The Howards: Premier peer of the realm as Duke of Norfolk and Earl Marshal. Catholic champions.

One of the two hereditary posts remaining amongst the Great Offices of State in the United Kingdom is the Earl Marshal, held continuously by the Howard dukes of Norfolk since the late 17th century, and even before that, off and on since the late 15th century. Even earlier, it was a post inherited by their ancestors, the Mowbrays, and via a side-step, the Bigods and the Marshals of the early 12th century, whose very surname indicated the office they held. His office is symbolised by a golden baton with black tips. After 1660, the Howards held the premier non-royal peerage in England: the dukedom of Norfolk. Yet for many years successive dukes were not able to take up their seats in the House of Lords, nor exercise their duties as Earl Marshal. For not only were they the premier peers of the land, they were also the leading recusant family in England, steadfast to the old faith of Rome.

the 18th Duke of Norfolk as Earl Marshal at the funeral of Elizabeth II, Sept 2022

There are many, many, branches of the Howard family. Overall today they hold, besides the dukedom, 7 earldoms and 14 baronies (six of them held by Norfolk himself). The family tree includes a saint and two cardinals, plus two queens: Catherine Howard and Anne Boleyn if we count her as having a Howard mother. Besides well-known castles held by the ducal branch, there are some of the finest country houses in Britain built by the cadet branches: Audley End (the earls of Suffolk), Castle Howard (the earls of Carlisle), and numerous others. This post will focus solely on the main, ducal line, and the office of Earl Marshal.

The Earl Marshal of England (and since the 19th century of the United Kingdom) organises grand state functions, most notably royal funerals and coronations, as well as the State Opening of Parliament (in conjunction with the Lord Great Chamberlain). He oversees the College of Arms, the body that regulates the use of heraldry in the United Kingdom, and sits as judge of the High Court of Chivalry—very active in the 17th century, but dormant since about 1750, with one or two notable exceptions. There were similar offices for the kingdoms of Scotland (the Keith family, Earl Marischal, until attainted as Jacobites in 1715); and of Ireland (until 1697). Today the Lord Lyon performs the function of regulator of heraldic affairs north of the border in Scotland.

the High Court of Chivalry in 1809

A marshal was initially a king’s stable master, in charge of keeping his horses in order and overseeing the army of equerries and grooms who worked in the royal stables. He was initially junior to the comes stabuli, the lord of the stables, the Constable. The Germanic words marha schalk (horse keeper / servant) first moved into French, as maréchal, which became a term for a military commander, which then moved back into German and English. In France in particular, the top commanders of the army were known as Marshals of France; while in Germany, the head of the royal household became known as the Hofmarshall (with similar words used for the Danish and Swedish courts), more equivalent to the English Lord Steward. It’s interesting to see how this word evolved in so many different directions. In England, a separate office evolved, Master of the Horse, from the 14th century, when the job of Marshal of the King’s Horses became devoted instead to regulating court ceremonial and elements of chivalry, and became known simply as the Lord Marshal.

An early Anglo-Norman lord, Gilbert, served in the English royal household as Royal Serjeant and Marshal to Henry I. When he died in 1129, his office was given to his son, John FitzGilbert. He began sometimes to use Marshal as a surname. His elder son John succeeded him as the King’s Marshal and was in turn succeeded by his younger brother in 1194: William Marshal (or sometimes ‘the Marshal’) was one of the most prominent nobles of the reigns of Henry II, Richard I, John I and Henry III, for whom he served as regent in his early years, famously known as ‘the best knight that ever lived’, and rewarded with an earldom, Pembroke, in 1199. His family rose and fell with great speed—the earldom of Pembroke passing through all five of his sons in turn—and the office of Lord Marshal (or Marshal of the Court) passed via his daughter to the Bigod family, great landowners in East Anglia.

the arms of William Marshal

Roger Bigod was a Norman lord who established his family in Norfolk, near the town of Thetford where he founded a priory. In about 1100 he was given permission by the king to build some castles just across the border in Suffolk, notably Bungay on the river Waveney, and Framlingham a bit further to the south. Bungay retained its form as a fortress for centuries, seized by the crown in about 1300, but given to the Howards in 1483, who kept it until the 20th century—until it was given to the town as a castle ruin in 1987. Framlingham, on the other hand, was transformed by the Bigods into a proper dynastic seat by the 13th century, and continued to be expanded and modernised by subsequent owners in the Mowbray and Howard families in the 15th and 16th centuries. As the main seat of their power, Howards expanded the park, added a mere or lake, and re-clad its facades in more fashionable brick. But it was confiscated several times in the tumultuous Tudor century—and perhaps ironically, or deliberately, served as a prison for Catholic priests and recusants under Elizabeth I in the 1580s—until it was returned, mostly derelict, by King James in 1613. One of the Howard cadets, the Earl of Suffolk, sold the castle in 1635, and in 1636 it was given to Pembroke College, Cambridge, who built workhouses within its crumbling walls. In 1913 Framlingham Castle was given to the state and today is looked after by English Heritage.

Bungay Castle
Framlingham Castle

The Bigod family died out in 1306, and their lands defaulted to the Crown. Edward II then bestowed the estates and castles to his brother, Thomas of Brotherton, who was then created Earl of Norfolk in 1312, and Lord Marshal—now called ‘Earl Marshal’—in 1316. He was ultimately succeeded by his daughter, Margaret of Brotherton, Countess of Norfolk. Interestingly, she seems to be the only woman to have held the office of Earl Marshal, and was held in such esteem by Richard II that she was created Duchess of Norfolk in 1397, but died only a year and a half later. Her sons from two marriages having predeceased her, she too was succeeded by a daughter, Elizabeth de Segrave, 5th Baroness Segrave, who took all these properties in East Anglia—and the precious royal Plantagenet blood of her grandfather in her veins—by marriage into the House of Mowbray.

