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January 19, 1547 – Earl of Surrey Executed

Henry Howard by William Scrots (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Today let’s pause a moment to mourn the death of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey.

I’m not going to repeat the crimes that got him here (for them, you can visit my December 12 blog post, Surrey Arrested) or the evidence given against him by those closest to him (for that, you can read my January 12 blog post, Norfolk Throws Surrey Under the Bus). Instead I will allow one of the most promising poets of his day to speak for himself. Surrey wrote this poem some time during the week between his conviction at the Guildhall and his death. His anger still resonates centuries later.

London! hast thou accused me
Of breach of laws?  the root of strife!
Within whose breast did boil to see,
So fervent hot, thy dissolute life;
That even the hate of sins, that grow
Within thy wicked walls so rife,
For to break forth did convert so,
That terror could it not repress.
The which, by words, since preachers know
What hope is left for to redress,
By unknown means it liked me
My hidden burthen to express.
Whereby it might appear to thee
That secret sin hath secret spite;
From justice’ rod no fault is free
But that all such as work unright
In most quiet, are next ill rest.
In secret silence of the night
This made me, with a reckless breast,
To wake thy sluggards with my bow:
A figure of the Lord’s behest;
Whose scourge for sin the Scriptures shew.
That as the fearful thunder’s clap
By sudden flame at hand we know;
Of pebble stones the soundless rap,
The dreadful plague might make thee see
Of God’s wrath, that doth thee enwrap.
That pride might know, from conscience free,
How lofty works may her defend;
And envy find, as he hath sought,
How other seek him to offend:
And wrath taste of each cruel thought,
The just shape higher in the end:
And idle sloth, that never wrought,
To heaven his spirit lift may begin:
And greedy lucre live in dread,
To see what hate ill got goods win.
The lechers, ye that lusts do feed,
Perceive what secrecy is in sin:
And gluttons’ hearts for sorrow bleed,
Awaked, when their fault they find,
In loathsome vice each drunken wight,
To stir to God this was my mind.
Thy windows had done me no spight;
But proud people that dread no fall,
Clothed with falsehood, and unright
Bred in the closures of thy wall.
But wrested to wrath in fervent zeal
Thou hast to strife, my secret call.
Indured hearts no warning feel.
O! shameless whore! is dread then gone?
Be such thy foes, as mean thy weal?
O! member of false Babylon!
The shop of craft! the den of ire!
Thy dreadful doom draws fast upon.
Thy martyr’s blood by sword and fire,
In heaven and earth for justice call.
The Lord shall hear their just desire!
The flame of wrath shall on thee fall!
With famine and pest lamentably
Stricken shall be thy lechers all.
Thy proud towers, and turrets high
Enemies to God, beat stone from stone:
Thine idols burnt that wrought iniquity:
When, none thy ruin shall bemoan;
But render unto the righteous Lord,
That so hath judged Babylon,
Immortal praise with one accord.

Read more of his amazing poetry on Luminarium or in this wonderful 1908 volume edited by James Yeowell – The Poems of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey

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