Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk: Life Story

Chapter 4 : Downfall

The abortive Buckingham uprising was not the end of conflict. In August 1485, Henry, Earl of Richmond, a sprig of the Lancastrian tree, invaded, determined to turn Richard from the throne. Thomas and his father continued their loyalty to Richard, summoning the men of their East Anglian estates to meet at Bury St Edmunds on 16th August, for the march to join Richard. They fought manfully for him in the ensuing Battle of Bosworth. Norfolk was killed, and Thomas, after a desperate hand-to-hand fight with Sir Gilbert Talbot, eventually surrendered and was taken prisoner.

Along with others of Richard III’s supporters, Thomas was taken first to Queenborough Castle on the Isle of Sheppey, then, in October 1485 to the Tower of London. It was no part of the new king, now Henry VII’s, plan to physically ill-treat his new subjects, and Thomas was maintained in the Tower at the king’s expense, being allowed the handsome sum of £2 per week and had permission to keep three servants. Generally, prisoners were obliged to pay their own costs. He was attainted of treason in the Parliament of 7th November, stripped of his earldom, his Order of the Garter and much of his estate – including the impressive castle at Framlingham. A later chronicler reported that Henry VII asked him why he had fought for the usurper, Richard, to which Thomas allegedly responded:

Sir, he was my crowned king. Let the authority of Parliament set the crown on that stock, and I will fight for it. As I fought then for him, I will fight for you, when you are established by that same authority.’

Whether the question and answer as reported are a true account, is questionable, but the sentiment expressed was borne out by Thomas’ later life.

In December 1485, Elizabeth Howard was in London, staying at St Katherine’s near to the Tower, to gain news of her husband. Despite early attempts to wrest Ashwellthorpe from her by one of Henry VII’s stewards, she had the protection of the Earl of Oxford, to whom Henry VII owed his victory at Bosworth, and was permitted to retain her estates unmolested.  She retired there to hope and pray for better times.  

In 1487, a boy was crowned in Dublin Cathedral as King Edward - there is some debate as to whether the boy was supposed to the missing Edward V or Edward, Earl of Warwick, the missing king’s cousin, and a potential Yorkist heir.  Matthew Lewis, author of ‘The Princes in the Tower’ has been reviewing the evidence recently, and believes the boy was intended to be taken for Edward V. In the hopes of placing the boy, or, more probably, John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, on the throne, an invasion force landed and marched towards London. Henry VII, whilst not of a warlike demeanour in general, was very ready to defend his newly won crown. Together with his trusted lieutenants, Jasper, Duke of Bedford, and John, Earl of Oxford, he marched north to meet the threat.

Back in London, the Lieutenant of the Tower, probably Sir John Digby, offered to let Thomas escape to join the rebels.  Thomas refused – either for the genuine reason that he would not take the field against Henry as an anointed king, or because he thought it was a trap – Digby’s superior officer being none other than the Tudor loyalist, the Earl of Oxford.

This decision proved wise. Henry was victorious at the Battle of Stoke, and the supposed King Edward took up a post in the royal kitchens, whilst the Earl of Lincoln was killed, and his chief supporter, Viscount Lovell, fled the battlefield, never to be seen again.

Henry, needing good men at his side, decided to release Thomas, and rehabilitate him. In early 1489, the attainder against him was reversed, the title of Earl of Surrey restored, and he was appointed as Chief Justice in Eyre, North of the Trent. This was a judicial role, and required Surrey, as we may now call him, not only to maintain order, but to preside over courts and mete out justice in an area of the country that was frequently lawless. 

Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk

Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk

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