Thomas of Brotherton, Earl of Norfolk and Earl Marshal (here ‘Thomas comte marechal’)

The Mowbrays, another Norman noble family, were established primarily further to the north, in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire. But from 1349 John, 4th Baron Mowbray, was married to the Segrave heiress, whose lands were based in the East Midlands, and in 1383 their son Thomas succeeded to both baronies, then rose in rank as Earl of Nottingham, and was appointed Earl Marshal, before being created Duke of Norfolk alongside his grandmother in 1397.

Thomas Mowbray is named Earl Marshal by Richard II

Thomas Mowbray soon quarreled with the King, however, the title was rescinded in 1399, and he died in exile, but the title was restored to his son John in 1425. Two more John Mowbrays succeeded as dukes of Norfolk in the 15th century, with Framlingham Castle as their chief centre of operations. As close kin to the Plantagenets, they sometimes quartered their Mowbray white lion on red with the Brotherton arms, that is, the three gold lions of England on red, with a white (or silver) three-point label at the top which indicates a junior branch. Sometimes they used just the Brotherton arms alone, a real indication of proximity to the throne and royal power.

Brotherton arms, as borne by Thomas Mowbray

In 1476, the 4th Duke of Norfolk died leaving just a daughter, Anne. Two years later, aged only 5, she married Richard, Duke of York, the younger son of King Edward IV. They were re-created Duke and Duchess of Norfolk. But she died in 1481, and he disappeared into the Tower in 1483—a new king, Richard III, was proclaimed. One of the Mowbray co-heirs, Viscount Berkeley, had already been paid off, but the other coheir, Sir John Howard, a son of Margaret Mowbray, secured the vast Brotherton-Mowbray-Segrave succession due to his support of Richard’s usurpation. The Howards would hold on to this position of close proximity to the royal family—for good or ill—for the next several centuries.

But the Howards themselves did not have a long pre-eminent noble pedigree. Unlike almost all other magnates at court, they had no pretensions to Norman antecedents in the male line. So they wove alternative origin stories, and made themselves sound much more English—not Norman—as descendants of Anglo-Saxon warriors. An early claim put forward in the 16th century was that they descended from the Howarth family, landowners in Rochdale in Lancashire (or perhaps Hawarth in Yorkshire). It was conjectured that this name came from haga worth, a settlement near a hawthorn hedge. One Osbert Howard de Haworth was Keeper of the King’s Buckhounds in the 12th century and was thought to have been an ancestor. Later genealogists, especially in the 19th century, tied the Howards to a much older progenitor, Hereward the Wake, a folk hero outlaw who lived in the 11th century and famously tried to defend East Anglia against the Norman invasion. His name suggests a Germanic warrior (a here ward, a leader of men). Some genealogies have linked him to the Mercian royal family, or to Oslac an Anglo-Saxon ealdorman of York. Modern researchers have proposed instead he was related to Danes, as nephew of Brand, abbot of Peterborough, one of the chief sites defended by Hereward in about 1070.

Either of these are of course possible. According to records, however, the first identifiable ancestor is Sir William Howard, a prominent lawyer and judge from the area near King’s Lynn in Norfolk, who rose to prominence in the 1270s and was named one of the justices of the Common Pleas in 1297. He held lands in Wiggenhall, just south of Lynn, and purchased the nearby manor of East Winch in 1298. His first marriage solidified his social rise, by connecting him to the family of Ufford, magnates from Suffolk (and soon to be created earls of Suffolk, 1337). Their son was named Sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk and Governor of Norwich, and obtained a position at court too, as Gentleman of the Bedchamber of Edward I. He moved the family even closer to royal circles by marrying Joan de Cornwall a daughter of an illegitimate son of Richard, Earl of Cornwall, younger brother of Henry III.

Sir William Howard, drawn from a stained glass window in East Winch

As the 14th century progressed, the Howards continued to accumulate lands in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, and served as MPs or in the military. Sir Robert Howard fought with the 2nd Duke of Norfolk (John Mowbray) in France, and became his brother-in-law in 1420. It was his son, John, who scooped up his mother’s vast inheritance (and importantly the right to bear the royal arms of England) and was named Duke of Norfolk in the summer of 1483. He had already served as Earl Marshal, as a deputy for his Mowbray cousin at a tournament in 1467. A loyal Yorkist, he was named Treasurer of the Royal Household by Edward IV in 1468, and a member of the King’s Council, then raised to the peerage as Baron Howard in 1470, and even a Knight of the Garter in 1472—a key sign of royal favour for someone not quite yet of magnate status. Once he inherited the Mowbray lands in 1483, John Howard was therefore also Baron Mowbray, Baron Segrave, and Earl Marshal in his own right. He acted as Earl Marshal at the funeral of Edward IV and the coronation of Richard III, where he bore the royal crown and his son (created Earl of Surrey in his own right at the same time) carried the Sword of State.

John Howard, 1st Duke of Norfolk

The first Duke of Norfolk had been born and raised at Stoke by Nayland, one of the newer Howard properties (since the early 15th century) closer to the southern borders of Suffolk, but soon took up residence in Framlingham. I haven’t been able to find much information about the original house at Stoke (aka Tendring Hall). He added the arms of the Mowbrays and the Brothertons (ie, England, ‘differenced’) to his own. King Richard lavished upon him even higher offices that year: Lord High Admiral of England, Admiral of Ireland and Admiral of Aquitaine (though any hopes of regaining England’s lost continental possessions were swiftly fading by this point). Two years later Norfolk led the vanguard at the Battle of Bosworth Field and was slain alongside his king and cousin.

