Henry VIII’s Last Execution & His Daughter-in-Law


About a year ago we covered the early Howards, including John, 1st Duke of Norfolk who saw his rise through the Yorkist kings, and his son, Thomas, Earl of Surrey, who managed to work his way into the favor of Henry VII. The family’s ascent was solidified by the 1495 marriage of Thomas’s eldest son and heir to Queen Elizabeth’s younger sister, Anne. Unfortunately the only product of the marriage was a short-lived son who passed away around the age of 10. Anne herself died of unknown causes in 1511 and her widower found himself in need of another wife.

He chose a daughter of Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. The Staffords were an old English family distantly descended from Edward III and at the dawn of Henry VIII’s reign they were the only noble family to hold a dukedom. For a family still proving themselves to the Tudors after supporting Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth, marrying into the Staffords was a wise choice. It was also a personal one. The Earl of Surrey’s son, yet another Thomas Howard, fell in love with Lady Elizabeth Stafford, who was then promised to Ralph Neville, heir to the Earl of Westmoreland. Buckingham offered Thomas another of his daughters, but Thomas was insistent and Elizabeth was duly married to him in 1513.

As Elizabeth would later say, “I was of his choosing and he not of mine.”

Indeed, there was a 20-year age gap between the couple, with Elizabeth only 15 to Thomas’s 35 years. Even so, the couple went on to have at least four children, including two sons and two daughters. Some records account for a third daughter, Katherine, however there is some evidence that while she may have been Thomas’s offspring, she wasn’t Elizabeth. Part of that is due to conjecture that she was 22 in 1530, placing her birth date in 1508. This would have been squarely during Thomas’s marriage to Princess Anne, indicating that she was either Anne’s daughter or a bastard. Given that most historians are confident Anne died without living children, it’s likelier it was latter case. Indeed, unlike the rest of the Howard children, she didn’t live on her father’s estates year-round and instead only made extended visits. About a year before her death she married the Earl of Derby and died without issue.

Mary’s grandfather, Thomas Howard, the 2nd Duke of Norfolk

The same year that Thomas and Elizabeth married, Thomas’s father, the Earl of Surrey, successfully defeated James IV of Scotland at the Battle of Flodden (and widowed Henry VIII’s sister, Margaret). As reward for this victory – and thanks to the support of Queen Katherine – Surrey was restored to his father’s dukedom of Norfolk and Thomas and Elizabeth became the new Earl and Countess of Surrey.

In 1520, Thomas and Elizabeth were sent to Ireland on Henry VIII’s behalf, their children in tow. Surrounded by plague and warfare, Thomas asked the King for leave to send his wife and children back into England for safekeeping, but was roundly denied. The Howards finally made it back in 1521 when Thomas briefly fell ill with dysentery.

By this time, it seems likely that all of the Howard children were born. The eldest boy, Henry, was born in 1516 or 1517 and was named for the King. A second son, Thomas, was born during the Irish adventure. A daughter, Mary, was born in 1519, while a second daughter’s (Muriel) birth date is unknown. While Thomas spent most of his time on the road on the King’s behalf, Elizabeth split her time between the Howard estates and the household of Katherine of Aragon, who she served when at court.

This pattern was soon broken up by the execution of Elizabeth’s father in 1521 on charges of treason. Elizabeth’s brother was denied his father’s title and it remained extinct for a century until James I awarded it to his favorite, George Villiers. Three years later, Thomas’s father died of natural causes and Thomas and Elizabeth became the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk, and their eldest son, Henry, became the new Earl of Surrey. This positioned them as the head of the unwieldy Howard clan just as Thomas’s niece, Anne Boleyn, caught the King’s eye and catapulted them into the eye of an unprecedented storm.

