Norfolk was a soldier and diplomat, trekking between the battlefields of the Wars of the Roses, the Anglo-Scottish borders, London, and even the Imperial court, but his home was always East Anglia, and it was to there he eventually returned.
The numbers against the places correspond to those on the map here and at the end of this article.
Thomas Howard was born in the small village of Stoke-by-Nayland, probably at Tendring Hall (1). Tendring, of which there are no traces now, was first built around 1303, by William de Tendring and his wife Beatrix, after they had been granted a licence to hold a market and fair in the village. Several Sir Williams later, the male line failed, and the Tendring inheritance came to Alice, who married John Howard of Wiggenhall in the early 1380s. Tendring seems to have become the Howards’ main residence from that point, until later acquisitions by Thomas’ marriage. According to the English Heritage records, Tendring passed to Lord Windsor in 1606, although we cannot find any family reason for this to have happened – it may just have been a sale. It then passed through various owners until, in 1768, Sir William Rowley commissioned the famous architect, John Soane (architect of the Bank of England) to create a new house in the fashionable neo-classical style, with grounds laid out by Repton. The house was demolished in 1955, but the park still exists, although it is in private hands.
Having passed his early years in Suffolk, Thomas joined the household of King Edward IV, and he first saw military action at the Battle of Barnet on 14th April 1471 (2). This battle was fought by Edward, after he had been ousted from the throne the previous year by the Earl of Warwick, acting for the previously deposed Henry VI. Owing to confusion in the ranks, when part of the Lancastrian army, fearing treachery, attacked itself, Edward was triumphant. Thomas was badly wounded – too severely to fight at the subsequent, decisive, Battle of Tewkesbury which saw Edward firmly replanted on the throne. The approximate site of the battlefield is marked today by a monument on the High Street in the London suburb of High Barnet. For more on the battle, see here at The Battlefields Trust.
Recuperating from the battle, Thomas, now 27, was of age to marry, and a suitable heiress was found for him – Elizabeth Tilney, who had been widowed at Barnet. Her first husband, Sir Humphrey Bourchier, son of Lord Berners, was Edward IV’s first cousin, and so a marriage to Elizabeth brought Thomas closely within the ambit of the royal family. Before her marriage to Thomas, Elizabeth made a will. Dated 28th February 1472, it reserved some of her manors to feoffees to the use of her son, John Bourchier, and gave £50 each to her daughters, Margaret and Anne. The remainder of her manors were to be for her own use during her lifetime, and that of any husband she might marry in the future, although the lands could not be ‘wasted’, that is reduced in value by such activities as felling timber. On her husband’s death, they were to revert to John Bourchier.
Elizabeth made a second will a few weeks later, having married Thomas, which less very favourable for her son – following her death, half of the value of all of her manors was to be paid to Thomas for life, only reverting to John Bourchier on Thomas’ death. Elizabeth’s considerable estate included the manor of Ashwellthorpe, and its hall (3). She had been born there, and it was here that Thomas and she took up residence, leaving Tendring to Thomas’ father and step-mother. To keep Elizabeth’s inheritance in Howard descent, John Bourchier was married to Thomas’ half-sister, Katherine.
Ashwellthorpe, along with the other Tilney manors, eventually passed to John’s daughter, Jane Bourchier, who married Sir Edmund Knyvett. The Knyvetts continued to live at Ashwellthorpe, with Jane’s grandson, Sir Thomas Knyvett, undertaking a major reconstruction of the house in around 1600. Some websites cite this Sir Thomas Knyvett as the man who searched the cellars of the House of Parliament, finding Guy Fawkes and foiling the Gunpowder Plot, but that was a different Sir Thomas Knyvett – another of Elizabeth’s great-grandsons, but by Thomas, rather than Humphrey Bourchier. Our Sir Thomas of Ashwellthorpe led a quiet life. His grandson, yet another Sir Thomas, collected a truly magnificent library – some 1400 books and 70 manuscripts were housed at Ashwellthorpe. A substantial number of this bibliophile Sir Thomas’ letters to his wife, Catherine Burgh, are still extant, covering the years leading up to the Civil War.
The property descended through numerous generations of Knyvetts, then passed to other branches of the family, undergoing extensive development in the 19th century, with very little of the 1600 building left. It became a hotel and has recently been refurbished. Worth seeing in the village of Ashwellthorpe is the parish church. In it, is the tomb of Sir Edmund de Thorp and his second wife, Joan Northwood. Edmund and Joan held the manor in the early 1400s. Their daughter, Isabel, was Elizabeth Tilney’s grandmother. The tomb is a superb alabaster monument, recently refurbished, and one of only two pre-Reformation tombs remaining undisturbed in Norfolk.
