Lord Thomas Howard: Died October 31, 1537

Happy Halloween! For Lord Thomas Howard, however, All Hallow’s Eve was not a happy day. Since I shared his story on Facebook, I thought I’d post it here as well.

On October 31, 1537, Lord Thomas Howard died in the Tower of an ague. Thomas, a younger half-brother of Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, had been imprisoned in July 1536 for secretly marrying Lady Margaret Douglas, Henry VIII’s niece. Just a few days before his arrest, he had been jousting as part of the celebrations following his brother William’s wedding.

In his deposition on July 8, 1536, Thomas admitted that he had loved Margaret “about a twelvemonth,” during which period he had given her a cramp-ring, while she had given him her portrait and a diamond. Thomas said that they had contracted their marriage after Easter.

Thomas was not tried for treason, but was convicted through parliamentary attainder, a process which avoided the messiness of a public trial. In the attainder, he was accused of having “false craftily and traitorously . . . imagined and compassed, that in case our said Sovereign Lord should die without heirs of his body, which God defend, that then the said Lord Thomas, by reason of a marriage in so high a blood, and to one such which pretendeth to be a lawful daughter to the said Queen of Scots eldest sister of our said Sovereign Lord, should aspire by her to the Dignity of the said Imperial Crown of this realm.” The attainder concluded by declaring that Thomas would be executed, though in fact no moves were made to put him to death.

Margaret Douglas was also taken to the Tower, but was not attainted. After she fell ill, she was moved to Sion Abbey, where she lived rather comfortably. She and Thomas may have found a way to exchange love poems during their imprisonment, which appear in the collection of verses known as the Devonshire Manuscript.

At about the time of Thomas’s death, Margaret was released, just in time to take a leading role in Jane Seymour’s funeral procession. The chronicler Charles Wriothesley reported that she took Thomas’s death “very heavily.” Henry VIII allowed Thomas’s mother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk (known to us mainly for her allegedly lax supervision of Katherine Howard), to take his body, provided that she buried him “without pomp.”

Later, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, would commemorate his uncle in verse. He wrote:

“For you yourself doth know, it is not long ago,
Since that for love, one of the race did end his life in woe,
In tower both strong and high, for his assured truth,
Whereas in tears he spent his breath, alas, the more the ruth.
This gentle beast likewise, who nothing could remove,
But willingly to seek his death for loss of his true love.”

3 thoughts on “Lord Thomas Howard: Died October 31, 1537”

  1. Wow, how romantic, especially Surrey’s poem. It did not pay to marry for love! Though I have to wonder why he chose such a high-born bride?? Maybe he did entertain ambitions?? THanks!

  2. Thomas Howard’s feelings for Margaret Douglas were clearly deep and genuine, but that didn’t keep him from writing some of the worst love poetry of the 16th c. in her honor. Surrey’s talent does not seem to have been transmitted to him genetically.

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