Mary’s cousin, Anne Boleyn

Anne was the daughter of Thomas’s sister, Elizabeth, who had married Thomas Boleyn in the 1490s. Their other daughter, Mary, served as Henry VIII’s mistress earlier in the 1520s, but it was Anne with whom Henry fell in love after he decided his marriage to Katherine of Aragon was illegal on the grounds that she had previously married his brother, Prince Arthur. He deemed it infertile despite a healthy daughter, Princess Mary, because it failed to produce a living son. Meanwhile, he knew that he himself could beget sons thanks to the presence of his bastard by Elizabeth Blount, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond.

The Howards relationship with Anne was a strange one. She was of course family first and foremost, so her rise theoretically strengthened the position of her aunt and uncle. But Thomas and Elizabeth already held powerful positions at court and they had long been supporters of Anne’s rival, Queen Katherine. Elizabeth, in particular, considered Katherine a close, personal friend, and that, combined with strong views on marital fidelity, solidified her mounting dislike of Anne. And to be sure, as of when Henry first began pursuing Anne there was little indication of what was to come – how could there be? The King was married and his wife was the Holy Roman Emperor’s aunt. Unless she voluntarily retired to a convent, the marriage seemed ironclad.

It wasn’t until 1527 that Henry made clear that he intended to challenge the legality of his marriage before Rome, a fact that had hitherto been kept close to the vest. The year coincided with Thomas beginning an affair with the daughter of his treasurer and chief steward, Bess Holland, and installing her in Elizabeth’s household as a laundress. Like Henry’s relationship with Anne, Thomas’s affair with Bess was founded on real feelings. And like Katherine, Elizabeth was not only humiliated but utterly uninterested in giving way for a younger woman.

But while marital relations between the Howards soured, they still had work to do when it came to navigating the Tudors. In 1529, Anne’s father was elevated to the Earl of Wiltshire and in the celebrations that followed, Anne was placed higher than the rest of the women at court, which Elizabeth found offensive. Worse still came later that year when Anne decided that it was fitting for Princess Mary to marry her cousin of Surrey. In theory, one could argue this would have given Thomas good reason to support Katherine over Anne, for if his son was married to the King’s only daughter then it stood to reason keeping her legitimate made it a possibility his son could someday ascend the throne. Yes, and that almost certainly crossed his mind, but at the same time, the current king was dead set on divorcing Katherine and if there was one thing that Thomas desired more than anything else it was getting rid of Cardinal Wolsey, Henry’s leading minister since his accession. In that, it suited him that Wolsey’s difficult time in securing the King’s divorce was souring relations between master and servant.

Mary’s father, Thomas Howard, the 3rd Duke of Norfolk

But as the King’s “great matter” wore on and the Howards found themselves battling each other privately, their familial civil war only became more political and public. Elizabeth was outspoken in her support of Katherine, putting her at loggerheads with Anne as the latter grew more powerful. And it was Anne who orchestrated the match between Mary Howard and Henry Fitzroy, which Elizabeth was against. The negotiations for the match were concluded in March 1531 when the bride was 11 or 12, but only a month later Elizabeth’s words to Katherine that her husband was of the opinion that Anne would “ruin them all” got back to the younger woman and she had her aunt banished from court in May.

At this point, Thomas began to apply pressure on his wife to support Anne, realizing the dye had been cast. Perhaps he empathized with the King too much, for somewhere in here he also decided that he wanted to divorce Elizabeth and marry Bess. It’s unclear what the exact timeline of this was, but in the meantime, Thomas needed Elizabeth to play her part at court. There is evidence that he invested in the finery necessary for his wife to take part in the ceremony for Anne’s investiture as the Marquess of Pembroke in 1532, but she pointedly didn’t show up on the grounds of ill health.

Instead, her 13-year-old daughter, Mary, did. Mary, due to marry the King’s bastard, was awarded the honor of carrying Anne’s train and took her place as a maid of honor in Anne’s household, thus beginning her career at court. Later that year she accompanied the King and Anne to Calais for their trip abroad, in addition to her brother and her betrothed. Both young men took part in the entourage of King Francis I’s son, the dauphin (the future Henry II), and even after the rest of the English returned home a few weeks later, they remained in France until September 1533.