The new king, Henry VII, put the late Duke’s son and heir, Thomas Howard, into the Tower of London, and took away both titles, Norfolk and Surrey. But by the end of the 1490s, he was back in favour and highly involved in the royal government. He was restored to the earldom of Surrey in 1489, and named Lord High Treasurer in 1501. He even married his son Thomas to Lady Anne of York, sister-in-law to the King himself. When Henry VIII succeeded as king in 1509, the Earl of Surrey acted as Earl Marshal at his coronation; and when the young king went overseas to fight the French in 1513, it fell to Surrey to lead an army north to defend the borders against invading Scots. The battle of Flodden was so disastrous for Scotland—the King (James IV) himself was killed on the day—so Surrey was allowed to resume his father’s old title, Duke of Norfolk (from 1514), and honoured with an ‘augmentation’ to his coat of arms: the Howard arms consisted of a silver bend on red, surrounded by six ‘cross-crosslets fitchy’, to which was now added, on the bend, a Scottish lion, cut in half, with an arrow shot straight through its head. He also added the arms of the De Warrenne family—one of the greatest magnate dynasties of medieval England—the blue and gold checks of the old earls of Surrey.

the newly augmented Howard arms, with Howard, Brotherton, Warrenne and Mowbray, and a ducal coronet

Another of the new castles added to the Howard portfolio was Reigate, a seat of the Warrennes in Surrey, which at one point was the seat of Lord Howard of Effingham (the Admiral famous for defending England versus the Spanish Armada in 1588), who rebuilt the local former priory into a country house. The castle was mostly demolished in the English Civil War of the 1640s, and the house passed out of the family.

the remains of Reigate Castle in Surrey

The restored 2nd Duke of Norfolk continued to hold a central position in government as Lord High Treasurer, and died in 1524, just before things started to get fraught at the Tudor court.

Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk

His son the 3rd Duke continued to hold the office of Lord High Treasurer. As heir he had acted as Lord High Admiral (1513) and Lord Deputy of Ireland (1520). But from the mid-1520s he was increasingly out of favour, and, in trying to regain it, pressed for the downfall of his lowborn rival, Cardinal Wolsey, and the rise of his niece, his sister’s daughter, Anne Boleyn. When she succeeded in marrying the King and being crowned queen in 1533, Norfolk was restored as Earl Marshal (it had been the King’s best pal, Charles Brandon, since 1523), and his daughter Mary was wed to the King’s son, the Duke of Richmond—illegitimate, but some considered a potential heir in case Anne Boleyn failed to deliver a son. It was a good year for the Howards.

Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, by Holbein, bearing the gold staff of the Earl Marshal

Things changed rapidly. In 1536, the Duke of Richmond died. Queen Anne and her brother George Boleyn were executed for treason, with the Duke of Norfolk, their uncle, presiding over the trial as Lord High Steward (an office that was appointed as need arose, not hereditary). Another rivalry intensified against the King’s new first minster, Thomas Cromwell, in particular over the efforts to reform the Church. Unlike his late niece, Norfolk was not keen on the reform ideas, and when, in the late 1530s, the King wavered in his own commitment, and Cromwell fell from power, Norfolk was there to swiftly supply another niece. The teen-aged Catherine Howard became Queen of England in July 1540, but by the end of 1541 she too had fallen foul of Henry VIII’s temper and was executed.

Catherine Howard, Queen of England

Still Norfolk survived, and in 1541 was appointed Lieutenant-General of the North, responsible for putting down Catholic unrest. In 1546 however, he and his son were arrested on the King’s orders, ostensibly for Surrey’s affront of daring to using the Brotherton arms in his banners without the mark of difference (the three silver labels). The increasingly ill Henry VIII feared that Surrey had ambitions to take the throne from young Prince Edward, reverse the Protestant reforms, and push away the Seymours, his precious son’s uncles and protectors. Indeed, the Earl of Surrey did have pretensions, with floods of Plantagenet blood coursing through this veins: not just via his father’s family and the Mowbrays, but through his mother’s family too, the Staffords (heirs of Edward III’s youngest son, Thomas of Woodstock). Surrey was executed in the Tower 19 January 1547, and the King himself died a few days later, an act of divine judgement perhaps, saving the 3rd Duke’s life. His titles were once more attainted and he was held in the Tower for six years until Princess Mary took the throne in 1553. Restored to his titles, he presided over Mary’s coronation, then died a year later.

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, 1546, with his double dose of Plantagenet ancestry: the royal arms of Thomas of Brotherton to the left and Thomas of Woodstock to the right

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, had been one of the most colourful figures at court, well known as a poet, a soldier, a brawler. When not at court, he lived at Kenninghall in Norfolk, near the old Mowbray heartland at Thetford, where the Priory now housed most of the Howard tombs. Kenninghall had been transformed from a modest manor house into a palace by the 2nd Duke. In the reign of Edward VI, while the ex-duke was in the Tower, it housed Princess Mary and Princess Elizabeth, and it was from here that Mary proclaimed the beginning of her reign in 1553. The Howard palace at Kenninghall was confiscated again later by Queen Elizabeth, who resided there sometimes herself. But in the 17th century it fell into ruin and was completely demolished in the 1640s. Today a few fragments survive, incorporated into other buildings.

