Margaret Douglas.
  • Trivia: Lady Margaret Douglas fell in love with another Howard man, Thomas’s half-nephew, Charles, in 1540, and ended up being confined to Syon and then Kenninghall for her behaviour. She married Matthew Stewart, Earl of Lennox in 1544.

It seems so sad, doesn’t it, that a man ended up dying in the Tower of London just for falling in love with the wrong woman.

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One thought on “October 31 – Lord Thomas Howard’s sad end in the Tower”
  1. Very sad indeed that a young man died in the most feared prison in England just for falling in love with the kings niece, disaster seemed to follow the Howard’s , they were a fascinating family, produced two queens who fell from grace and their most gifted member, Henry Earl of Surrey a lauded poet lost his head, his father was in the Tower also yet just managed to escape because the king died before he did, lady Margaret Douglas was the daughter of the kings eldest sister the Queen consort of Scotland, her troubled life seemed to reflect that of her only daughter, she to had made several disastrous attempts at marriage and now it seemed Margaret was about to follow in her path, known for her beauty Margaret fell in love with Thomas Howard an uncle of the half blood to Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, Margaret had been brought up in the English court and was good friends with the princess Mary, she is best known for being the mother of the murdered Lord Henry Darnley the ill fated husband of Queen Mary of Scots, her life was tragic, she lost two lovers, it seems inconceivable that she would make the same mistake twice illegally becoming engaged after having been in the Tower years before, yet so she did, I feel Margaret was a strong minded passionate woman who was impulsive and rather reckless, her first love was only twenty one, and it was said his death was natural maybe he just pined away whilst in prison for his lost love, he could have been of a depressive nature and died of a broken heart, scientists believe such people do die of such a malady, yet it was also noted the conditions in his prison were not exactly liveable, his mother must have been grief stricken and was allowed to have his body for burial, another kinsman of his the poet Surrey later joined him in the family seat at Thetford Priory, in later years Margaret went onto marry and see her eldest son marry the Queen of Scotland but that to was a disaster and she must have wondered why she had so much ill fortune, the tragedy of those blessed or cursed with royal blood was that they had no choice whom they married, often engaged from birth to their future spouses they were extremely lucky if no such engagement had been made and they could decide their partner, but they had to seek permission from the reigning sovereign, this they failed to do, and Margaret also was very near to the throne she was not a minor royal, incurring the wrath of her great uncle, he had them both thrown into the Tower, yet whilst there she became ill, no doubt stress related and moved to Syon Abbey in Richmond, a bill of attainder was brought against her lover, this strange act was an affront to justice yet Henry V111 used it several times during his reign, Tudor justice as we have seen was not really justice at all as there were no defence for the condemned and the jury were often enemies of the victim, the victim also was not aware of what he or she were accused of and the king swayed the opinions of the jury, an act of attainder was a way of rushing through the ordeal of a trial, the poor fellow or lady was sent to death end of, another irritant dealt with, the king could forget about it and move on, in his second queens case there had to be a trial because she was a crowned and anointed queen, and also more shockingly the king wished the world to know how dark and devious she was her name was blackened considerably, not only was she subject to ill treatment she suffered falsehoods against her character which was that of an extremely pious lady, she was besmirched with the unnatural sin of incest, all this then she had to contend with having her status as Queen consort stripped from her, her child declared illegitimate thus losing her right as heiress to her fathers kingdom, then knowing she was going to lose her very life, after the dreadful farce King Henry married another three times, as we have seen another Howard, yet Catherine too was also condemned like her kinsman by the act of attainder, it seems Henry could not bear another trial and his beloved wife’s infidelity broadcast to the world, these people who lived in Henry V111’s court lived dangerous and volatile lives, the punishments they incurred like Lord Henry Howard, for merely falling in love shows us how extremely tolerant we have become in later centuries.

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