What Mary likely didn’t know was that shortly after they landed in England, Henry and Anne were secretly married and their relationship consummated. At long last, Anne was willing to play her trump card in the hopes of conceiving the son the King so desperately wanted. It worked. Anne married the King once more in January 1533 and was presented to court as queen that April, five months pregnant. Henry’s marriage to Katherine was declared null and void and Princess Mary, now Lady Mary, was no more elevated than Henry Fitzroy. When Anne was crowned queen that June, Mary Howard played a key role in attending on her, and when Princess Elizabeth was born that September, she took part in her christening.

Mary’s husband, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond

Mary and Henry Fitzroy were married at court in November 1533, however since they were both only 14 they were forbidden from consummating their relationship. Mary, now Duchess of Richmond, continued to serve Anne Boleyn in her household, while Fitzroy meandered back and forth from court to his own lands, head of his own household. His place in the succession remained vague and, as such, his marriage to Mary was of the utmost importance to Thomas. Though technically a bastard, the King had just shown he was willing to make the succession his plaything. So long as Anne Boleyn failed to deliver a child, there remained a chance that the King would name Fitzroy his heir, making another Howard girl queen consort.

In the meantime, in 1534, Thomas and Elizabeth separated and Elizabeth left for her own household in Hertfordshire. The separation was not Elizabeth’s choice and she complained to Thomas Cromwell, the King’s favorite adviser after the fall of Wolsey, that she had been badly abused – physically and otherwise – by her husband. Per her account, his servants beat her and she was deprived of her jewelry and other finery in the hopes she would agree to a divorce. Perhaps Thomas was emboldened by the King’s own actions, and in his case, Elizabeth was the daughter of a long-dead traitor, not the monarchs of Spain. Yet another claim was that while she was still in childbed with Mary, Thomas dragged her from her chamber and wounded her with his dagger. Thomas denied the claim and Mary sided with her father. It’s impossible to know the truth – Mary had no other financial choice but to side with her father, but the reference to her daughter also meant referencing the King’s daughter-in-law making it all the more a potent accusation and Elizabeth wasn’t a fool.

It may be safe to say, though, that Mary chose her father for less mercenary reasons. Back at court, Anne Boleyn still hadn’t provided a son and Fitzroy’s health was deteriorating. When Anne was arrested in May 1536 on charges of adultery the Howards, were shocked. Still further were they stunned when Henry ordered her execution, which was carried out on May 19. Norfolk was part of the group of councilors who arrested her and it was he who read out her sentence when her sham of a trial concluded. Also sitting on the jury was Fitzroy, while the Earl of Surrey attended. But though public loyalties went to the King, personal reactions differed. As Thomas read out the judgment tears fell down his face, while Fitzroy had recently been told by his father that Anne had wanted to poison him and his half-sister, Mary Tudor.

As for Mary herself, it’s likely that her sympathies also went to Anne Boleyn, who she had served for nearly four years at the time of her death. Taken into her household at the age of 13, it’s even likelier that she saw more of her cousin than her own mother, and given that she embraced the Church of England over Catholicism, yet another ideological shift from her mother, it’s very possible that she saw her mother as her father did. We don’t know for certain, but there is also a possibility that Mary attended Anne during her execution. She wasn’t one of the women who served her during her time in the Tower, but per some eyewitness accounts, the four women who helped Anne on her final day were young and close to her. Few would have been closer to her than the 17-year-old Mary Howard.

Years later, Mary recalled the former queen by describing her as always carrying a purse of money in case she encountered the poor so that she could hand out charity.

Henry VIII

Politically, things were only going to get dicier for the Howards. The fall of the Boleyns meant the rise of the Seymours via the new Queen Jane, and they had no familial ties to the Howards and even less of a reason to like them. Worse still came the double whammy in July of Fitzroy growing even sicker than before and news that Lady Margaret Douglas, daughter of Henry VIII’s sister, the Dowager Queen of Scotland, had secretly become betrothed to Lord Thomas Howard, a half-brother to the Duke of Norfolk (who, unhelpfully for our purposes, shared his name).

