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Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk

Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk (1473 – 25 August 1554), was a prominent Tudor politician. He was the son of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk, and Elizabeth Tilney. Until 1524 he was styled Earl of Surrey.

Norfolk first married, on 4 February 1494 at Greenwich Palace, Anne of York, daughter of Edward IV of England and Elizabeth Woodville, with whom he had at least two children;

  • Thomas Howard (c. 1496-1508)
  • Stillborn child (c. 1499)

There are also suggestions of short-lived Henry Howard and William Howard resulting from this marriage. Following Anne's death he married, on 8 January 1512, Elizabeth Stafford, daughter of Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham and Alianore Percy. They had three children;

The marriage with Elizabeth was unhappy, allegedly the duke showed off about his betrayal with his wife's maid, Bess Holland, and savagely beat her when she protested. They were divorced in 1533.

Thomas Howard succeeded his younger brother Edward as Lord High Admiral in 1513. On his father's death in 1524 he inherited the dukedom of Norfolk and was named Lord High Treasurer and Earl Marshal, making Howard one of the most premier nobles in the kingdom. He distinguished himself many times in battle, and was an able soldier.

His power increased somewhat after his niece, Anne Boleyn, became Henry VIII's mistress, sometime around 1527. However, their relationship was fraught with difficulty since Anne found her uncle to be selfish and untrustworthy. Although they were political allies throughout the late 1520s alongside Howard's brother-in-law Thomas Boleyn, Anne's father, Norfolk once complained that Anne used words to him "that one would not use to a dog." She was crowned queen in 1533, and was probably influential in securing the marriage of Norfolk's daughter Mary to the king's illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, 1st Duke of Richmond and Somerset.

Queen Anne's religious and political vision was more radical than Norfolk's, and their relationship deteriorated throughout 1535 and 1536 as Henry VIII became increasingly unfaithful, including with Anne's cousin, Mary Shelton. Putting his own security before family loyalties, he presided over Queen Anne's trial in 1536, giving a death sentence despite her probable innocence. The next day, he condemned to death his nephew, Anne's brother George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford for the crime of incest with his own sister, the Queen.

Regardless of this tragedy within his family, he used another of his nieces, the teenaged Catherine Howard to strengthen his power at court by orchestrating an affair between her and the 48 year-old king. He used Henry's subsequent marriage to Catherine as an opportunity to dispose of his long-term enemy, Thomas Cromwell who was beheaded in 1540. Queen Catherine's reign was a short one, however, since Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, discovered that she was already secretly betrothed before her marriage to Henry and had been extremely indiscreet since. Catherine was beheaded in February 1542, and numerous other Howards were imprisoned in the Tower - including the duke's stepmother, brother, two sisters-in-law and numerous servants.

Queen Catherine Howard's execution was the point at which he fell out of favour with King Henry VIII, despite Norfolk's desperate efforts to heal the rift. In December 1546, he was arrested in company with his son Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, and charged with treason. Henry VIII died the day before the execution was due to take place, and Norfolk's sentence was commuted to imprisonment. His son was less fortunate and had been executed a few days previously.

Norfolk remained in the Tower throughout the reign of Edward VI of England, and his dukedom remained forfeit, but he was released by Mary I in 1553, the Howards being an important Catholic family, and the dukedom was restored. The Duke showed his gratitude by leading the forces sent to put down the rebellion of Thomas Wyatt the younger, who had protested against the Queen's forthcoming marriage to a Spanish prince, Philip II and had planned to put Anne Boleyn's daughter, the future Elizabeth I on the throne in Mary's place. The result of Norfolk's suppression of the Wyatt Rebellion was Princess Elizabeth's imprisonment in the Tower (although there was not enough evidence to convict her on treason, since she clearly had not been party to the rebels' precise intentions) and the execution of the Queen's cousin Lady Jane Grey. Norfolk, himself, died not long after the Wyatt Rebellion. He was succeeded by his grandson, Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk. The 4th Duke, also a Catholic, was executed on Elizabeth's orders for illegally plotting to marry Mary Queen of Scots.

Thomas Howard's tomb is situated in Framlingham Church, Suffolk. It is possibly the best preserved example of ornate stonework in Europe.

Fictional portrayals

Due to his prominence at the court of Henry VIII, Norfolk has been portrayed several times in film. In the 1970 BBC miniseries The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Norfolk was portrayed by Patrick Troughton. In 1967's A Man for All Seasons, he was played by Nigel Davenport. In 1969's Anne of the Thousand Days, Peter Jeffrey took the role, and Mark Strong portrayed Norfolk in the 2003 [[ITV] feature-length Henry VIII], with Ray Winstone as Henry. In Showtime's ongoing series The Tudors (2007), he is played by Henry Czerny. David Morrissey plays the duke in The Other Boleyn Girl (2008).

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