House of Treason The Rise & Fall of a Tudor Dynasty
by Robert Hutchinson
This history of the Howard family—the Dukes of Norfolk—is marked by treason, beheadings, and incarceration—a dynasty whose pride and ambition secured only their downfall. The wealthiest and most powerful aristocrats in Tudor England—regarding themselves as the true power behind the throne—they were certainly extraordinarily influential, with two Howard women marrying Henry VIII—Anne Boleyn and the 15-year-old Catherine Howard. But in the treacherous world of the Tudor court no faction could afford to rest on its laurels. The Howards consolidated their power with an awesome web of schemes and conspiracies, but even they could not always hold their enemies at bay.
This was a family whose history is marked by treason, beheadings and incarceration – a dynasty whose pride and ambition secured only their downfall.
Having read “The Last Days of Henry VIII”, another book by Robert Hutchinson, I was excited to read his book about the Dukes of Norfolk. Just as Hutchinson’s previous book I was not disappointed and right from the very first word I was captivated! Honestly I think Hutchinson could write about paint drying on the walls and I would be hanging off his every word, such is the power and draw of his writing.
House of Treason The Rise & Fall of a Tudor Dynasty looks at the Howard family throughout the reign of the Tudors. In short the Howards were one of the most influential and at times one of the richest families in England. Many members of the Howard family were so intricately woven within the lives of the Tudor monarchs that it is not surprising they are such a well-known family of the Tudor period. Through my reading of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII I have picked up quite a lot of information about the Howard family, Hutchinson’s book fleshed out my knowledge and gave me a huge wealth of detail and information.
Hutchinson starts off looking at John Howard who was created the first Duke of Norfolk by Richard III. He fought bravely and died valiantly at the field of Bosworth fighting for his King Richard III. As history tells us Richard was slain in the battle of Bosworth and it was Henry Tudor the future King Henry VII whom claimed the English thrown. After detailing the first Duke of Norfolk’s life Hutchinson introduces us to his son Thomas Howard who was created second Duke of Norfolk on the 1st of February 1514. Thomas Howard, although imprisoned for a time for his father’s loyalty to the late King, ended up being a loyal courtier for Henry VII.
Thomas’s son, another Thomas Howard is probably one of the most famous members of his family. He was created third Duke of Norfolk upon his father’s death and was a ruthless, cunning and ambitious man – as Hutchinson shows through his writing the third Duke would even climb over his own family to get what he wanted. Thomas Howard was also the uncle to two of Henry’s queens – Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard. Upon the fall of both women Thomas Howard distanced himself and chastised both women for their low moral standards. Although being an influential member of Henry VIII’s court he was often disliked by his peers and despite his loyal service to the King his greed and pride would end up getting the better of him.
Thomas Howard’s son, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey was just as ambitious, greedy and power hungry as his father. The Earl of Surrey had many run ins with the law but always seemed to get let off after a short punishment, unfortunately when he changed his coat of arms to show reflect the royal insignia this brought about his downfall. With Henry VIII close to death and his young son Edward his soul heir’, Henry did not want any challenges to his sons throne and the best way to do that was to eliminate any that might pose a threat. The King perceived Thomas Howard third Duke of Norfolk and his son Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey as the greatest threats and had them arrested upon trumped up charges of treason. Both men were sent to the Tower of London and found guilty of treason. Henry Howard was beheaded on the 19th January 1547 and his father was to meet the same fate… that is until on the day of his execution Henry VIII died! The third Duke of Norfolk was left to linger in prison throughout the short reign of Edward VI until finally he was released when Mary Tudor was proclaimed Queen of England. He was perhaps one of the lucky members of the Howard clan as he was able to die as an old man in his bed.
