Skip to content

December 15, 1541 – Thomas Howard’s Letter to Henry VIII

Thomas Howard, third Duke of Norfolk, by Hans Holbein (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

In the aftermath of Catherine Howard’s disgrace, the King had four members of the Howard family arrested and committed to the Tower: the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, her son William and his wife, and the Duchess’ daughter Anne Howard. On December 15 1541, Thomas Howard, the Third Duke of Norfolk, wrote an abject letter to the King in the hope of distancing himself from his unfortunate  relatives. It is a remarkable insight into the mind of a shrewd courtier, and I am sharing it here (cleaned up for easier reading)

To the King’s Majesty,

Most noble and gracious Sovereign Lord. Yesterday came to my knowledge that my ungracious mother in law, my unhappy brother, and his wife, with my lewd sister of Bridgewater, were committed to the Tower; which, by long experience, knowing your accustomed equity and justice, used to all your subjects, am sure is not done, but for their false and  traitorous proceedings against your Royal Majesty. Which, revolving in my mind, with also the most abominable deeds doe by two of my nieces [Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard] against Your Highness, hath brought me in to the greatest perplexity that ever poor wretch was in; fearing that Your Majesty, having so often, and by so many of my kin, been thus falsely and traitorously handled, might not only conceive a displeasure in your heart against me, and all other of that kin, but also, in manner, abhor to hear speak of any of the same. Wherefore, most gracious Sovereign Lord, prostrate at your feet, most humble I beseech Your Majesty to call to your remembrance, that a grat part of this matter is come to light by my declaration to Your Majesty, according to my bounded duty, of the words spoken to me by my mother in law, when Your Highness sent me to Lambeth to search Dereham’s coffers; without the which I think she had not been further examined, nor consequently her ungracious children. With my true proceedings towards Your Majesty considered, and also the small love my two false traitorous nieces and my mother in law have borne unto me, doth put me in some hope that Your Highness will not conserve  any displeasure in your most gentle heart against me; that God knoweth, never did think thought which might be to your discontentation. Wherefore, [effsonys] prostrate at your royal feet, most humbly I beseech Your Majesty, that by such, as it shall please you to command, I may be advertised plainly, how Your Highness doth weigh your favor toward me; assuring Your Highness that only I may know Your Majesty to continue my good an gracious Lord, as ye were before their offenses committed, I shall never desire to live in this world any longer, but shortly to finish this transitory life, as God knoweth, who send Your Majesty the accomplishments of your most noble heart’s deires. Scribled at Kenynghale Lodge, the 15th day of December with the hand of

Your most humble Servant and Subject,



If you like my posts, you’ll love my books! My Seymour Saga trilogy tells the gripping story of the short-lived dynasty that shaped the Tudor Era. Jane the Quene skews romantic, The Path to Somerset is pure Game of Thrones (without the dragons), and The Boy King is a noir coming-of-age. Get them now through AmazonBarnes & NobleKobo, and Apple, or even your local independent bookstore!

(PS Already read them? Did you love them? Then please review them – even just a stars rating! It makes a huge difference in helping new readers find them and would mean the world to me!)


December 15, 1541 - Thomas Howard\'s Letter to Henry VIII
Published inInteresting Letters and Speeches


  1. Sarah Trevor Sarah Trevor

    It is amazing to read words penned some 500 years ago and see through this window a period which laid the basis for our modern age. Thanks for this.

  2. Banditqueen Banditqueen

    You have to love old Norfolk, he knew how to get around the King and dump his family as well.

  3. Even by Tudor standards, Thomas Howard was a scheming slimebag whose only interest was in his own promotion. After bringing down Cardinal Thomas Wolsey because, for reasons beyond Wolsey’s control, he couldn’t persuade the Pope to pave the way for Henry VIII’s marriage to Norfolk’s niece Anne Boleyn, Norfolk cheerfully undertook to preside at Anne’s subsequent trial for adultery/treason and sent his own niece to the block because it appeared to be what Henry wanted. Then he threw another Howard whore at Henry – Katherine Howard – and here he is, cringing and wheedling because she got caught out with various courtiers, and Thomas and his aunt are in the Tower. Like all bullies, he was a coward, and this letter is a brilliant expose of the rat under the ermine.

  4. I refrained from adding in my first post that a measure of Thomas’s lovability was the fact that when he was implicated in his first son’s treason for adopting royal insignia on his heraldic coat of arms, both Thomas’s wife and mistress joined the list of witnesses prepared to send him to the block. In his wife’s case, it may have had something to do with his having thrown her bodily from the matrimonial home on a prior occasion.
    You may have rightly surmised that I’m not his greatest fan, mainly because of my respect for Wolsey, who probably didn’t deserve it either. I managed to get some of my vitriol against Norfolk into ‘The King’s Commoner’, to be published by Sapere Books sometime next year

    • wolfgang sellentin wolfgang sellentin

      Please,………how in heavens name can anyone have respect for someone as vile as wolsey.He squandered the poor peoples money on a palatial residence,put rags soaked in vinegar to his nose so that he doesn’t have to smell the common people.In his era he was probably the biggest criminal alive,and it is just as well he died when he did.

      • Ha! Yeah, Wolsey arouses some strong reactions! To be fair, rags soaked in vinegar were thought to ward off the plague…but he did overbuild and overeverything and the Howards (including the Boleyns) were thrilled to pull him down

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.