Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk: Life Story

Chapter 6 : Success

The achievements of 1497 were probably somewhat marred for Surrey by the loss of his wife, Elizabeth. She had been living in their new town house at Lambeth, and was buried in the church there. But grief did not detain Surrey for long – before the end of the year he had remarried.  His second wife was a cousin of Elizabeth’s – another of the influential Tilney family, Agnes Tilney.  Owing to the family connection, Surrey required a papal dispensation, which arrived in time for the wedding to take place at Sheriff Hutton castle on 8th November.

Since Surrey was of far greater social stature when he married Agnes, than when he had married Elizabeth, and Agnes was not an heiress, it seems safe to presume that Surrey had personal motives for marrying her, unrelated to the usual mediaeval motivations of money or position. We do not know anything about Agnes’ early life, but it is not unlikely that she had been one of her cousin’s attendants, and caught the eye of her master. Agnes bore Surrey a further eight children, of whom six lived to adulthood.

The king showed his gratitude toward Surrey by restoring more of the Howard lands in the late 1490s, and there are traces in the Close Rolls of Henry VII of the various matrimonial contracts for Surrey’s children. His daughter Muriel married first, John Grey, Viscount Lisle, and then Sir Thomas Knyvett; Elizabeth married Thomas Boleyn, a Norfolk gentleman, whilst the greatest match of all was achieved by his eldest son. Thomas Howard the younger was permitted to fulfil an arrangement made during the reign of Richard III – marriage to Anne of York, daughter of Edward IV, and younger sister of Henry’s own wife, Elizabeth of York. Nothing could better exemplify Henry’s trust in Surrey than allowing this marriage to go forward in 1495. The other York sisters had been found husbands from the old Lancastrian affinity.

In 1499, Surrey was appointed as a Privy Councillor and on 16 June 1501 as Lord Treasurer of England – one of the highest offices in government. Together with Henry’s faithful friend Richard Fox, Bishop of Winchester; William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Sir Thomas Lovell, Surrey was in the inner circle of power. He was described by Vergil as ‘a man of consummate prudence, gravity, and steadiness’, just the sort of councillor Henry liked.

In late 1501, Surrey was one of the posse of Lords Temporal, headed by Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, Queen Elizabeth of York’s nephew, who were appointed to welcome the Princess Katharine of Aragon at her entry to London.  The Spanish princess was betrothed to marry the king’s eldest son, Prince Arthur, and the wedding duly took place. 

One of Surrey’s most important roles was the negotiation of a long-term peace with his old adversary, James IV. After the collapse of the Perkin Warbeck affair, James and Henry had concluded that a long-term peace, rather than a mere truce, was desirable. It was to be sealed with the marriage of Henry’s daughter, Margaret, to James, when she reached marriageable age.

The Treaty of Perpetual Peace was a genuine attempt to bring to an end centuries of war between the countries – it was the first peace, as opposed to a truce, since 1328, and envisaged a cordial relationship between the two, even if miscreants on either side of the border sought to undermine it. A significant clause was the agreement that each country could continue its alliance with other countries (such as that between England and Spain, or Scotland and France) but could not use those alliances as an excuse for invasion of the other. This clause was to prove significant later.

On 24th January, 1502, Surrey together with Henry Deane, Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishop Fox of Winchester, were officially commissioned by the king to negotiate the terms of the treaty and marriage. James was represented by Robert Blackadder, Archbishop of Glasgow; Patrick, Earl of Bothwell, and Andrew Forman, known to Surrey as one of the chief negotiators of the Treaty of Ayton.  This official commission took place at the end of the negotiations, which had been going on for some time, and it was to accept the finally agreed terms.

The following day, St Paul’s Day, the betrothal took place at Richmond Palace. Surrey, listed as fifth in the order of precedence of the Lords Temporal (after Buckingham, Dorset, Arundel, Northumberland, and Derby) announced the purpose of the ceremony. According to John Young, the herald who recorded the information,  he did so ‘right well and right sadly (seriously) with very good manner.’  Following the betrothal, the king dined with the Scottish ambassadors, with Surrey also partaking with the king. The lesser lords ate in the Council chamber, whilst the queen, and the new Queen of Scots, dined together.

January 1502 marked the peak of Henry VII’s achievements – his son was married to a princess of Spain, his beloved daughter was now Queen of Scots, but still at home, and he had two more children (a third son, Edmund, had recently died).

Within months, a stream of misery descended. Prince Arthur died, aged only fifteen. Surrey, trusted by both king and queen, was appointed to preside over the magnificent funeral at Worcester Cathedral in April 1502.  The following February, Elizabeth of York and an infant daughter died, leaving Henry, her family, and the whole country, grief-stricken.                                                                                  

Surrey had known Elizabeth all her life, and if The Ballad of Lady Bessy is to be believed, Elizabeth had trusted and revered Surrey’s father.  Perhaps this long personal connection with the House of York was Henry VII’s reason for entrusting his wife’s funeral arrangements to Surrey, along with Henry’s mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, and Sir Richard Guilford.