Kenninghall Village marker

From 1554, the new Duke of Norfolk was the 17-year-old Thomas Howard, who recouped his grandfather’s dukedom, and retained the favour of Queen Mary. She saw his family as a pillar in her new project to return England back to its loyalty to Rome, and in 1554, he was honoured with the post of First Gentleman of the Chamber to the King-Consort, Philip of Spain, when he came to England for his marriage. In 1556, Norfolk too married, and well: Lady Mary FitzAlan, daughter of the Earl of Arundel, head of another prominent noble family that preferred the old church. Eventually she would prove to be a major heiress, but not yet, and she died only a year later, having given birth to one son, appropriately named Philip, as godson of Philip of Spain. The Duke remarried Margaret Audley, who was already an heiress (of Walden Abbey, in Essex, the future Audley End) and already a widow.

Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk
Lady Mary FitzAlan, Duchess of Norfolk

The 4th Duke of Norfolk’s history is no less stormy than those of his predecessors. The reign of Elizabeth I started well for him, acting as Earl Marshal at the coronation of 1559 and being appointed to a position of trust and authority as Lieutenant-General of the North. And it was in the North that the Howard interests shifted somewhat in this period. The 4th Duke’s third wife was the widow of Thomas, 4th Baron Dacre of Gillesland, one of the pre-eminent families of Cumberland. When her Dacre son died in 1569 it was decided that her three daughters, co-heirs to the Barony of Dacre, would each marry one of her three Howard step-sons, which they did. The key Dacre property was Greystoke Castle, near Penrith, originally built in the 12th century and by the 1570s a possession of the Howards through this marriage. Falling to a side branch in the later 17th century, Greystoke Castle was enlarged and altered in the 1780s when it returned to the main line, then enlarged again in the 19th century when it became the seat of a separate junior branch once more. It is still held privately, and is run as a B&B and a venue for corporate events. The earldom of Greystoke in the Tarzan stories is, incidentally, fictional, and situated in Scotland.

Greystoke Castle, Cumberland, depicted in the late 18th century

Eventually the 4th Duke’s unwillingness to conform to the reformed Church of England and his collaboration in various plots to put Mary, Queen of Scots on the throne (perhaps with himself as her king-consort), landed him, like his father and his grandfather, in the Tower, and he was executed for treason in 1572.

The eldest son of the 4th Duke, his only child with Lady Mary FitzAlan, was Philip Howard. Queen Elizabeth restored some of his father’s lands, but not titles. In 1580, however, he inherited the vast estates and castles of the FitzAlan family and the Queen created him Earl of Arundel. He is either known as the 1st Earl, as a new creation, or the 13th, counting it as a continuation of his grandfather’s title (or in fact some sources consider him the 20th Earl counting from the original creation of 1138, making it the oldest still extant earldom in England).

The FitzAlans were originally from Brittany and came to England with the Normans. One son of the first Alan, William, was given lands in the marches between England and Wales, in Shropshire, while the younger son, Walter, went to Scotland and established a dynasty of hereditary stewards to early Scots kings—and eventually took the office as their surname, becoming the Stewarts, and later Stuarts. The earliest possessions of the English FitzAlans that passed to the Howards in the 1580s were the Shropshire castles of Oswestry and Clun. Both had been used by the FitzAlans mostly for defensive or storage purposes, not so much as residences. Clun was also used as a hunting lodge, but Oswestry was (and is) surrounded by a sizeable market town. Both were largely in ruins by the time they passed into Howard hands in the 1580s. They passed out of Howard hands in the 17th century, but Clun was re-purchased by a duke of Norfolk in 1894, and restored. Today it is open to visitors and managed by English Heritage.

Clun Castle, Shropshire, on the borders with Wales

The main area of FitzAlan power and wealth was not the Welsh borders, however. They also acquired Arundel Castle in Sussex along with the earldom of the same name (though it was in fact sometimes called the earldom of Sussex) in the mid-13th century. The castle has remained in family hands ever since and remains the chief seat of the Howard family. The original motte and bailey castle, which took its name from the dell or valley of the river Arun, was expanded numerous times over the centuries, notably by the 11th Duke in the 1780s, and thoroughly renovated in the late 19th century. In recent years Arundel Castle has stood in for Windsor Castle in films like The Madness of King George or Young Victoria.

Arundel Castle, Sussex, overlooking the river Arun

The FitzAlans also had a London residence, Arundel House, on the Strand, with gardens going down to the Thames and an adjacent wharf. Originally the townhouse of the bishops of Bath and Wells, after the dissolution of the monasteries it was given to various people before being sold to the 12th Earl of Arundel in 1549. In the 17th century, it notably housed several Howard protégés (scientists, artists, writers), and in the 1660s given as a meeting space for the Royal Society. It is thought this was the setting of the first performance of Thomas Tallis’ famous 40-voice motet, Spem in alium, in 1568. Arundel House was demolished in 1678, and replaced in the late 19th century by new streets and buildings.

Arundel House in London, 1640s

Young Philip Howard was born in Arundel House and initially raised by moderate Protestant tutors. He nevertheless formally returned his allegiance to the Roman Church in 1584. When this became known at court, he tried to flee to the Continent, but was arrested and held in the Tower for several years. He was put on trial in 1589, for having prayed for the success of the Spanish Armada, and his titles were attainted. The Queen refused to sign the death warrant of her cousin, however, and he remained her guest for another five years, dying while still in prison for his faith. He was therefore canonised in 1970 as one of England’s ‘Forty Catholic Martyrs’ from the era of the Reformation. In the 19th century, a chapel was built near Arundel Castle in Sussex, to honour the Virgin Mary and St Philip Neri, but in 1965 it was raised to the status of a cathedral, and soon after changed its name to Our Lady and St Philip Howard.

St Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel
Arundel Catholic Cathedral, seen from the castle (the older St Nicholas’s parish church in the centre describes itself on its website as being the in ‘Anglo-Catholic’ tradition)

In the next reign, King James I began to restore favour to the Howards, first creating an earldom of Suffolk in 1603 for Philip Howard’s younger brother, Thomas, and then restoring the earldoms of Arundel and Surrey to Philip’s son Thomas. The family was returning to favour: his son was named Henry Frederick in honour of the King’s eldest son, and in 1613, Arundel was selected to escort the King’s daughter, Elizabeth, to her wedding to the Elector Palatine in Heidelberg—a significant event watched by Protestants all over Europe. Arundel himself formally re-joined the Church of England in 1615, but his commitment was fairly thin (and he returned to the Catholic faith later in life). In 1621 he was restored as Earl Marshal and acted in this capacity for the coronation of Charles I in 1626. As relates to this office, he also revived the Earl Marshal’s Court, or the High Court of Chivalry, as a more permanent institution in 1634, as part of the King’s plans to strengthen the court and regulation of the English nobility. It was extremely active for a few years, then abolished in 1640, and has since returned to its status of convening only when necessary, which has in fact been quite infrequent since the 19th century.

Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel (‘the Collector Earl’), by Rubens

Arundel fell out with the King in 1626 due to the unapproved marriage of his son (known as Lord Maltravers as heir, the usual subsidiary title of the FitzAlans) to the King’s cousin, Lady Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of the Duke of Lennox. The Earl spent some time in the Tower then was confined to house arrest. By the 1630s, he was back in favour, however, and was appointed Justice in Eyre north of the Trent (1634), Lord Lieutenant of Surrey (1635), and Lord Steward of the Household (1640). In the 1640s, he became estranged from the court again and left for a grand tour of Europe, where he collected great treasures—so much so that he is remembered now by the nickname ‘the Collector Earl’. The ‘Arundel Marbles’, one of the first great collections of Greek and Roman sculptures in England, were later donated to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

While abroad, Thomas Howard was re-created Earl of Norfolk (1644), possibly with an eye to restoring the dukedom to his son, already making his name for himself in the House of Lords (created Baron Mowbray by writ of acceleration to allow him to take up a seat in Parliament before he succeeded to his father’s titles). But the Earl died abroad in Padua in 1646, and his son followed shortly after in 1652. A more long-term legacy of these generations was another great inheritance, this time in Yorkshire, which would become another main centre of Howard wealth and power now that many of their estates in East Anglia were lost. The Earl of Arundel’s wife, from 1606, was Lady Alathea Talbot, one of the three daughters and co-heiresses of the 7th Earl of Shrewsbury. A grand-daughter of Bess of Hardwick, the Countess of Arundel was a court favourite of Queen Anne of Denmark and herself a great collector of art—but also spent much of her life abroad due to her faith. She outlived her sisters, so by the 1650s was a peeress in her own right, as 13th Baroness Furnivall, 17th Baroness Strange of Blackmere,and 17th Baroness Talbot. In terms of land, she brought with her great estates in Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire.

Lady Alathea Talbot, Countess of Arundel, Baroness Furnivall, posed like a queen

Sheffield Castle in South Yorkshire, originally one of the properties of the Furnivall family, inherited by the Talbots, and erected into a grand country home in the early 16th century, was mostly dismantled during the Civil War in the 1640s. Little information exists as to how it looked. But other parts of the Manor of Sheffield became an important part of the Howard patrimony. Much of its remaining buildings were dismantled in the early 18th century, but a Turret House remains, in a residential area of Sheffield known as Norfolk Park (the former deer park, given to the city as it began to really develop in the mid-19th century). A large city park was opened by the Duke of Norfolk in 1848, and then formally given to the city outright in the 20th century. Remains of the manor itself have been leased to the city since the 1950s, and there are current plans to restore it as a tourist attraction.

Sheffield Manor ruins, drawn in 1819
Sheffield Manor Turret House today

Just across the border to the east, in Nottinghamshire, Worksop Manor was also an estate of the Furnivall family, since the 1250s. It was rebuilt by the Talbot earls of Shrewsbury as one of their main country seats in the 1580s, and became one of the great house of the Elizabethan age. Like Sheffield Manor, Worksop passed to the Howards in the 1650s, along with one of the hereditary honours possessed by the Talbots, the right to give the sovereign a glove during the coronation and to support his right arm during processions in Westminster Abbey. In the early 18th century, the dukes of Norfolk doubled the size of the house and developed its gardens. This area of the northern end of Nottinghamshire became known as ‘the dukeries’ as it was home to four contiguous ducal estates: Norfolk, Newcastle, Kingston and Portland. In 1761 Worksop suffered a major fire; a truly palatial replacement structure was planned, but only one wing was completed by 1777, since the 9th Duke had no children and wasn’t very interested in his distant heirs. Eventually the building and its estate were sold to the duke next door, Newcastle, in 1838, who dismantled most of the buildings. Sold off again by the late 19th century, today Worksop is a well-known stud farm for thoroughbred horses.

