Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk

Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, KG (10 March 1536  2 June 1572) was an English nobleman and politician. Although hailing from a family with strong Catholic leanings, he was raised a Protestant. He was a second cousin of Queen Elizabeth I through her maternal grandmother, and held many high offices during her reign.

Thomas Howard
Duke of Norfolk
Born10 March 1536
Died2 June 1572(1572-06-02) (aged 36)
Tower Hill , London, England
Noble familyHoward
Spouse(s)Mary FitzAlan
Margaret Audley
Elizabeth Leyburne
FatherHenry Howard, Earl of Surrey
MotherFrances de Vere

Norfolk was the son of the poet Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. He commissioned Thomas Tallis, probably in 1567, to compose his renowned motet in forty voice-parts, Spem in alium.

Early life, family, and religion

Norfolk was taught as a child by John Foxe, the Protestant martyrologist,[1] who remained a lifelong recipient of Norfolk's patronage. His father predeceased his grandfather, so Norfolk inherited the Dukedom of Norfolk upon the death of his grandfather, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk in 1554.

He was a second cousin of Queen Elizabeth I through her maternal grandmother, Lady Elizabeth Howard, and he was trusted with public office despite his family's history and leanings towards Catholicism (although he was brought up a Protestant).


While still young, Norfolk was Earl Marshal of England and Queen's Lieutenant in the North. From February to July 1560, Norfolk was commander of the English army in Scotland in support of the Lords of the Congregation opposing Mary of Guise. He negotiated the February 1560 Treaty of Berwick by which the Congregation invited English assistance,[2] and after the Treaty of Edinburgh was signed in July of that year he was able to return to the court.[1]

Norfolk was the Principal of the commission at York in 1568 to hear evidence against Mary, Queen of Scots presented by Regent Moray, including the casket letters.[3]

Having married and lost three wives by 1567, and despite having presided at the York commission, Norfolk schemed to marry Mary, Queen of Scots. William Maitland of Lethington favoured the proposed union, and Mary herself consented to it, but Norfolk was unwilling to take up arms. He was briefly involved in the Northern Rebellion in an attempt to free and marry Mary, and Elizabeth ordered his arrest for this in October 1569. He was imprisoned for nine months.[1] Following his release in August 1570, and after some hesitation, he participated in the Ridolfi plot with King Philip II of Spain to put Mary on the English throne and restore Catholicism in England. The plot was revealed to the queen's minister Lord Burghley,[1] and after a trial in January 1572, in which he was found unanimously guilty, Norfolk was executed for treason in Tower Hill, London, in June.[4][5] He is buried at the Church of St Peter ad Vincula within the walls of the Tower of London.

Norfolk's lands and titles were forfeit, although much of the estate was later restored to his sons. The title of Duke of Norfolk was restored, four generations later, to his great-great-grandson Thomas Howard.

Marriages and issue

First wife

Thomas Howard's first wife was Mary FitzAlan, who after the death of her brother Henry in 1556 became heiress to the Arundel estates of her father Henry FitzAlan, 19th Earl of Arundel. She died after a year of marriage, having given birth to a son:

  • Philip Howard (28 June 1557  19 October 1595), who became the 20th Earl of Arundel.

It is from this marriage that modern Dukes of Norfolk derive their surname of 'FitzAlan-Howard' and their seat in Arundel. Though her funeral effigy is found at Framlingham church, Mary FitzAlan was not buried there but first at the church of St. Clement Danes, Temple Bar and then, under the direction of her grandson's will, at Arundel.

Second wife

Norfolk next married another heiress, Margaret Audley,[6] widow of Sir Henry Dudley and daughter of Thomas Audley, 1st Baron Audley of Walden. Margaret's children by her marriage to Norfolk were:

Margaret Audley Howard's tomb effigy is found at St Michael the Archangel, Framlingham.[8]

Third wife

After Margaret's death in 1563, Norfolk married Elizabeth Leyburne (1536  4 September 1567), widow of Thomas Dacre, 4th Baron Dacre of Gillesland and daughter of Sir James Leyburn.

Norfolk's three sons by his first two wives, Philip, Thomas, and William, married, respectively, Anne, Margaret, and Elizabeth Dacre. The Dacre sisters were the daughters of Elizabeth Leyburne by her marriage to Thomas Dacre and were, thereby, stepsisters to Norfolk's sons.

Attempted fourth marriage

After Norfolk's third wife's death in 1567, Mary, Queen of Scots fled to England in 1568 and was imprisoned by Queen Elizabeth. Thomas Howard was suggested as a husband for her as he was a cousin to Queen Elizabeth and the wealthiest landowner in the country. Together they would have a strong claim on England's throne as Mary was also Elizabeth's cousin. This suited Norfolk as he was ambitious and felt Elizabeth consistently undervalued him. Therefore, Norfolk supported the Northern Rebellion in 1569 in an effort to free and marry Mary, Queen of Scots. It is still debated whether this plot actually planned to overthrow Elizabeth or even if Mary knew about it. Howard soon lost his nerve and the plan failed, but he made another effort to marry Mary in 1571 as part of the Ridolfi Plot. This plot planned to murder Elizabeth and free Mary. She would then marry Howard so that they could take the throne. Elizabeth's government discovered the plot and Howard's servants betrayed him under torture. Norfolk was imprisoned by Queen Elizabeth and put on trial in January 1572. He was found guilty unanimously and beheaded on Tower Hill, London, in June.[9]



See also


  1. Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Norfolk, Earls and Dukes of" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 19 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 744.
  2. Calendar of State Papers Scotland, vol. 1 (1898), 323, 440.
  3. HMC: Manuscripts of the Earl of Salisbury at Hatfield, vol.1 (1883), p. 461.
  4. Jardine, David. Criminal Trials, Supplying Copious Illustrations of the Important Periods of English History During the Reigns of Queen Elizabeth and James I.: To which is Added a Narrative of the Gunpowder Plot, with Historical Prefaces and Notes, Volume 1, pp. 121-245 (Nattali and Bond, 1847).
  5. Bacon, Matthew et al. A New Abridgment of the Law with Large Additions and Corrections, Volume 9, p. 399 (T. Davis, 1846).
  6. "Margaret Howard", National Portrait Gallery
  8. "Churchmouse: Framlingham, Suffolk. Church of St. Michael the Archangel". 2 May 2000. Archived from the original on 9 March 2012. Retrieved 7 September 2012.
  9. Hodder Education History for Edexcel: Early Elizabethan England

Further reading

Political offices
Preceded by
The Duke of Norfolk
Earl Marshal
Succeeded by
The Earl of Shrewsbury
Preceded by
The Earl of Sussex
Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk
Succeeded by
Peerage of England
Preceded by
Thomas Howard
Duke of Norfolk
3rd creation
Title next held by
Thomas Howard
Earl of Surrey
3rd creation
Title next held by
Thomas Howard
Baron Mowbray
Succeeded by
Philip Howard
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