In August 1485, Thomas received a summons from Richard III to bring troops to defend the king for the anticipated invasion by Henry, Earl of Richmond. Along with his father, he raised a force, and attended the king at Bosworth (4) on 22nd August. Unlike many of those summoned by Richard, the Howards were unwavering in their support. Thomas’ father was killed, and he himself was captured. He spent the next three years in the Tower of London (5). His imprisonment was not onerous – he was maintained at the new king’s expense, and allowed to have servants and home comforts, but, of course, it was still an unpleasant experience. Elizabeth spent part of the time at Ashwellthopre with their children, but some time also at Norfolk House, in Lambeth (6).
Lambeth is now an integral part of London, but at that time, being on the south bank of the Thames, it was considered part of Surrey, and was still semi-rural. The Howard house at Lambeth was situated on the south side of what is now Lambeth Road. To the north and west was the Palace of Lambeth, the home of the Archbishops of Canterbury. The original holding was owned by the FitzAlan earls of Arundel. In 1399, it passed to Elizabeth FitzAlan, wife of Thomas de Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, and thus, eventually to Thomas, once the Mowbray lands were granted to the Howards by Richard III, and subsequently by Henry VII. Thomas paid for a chapel to be constructed for this family in the Church of St Mary, Lambeth.
This church, of which the tower is the oldest remaining part, is still extant, although it has now been deconsecrated, and is the home of the Garden Museum (another great location to visit in London). Thomas’ first wife, Elizabeth, was buried there, as were five of his infant children and later, his daughter Elizabeth, Countess of Wiltshire, the mother of Mary, Anne and George Boleyn. In 2017 an amazing discovery was made – a crypt beneath the church, which historians believed had been filled in during the nineteenth century restorations, was found – with the remains of five ‘missing’ Archbishops of Canterbury.
On his death, Thomas willed a life interest in the house at Lambeth to his widow, Agnes, and it was here that Agnes supervised – or failed to supervise – the upbringing of her step-granddaughter, Katheryn Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth queen. In 1541, Agnes was accused of misprision of treason, and in anticipation of any judicial or Parliamentary sentence, Henry VIII sent commissioners to take inventories of her goods and properties, which would be confiscated if she were found guilty. The act of parliament which condemned Agnes was passed in January 1542, backdating the confiscation of her goods to the previous October. Agnes was later pardoned and released from custody, but it is unclear whether her goods, including Lambeth, were restored. The property was certainly in Crown hands at the death of Henry VIII, either through confiscation from Agnes, or on the arrest of her step-son, the 3rd Duke, and his son, Henry, Earl of Surrey, just before Henry VIII’s death.
The Norfolk estates, including Lambeth, were restored to the family in 1553 by Mary I. It passed to the 4th Duke, who sold it in the 1560s. At the time of the sale it was described as comprising ‘two inns, formerly called the George and the Bell, the former being annexed to the mansion house on the west and the Bell, on the east; Bell Close, at the rear of the Bell, containing two acres, two perches; 23½ acres in “Cottmansfeld,” an acre of pasture in St. George's Field, a close lying near the Bishop of Rochester's House (Carlisle House) containing four acres, three acres of meadow near Prince's Meadows, and eight acres of marsh called ‘the Hopes.’ A later incarnation of the Bell still exists on Lambeth Road, from which we can infer the approximate location of the house. It has been reckoned by comparing sale descriptions, that the original house was some 125 feet in length.
The purchasers divided the property into three, part of which was sold to Margaret Parker, wife of Archbishop Parker. Margaret’s section of the holding was divided again, and later a distillery was built on one section. Over time, the land was repeatedly partitioned. The house itself was probably pulled down by the 1680s, and the lands built on over the following centuries. Now, there are commercial buildings on the site, including the Novotel London Waterloo hotel.
A dig was carried out in 1988-90 by the Museum of London’s Greater London Archaeology Department. This identified building in the 1510s, presumably by Thomas, with the north wall being constructed with the familiar Tudor diapering pattern made by insetting black vitrified bricks amongst the red. There were also traces of a green and yellow chequered tiled room. The dig also found works dating from the ownership of Margaret, Archbishop Parker’s wife.
Once freed from the Tower, Thomas spent much of his time on royal business. In the 1490s, his time was mainly occupied with the Scottish Border. James IV of Scotland had supported the invasion of Perkin Warbeck, and had captured a number of English border fortresses. Thomas led an effective campaign, capturing Ayton Castle (7), the home of Lord Hume. James IV apparently offered to settle the disputed future of Berwick through personal combat, but no duel ever took place. Instead, a truce was signed in Ayton church, to last for seven years. The original Ayton Castle was replaced by a house in the classical style in the eighteenth century. This burnt down, and a fabulous castle in the style of Scottish baronial took its place, commissioned in 1851 by the then owner William Mitchell-Innes from the architect James Gillespie Graham, with other well-known architects of the period being involved. In 1895, the barony and castle were sold for £90,000 to the ancestors of the current owners. It is possible to rent the gatehouse for holidays.
