Holbein - henryhoward01

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517-1547), by Hans Holbein the Younger (1498-1543), circa 1542. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Henry Howard
Earl of Surrey
Spouse(s) Frances de Vere, Countess of Surrey
Jane Howard, Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, Margaret Howard, Henry Howard, 1st Earl of Northampton, Catherine Howard
Noble family House of Howard
Father Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk
Mother Lady Elizabeth Stafford
Born c. 1517
Hunsdon, Hertfordshire
Died 19 January 1547 (aged 29-30)
Tower Hill, Tower of London, London

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, KG (1517 - 19 January 1547) was an English aristocrat who helped introduce into England the forms and meters of the Italian Renaissance poets, laying the foundation of a great age of English poetry.[1]



Surrey, son of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, was educated by his father's secretary, John Clerke, a learned and travelled scholar. He became attached to the Court, was cup-bearer to the King Henry VIII, ewerer at the Coronation, and Earl Marshall at the trial of Anne Boleyn. He suffered imprisonment more than once for being implicated in quarrels and brawls, did a good deal of fighting in Scotland and France, and was the last victim of Henry's insensate jealousy, being beheaded on a frivolous charge of conspiring against the succession of Edward VI. The death of Henry saved Norfolk from the same fate. Surrey shares with Sir Thomas Wyatt the honor of being the true successor of Chaucer in English poetry, and he has the distinction of being, in his translation of the Æneid, the 1st to introduce blank verse, and, with Wyatt, the sonnet. The poems of Surrey, though well known in courtly circles, were not published during his life; 40 of them appeared in Tottel's Miscellany in 1557. He also paraphrased part of Ecclesiastes and a few of the Psalms. The Geraldine of his sonnets was Elizabeth Fitzgerald, daughter of the Earl of Kildare, then a lonely child at Court, her father being imprisoned in the Tower.[2]


Surrey was born in 1517 at Hunsdon, Hertfordshire,[1] the son of Lord Thomas Howard, afterwards 3rd duke of Norfolk, and his wife Elizabeth (Stafford), daughter of the duke of Buckingham. (The only authority for the date of his birth is the legend Sal. superest. Aetatis XXIX. on a portrait of Henry Howard at Arundel Castle.) He succeeded to the courtesy title of earl of Surrey in 1524, when his father became duke of Norfolk.[3]

His early years were spent in the various houses belonging to the Howards, chiefly at Kenninghall, Norfolk. He had as tutor John Clerke, who, beside instructing him in the classics, inculcated a great admiration for Italian literature. The duke of Norfolk was proud of his son's attainments (Chapuys to the emperor, December 9, 1529).[3]

The duke was governor of Henry Fitzroy, duke of Richmond, the natural son of Henry VIII. and Elizabeth Blount. Surrey was a little more than a year older than Fitzroy, and became his companion and friend. Fitzroy was at Windsor from 1530 to 1532, and it must be to these years that Surrey refers in the lines written in prison at Windsor, "where I, in lust and joy, with a king's son, my childish years did pass."[3]


Marriage and childrenEdit

Anne Boleyn tried to arrange a marriage between the princess Mary and her kinsman, Surrey. The Spanish ambassador, in the hope of detaching the duke of Norfolk's interest from Anne Boleyn in favor of Catherine of Aragon, seems to have been inclined to favor the project; but Anne changed her mind, and as early as October 1530 arranged a marriage for Surrey with Lady Frances de Vere, daughter of the 15th earl of Oxford. This was concluded at the earliest possible date, in February 1532, but in consequence of the extreme youth of the contracting parties, Frances did not join her husband until 1535.[3]

The couple had 5 children, 2 sons and 3 daughters:

  • Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk (10 March 1536 – 2 June 1572), who married thrice: (1) Mary FitzAlan (2) Margaret Audley (3) Elizabeth Leyburne.
  • Henry Howard, 1st Earl of Northampton, who died unmarried.
  • Jane Howard, Countess of Westmorland, who married Charles Neville, 6th Earl of Westmorland.
  • Margaret Howard, who married Henry Scrope, 9th Baron Scrope of Bolton.
  • Katherine Howard, who married Henry Berkeley, 7th Baron Berkeley.[4]

