Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk: Life Story

Chapter 11 : More Diplomacy

The war of 1513 in France had not gone as Henry planned. He had been let down, not for the first time, by his allies, the Emperor Maximilian, and Ferdinand of Aragon who secretly made peace with Louis XII. It soon became apparent that Maximilian was in no hurry to honour the agreement of 1508 which Norfolk had helped to broker – the marriage of Henry’s sister Mary, to Archduke Charles.

A frustrated Henry soon found his revenge. He arranged for Mary to marry the aging and recently widowed Louis instead and the proxy wedding took place on 13th August 1514.  Norfolk was deputed to accompany the new Queen of France to her husband.  On their arrival at Abbeville, the duke presented the young woman to Louis, who, not surprisingly, was delighted with his eighteen-year-old bride.

Just as in 1503  Margaret, Queen of Scots, had complained that Norfolk had spent too much time pandering to her husband, and not enough time considering her interests, so her younger sister thought that the duke was far too accommodating to the King of France. Louis had decreed within days of the wedding that Mary’s English attendants must be sent home. Mary wrote to Henry in desperation: ‘I marvel much that my Lord of Norfolk would at all times so lightly grant everything at their requests here…Would to God that my Lord of York (Wolsey) had come with me in the room of Norfolk.’

According to the Duke of Suffolk, also one of the party, Norfolk was on a secret mission of his own. Far from wishing to please Louis, Suffolk wrote to Wolsey that Norfolk ‘love[d] neither you nor me’ and was trying to undermine the treaty, disapproving of peace with France. Suffolk thought that ‘the father and the son [Norfolk and his son Thomas, now Earl of Surrey] would for no good I should [reach agreement] with the French king’. 

Since this is just Suffolk’s opinion, we can have no way of verifying it – we can only ask why Norfolk would be so accommodating to Louis that Mary complained of it, if he had had an ulterior motive? Nevertheless, Norfolk’s dislike of Wolsey and of Suffolk seems well-attested, although the greater enmity may have been from Surrey.

The reason for the Howards’ dislike of both Wolsey and Suffolk may be ascribed to anger at their loss of influence not just in the king’s council, but also in their home territory of East Anglia. Suffolk had been granted many of the lands of the former holders of the title, the de la Poles, and was building counter to Howard influence. His later marriage to Mary, Queen of France after she was widowed, only served to enhance Suffolk’s sway.

Nevertheless, Norfolk was still useful to the king. In May 1517, along with the Earl of Shrewsbury, he brought 1,300 men into London when the capital erupted into anti-foreigner riots on what became known as Evil May Day. The citizenry was sure that he intended revenge for the murder of one of his chaplains the previous year. Strangely, Norfolk issued orders that the men of London were to keep their womenfolk indoors, and not permit them to ‘babble and talk’. Quite why he thought that women had inspired the apprentices to riot is unclear.

Quietude restored, Norfolk presided at the Guildhall on 4th May, when a number of prisoners were tried for treason. The contemporary accounts differ hugely in their estimates of numbers. Vergil does not mention how many were arraigned, but says fourteen were executed. Hall gives the numbers tried as 278 with thirteen executed and Wriothesley has 54 tried and 18 executed. All agreed that the executions were carried out by hanging, drawing and quartering, and Hall notes that the executions were supervised by Norfolk’s son, Lord Edmund Howard, who ‘showed no mercy’. 

In a set-piece of royal justice and mercy, a few days later, Henry was then begged to pardon the rest. First Queen Katharine, and his sisters the dowager queens of Scotland and France knelt before him, then Norfolk and several other lords, to beg forgiveness for the malefactors. Henry was graciously pleased to comply.

In 1520,  Henry and Katharine, together with the majority of their court, set sail for Calais for the diplomatic extravaganza known as the Field of Cloth of Gold. The king and queen had only one living child, four-year-old Princess Mary. It would have been extremely unwise for Henry to take his daughter with him – she was his only heir, and she was, of course, too young to preside over his council as regent, so Norfolk was appointed as Guardian of the Realm in Henry’s absence.

Unlike the situation 1513, when Henry’s absence led to invasion, the few weeks Norfolk passed as ruler of the kingdom passed without incident, other than a surprise visit by a French delegation to inspect Princess Mary, betrothed to the French dauphin.  Aged seventy-seven, perhaps even the energetic Norfolk was glad that he was not called upon to defend the kingdom.