Worksop Manor before the fire of 1761
the new Worksop, in the early 19th century

The ‘Collector Earl’ and his son, Henry Frederick, were both dead by the time of the Restoration of Charles II in 1660. There had long been talk about restoring the dukedom of Norfolk, and the King’s early reign was very much focused on reconciliation and restoring honour to some of England’s grandest and most ancient noble houses (several dukedoms are created in this period, much as they are, for similar reasons, by the King’s cousin, Louis XIV in France). There were issues however: not only were the Howards still Catholic, but the eldest son, Thomas (since 1652, Earl of Norfolk, Arundel and Surrey), was known to be mentally disabled, and in fact spent much of his life in an asylum in Padua. In some ways, perhaps this gave the King a good excuse to restore the dukedom in 1660 as he could be certain that this Thomas Howard would not stir up any political trouble. And so, after a nearly unanimous petition put forward by the House of Lords, the King restored the dukedom, after nearly a century. The new 5th Duke of Norfolk was also Earl Marshal, so his cousin, Henry Howard, 3rd Earl of Suffolk, served as acting Earl Marshal in the coronation of April 1661. But a few years later, in 1672, this office was awarded to the Duke’s brother and heir (also called Henry) and declared formally hereditary, which it has been ever since. The new acting Earl Marshal had himself been created Baron Howard of Castle Rising (a property very close to their original family home in Norfolk) in 1669, so that he could sit in the House of Lords, and in 1672, was elevated further as Earl of Norwich. In 1677 Henry Howard finally succeeded as 6th Duke of Norfolk, but had to remove himself from political circles in 1678 when the climate became very hot regarding Catholics and the hysteria of the Popish Plot, and he moved to Bruges.

Henry Howard, 6th Duke of Norfolk

Other family members made even more waves as leaders of the Catholic nobility. His brother, Philip, had lived abroad for many years, formally announcing his adherence to Catholicism in 1646 in Rome and joining the Dominican Order as a monk. In the 1650s he founded a new Priory in Bornem in the Southern Netherlands (south of Antwerp) and became its first prior; this, and the nearby nunnery in Vilvoorde, was intended as a place to train English priests and educate Catholic women. He also later rebuilt the English College in Rome. In 1662 he was recalled to the English court to serve as Grand Almoner for Queen Catherine of Braganza, but as anti-Catholic tensions rose in the 1670s, he once again left for the Low Countries, and then Rome, where he was named Bishop of Helenopolis in Bithynia, one of Rome’s titular seas (as it was in Asia Minor, Ottoman territory), then Cardinal in 1675, and Cardinal-Protector of England and Scotland in 1679. Rising further in the Roman hierarchy, he was appointed Camerlengo (1689-91), the chief financial officer of the College of Cardinals, before he died in 1694, in Rome.

Cardinal Philip Howard of Norfolk

Back in England, any attempt by the family to lay low was scuppered by the actions of the Duke’s uncle, William Howard, Viscount Stafford (a title he had been given after marrying another great heiress in 1640), whose active participation in the Popish Plot of 1678 was denounced by Titus Oates. He was tried by his peers in Parliament, and shamefully unsupported by any of the 8 Howard peers, except the Duke’s son, Baron Mowbray (though this may have had to do with internal family squabbles as Mowbray was angry at his father’s re-marriage to his long-term mistress the year before). Stafford was attainted and executed in 1680—like his predecessor, St Philip Howard, he is considered a Catholic martyr and was beatified in 1929.

William Howard, Viscount Stafford, as a young man (in Catholic black), by Van Dyck

The 6th Duke of Norfolk had sailed back in 1680 in time to vote against his uncle, and returned permanently by about 1683, but died soon after. His son Henry now took over as 7th Duke. It was he who did much to redevelop the family’s estates in the north of England. Having broken with his father over his relationship with a long-term mistress, which he considered damaging to the family’s relationship in society, the 7th Duke himself suffered social scandal as the result of a long adultery trial and eventual divorce from his wife, Lady Mary Mordaunt, in 1685 (she later remarried her lover, Sir John Germain). While he remained a Catholic in private, he publicly conformed, and restored his family’s position at court by not supporting the Catholic James II in 1689, and was rewarded with a seat on the Privy Council by William and Mary. He died in 1701, and the senior Howard titles passed to his nephew, Thomas, of Worksop.

Henry Howard, 7th Duke of Norfolk

The 8th Duke of Norfolk also married a wealthy heiress, Mary Shireburn, in 1709, though they had no children, and ultimately her chief estate, Stonyhurst Hall in Lancashire, was given by her heirs to the Jesuits, who opened Stonyhurst College in 1794 (transferring some of their former college from the Spanish Netherlands). The 8th Duke was Earl Marshal for the coronations of Queen Anne, George I and George II, though the function was actually carried out by his Protestant Howard cousins as deputies (first the 3rd Earl of Carlisle, then the 6th Earl of Suffolk, and finally the 4th Earl of Berkshire). In 1722, the Duke was briefly arrested under suspicion of supporting the Jacobites, but was soon released. In fact it was his wife who was a chief supporter, and she reportedly left him for being too weak in his faith. In contrast, his younger brother, Henry, was named to a Catholic bishopric in 1720, but died before taking up the post; another brother, Richard, was a canon in St Peter’s in Rome; while still another, Edward, was actually an active participant in the 1715 Jacobite uprising in supporter of a (Catholic) Stuart restoration. He escaped punishment due to his brother’s intervention and settled at Workop Manor safely far from court (while Arundel Castle remained the seat of the Duke).

Thomas Howard, 8th Duke of Norfolk, in coronation robes and with staff of Earl Marshal

In 1732, Lord Edward became the 9th Duke of Norfolk. Like his predecessors, he was nominally Earl Marshal, for the coronations of George II and George III, but as a Catholic could not carry out the functions of the office so again deputised his Howard cousins (two earls of Effingham then another earl of Suffolk). He set about rebuilding a new family residence in London—Arundel House on the Strand being a bit shabby—so he purchased two townhouses on St James’s Square, in a much more fashionable area next to the royal palaces, and developed a much grander Norfolk House, completed in 1752. Norfolk House was demolished in 1938, to make way for an office building, but some of the interiors, notably the music room, were preserved and are now on display in the Victoria & Albert museum.