Henry VIII didn’t enjoy being defied on the best of days and the summer of 1536 was hardly that. By then he had only two bastard daughters since he annulled both of his marriages to their mothers and one bastard son, who was but clinging to life. After Henry and his illegitimate children came his elder sister and her children, of which Margaret Douglas was one. Close on the heels of Anne Boleyn’s fall, finding the Howards entangled with Tudors was hardly good news – still worse was the fact that Mary had helped facilitate their relationship. Concurrently, Henry worked with Parliament to find legal room which would allow him to name Fitzroy his heir. Thus, Mary was the closest she had ever been that summer to finding herself a future queen.

Margaret Douglas and Lord Thomas Howard were both arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London. Likely, Mary would have been as well, even if her husband interceded on her behalf – and it’s not certain he would have given their split in sympathies over Anne Boleyn – but thanks to Fitzroy’s health, she was spared. Indeed, his illness proved to be fatal and he passed away on July 23 in Norfolk. Mary, despite being married for nearly three years, became a virgin widow.

Because the relationship was never consummated – and because Mary was a Howard whose marriage was arranged by Anne Boleyn – Henry VIII argued that it was thus illegal and there was no reason to settled on his daughter-in-law a widow’s jointure. Thomas fought this, but by the autumn he was up north fighting the Pilgrimage of Grace, a rebellion that broke out in response to the dissolution of the monasteries. He was joined in March 1537 by his son, the Earl of Surrey, and both men’s absence from a court full of Seymours and their supporters meant the family mercilessly maligned to the King. Among the accusations was sympathy for the Catholic rebels, thus prompting Thomas to respond with violence bordering on cruelty when punishing offenders.

Mary’s brother, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey

Surrey returned to court that summer, but with Fitzroy and the rest of the Boleyn supporters gone, he was essentially alone. Tormented by the new class of rising stars, he ended up in brawl and struck another courtier in the face. His punishment, which would normally have been the loss of his right hand, was instead brief solitary confinement at Windsor. All was forgotten by that October when Jane Seymour finally gave birth to the longed for heir, Prince Edward, and both Thomas and Surrey were back at court.

Mary, meanwhile, appears to have retired to the Howard estates and didn’t serve the new queen. That December she wrote to her father and reminded him that her widow’s portion had still not been decided. In the letter she wrote:

“I am sure he [the King] would never suffer the justice of his laws to be denied to me, the unworthy desolate widow of his late son that never yet was denied to the poorest gentlewoman in this realm.”

If that wasn’t enough, she decided to consult her father’s lawyers on her own, apparently believing he wasn’t being diligent enough. In truth, he likely hadn’t forgotten, but was close enough to the King to know one had to choose their time wisely. He later wrote to Henry:

“My lord, in all my life I never communed with her in any serious cause until now, and would not have thought she had been such as I find her, which, I think is but too wise for a woman.”

Concurrently, Mary wrote her own letter to Cromwell:

“In mine humble manner I commend me to your good lordship. And where it hath pleased Almighty God to call to his mercy my late lord and husband one year and a half past, to my most sorrow and discomfort; and my lord my father, under whose tuition I am, hath many times promised me to be a suitor to the King’s Majesty for obtaining of my dower, whereof as yet there hath no good effect come to me, nor, I fear me, by his means of long time shall not: most humbly and heartily I beseech your good lordship to help me, a desolate widow, that by your good means I may obtain my right, and to be a suitor to His Highness for me for the same.

