New book on powerful duke who owned Framlingham Castle
PUBLISHED: 20:02 04 February 2020 | UPDATED: 11:27 06 February 2020
Was grandfather of Anne Boleyn involved in mystery of the vanishing princes?
Things were dicey in the 15th Century. Being poor was no fun, but being close to the king also carried risks - even hundreds of years later. For instance, some historians (cold case-like) have suspected a nobleman from Suffolk of nefarious conduct. Two young princes had disappeared. Was he involved?
Thomas Howard's family had risen, fallen, and risen again. He was a skilled military commander, diplomat and councillor who served four monarchs.
His descendants included granddaughters Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard (executed wives of Henry VIII) and great-granddaughter Queen Elizabeth I.
Why isn't his story more widely known? Historian Kirsten Claiden-Yardley reckons he's been overshadowed by the kings he served and by other (more notorious) figures at the Tudor court.
Not that he didn't have his share of "moments", good and bad.
That potentially-damaging one came after the death of Edward IV in 1483. The king's son (not even a teenager) had a brief uncrowned reign as Edward V before being deposed by his uncle, Richard III.
Young Edward and his brother were removed to the Tower of London, and then disappeared.
Some historians implicate Thomas Howard and father John. You can imagine why: Richard III made John the first (rebooted) Duke of Norfolk and Thomas the Earl of Surrey. Richard was crowned just over a week later.
Coincidence, or reward for services rendered? Kirsten Claiden-Yardley examines the details in her new book.
A key romance
The Howard family's rise owes much to a romance that blossomed on the battlefield between Thomas's grandfather (fighting for the king) and a duke's daughter.
Grandmother had a small estate at Stoke by Nayland in Suffolk: Tendring Hall. Her son (John) served the original dukes of Norfolk and became a shipowner. His son, Thomas, was born in 1443.
John Howard fought in a bloody battle during the War of the Roses in 1461. He was knighted by Edward IV and rewarded with royal appointments and land.
Thomas joined the royal household in 1467 as a henchman - squires or pages who rode alongside the king and VIPs at royal processions.
John, meanwhile, grew richer - able to lend large sums to his cousin, the 4th Duke of Norfolk, becoming treasurer of Edward IV's household and later being made Lord Howard.
By 1471, Edward was in exile in Burgundy. When it appeared he was planning an invasion to regain the crown, Henry VI began rounding up Edward's supporters in England. John and Thomas sought sanctuary at St John's Abbey, Colchester. Thomas later fought, on Edward's side, during a victory at Barnet.
In 1472 he married Elizabeth, from Ashwellthorpe, near Norwich. They'd have 10 children.
Elizabeth had land in Suffolk, Norfolk and elsewhere. Later, Thomas left the royal court and became Sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk, and a justice of the peace and MP in Norfolk.
In 1476 John de Mowbray died. It marked the end of the de Mowbrays as dukes of Norfolk.
In 1483 Edward IV died, triggering those dramatic events involving The Princes in the Tower.
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Kirsten examines those events in detail. Her verdict? It's likely the granting of the dukedom and earldom was "related only to their support, not to any other 'services'."
Thomas was appointed a Knight of the Order of the Garter and a royal councillor.
During Richard's coronation in July, "Thomas had a place in front of the king in the procession, holding the sword of state upright in its scabbard."
In 1485 Henry Tudor landed in Wales, having come from France determined to seize the crown.
Richard III mustered troops, including men supplied by John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, at Framlingham.
The Howards were among the commanders at the subsequent Battle of Bosworth, Leicestershire, where the king was killed.
John also died. Thomas, injured, was captured.
Kirsten writes: "They had been amongst the most prominent of Richard's supporters, dependent on him for their titles and the huge East Anglian estates that had belonged to the de Mowbrays..."
She says Henry VII dated the start of his reign to the day before the battle - so he could accuse his foes of treason and confiscate assets.
Thomas was held in the Tower. His stepmother lost Framlingham Castle.
The new king pardoned Thomas of treason in 1486, though he stayed locked up until 1489. He got back his title of Earl of Surrey and the Order of the Garter, but not most of the lands his father held.
Kirsten calls it "a clever gamble on the part of Henry VII" when he needed someone in the north and sent Thomas. Without land, he'd be relying on the fees that came with offices bestowed by the king. It encouraged loyalty.
Henry made him deputy warden, and over the years gave back most of the Howard lands.
In 1497 Thomas's wife died. He had to repel an attempted invasion from Scotland by James IV, too. He also married Agnes Tilney, his wife's young cousin.
By the 1500s he was back south, living at Stoke by Nayland or Lambeth. He became a privy councillor and Lord Treasurer - "ensconced at the centre of Tudor politics".
Daughter Elizabeth married Thomas Boleyn.
Henry VII died in 1509. Thomas had a key role in Henry VIII's coronation, but didn't become the new king's leading minister. They didn't quite click, and an astute Ipswich-born clerk and chaplain (Thomas Wolsey) was on the rise.
Thomas, 70, was sent north to counter the threat of Scottish invasion.
James IV attacked in 1513. At the Battle of Flodden, Thomas led the outnumbered royal forces. It was brutal; but James IV was killed. Thomas returned south in triumph. Henry VIII restored the dukedom of Norfolk - for him.
He'd come a long way
Thomas died on May 21, 1524, at Framlingham Castle. He was 81. His Framlingham possessions alone were valued at about £734,000 in today's money. Kirsten writes of the 2nd Duke of Norfolk: "He brought his family back from the depths of defeat and imprisonment to the pinnacle of the English nobility and succeeded in establishing an influential and long-lasting legacy."
The Man Behind the Tudors is published by Pen & Sword History at £19.99