Here my knowledge of the Howard clan became very sketchy but Hutchinson did a wonderful job of filling in all the details and writing such livid and detailed pictures of the next two members of the Howard family. Thomas Howard was the son of Henry Howard and became the fourth Duke of Norfolk after his grandfather’s death. Of all the Howard members it was this man whom confused and confounded me the most. He got it into his mind that if he married Mary Queen of Scots (who was currently a prisoner of Queen Elizabeth) there would be a Catholic uprising and when Mary Queen of Scots was proclaimed Queen of England he would be her husband and King. He was arrested for his interactions and alliance with Mary Queen of Scots and spent a period of time in the Tower of London. After his release one would think he would have been sufficiently warned and would want to change his ways, especially since his great grandfather, grandfather and father all spent time in the Tower of London. Unfortunately Thomas Howard did not learn his lesson. After his release from the Tower he was once again implicated with a plot to have Mary Queen of Scots proclaimed Queen of England. This was his downfall and he was arrested, found guilty of treason and beheaded on Tower Hill on the 2nd June 1572.
Of all the members of the Howard clan Thomas Howard, fourth Duke of Norfolk is the one that astounds me the most. Did he really think that a plot to marry Mary Queen of Scots and rebel against Queen Elizabeth would succeed? Did he truly think it possible to bring Catholicism back to England? What astounds me even more than this was the fact that he had already been arrested and sent to the Tower for possible charges of treason and only managed to narrowly escape the executioners block. One would think, if they had a reasonable head on their shoulders that this whole experience would be enough to shock and scare a person into some sense. Yet shortly after the Duke had wrapped himself up once more with Mary Queen of Scots and was toying once more with the idea of a Catholic rebellion. How could a man be so stupid? He had already been imprisoned, barely escaped and he was back at his old tricks. I struggle to get my head around how any man could have done this, but as Hutchinson wrote, Thomas Howard, fourth Duke of Norfolk did exactly that.
From here Hutchinson then talks about Phillip Howard, Earl of Arundel and son of Thomas Howard, fourth Duke of Norfolk. Phillip Howard converted to Catholicism and tried to escape the Protestant England. He was captured, arrested and just like his father and the Howards before him was sent to the Tower of London. He was fined a hefty sum and a short time later was caught participating in the Mass. He died a martyr in the Tower of either sickness or poisoning.
As well as the Dukes of Norfolk Hutchinson talks about each man’s wife, brothers and sisters. He goes into some detail about Mary Richmond, daughter of Thomas Howard third Duke of Norfolk and how she married Henry Fitzroy the illegitimate son of Henry VIII. This would have been quite an illustrious marriage for Thomas Howard, unfortunately Henry Fitzroy died before the marriage could be consummated and Mary was left a widow. Hutchinson also talks a little about Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard, wives of Henry VIII and nieces of the third Duke of Norfolk and their relationships with their uncle. It would seem that both women did not have a very strong or loving relationship with their uncle, but then again the man did not come across as particularly loving or kind. Hutchinson spoke at length of how Thomas Howard, third Duke of Norfolk treated his wife, casting her off for his mistress and treating his wife with such disrespect and keeping her in a state of living that was far beneath her status. The poor woman seemed to grow into a very vindictive and cold woman mainly due to the extremely poor treatment from her husband.
Hutchinson makes a very good point about women during the Tudor age. He writes “In the sixteenth century wives were, by law, little more than chattels of their husbands who were free physically to punish them. They controlled their wives’ finances, their freedom of movement and their contact with the world outside the marriage. The legal doctrine of coverture enforced women’s subordination to their husband’s every whim and prevented them, in their own right, from signing contracts, writing wills or initiating or defending a case in law. Wives also were defined reciprocal rights in their spouse’s property. The evangelical fire and brimstone preacher Hugh Latimer, Bishop of Worcester from 1535, had a black and white view of the state of marriage, and taught wives from his pulpit that it was ‘part of your penance to be subjects to your husband. You are underlings, underlings, and must be obedient.’” (p. 85). All I can say to this is that I am very thankful I am a woman living in the twentieth century as back in the Tudor age I would have either been burned or committed as insane!
Hutchinson’s book is utterly brilliant. I have read quite a lot about Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII and through my readings have read little bits and pieces here and there about the Howard family. In his book Hutchinson fleshed out my knowledge and gave the Howards a voice. Hutchinson pained a detail picture of lust, desire, ambition, greed, foolishness and sheer determination. His book was a fascinating and captivating read and I was hooked from the first word. I would recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in Tudor history and would strongly urge that it is a must for any Tudor bookshelf!