“Of truth, about a fortnight past I wrote a letter to my lord my father, beseeching him to give me license to come up to sue His Majesty for mine own cause; whereunto he made me so short an answer, that I am more than half in despair to obtain by his suit. Alas! Good my  lord, you that do many deeds, help me, the poorest widow of the realm, and deliver mine humble supplication, which you shall receive with this, to His Highness; and if it may stand with His Highness’s pleasure to remit my said cause to the judges and his learned counsel, I am in no doubt they will inform His Majesty that my right is perfect good. There is but one thing, as my counsel say unto me, that doth delay, nor can, my matter, which is, that I cannot have out the writs; wherein, by your good mediation, I trust His Highness will not deny me, which never, unto this time, was denied to lady or gentlewoman in this realm. Finally, my good lord, most humbly I beseech you to be my good lord concerning the premises, and I shall daily pray to Almighty God for your long prosperity.”

Sadly, we don’t know what Cromwell’s response was, but as late as April 1538 we have another letter from Thomas to Cromwell, noting that Mary “doth continually, with weeping and wailing, cry out on me to have me give her license to ride to London to sue for her cause, thinking that I have no effectually followed the same.”

In the midst of all of this, Duchess Elizabeth was a thorn in Mary’s side. Elizabeth had long been annoyed that both Mary and Surrey sided with their father over her and, perhaps even worse, that Mary chose to socialize with Bess Holland. It is entirely possible that Bess even found herself in Anne Boleyn’s household during her tenure as queen, and she seems to have also known Mary Shelton, yet another Howard cousin who was briefly Henry VIII’s mistress. Elizabeth’s argument was that until her own allowance was paid, her daughter’s suit could wait. It did nothing to reconcile the women.

Queen Jane’s brother, Thomas Seymour

By the summer of 1538, Thomas had a new scheme, which was to marry Mary to Jane Seymour’s brother, Thomas. The latter man would later find fame by marrying Henry VIII’s sixth wife shortly after the King’s death in 1547 – and for his inappropriate relationship with a teenage Princess Elizabeth. A decade earlier, however, he was just one of Prince Edward’s maternal uncles. Mary’s father saw it as a smart way to ingratiate the Howards with a family who would always be tied to the Tudors so long as Prince Edward lived, but Mary refused the match, likely on the grounds that she didn’t wish to risk her title or the possibility of receiving her jointure.

That summer she had the opportunity to meet the King during his progresses, but by the autumn he appeared keen to marry her, his daughters and Margaret Douglas into Italian nobility in the hopes of securing the duchy of Milan. That plan fell apart and that, combined with mounting pressure from Thomas and Cromwell, finally prompted the King to settle Mary’s dower in March 1539.

It was just in time, for he was about to embark on this fourth marriage, this time to the German Anne of Cleves. Mary and Margaret Douglas were on hand to welcome the new queen when she arrived in England at the end of the year, but the relationship quickly floundered. The King divorced Anne in July 1540 and took as his fifth wife Katherine Howard, yet another of Thomas’s nieces and Mary’s cousins. As with Anne Boleyn, Mary  joined her household as a lady-in-waiting.

Mary’s cousin, Katherine Howard

Now 21, Mary would have been older than the new queen and may well have helped show her the ropes for how to behave at court. Whatever advice she gave, if any, didn’t save a doomed relationship and in November 1541, Katherine’s household was broken up when the King discovered she hadn’t been a virgin when she married him. She was arrested, imprisoned and finally executed in February 1542. Thomas’s life was spared thanks to a letter he wrote throwing himself at the King’s mercy and swearing he had no knowledge of Katherine’s actions (which may have also included a shady relationship with a man in Henry’s employment). It is sometimes said that Mary was also interrogated and imprisoned, but this wasn’t the case – instead the Howards only found themselves, once again, on the descent.

Mary was absent from court when Henry took his sixth wife, Katherine Parr, but she found in the new queen a kindred spirit. Katherine was twice widowed, learned and a fan of the reformed faith, giving her quite a bit in common with the Duchess of Richmond. Mary didn’t serve her as she had Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard, but she did regularly attend court in the four years of Katherine’s tenure.

