Monday, 20 February 2017

A Tudor Poet – Henry Howard VIII

Henry Howard
A Poet of Renown

Henry blamed the Seymours for his cousin’s downfall and early in 1542 wrote a vitriolic allegorical poem directed at Anne Seymour, Edward’s second wife, who may have snubbed Henry when he asked her to dance. It was also a hit at the new men at court and makes reference to the brave Howard clan, many of whom were still locked up the Tower. The poem made specific reference to Henry’s uncle Thomas who died in the Tower for love of Margaret Lennox.

Henry has been credited with bringing the Renaissance style of poetry to England, introducing the sonnet form. Poetry was an acceptable pastime at the Tudor court and courtiers were expected to have some skills in writing ballads and poems. Henry used allegory to complain about what he saw as the injustices of life. Often these injustices were matters that Henry brought on his own head by his ‘foolish pride’ and arrogance.

Henry had lived his life weighed down by the expectations of others, in particular his father who had very rigid expectations of how the future fourth duke of Norfolk should behave. In his poetry Henry was able to represent himself as a noble and isolated hero of his dreams. It was this façade that he presented to his fellow nobles,

‘That then stir up the torment of my breast

          To curse each star as causer of my fate.

          And when the sun hath eked the dark represt

And bought the day, it doth nothing abate

          The travail of my endless smart and pain.’[i]


When Sir Thomas Wyatt died not long after Catherine Howard’s execution Henry wrote an elegy in heroic quatrains to his friend and fellow poet. Wyatt’s poetry was less explosive than Henry’s; Henry wrote with a disregard for the consequences, much as he lived his life. Henry was a man out of place in the Tudor court where one mishap could end you up on the block.

Wyatt and Henry translated Petrarch’s sonnets. Henry also translated Virgil’s second and fourth books of the Aeneid into blank verse in rhyming meter and it is believed that he was the first English poet to do use the form.

Fighting Up North

The Fleet
July 1542 saw Henry in the Fleet for quarrelling with one Jhon a Legh[ii]; it is possible that Henry assaulted the victim or challenged him to a duel[iii]. Henry immediately sent his servant to demand of the council that he be released with immediate effect. In early August Henry was released on his own recognisance of ten thousand marks[iv].

The following month saw Henry on the road to Scotland to fight incursions from Scottish raiders, owing allegiance to King James V, Henry VIII’s nephew. Henry VIII declared war on the Scots, knowing that their French allies were embroiled on the continent fighting Charles V. The Duke of Norfolk was made Lieutenant General of the army and Henry travelled in his father’s wake.

The English army of 20,000 crossed the border at Berwick on Tweed on 21st October with orders from the king to perform ‘some notable exploit’. The appalling weather forced the army back into England having done little more than sack Kelso Abbey and the nearby town. The king was not amused writing to Norfolk about;

‘The loss of this enterprise [which was] not of such sort as we did trust and desired.’[v]

But the king’s amour propre was soothed when Sir Thomas Wharton[vi] won the Battle of Solway Moss in November[vii]. The Howards and their men were not involved in the fighting and Henry returned to London more restless than ever, his aggression un-blunted by what little action he had been caught up in.

Fighting at Home and Abroad

Arms of Sir John Wallop
Back from Scotland found Henry setting up home in London, but he quartered himself in Cheapside and a number of his servants and braggarts ran amok. His father’s connections got him off the charges only for Henry to fall foul of Bishop Gardiner’s fasting laws. In April 1543 he was interrogated by four privy councillors who were sympathetic but Surrey found himself back in the Fleet. Once again he took up his pen to rage against unkind fate.

Henry was out of prison by May 1543[viii] and back at court in time to see Henry VIII sign a peace treaty with the Holy Roman Emperor. The two powers planned a joint invasion of France. Sir John Wallop led the English force across the Channel and Henry begged the king for permission to march with them.

Henry arrived at the English camp outside Landrecy in October 1543. Henry immediately set about orientating himself to the approbation of Sir John who wrote an approving letter back home. The siege of Landrecy was lifted by the arrival of François with an army which camped at Cateau-Cambrésis. The English were lured away from Landrecy which François immediately re-victualised before decamping with his army. Henry returned home.

Henry was back in France the following year with another invasion force; Norfolk was Captain of the Vanguard and his son and heir was Marshall of the Field. The weather conspired against the English who planned to besiege Montreuil. The choice of town was not a happy one and both Norfolk and the imperial generals inveighed against going ahead; but from far away in England Henry VIII overruled them.

