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June 2, 1572 – Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, Executed

Thomas Howard, Fourth Duke of Norfolk, by Hans Eworth (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Many of you will read the title and be confused – since you will know there was a Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, who escaped execution because Henry VIII died before the death sentence could be carried out. This Thomas is that Thomas’s grandson (Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, was not saved by Henry VIII’s death and since he predeceased his father the title passed over that generation). This Thomas was born in 1536 and his influence was felt during Elizabeth’s reign.

But we still need more context. The Howards were arguably the most important noble family in England: their dukedom was one of the oldest, their blood among the bluest. And boy, did they know it. This pride, actually, is what caused their downfall (over and over, but from now on I’m referring exclusively to Thomas-the-fourth) – it’s what prompted Thomas to embark upon a foolhardy scheme to marry the imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots so that together they could seize Elizabeth’s throne.

The thing is, Thomas should have known better. He had joined in the Northern Rebellion of 1569 to free and marry Mary, and was imprisoned for nine months when it failed. But instead of learning his lesson, just two years later he joined the Ridolfi Plot, a scheme in which Spain would invade to help the country assassinate Elizabeth and replace her with Mary (and Thomas, as Mary’s husband…). There would be no forgiveness for that one. Well, there almost was. Thomas was tried and convicted in January – and it took six months for her Council to convince Elizabeth to follow through with the sentence. It would be the first death warrant she signed during her reign. It would not be the last.  

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Published inOn This Day

2 Comments

  1. Barbara Cross-Nicolosi Barbara Cross-Nicolosi

    Thank you, Janet, extremely interesting. And Poor Mary, even those who tried to help her likely only made it worse for her in the end; although Thomas was extremely foolhardy and ultimately most likely trying to further himself.

  2. Very interesting read Janet. I too thought he had been pardoned by Henry VIII and then noticed you were explaining this was not the same man! Pride indeed led to his fall.

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