In the background of this, Surrey had a harder time adjusting. By 1546, he was in his late 20s, married (to Frances de Vere, a daughter of the Earl of Oxford) and a father. The downfall of Katherine Howard and subsequent suspicion which wrapped up the extended family grated on him. His arrogance, combined with a lofty lineage, made him resent “new” men like Edward and Thomas Seymour all the more. When Thomas Howard approached Mary in 1646 about the possibility of marrying Thomas Seymour once again, she was less obstinate in her refusal. Though she didn’t personally care for the man, like her father she saw the good sense in aligning the Howards with a family as sure-footed as the Seymours. She brought the matter to Surrey for his advice and he told her in no uncertain terms she should refuse it.

In addition to that, he also suggested that she pretend to go to King Henry for advice in the matter and attempt to catch his eye. Given Henry was on his sixth marriage it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Surrey meant for his sister to play a similar game to that of Anne Boleyn, but he apparently articulated that he saw nothing wrong with her becoming his mistress in the physical sense in the interim. Mary was horrified, saying “she would cut her own throat rather than she would consent to such villainy.”

It’s not difficult to see why. In addition to being offended, Henry was also the former husband of two of her cousins, at least one of whom she admired. There was the small detail that those same two wives ended their lives on the block, while Katherine Parr nearly met the same fate that year for attempting to wade in on matters of religion. Marrying Henry was dangerous and Mary seems to have been relatively content living out her life as a rich widow. Relations never recovered between the siblings.

Queen Jane’s other brother, Edward Seymour

News of this breach and the reasons for it spread through court. As did Surrey’s feelings that the Howards should play a prominent role in the minority government established in the future reign of Prince Edward. When word of this reached the King he was livid. His health rapidly declining, he was upset his courtiers were already plotting their steps after his death … and perhaps welcoming it. Furthermore, he was insulted these same courtiers would attempt to use women to control him – in his mind, of course, each and every woman he slept with genuinely desired him.

A case was compiled against Surrey and not only did Henry review it, but he weighed in:

“If a man compassing with himself to govern the realm, do actually go about to rule the King and should, for that purpose, advise his daughter or sister to become his harlot, thinking thereby to bring it to pass, and so should rule both father and son, as by this next article does more appear, what it importeth?”

Thomas and Surrey were arrested and sent to the Tower, while their loved ones were rounded up by Henry’s men to gather evidence against them. On December 11, 1546, three of Henry’s councilors rode to Kenninghall Palace, one of the Howard homes, to interrogate Mary and Thomas’s longtime mistress, Bess Holland. As we now know, while being questioned, both women provided evidence against the two men. Mary offered written testimony that Surrey had indeed prompted her to consider seducing Henry, though she was reportedly careful not to impugn her father. As for accusations regarding Surrey presenting himself as near royal, there is some debate over how far Mary waded into that issue. Regardless, during Surrey’s trial when he denied that he had ever had such a conversation with his sister and was presented with her own handwriting saying otherwise, he answered, “Must I, then, be condemned on the word of a wretched woman?”

As for Bess, she testified that she had never had a good relationship with Surrey, and that he and Mary were frequently at odds. She further stated that Thomas had told her many times that men like the Seymours disliked him because of his older – and thus grander – standing. Most damning, she repeated Thomas’s opinion of Henry: “The King was much grown of his body, and he could go up and down stairs, but was let up and down by a device.” The cherry on top of the treason sundae was Thomas apparently noting Henry could not possibly live much longer.

For the two men pent up in the Tower, they were at the mercy of what information they were given when it came to building a defense. Thomas, knowing he had likely made excuses for his son for far too long, plead for mercy from Henry. Nevertheless, Surrey was executed on Tower Hill on January 19, 1947. It marked the last execution in the long and bloody reign of Henry VIII.

Henry VIII’s sixth wife, Katherine Parr

Thomas, too, would have met a similar fate had Henry’s own death nine days after Surrey’s not spared him. Thus the nine-year-old Prince Edward became Edward VI, his government run by Edward Seymour. As for the notorious Thomas Seymour, he soon caused his own scandal by marrying the King’s widow, Katherine Parr, in indecent haste, angering Princess Mary, among others.