The armies were subjected to a series of attacks by the French which reduced their effectiveness, especially when Henry VIII changed his mind and insisted that the priority was Boulogne. The king actually crossed the channel to impose his priorities upon the joint armies and Henry and his uncle William were present when Boulogne surrendered to Henry VIII.

Ramparts of Montreuil
It was too late for the army at Montreuil; the French Dauphin Henri came to the town’s relief and on 28th September 1544 the English decamped. Henry, as Marshall of the Field, was responsible for the army’s evacuation. They arrived at Boulogne relatively safe and sound on 30th September thanks to Henry’s masterminding of the evacuation.

In April 1544 there were rumours that François intended to regain Boulogne and invade England with an army of 40,000 men. Henry was appointed responsible for the defence of the town. And on 3rd September 1545, after a series of deaths among senior military men, Henry was made Lieutenant General of the King on Sea and Land for all English continental possessions. Norfolk wrote to Henry advising him not to encourage Henry VIII’s desire to permanently extend the Pale of Calais;

‘Have yourself in await, that ye animate not the King too much for the keeping of Boulogne, for whoso doth, at length shall get small thank. I have so handled the matter, that if any adventure be given to win the new fortress at Boulogne, ye shall have charge thereof.’[ix]

Henry ignored the warning, as he did all good advice. But eventually the cost of holding Boulogne meant that even the king came to his senses and ordered the evacuation of the town. Henry returned to England.

Proud Foolish Boy

Tower of London
Henry Howard has been described as;

‘An extravagant roistering soldier-poet….a brilliant, indiscreet young man who loved to flout conventions both trivial and important, ostentatiously refusing to eat meat in Lent, complaining openly about the power given to low-born men like Wolsey and Cromwell and, worse, boasting about his own descent from the Plantagenets.’[x]

It was this arrogance which was to bring Surrey and his father to the Tower. The two Seymour brothers, Edward in particular, were looking forward to a long period of power during their nephew’s minority and the Howards were an irritant in their rosy vision of the future.

On 12th December 1546 both Surrey and his father were arrested and taken to the Tower. A plot had been uncovered; at Surrey’s instigation his sister Mary was to romance the king;

‘That she might rule as others have done.’[xi]

St Michael's Framlingham
Upon being questioned Mary incriminated both her brother and her father[xii]. Henry VIII was more than happy to rid himself of the Howard family and their pleas for mercy were ignored. To compound his arrogance Surrey had quartered his arms with those of Edward the Confessor. Edward Seymour and John Dudley, Viscount Lisle were more than happy to use the plot and Surrey’s arrogance to topple their rival Norfolk

On 7th January Parliament passed an act of Attainder against both Surrey and Norfolk. Surrey was tried at the Guildhall on 13th, found guilty and condemned to death. Surrey was executed on 19th January 1547[xiii] and was buried at the church of St Michael the Archangel, in Framlingham. Norfolk’s writ of execution was signed by the king on 27th January. Norfolk’s execution was set for the following morning but it was Henry who was to die instead.


Thomas Wyatt – Susan Brigden, Faber and Faber 2012

Henry VIII’s Last Victim – Jessie Childs, Vintage Books 2008

The Ebbs and Flows of Fortune – David M Head, University of Georgia Press 2009

House of Treason – Robert Hutchinson, Phoenix 2009

Henry VIII – Robert Lacey, Weidenfeld & Nicholson & Book Club Associates 1972

The Earlier Tudors – J D Mackie, Oxford University Press 1992

Rivals in Power – David Starkey, MacMillan London Ltd 1990

The Six Wives of Henry VIII – Alison Weir, Pimlico 1992

The Lost Tudor Princess – Alison Weir, Vintage 2015

A Tudor Tragedy – Neville Williams, Barrie & Jenkins 1964


[i] Henry VIII’s Last Victim - Childs
[ii] Possibly John Leigh of Stockwell, Queen Catherine’s half-brother
[iii] Illegal within the confines of the court
[iv] In 2015 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £5,559,000.00 labour earnings of that income or wealth is £54,490,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £194,100,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £2,427,000,000.00
[v] Henry VIII’s Last Victim - Childs
[vii] James V died within the month to be succeeded by his newly born daughter Mary, Queen of Scots who was to embroil Henry’s son Thomas in her web of deceit – see and
[viii] In July the king married his sixth wife Katherine Parr.
[ix] Rivals in Power - Starkey
[x] Henry VIII - Lacey
[xi] The Six Wives of Henry VIII - Weir
[xii] It is believed that Mary was angry that neither father nor brother had helped in her fight for some of her dower from Fitzroy; she was poor and reduced to living in her father’s home, with only her title as a remnant of her marriage
[xiii] The last person to be executed in Henry’s reign

