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3d Duke of Norfolk

3d Duke of Norfolk

The English soldier and councilor Thomas Howard, 3d Duke of Norfolk (1473-1554), was a prominent figure in the government under Henry VIII. He led the conservative faction and opposed both Wolsey and Cromwell.

Thomas Howard was born at a time when the Howard family was rising to prominence through his grandfather's attachment to the Yorkist kings. Sir John Howard, 1st Duke of Norfolk, was a favorite of Richard III; he was killed in the battle of Bosworth in 1485. On the accession of Henry VII, John Howard's son Thomas was attainted and imprisoned, but in 1489 he was released and restored to the nobility as Earl of Surrey. After he led the English forces in a crushing defeat of the Scots at Flodden in 1513, he was created 2d Duke of Norfolk, and his eldest son, Thomas, became Earl of Surrey.

This younger Thomas Howard had been betrothed in 1484 to Anne, a daughter of Edward IV. After 1485 Anne became an attendant to her older sister, Elizabeth of York, Henry VII's queen; in 1495 Anne and Thomas Howard were married in Westminster Abbey. She died in 1513, and Thomas then married Elizabeth, daughter of Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, by whom he had two sons (Henry, later Earl of Surrey, the poet; and Thomas, later Viscount Howard of Bindon) and a daughter who married Henry VIII's illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy.

Thomas Howard began his public career as a soldier, first serving under his father at Flodden and then charged with bringing order to Ireland and fighting the French. At his father's death in 1524 he became 3d Duke of Norfolk. Throughout this decade he opposed the policies of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. When Wolsey failed to secure the annulment of Henry VIII's marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Norfolk helped turn the King against him; and when Wolsey died in 1530, Norfolk hoped to succeed him as chief adviser. He was important for a time but lacked the genius required to solve the dilemma of Henry's divorce, and he was soon displaced by Thomas Cromwell.

Although always a conservative in religion, Norfolk acquiesced in the King's proceedings against the Pope because they made possible Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn, Norfolk's niece. He gained further wealth from the dissolution of the monasteries and acted ruthlessly in suppressing the Pilgrimage of Grace (1536). But in 1539 he secured the enactment by Parliament of the reactionary Six Articles of Religion, and in 1540 he had the pleasure of arresting Cromwell and seeing him executed as an upstart and a heretic.

When Henry tired of Anne Boleyn, Norfolk presided at her trial and staged her execution. Later, in 1540, he arranged the King's marriage to another niece, Catherine Howard. For a time Norfolk wielded great influence in the government; but when Catherine was accused of infidelity and executed, Norfolk lost favor, and he retired from court to the battlefields in France and Scotland.

During the last years of his life Henry VIII relied chiefly upon Thomas Seymour, Earl of Hertford and uncle of the heir apparent, Prince Edward. Hertford, in an effort to remove his rivals, accused Norfolk's son, the Earl of Surrey, of illegally using the royal arms and committing other treasonable deeds. Both Surrey and Norfolk were attainted and condemned to death; Surrey was beheaded, and Norfolk was to have been executed on Jan. 28, 1547. But the King died during the preceding night, and Norfolk was spared, the new councilors hesitating to begin their rule with such a spectacle.

Norfolk remained a prisoner in the Tower during the reign of Edward VI. On the accession of Mary I in 1553, he was freed and restored to his dukedom. He died on Aug. 25, 1554.

Further Reading

There is no full-length biography of Norfolk. Information is in John D. Mackie, The Earlier Tudors (1952); Geoffrey Rudolph Elton, England under the Tudors (1955); and Melvin J. Tucker, The Life of Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, Second Duke of Norfolk (1964). □

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