Legend of GeraldineEdit

Surrey's name has been long connected with the "Fair Geraldine," to whom his love poems were supposed to be addressed. The story is founded on the romantic fiction of Thomas Nashe, The Unfortunate Traveller; or, Life of Jack Wilton (1594), according to which Surrey saw in a magic glass in the Netherlands the face of Geraldine, and then travelled throughout Europe challenging all comers to deny in full field the charms of the lady. At Florence he held a tournament in her honor, and was to do the same in other Italian cities when he was recalled by order of Henry VIII.[3]

The legend, deprived of its more glaring discrepancies with Surrey's life, was revived in Michael Drayton's Englands Heroicall Epistles(1598).[3]

Geraldine was the daughter of the earl of Kildare, Lady Elizabeth Fitzgerald, who was brought up at the English court in company with the princess Elizabeth (see James Graves, A Brief Memoir of Lady Elizabeth Fitzgerald, 1874). She was 10 years old when in 1537 Surrey addressed to her the sonnet "From Tuskane came my ladies worthy race," and nothing more than a passing admiration of the child and an imaginative anticipation of her beauty can be attributed to Surrey.[3]

"A Song … to a ladie that refused to daunce with him," is addressed to Lady Hertford, wife of his bitter enemy, and the 2 poems, "O happy dames" and "Good ladies, ye that have your pleasures in exile," are addressed to his wife, to whom, at any rate in his later years, he seems to have been sincerely attached.[3]


Henry Howard Earl of Surrey 1546

Howard at age 29, 1546. Attributed to William Scrotus (fl.1537-1554). Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

In October 1532 Surrey accompanied Henry VIII to Boulogne to meet Francis I, and, rejoining the duke of Richmond at Calais, he proceeded with him to the French court, where the 2 Englishmen were lodged with the French royal princes. Surrey created for himself a reputation for wisdom, soberness and good learning, which seems curious in view of the events of his later life. Meanwhile in spite of his marriage with Frances de Vere, the project of a contract between him and the princess Mary was revived in a correspondence between Pope Clement VII and the emperor Charles V, but definitely rejected by the latter.[3]

Surrey returned to England in the autumn of 1533, when the duke of Richmond was recalled to marry his friend's sister, Mary Howard. Surrey made his home at his father's house of Kenninghall, and here was a witness of the final separation between his parents, due to the duke's relations with Elizabeth Holland, who had been employed in the Howards' nursery. Surrey took his father's side in the family disputes, and remained at Kenninghall, where his wife joined him in 1535.[3]

In May 1536 he filled his father's functions of earl marshal at the trial of his cousins Anne Boleyn and Lord Rochford. In the autumn of that year he took part with his father in the bloodless campaign against the rebels in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, in the " Pilgrimage of Grace." Although he had supported the royal cause, insinuations were made that he secretly favored the insurgents. Hasty in temper, and by no means friendly to the Seymour faction at court, he struck a man who repeated the accusation in the park at Hampton Court.[3]

For breaking the peace in the king's domain he was arrested (1537), but thanks to Cromwell, who had yielded to the petition of the young man's father, he was not compelled to appear before the privy council, but was merely sent to reside for a time at Windsor. During this imprisonment and the subsequent retirement at Kenninghall, he had leisure to devote himself to poetry.[3]

In 1539 he was again received into royal favor. In May 1540 he was one of the champions in the jousts celebrated at court. The fall of Thomas Cromwell a month later increased the power of the Howards, and in August Henry VIII married Surrey's cousin, Catherine Howard. Surrey was knighted early in 1541, and soon after he received the order of the Garter, was made chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, and, in conjunction with his father, grand seneschal of the university of Cambridge.[3]

He apparently preserved the royal favor after the execution of Catherine Howard (at which he was present), for in December 1541 he received the grant of certain manors in Norfolk and Suffolk. In 1542 he was imprisoned in the Fleet for a quarrel with a certain John Leigh, but on appeal to the privy council he was sent to Windsor Castle, and, after being bound over to keep the peace with John Leigh under a penalty of 10,000 marks, he was soon liberated.[3]

Shortly after his release he joined his father on the Scottish expedition. They laid waste the country, but retreated before the earl of Huntly, taking no part in the victorious operations that led up to Solway Moss. To this year no doubt belong the poems in memory of Sir Thomas Wyatt. His ties with Wyaty, who was 15 years his elder and of opposite politics, seem to have been rather literary than personal.