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

A Tudor Poet – Henry Howard VII

Oatlands Palace
The Fifth Wife of Henry VIII

On the same day that Thomas Cromwell was executed Henry VIII married his fifth wife, a former lady-in-waiting of Anne of Cleves, another Catherine, at Oatlands Palace near Weybridge in Surrey. The new queen’s father, Lord Edmund Howard was one of Norfolk’s younger brothers. Both brothers had pressed Catherine upon the king as a prospective bride.

Henry VIII is supposed to have ‘cast a fantasy’ towards the petite young girl as soon as he saw her. Catherine was vivacious, pliable and devoid of guile, very different from her dead cousin Anne. Henry’s cousin Catherine enjoyed the good life as queen; she was treated as and behaved as a spoilt child. Henry VIII spent money on her as he had on no other wife.

‘The King had no wife who made him spend so much money in dresses and jewels as she did.’[i]

Arms of the Earl of Sussex
Along with the dresses, treats and jewels that came her way were sprinkled favours for her relatives. At court Queen Catherine surrounded herself with old friends, including the widow of another of Henry’s cousins; Lady Rochford[ii] and a number of people she’d met while living in the household of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, Agnes Tilney.

Mary Howard was made a member of the queen’s household and Catherine’s brother Charles was made a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber. The Earl of Sussex, Norfolk’s brother-in-law, was made Lord Great Chamberlain, taking over from Cromwell.

On 21st July 1540 Henry was given a purple jacket and doublet woven with gold and silver tinsel. On 8th September he and his father were given conjointly the stewardship of Cambridge University. In November Henry was made a Justice of the Peace for Norfolk.

The Garter and a Diversion

Earl of Southampton
n April a greater honour was bestowed upon Henry; he was made a
Knight of the Garter in a ceremony at Windsor. He was due to take up his stall on 22nd May. In between times Henry and Sir Thomas Seymour were sent to France to observe Sir William Fitzwilliam, the Earl of Southampton and Lord John Russell resolve a border dispute between the French garrison at Ardres[iii] and the English garrison at Guisnes.

Both sides massed armies and on 5th May Henry and Thomas Seymour arrived in Calais, immediately inspecting the fortifications and mustering men. On the 7th the same was done at Guisnes along with a military parade. Having shaken a spear in the face of the French, the English exchanged gifts with the French Governor, Monsieur de Biez. Hunting and dinner parties were arranged. The French ambassador in London wrote to Paris;

‘Where nothing but war was talked of there is no mention but of wishing to live at peace.’[iv]

Henry was back in England in time to shop for his Garter ceremony; he purchased his mantle, black velvet cap, collar and medallion of St George without reference to his shaky finances. The gold collar was six troy ounces more than the maximum provided for by the order’s regulations and his St George medallion was encrusted with ten diamonds.

The day before the ceremony Henry was a guest of Edward Seymour at Sheen. Over dinner, along with his fellow knight-elect Sir John Gage, Henry was talked through the ceremony he would undergo. The Earl of Sussex acted as the king’s deputy.

Around this time Henry was also made Cupbearer to the king, a post he held with Lord Hastings and Sir Francis Bryan. With this post came free lodgings wherever the court might be and provision of food, candles, fuel and drink. Now Henry no longer had to wait to be summonsed to court and, more importantly, had access to the king.

Adultery and the Queen

Catherine Howard
Catherine soon became bored of her obese husband whose fumblings and flatulence may very well have repelled her. His once athletic body was decaying and his legs were ulcerated and puss-filled bandages were permanently wrapped around them. His mood swings frightened all his courtiers, let alone his young queen.

Catherine’s attention was diverted away from the marriage bed as Henry VIII took her on a progress around Surrey, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, showing off his new toy. The king returned to Hampton Court at the end of October and ordered prayers to be said for the queen for;

‘The good life he led and trusted to lead [with] this jewel of womanhood.’[v]

The conservative faction led by Norfolk and Bishop Gardiner was opposed by the religious progressives who counted Cranmer among their number. Among the progressives was a Protestant preacher named John Lassells[vi] who was the brother of the nurse of Lord William Howard’s[vii] children. Lassells was informed by his sister of the queen’s behaviour before she married, claiming that Catherine had not been a virgin when she married Henry VIII.