Edward of Worksop, 9th Duke of Norfolk
Norfolk House, London, 1932, before it was demolished

In 1767, the Duke’s nephew and heir died, and he and his wife (Mary Blount, another fervent Catholic woman, for whom, apparently, Captain Cook named Norfolk Island north of New Zealand) became disinterested in completing their grand plans to re-develop Worksop into a country house on a palatial scale, as they were not particularly close to the distant cousin who would inherit the bulk of the Howard titles and estates. When the Duke died in 1777, the dukedom and most of the ancient earldoms and baronies passed to Charles Howard of Greystoke, while the earldom of Norwich and the barony of Castle Rising became extinct, and the baronies of Furnivall, Talbot and Strange of Blackmere, as well as Mowbray and Segrave, went into abeyance between multiple heirs, ultimately being divided between the Stourton and Petre families.

Charles Howard lived at Greystoke Castle in Cumbria. In 1777 he became Duke of Norfolk, earl of Norfolk, Arundel and Surrey, Baron Maltravers, and Earl Marshal of England. He also inherited the properties in Sheffield and Worksop, as well as Arundel Castle in Sussex. He died only a few years later, in 1786, and his son, also Charles, became the 11th Duke. He renounced Catholicism so he could hold political office, though he was vocal in his support for Catholic emancipation. He had no legitimate children (but several illegitimate children), so the title passed once again to a different branch.

Charles of Greystoke, 10th Duke of Norfolk
Charles, 11th Duke of Norfolk

The Howards of Glossop, in Derbyshire, just beyond the easternmost suburbs of Manchester, became a separate branch in the later 17th century. Like so much else in the north of England, this was part of the Talbot inheritance, having originally been a manor held by Basingwerk Abbey, then given to the Talbots at the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s. It also has an ancient Norman earthworks castle, just to the north of town, but this had been no more than a mound for centuries. In the 1730s, the Howards rebuilt an ancient manor house (formerly known as Royle Hall) located down in the valley of Glossop Brook (the Glossopdale), which flows out of the Peak District. Glossop Manor was used as a hunting lodge by the family in the 18th and early 19th centuries, but was rebuilt as a more permanent country estate by Baron Howard of Glossop (a second son of the 13th Duke, created baron in 1869) in the 1870s, then was sold to the local council in the 1920s, used as a school, then demolished in about 1950. Today its parklands form Manor Park in the town of Glossop.

Glossop Manor in the 19th century

Throughout the 18th century, the Howards developed Glossop as a major centre of the burgeoning Industrial Revolution, first with woollen mills, but later and much more intensely as a centre for cotton weaving. The location was ideal, with a fairly damp climate keeping the raw materials from drying out and ample running water in the surrounding hills to power the mills. By 1831 there were about 30 cotton mills in Glossopdale. And as is more interesting for our story here, the Howards were keen to make this a safe space for Catholic and other dissenting entrepreneurs. After Catholic Emancipation in 1829 they built a new Catholic church in Glossop, followed by other town improvements including a town hall in 1838 and a railway station in 1847—which still displays the Howard Lion above its main doors. The Glossop Estate was sold in 1925, but much of it was donated to the town the Howards built, with placenames remaining as a memory: Norfolk Square, Howardtown, Howard Park, and so on.

Glossop train station, with its Howard Lion
the Howard Lion, Glossop

The new Duke of Norfolk in 1815 was Bernard Howard of Glossop. He was thus Earl Marshal for the coronations of George IV, William IV and Victoria, though for the first of these in 1821 he had to deputise his Protestant brother, Henry Molyneux-Howard (who had adopted his mother’s surname after she inherited properties in Nottinghamshire: Tevershell and Wellow). He commemorated Catholic emancipation with a grand banquet, and was awarded the Order of the Garter in 1834 by William IV, an honour that had been denied his predecessors since the early 17th century (with the notable exception of the 7th Duke, appointed in 1685 by James II, himself of course a Catholic).

Bernard of Glossop, 12th Duke of Norfolk

In 1842, the 12th Duke was succeeded by his son, Henry (known for most of his life as Earl of Surrey), who was an active politician, and the first Catholic to sit in Parliament after emancipation as MP for Horsham (Sussex), 1829-32. He was appointed a Privy Councillor in 1837, and Treasurer of the Household, and officiated at the coronation of Queen Victoria as Earl Marshal in 1838—no longer needing a deputy. He also revived the claim, long dormant, to serve as Chief Butler of England, an office associated with the family’s former property at Kenninghall (restored to them, but soon to be sold in the 1870s), which carried the right to officiate at coronation banquets traditionally held in Westminster Hall. But the last of these banquets was held in 1821 and was seen as such a lavish expense that it has never been revived. As duke he retained a position in some of the Whig governments of Victoria’s reign, notably that of Lord John Russell in 1846-52 (where he served as Master of the Horse), then in the coalition government of Lord Aberdeen, 1853-54 (where he was Lord Steward of the Household). Like his father, he was given the Garter in 1848.

Henry, 13th Duke of Norfolk

The 13th Duke’s sons were also active in politics. The second son, Baron Howard of Glossop, was Vice-Chamberlain of the Household in the Russell administration of 1846, and a great supporter of the establishment of Catholic schools. The older son, Surrey, resigned his seat in Parliament in 1851 over proposed anti-Catholic legislation. So the Howards weren’t finished with their role as defenders of Catholicism in Britain yet. A second Howard cardinal emerges in this period as well: a cousin, Edward, became a papal diplomat in India, protector of the English College in Rome, and Cardinal from 1877.