He appears to have entered into closer relations with the younger Wyatt. In company with "Mr. Wyat," he amused himself by breaking the windows of the citizens of London on 2 February 1543. For this he was accused by the privy council, a 2nd charge being that he had eaten meat in Lent. In prison probably he wrote the satire on the city of London, in which he explains his escapade by a desire to rouse Londoners to a sense of their wickedness.[3]

In October he joined the English army co-operating with the imperial forces in Flanders, and on his return in the next month brought with him a letter of high commendation from Charles V. In the campaign of the next year he served as field marshal under his father, and took part in the unsuccessful siege of Montreuil. In August 1545 he was sent to the relief of Edward Poynings, then in command of Boulogne, and was made lieutenant-general of the English possessions on the Continent and governor of Boulogne. Here he gained considerable successes, and insisted on the retention of the town in spite of the desire of the privy council that it should be surrendered to France. A reverse on 7 January 1546 at St. Étienne was followed by a period of inaction, and in March Surrey was recalled.[3]

Trial and executionEdit

Surrey had always been an enemy to the Seymours, whom he regarded as upstarts, and when his sister, the duchess of Richmond, seemed disposed to accept a marriage with Sir Thomas Seymour, he wrote to her insinuating that this was a step towards becoming the mistress of Henry VIII. By his action in thwarting this plan he increased the enmity of the Seymours and added his sister to the already long list of the enemies which he had made by his haughty manner and brutal frankness.[3]

He was now accused of quartering with his own the arms of Edward the Confessor, a proceeding which, it was alleged, was only permissible for the heir to the crown. The details of this accusation were false; moreover, Surrey had long quartered the royal arms with his own without offense. The charge was a pretext covering graver suspicions.[3]

Surrey had asserted in the presence of a certain George Blage, who was inclined to the reforming movement, that on Henry's death, his father, the duke of Norfolk, as the premier duke in England, had the obvious right of acting as regent to Prince Edward. He also boasted of what he would do when his father had attained that position. All of this was construed into a plot on the part of his father and himself to murder the king and the prince.[3]

The duke of Norfolk and his son were sent to the Tower on 12 December 1546. Every effort was made to secure evidence. The duchess of Richmond was one of the witnesses (see her depositions in Herbert of Cherbury, Life and Reign of Henry VIII, 1649) against her brother, but her statements were too doubtful to add anything to the formal indictment.[3]

On 13 January 1547 Surrey defended himself at the guildhall on the charge of high treason for having illegally made use of the arms of Edward the Confessor, before judges selected for their known hatred of him. He was condemned by a jury, packed for the occasion, to be hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn. This sentence was not carried out.[3]

Surrey was beheaded on Tower Hill on 19 January, and was buried in the church of All Saints, Barking. His remains were afterwards removed by his son the earl of Northampton to Framlingham, Suffolk.[3]

His father, who was charged with complicity in his son's crime, was, as a peer of the realm, not amenable to a common jury. The consequent delay saved his life. He was imprisoned during the whole of the reign of Edward VI, but on Mary's accession he was set free, by an act which also assured the right of the Howards, as descendants of the Mowbray family, to bear the arms of the Confessor.[3]


His poems, which were the occupation of the leisure moments of his short and crowded life, were 1st printed in Songs and Sonettes written by the ryght honorable Lorde Henry Howard late Earle of Surrey, and other (apud Richardum Tottel, 1557). A 2nd edition followed in July 1557, and others in 1559, 1565, 1567, 1574, 1585 and 1587. Although Surrey's name, probably because of his rank, stands 1st on the title-page, Wyatt was the earlier in point of time of Henry's "courtly makers." Surrey, indeed, expressly acknowledges Wyatt as his master in poetry. As their poems appeared in 1 volume, long after the death of both, their names will always be closely associated. Wyatt possessed strong individuality, which found expression in rugged, forceful verse.[3]