As for Mary Howard, she worked tirelessly to get her father released. With the Seymours in charge, there was little chance of Thomas returning to court in his former glory, but his daughter effectively petitioned for better accommodations, time outside and, finally in 1549, the ability to visit him. After a two-year separation, it’s anyone’s guess how that reunion went, but Mary continued to advocate for her father through the new king’s reign. Indeed, she was only to get access to him thanks to the fall of the Seymours. Edward Seymour, like any powerful Tudor courtier could tell you, amassed a number of jealous enemies. That, combined with Thomas Seymour’s plans to marry the Princess Elizabeth after Katherine Parr’s death, helped seal their fate. Thomas Seymour was executed on March 20, 1549, while Edward Seymour lost his position before the end of the year. He would eventually be executed in 1552 for attempting to overthrow his successor, John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland.

Edward VI died on July 6, 1553. Shortly before his death, and to a debatable degree of legality, he altered the succession plan decreed by his father and attempted to bypass his Catholic sister, Mary, for his cousin, Lady Jane Grey. She “ruled” England for a brief nine days before Mary took the throne as Queen Mary I. After nearly seven years in the Tower, Thomas was freed and restored to the Privy Council. That summer he presided over the trial of Northumberland, Jane Grey’s father-in-law, and during the Queen’s first Parliament that autumn, his attainder was declared void, restoring him as the Duke of Norfolk.

As for Bess Holland, after her testimony against the Howards, she married a man named Henry Reppes, quickly became pregnant and died in childbirth by the end of 1547 or 1548.

Despite near brushes with disaster and death thanks to Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard and his eldest son, Thomas died of natural causes with a firm grasp on his career and fortune. He passed away on August 25, 1553. His will says of his daughter:

“Unto my daughter the Lady Mary Duchess of Richmond the sum of £500, as well in consideration that she is my daughter, as that she hath been at great costs and charges in making suit for my delivery out of imprisonment, and in bringing up my said son of Surrey’s children.”

As for Mary, she disappears from the record after her father’s death, but she didn’t outlive him by much. Some mark her date of death as occurring before the end of 1555, others see her make it until late 1557. Either way, it occurred before her 40th birthday and may well have been unexpected. She never took part in Mary I’s court, which may have been due to poor health or may have been due to her former support for Anne Boleyn and the reformed faith. Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing.

Mary’s nephew, Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk

Regardless, Mary safeguarded the rights of her nephew, Surrey’s eldest son, yet another Thomas Howard. When his grandfather passed away, he became the new Duke of Norfolk at just 18. Like his forebears, he would have brushes with treason during his career. He did well for himself under Mary I, but went against Elizabeth I decades later when he plotted to marry the imprisoned Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland in 1569. He was executed on June 2, 1572. The title was only restored to the family during the reign of Charles II in 1660.

History has occasionally judged Mary harshly for testifying against her brother, but given her relationship to her father, her support of her nieces and nephews and her own well-reasoned career at court, it’s worth considering that she put the family name before one of its members. Indeed, one could argue her brother  attempted to do the very same and simply lost the gamble.

Further reading (and from where quotes above are pulled): Soberton, Sylvia B. The Forgotten Tudor Women: Margaret Douglas, Mary Howard & Mary Shelton. 2015.

One thought on “Henry VIII’s Last Execution & His Daughter-in-Law

  1. Roxana

    Interestingly Thomas Cromwell had rather a reputation for helping ladies in trouble. Mary Tudor credited him with saving her life and interceding with her father. Elizabeth Stafford referenced Mary’s late troubles in her letter asking for Cromwell’s help. And of course Mary Howard turned to him too, apparently with success. Thomas Cromwell, knight errant to the ladies of Henry’s court. Not exactly his usual image. Mary Tudor continued to depend on him. Their friendship was apparently so well known that Cromwell was charged with plotting to marry her after his fall.

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