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January 12, 1547 – Norfolk Throws Surrey Under the Bus

Henry Howard, by Hans Holbein (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

So hopefully you’ve read my blog post from December 12th (“Surrey Arrested”) so you have the context (if you don’t, feel free to read it here). Surrey’s trial was scheduled for January 13th – and by this point, the prosecution had assembled a ton of evidence. These included statements from people close to him – including his mother and his sister. But there was one more voice to be added to these denunciations: his dad’s.

Today was the day Norfolk wrote out the full confession in which he threw his son and heir under the proverbial bus in order to distance himself from Surrey’s crimes. Admittedly, this letter was not quite as mean as the one he wrote to throw his niece Catherine to the wolves (you can read that letter here), but then again he was writing this one from the Tower and so struck a different tone. He confessed that he had known that Surrey had done wrong and had not alerted authorities to that fact; he also confessed to some armorial trickery himself – but he was careful to mention that he had used those arms of England for more than twenty-five years (i.e. that Henry had long known and never objected). Norfolk’s clear hope was to be spared. It didn’t work….and yet, it did. It got Henry to delay signing Norfolk’s death warrant – long enough that Henry died before the warrant could be implemented, and so Norfolk escaped. He remained in the Tower throughout Edward VI’s reign, freed when Mary triumphantly rode through London to take her throne. But I digress.

Here now is the letter of a broken man.

I, Thomas Duke of Norfolk do confess and knowledge myself most untruly, and contrary to my oath and allegiance, to have offended the King’s most excellent majesty, in the disclosing and opening of his secret counsels at divers times to sundry persons, to the great peril of His Highness and disappointing of his most prudent and regal affairs.

Also, I likewise confess that I have concealed high treason, in keeping secret the false and traitorous acts most presumptuously committed by my son, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, against the King’s Majesty and his laws, in the putting and using the arms of St. Edward the Confessor in his escutcheon or arms; these arms of St. Edward appertain only to the king of this realm and to none other person or persons; whereunto the said earl could make no claim.

Also I likewise confess that to the peril, slander and disinherison of the King’s Majesty and his noble son Prince Edward I have against all right unjustly and without authority borne in the first and principal quarter of my arms, ever since the death of my father, the arms of England, with a difference of the three labels of silver which are the proper arms of my Lord the Prince. By this, I have not only done prejudice to the King’s Majesty said lord the prince, but also given occasion that His Highness might be disturbed or interrupted of the crown of this realm and my said Lord Prince might be destroyed disturbed and interrupted in fame, body and title of the inheritance to the crown of this realm. Which I know and confess by the laws of the realm, to be high treason.

For the which my said heinous offenses, I have worthily deserved by the laws of the realm to be attainted of high treason, and to suffer the punishment losses and forfeitures that appertain thereunto. And although I be not worthy to have or enjoy any part of the King’s Majesty’s clemency and mercy to be extended to me, considering the great and manifold benefits that I and mine have received of His Highness; yet I most humbly, and with a most sorrowful and repentant heart, do beseech His Highness to have mercy, pity and compassion on me. And I shall most devoutly and heartily make my daily prayer to God for the preservation of his noble succession, as long as life and breath shall continue in me.


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January 12, 1547 - Norfolk Throws Surrey Under the Bus
Published inInteresting Letters and Speeches

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