Lassells immediately rushed to inform the Archbishop who was so afraid of the king’s temper that he dare not tell him the bad news face to face. Instead he left a letter in the royal pew in the Chapel Royal. Cranmer’s letter accused Catherine of behaving licentiously with a lute player called Henry Manox, who had been teaching the young girl to play the virginals while staying at a Norfolk residence in Horsham. He claimed that;

‘I know her [Catherine] well enough for I have had her by the cunt, and I know it among a hundred.’[viii]

Two years later, the letter averred, Catherine had an affair with one Francis Dereham, now the queen’s secretary and usher of her bedchamber. The king ordered the Earl of Southampton as Lord Privy Seal to investigate and refute the allegations which he did not believe.

Under interrogation Manox changed his tune, admitting only to taking liberties with the young girl, not having sexual intercourse with her. Dereham, on the other hand, admitted to swiving her. Even now Henry VIII was inclined to spare the girl he doted on, that was until evidence was uncovered about Catherine’s love for Thomas Culpepper, one of the king’s former pages.

The Loss of a Second Howard Queen

The young couple had been trysting at night after the king had retired to bed, although both denied having sexual intercourse. The most striking piece of evidence was a love letter that Queen Catherine wrote to Culpepper;

‘For I never longed so much for thing as I do to see you and to speak with you, the which I trust shall be shortly now….When I think again that you shall depart from me again it makes my heart to die, to think what fortune I have that I cannot be always in your company.’[ix]

After being tortured Culpepper confessed to committing adultery with Catherine[x]. Catherine made her own confession. On 1st December Dereham and Culpepper were tried and found guilty of treason, Norfolk officiated at the trial which Henry attended. The two men were executed at Tyburn on 10th, while Catherine’s brothers paraded on horseback throughout London. In December 1541 Henry was granted the rectory, manors and possessions of Rushworth College in Norfolk.

On 11th February Catherine was found guilty of treason Henry was one of the nobles who, perforce acting as deputy for his father who had returned to Kenninghall, attended at Catherine Howard’s execution on 13th. She was followed to the block by Lady Rochford. Catherine was the third of his cousins to go to the block.

Norfolk was more than happy to throw the rest of his family, including his stepmother Agnes Tilney, to the wolves to save himself and his heir. He helped interrogate Catherine[xi], was one of the chief informers against his stepmother, ransacked Dereham’s coffers and wrote an abject letter to Henry VIII;

‘Yesterday came to my knowledge that mine ungracious mother-in-law [stepmother], mine unhappy brother and his wife, with my lewd sister of Bridgewater[xii] were committed to the Tower; which by long experience, knowing your accustomed equity and justice…am sure is not done but for some their false and traitorous proceedings against your Royal Majesty.’[xiii]

The Howards committed to the Tower were tried for misprision en masse and were sentenced to life imprisonment and forfeiture of goods.


Henry VIII’s Last Victim – Jessie Childs, Vintage Books 2008

The Ebbs and Flows of Fortune – David M Head, University of Georgia Press 2009

House of Treason – Robert Hutchinson, Phoenix 2009

Henry VIII – Robert Lacey, Weidenfeld & Nicholson & Book Club Associates 1972

The Earlier Tudors – J D Mackie, Oxford University Press 1992

Rivals in Power – David Starkey, MacMillan London Ltd 1990

The Six Wives of Henry VIII – Alison Weir, Pimlico 1992


[i] Henry VIII’s Last Victim - Childs
[ii] George Boleyn preceded his sister to the block
[iii] Where late in 1540 the French had built a castle and a bridge into the Calais Pale
[iv] Henry VIII’s Last Victim - Childs
[v] House of Treason - Hutchinson
[vi] Or Lascelles
[vii] Another of Norfolk’s half-brothers and known as Howard of Effingham
[viii] Henry VIII’s Last Victim - Childs
[ix] Rivals in Power - Starkey
[x] Although whether this actually happened, as with Anne, is problematic. Anne was too canny to have committed adultery, but Catherine was not endowed with her cousin’s intelligence
[xi] Recommending that she be burnt alive
[xii] Katherine Howard married to the Earl of Bridgewater
[xiii] Rivals in Power - Starkey