There is a dizzying amount to unpack in order to tell this story!
#Onthisday, Henry Howard (the Earl of Surrey) and his wife (Frances de Vere) welcomed a son; they named him Thomas after Surrey’s father who was then Duke of Norfolk. At the time of little Tom’s birth, the future looked amazingly rosy for Surrey: his cousin Anne Boleyn was queen, his sister Mary was married to Henry FitzRoy (the Duke of Richmond), and his father considered himself the King’s closest advisor. But a year later everything had changed: dad Norfolk had been eclipsed by Thomas Cromwell, cousin Anne had been beheaded and replaced by Jane Seymour, and Henry FitzRoy had succumbed to consumption, leaving sister Mary a widow.
The family fortunes turned back around (and around) over the next ten years – Norfolk rode high again when another Howard, Catherine, caught the King’s eye and heart and became Queen of England. Then the Howards were disgraced when it was discovered that Catherine had two lovers before her marriage and one more afterwards…she became the second of Henry’s wives to be executed. One final attempt at a turnaround backfired spectacularly: when it became pretty clear that Henry did not have many years left to him, Surrey made the mistake of quartering his arms with William the Confessor’s. Henry saw this as a sign he would try to steal the throne from the rightful heir – and had Surrey executed and Norfolk imprisoned (Norfolk was also supposed to be executed but Henry died before the orders were carried out)(this was a wild ride – I’ve done several posts on it, if you want to read more, go to this post about Surrey’s trial and dig in…).
On the death of Edward VI, Mary I released Norfolk from the Tower and the family started its rise from the ashes. Mary reinstated Norfolk’s dukedom, so when he died in 1554, the eighteen-year-old Thomas inherited it. He remained in good favor when Elizabeth came to the throne in 1558 (she was a Howard scion, after all!), and received a series of important posts beginning with Earl Marshal of England and Lieutenant in the North. But the wheel was still in spin…
You see, Thomas Howard was not lucky in love – or rather, he was lucky in finding love but not lucky in keeping it: he married three times, but all three wives died. After the death of the third one, he got a crazy idea that he should marry Mary, Queen of Scots. He participated in the Ridolfi plot hatched by Philip of Spain to put Mary on the English throne and restore Catholicism in England…and got caught and was executed.
Ready to hear about one more spin? Four generations later, the title of Duke of Norfolk was restored to his great-great-grandson Thomas Howard. Talk about dizzying!
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