Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk: Life Story

Chapter 2 : Royal Service

Edward of March was proclaimed king and crowned as Edward IV, and for the following eight years, all went smoothly. It is now that Thomas Howard first steps onto the stage, as a ‘henchman’ in the new king’s household. It is possible that during his early years, he had received some education at Thetford Grammar School, but we can find no confirmation of this, and a place at court would have been far more important than mere academic education.  Thomas’ father was the recipient of a number of important offices and was at the centre of court and government in the late 1460s. He was granted a barony, which Thomas could expect to inherit.

In 1469, the Earl of Warwick, aided and abetted by the Duke of Clarence, the king’s brother, turned against Edward IV. Over the following eighteen months, there were battles and reconciliations, but the upshot was, that Warwick and Clarence escaped to France, and entered into an alliance with Queen Marguerite, with the goal of restoring Henry VI to the throne, and assuring it to her son, Edward of Lancaster. They were initially successful, and Edward IV fled to sanctuary in the territories of his brother-in-law, Charles, Duke of Burgundy. It is probable that Thomas remained in England, in sanctuary at Colchester.

The Howards continued their unwavering support of Edward IV and joined him when he returned in 1471 to fight once more for the crown. When the two sides confronted each other at Barnet on 14th April 1471, Thomas fought what was probably his first battle. He was badly wounded, but survived and was well enough to marry the following April.

Thomas’ bride was Elizabeth Tilney (or Tylney). The Tilneys were a sound East Anglian gentry family, and Elizabeth had inherited twelve manors, including her birthplace at Ashwellthorpe Hall. Such a promising heiress had been snapped up early, and Elizabeth had previously been married to Sir Humphrey Bourchier, a descendant of the youngest son of Edward III. Another committed Yorkist, he had been killed at Barnet.

As well as her twelve manors, Elizabeth brought her husband three step-children – John, Margaret and Anne, all of whom would take their place at the Tudor court. Thomas and Elizabeth had eight children of their own, of whom five lived to adulthood. Shortly after his marriage, presumably as a sign of favour, Thomas was sent to serve in the army of Charles of Burgundy in a new attack on France. Peace was quickly agreed in the Treaty of Senlis, and Thomas returned home, to be promoted from henchman, to Esquire of the Body.

Despite this appointment, Thomas did not spend all his time at court. As a trusted retainer of the king, he was expected to fulfil local government duties, and was appointed as Sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk in 1476. Whilst away from court, he lived on his wife’s estate at Ashwellthorpe.

Thomas took part in the campaign that Edward IV led into France in 1475. The Duke of Norfolk took a large contingent of men, and Thomas’ father also supplied archers and foot soldiers. Thomas’ contribution consisted of six men-at-arms and two hundred archers – presumably raised from his wife’s estates.

Despite having taken a large army into France – according to Philip de Commines, minister to Louis XI, one of the largest and best-prepared English forces ever – Edward was happy to negotiate a truce negotiated without a blow being struck.  Thomas therefore had no opportunity to shine militarily on this occasion, or gain a knighthood on the field of battle.

This Treaty of Picquigny did not please everyone, but promised Edward IV a regular pension from the king of France, and the marriage of his eldest daughter, Elizabeth of York, to the Dauphin. Most of Edward’s nobles also received payments from the French.

Thomas’ continued good service was recognised in 1478 with a knighthood, although the occasion may not have been an entirely happy one for Thomas or his father. The honour was granted on the occasion of the marriage of Edward IV’s second son, Richard, Duke of York, to Anne Mowbray, daughter of the recently deceased 4th Duke of Norfolk.  

Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk

Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk

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