Cardinal Edward Howard

The 14th Duke of Norfolk, who succeeded in 1856, added the surname Fitz-Alan formally to his own and replaced the old Mowbray lion with the FitzAlan lion in his coat of arms (fairly subtle: a gold rampant lion instead of a silver one). He and his wife, Augusta Lyons, daughter of a naval hero, built a villa in Bournemouth now known as the Norfolk Royale.

Henry FitzAlan-Howard, 14th Duke of Norfolk
Norfolk Royale, Bournemouth

His reign as duke was short, and in 1860 he was succeeded by his very young son, Henry. The 15th Duke of Norfolk was Earl Marshal for the funeral of Queen Victoria, and for the coronations of Edward VII and George V; he was also Lord Lieutenant of Sussex from 1905. He continued the family tradition of supporting Catholic charities, especially in Sheffield (where he was mayor, 1895-97), and founded a college at Cambridge University to support Catholic students (St. Edmund’s) in 1896. He also supported the creation of Sheffield University in 1905 and served as its first Chancellor. The 15th Duke also was responsible for the construction of the neo-gothic Chapel of Our Lady and St. Philip Neri at Arundel, opened in 1873, which we’ve encountered above, as well as a new Catholic church in Norwich, 1877, which since 1976 has been the Catholic cathedral for that city in Norfolk.

Henry, 15th Duke of Norfolk

When the 15th Duke died in 1917 he was succeeded by his only surviving son (an older son, Philip had died in 1902), whose mother was heiress of a Scottish landed estate in Kirkudbrightshire (southwest Scotland), and the barony of Herries of Terregles (created for the Herries family in 1490 and passed to the Maxwells in the 1540s). The 16th Duke, Bernard Marmaduke FitzAlan-Howard, was thus also 12th Baron Herries after his mother died in 1945 (and took his curious second name from his Maxwell grandfather). This inheritance included Terregles House, long the seat of the Maxwells, another traditionally Catholic noble family. The old medieval tower house had been replaced in the late 18th century with a grand country house. The estates were sold off after World War I and the house in the 1930s (and was fully demolished in 1962). The Duke having no sons, the barony of Herries passed in succession to his daughters, the third (and still living) being Jane, 16th Baroness, married to the Marquess of Lothian, a conservative politician better known as Michael Ancram.

Terregles House, mid-19th century

The 16th Duke of Norfolk was Earl Marshal for the coronations of George VI and Elizabeth II and the State Openings of Parliament for many years until his death in 1975. For a family who has survived so much upheaval over so many centuries, it is interesting that the senior branch seems to have such trouble producing sons. So once again the ducal title passed to a cousin, Miles, from the sideline of Howard of Glossop established in the later 19th century.

the 16th Duke as Earl Marshal in 1937 for the coronation of George VI

Here again we have yet another estate being added to the list of formal seats of the family (Arundel being the constant, generation after generation). The 17th Duke’s father was the 3rd Baron Howard of Glossop, but his mother, Mona Stapleton, was 11th Baroness Beaumont (a title dating from 1309), and heiress of the Stapleton seat in North Yorkshire, Carlton Towers, near Selby. The earlier 17th-century manor house was encased in a grand Victorian Gothic Revival mansion built for Henry Stapleton, 9th Baron Beaumont, in the 1870s. The property had been in the hands of the Stapletons since much earlier in fact, and we see an owner from about 1300 serving as a steward in the household of Edward II. Like the Howards they were recusants, and there is evidence of their support for the Catholic Church all over this district. The 17th Duke inherited the house from his mother in 1971 (and her title), and lived there while his father lived at Arundel. Today Carlton Towers is the residence of the current duke’s younger brother and his family.

Carlton Towers

The 17th Duke of Norfolk had a long career in the army, then took up the role of Earl Marshal after 1975. As a prominent Catholic lord, he represented Queen Elizabeth II at the installation services of Pope John Paul II in 1978. He married a cousin, Anne Constable Maxwell, whose father also served in Rome, as a Papal Chamberlain.

Miles Stapleton-FitzAlan-Howard, 17th Duke of Norfolk, as Earl Marshal for Elizabeth II

In 2002, the Duke of Norfolk and Baron Beaumont died, and was succeeded by his son, Edward, 18th Duke (b. 1956), who is also Earl of Arundel, Earl of Surrey, Earl of Norfolk, Baron Maltravers, Baron FitzAlan, Baron Clun and Baron Howard of Glossop. He is also head of a family that is spread vastly across the country, with the still extant lines of the earls of Suffolk and Berkshire (merged since the 1740s), the earls of Carlisle, and the Howards of Greystoke and Penrith. As Earl Marshal, the Duke of Norfolk reminded the world of his family’s prominent historical role at the funeral of Elizabeth II in 2022, and now for the coronation of King Charles III in May 2023.

the 18th Duke of Norfolk as a young man at Carlton Towers
commemorative stamp issued in 1984, that shows nicely the full heraldic ‘achievement’ of the Howards of Norfolk. Note the cross gold batons of the office of Earl Marshal

(images Wikimedia Commons)

Published by Jonathan Spangler

I am a historian of monarchy and the high aristocracy of Europe. I focus primarily as an academic on the early modern period and France, but my interests range from early medieval Ireland to 20th-century Russia. I teach history at Manchester Metropolitan University in Manchester, England, and am the senior editor of The Court Historian, the journal of the Society for Court Studies. I am also a musician and an avid traveler. I love heraldry and genealogy. My ancestors came from Germany to the American colonies in the 18th century and I am a proud Virginian.

One thought on “The Howards: Premier peer of the realm as Duke of Norfolk and Earl Marshal. Catholic champions.

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