Whilst campaigning in the north in 1497, Thomas and his family were based at Sheriff Hutton castle (8). The first castle at Sheriff Hutton was probably built during the civil war between Empress Maud and Stephen in the mid-12th century, by Bertram de Bulmer. His descendant, Emma, married Geoffrey de Neville, and they were the progenitors of the extensive Neville clan. Sheriff Hutton was one of the disputed parcels in the great inheritance feud between the elder Neville branch – the descendants of Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland and his first wife, Margaret Stafford, and the younger branch – descendants of Ralph and his second wife, the Lady Joan Beaufort. Sheriff Hutton was taken by the junior branch, and eventually vested in Ralph and Joan’s grandson, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, known as ‘Warwick the Kingmaker’.
Sheriff Hutton, along with Middleham, was a favourite home of Warwick’s and his protégé, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, spent much of his youth there. On Warwick’s death, Sheriff Hutton passed to Gloucester, as the husband of Warwick’s younger daughter, Anne Neville. Following his seizure of the throne in 1483, Gloucester, now Richard III, used Sheriff Hutton as a home for the younger members of the York dynasty – the daughters of Edward IV, and the children of the Duke of Clarence – Margaret and Edward. Following the Battle of Bosworth, Henry VII sent for them all, and lodged them initially with his mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort.
Along with the rest of the Warwick lands, Sheriff Hutton was forfeit to the crown, and was used by Thomas in connection with his official duties. Whilst he was based there, his wife, some of his children, and his wife’s attendants were also in residence. It is likely that the poem by John Shelton, ‘Garland of Laurel’, set at Sheriff Hutton, eulogises Elizabeth and the other women. There has been much discussion as to when the poem was written, and whether it refers to Elizabeth Tilney or the next Countess of Surrey, Elizabeth Stafford, wife of Elizabeth Tilney’s son, Thomas Howard, later 3rd duke of Norfolk. There are various scholarly tracts on the topic, but the most convincing is that by M J Tucker, published in Renaissance Quarterly.
Elizabeth died, in April of 1487, either at Sheriff Hutton, or possibly at Lambeth, where she is buried. She and Thomas had been married for twenty-five years, and had had some eight children, but Thomas did not mourn long. He quickly applied for a dispensation to marry Elizabeth’s cousin, Agnes Tilney, and they were married in November, at Sheriff Hutton.
Sheriff Hutton was used in the late 1520s as the base for Henry VIII’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset. It was sold by Charles I in 1618, and passed through several hands. On the construction of a new manor house for the town by the owner, Sir Arthur Ingram, it was plundered for building materials. The ruins and some of the lands surrounding were marketed for sale in 2017 and are last reported as sold for £1.1m.
The Truce of Ayton between England and Scotland, referred to above, was followed up with a treaty, that of Perpetual Peace, negotiated in part by Thomas. One of the clauses was an agreement for the marriage of Henry VII’s daughter, Princess Margaret, to James IV of Scotland. When the match was finally concluded, Thomas accompanied Margaret to her wedding, and witnessed it at Holyrood, Edinburgh (9).
Five years later, Thomas was busy negotiating the marriage of Henry VII’s younger daughter, Princess Mary, to the Charles, Duke of Burgundy, and heir to the Spanish thrones, as well as the likely successor to the Emperor Maximilian. Thomas travelled to Burgundy, to the court of Charles’s aunt, Marguerite of Austria, at Mechelen.
Marguerite’s palace, called the Hof van Savoye (10) in recognition of her title as dowager Duchess of Savoy, survives – a gem at the heart of the town. When Marguerite moved in, the property was too small for her, and she commissioned the architect Rombout Keldermans II to extend it. Keldermans worked in the gothic variant sometimes called Brabantine Gothic, a richly decorated style. The work took several years, and would still have been under construction when Thomas visited.
Marguerite undertook the upbringing not just of Charles, but also of his brother, Ferdinand, later Holy Roman Emperor, and several of their sisters – Eleonora, Queen of Portugal then France; Isabella, Queen of Denmark and Mary, Queen of Hungary, who succeeded Marguerite as regent, and the siblings spent much of their time in the Hof van Savoye. Another member of Marguerite’s court, in 1512, was the young English maid-of-honour, Anne Boleyn, whose biographer, Eric Ives, postulated used her memory of the Hof van Savoye to influence the construction of Whitehall Palace.
The property was damaged in 1546 when the city’s gunpowder magazine exploded, but was repaired. In 1609, the Hof was purchased by the City Council and served as the headquarter of the Great Council of the Netherlands from 1616 until 1795, although the actual territory over which it presided changed over time. The Great Council was finally disbanded when the French invaded at the time of the Revolution and the Hof is now the home of the Court of Justice.
