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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