It would be interesting to know whether Thomas was in any way influenced by Marguerite’s palace, for his construction of Kenninghall (11) in Norfolk. The manor of Kenninghall was Crown property at the time of the Norman conquest. It was granted to one of William the Conqueror’s companions, William d’Albini (or d’Aubigny). His son, William d’Aubigny II, created Earl of Arundel by King Stephen, married Adeliza of Louvain, the widow of Henry I. The lands passed in 1243 to Isabel, the sister of the 5th Earl of Arundel, and wife of John FitzAlan, Lord of Oswestry. After numerous generations, Kenninghall passed to another woman, Elizabeth FitzAlan, sister of the 5th Earl of Arundel (of the 2nd creation) who left no legitimate children. Elizabeth’s second husband, and the father of her heirs, was Thomas de Mowbray, 1st Duke of Norfolk, great-great-grandfather of Thomas. Kenninghall was granted to the Howards as part of their share of the Mowbray lands.
Thomas demolished the old manor house, and between 1507 and his death, constructed a house so grand it was often referred to as a palace. Built in the shape of an H, it was surrounded by some 700 acres of parkland, about a mile east of the village. On the attainder of the 3rd duke in 1547, it reverted to the Crown, and was granted to Henry VIII’s daughter, the Lady Mary, in the great bonanza of crown grants that marked the taking of power by Edward Seymour and his friends after Henry VIII’s death. Mary lived there during much of Edward VI’s reign, and it was to Kenninghall that she escaped when she heard that Lord Robert Dudley had been sent to capture her after Edward VI’s death. Once Mary had successfully established herself as queen, she restored Kenninghall and the other Howard properties. With the execution of the 4th Duke of Norfolk under Elizabeth, it fell once again to the Crown. It was largely demolished in around 1650, although one wing apparently survives in a farm house.
During Henry VII’s reign, the king’s overall policy tended toward peace, and, it appears from contemporary records, that Thomas, whilst a very capable and successful soldier, tended to agree with that strategy. All changed with the advent of Henry VIII, who swiftly engaged in war with France. Thomas, disappointed at not forming part of the invasion force of 1513, was left in charge of the Anglo-Scottish border just as he had been twenty years before. Once again, James IV invaded, and once again, Thomas was victorious, at the Battle of Flodden (14) fought in Northumberland. Today, the battlefield is silent, but it has never been built on, and, standing by the simple monument, it is not hard to hear the clash of arms, and the screams of the thousands of dead. Thomas was rewarded with the restoration of the dukedom of Norfolk.
Although Thomas had been diligent in 1508 in his embassy to Mechelen, in the event the Princess Mary married, not the Archduke Charles, but Louis XII, the king of France. Thomas was the senior nobleman deputed to accompany the young princess to her new home in 1514, and to hand her over at Abbeville (12), which he duly did. The royal couple were married in the newly constructed cathedral of St Vulfran, which may still be visited.
As well as his great military service at Flodden, Thomas was obliged in 1521 to prove, once again, his loyalty to the house of Tudor. In May of that year, he was required to preside as Lord High Steward over the trial and sentencing of Edward, 3rd Duke of Buckingham. Guildhall (15), in London, was the location for the trial. Guildhall, off the modern Gresham Street, has been the main corporate headquarters of the City of London (the oldest continuous corporation in the Western world) since the late 1100s. Its current incarnation dates from 1411 - 1440 and would look familiar to Thomas. The building now houses the Guildhall Library and Art Gallery, and is open to the public. It is used for the elaborate ceremonial surrounding the Lord Mayor (to be distinguished from the modern political post of Mayor), the Aldermen, and the Guilds of London.
Whilst Thomas had built a sumptuous modern residence at Kenninghall, the ancient castle of Framlingham (13) was his most important property in Suffolk. It was here that he retired in 1523 and here that he died. His body was taken in solemn procession to Thetford Priory (16) a Cluniac house, and one of the largest and wealthiest monastic foundations in East Anglia. Thetford had been founded by Roger Bigod, 1st Duke of Norfolk, in the reign of Henry I. Thomas’ father, John, Duke of Norfolk, his mother, Katherine Moleyns, and his daughter-in-law, Anne of York, had all been buried there when Thomas joined them. They were followed by his widow, Agnes, and his grandson-in-law, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond. The abbey was suppressed in 1540, and Thomas and the others were moved to St Michael’s Framlingham. There are extensive remains at Thetford, cared for by English Heritage, and open to the public.
The map below shows the location of places associated with Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk, discussed in this article.
Blue: in current use
Purple: later replacement
Grey: no trace