Surrey's contributions are distinguished by their impetuous eloquence and sweetness. He revived the principles of Chaucer's versification, which his predecessors had failed to grasp, perhaps because the value of the final 'e' was lost. He introduced new smoothness and fluency into English verse. He never allowed the accent to fall on a weak syllable, nor did he permit weak syllables as rhymes.[3]

His chief innovation as a metrician lies outside the Miscellany. His translation of the 2nd and 4th books of the Aeneid into blank verse —the 1st attempt at blank verse in English — was published separately by Tottel in the same year with the title of Certain Bokes of Virgiles Aeneis turned into English meter. It has been suggested that in this matter Surrey was influenced by the translation of Virgil published at Venice by Ippolito de' Medici in 1541, but there is no direct evidence that such was the case.[3]

His sonnets are in various schemes of verse, and are less correct in form and more loosely constructed than those of Wyayt. They commonly consist of 3 quatrains with independent rhymes, terminating with a rhyming couplet. But his sonnets, his elegy on the death of Wyatt, his lover's complaint cast in pastoral form, and his lyrics in various measures, all served as models to more than 1 generation of court poets.[3]

Both in form and substance Surrey and his fellow poets were largely indebted to Italian predecessors; most of his poems are in fact adaptations from Italian originals. The tone of the love sentiment was new in English poetry, very different in its earnestness, passion and fantastic extravagance from the lightness and gaiety of the Chaucerian school.[3]

See Professor E. Arber's reprint of Songs and Sonettes (English Reprints, 1870); the Roxburghe Club reprint of Certain Bokes of Virgiles Aeneis (1814); G.F. Nott, The Works of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1815); and The Poetical Works of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (Aldine edition, 1866); F. M. Padelford, The MS. Poems of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1906).[3]

Critical IntroductionEdit

by John Churton Collins

The works of Surrey, though not so numerous as those of his friend Wyatt, are of a very varied character. They consist of sonnets, of miscellaneous poems in different measures, of lyrics, of elegies, of translations, of Scriptural paraphrases, of two long versions from Virgil.

The distinctive feature of Surrey’s genius is its ductility; its characteristic qualities are grace, vivacity, pathos, picturesqueness. He had the temperament of a true poet, refinement, sensibility, a keen eye for the beauties of nature, a quick and lively imagination, great natural powers of expression. His tone is pure and lofty, and his whole writings breathe that chivalrous spirit which still lingered among the satellites of the eighth Henry. His diction is chaste and perspicuous, and though it bears all the marks of careful elaboration it has no trace of stiffness or pedantry. His verse is so smooth, and at times so delicately musical, that Warton questioned whether in these qualities at least our versification has advanced since Surrey tuned it for the first time.

Without the learning of Wyatt, his literary skill is far greater. His taste is exquisite. His love poetry, which is distinguished by touches of genuine feeling, is modelled for the most part on the Sonnetti and Ballate of Petrarch, though it has little of Petrarch’s frigid puerility and none of his metaphysical extravagance. The Laura of Surrey is the fair Geraldine. We may perhaps suspect the existence of some less shadowy object. As a lyrical poet, when he permits himself to follow his own bent he is easy and graceful. His elegiac verses and his epitaph on Clere have been deservedly praised for their pathos, dignity, and terseness, and his translation from Martial makes us regret that he has not left us more in the same vein. His versions from Virgil we are not inclined to rank so highly as Warton does, but they are interesting as being the first English versions from the poets of antiquity worthy of the name, and as furnishing us with the earliest specimens of that verse which was to become the omnipotent instrument of Shakespeare and Milton.

As a sonneteer he follows closely in the footsteps of Petrarch, though he is not, like Wyatt, a servile copyist, and he is entitled to the high praise not only of being the first who introduced the sonnet into our language, but of having made that difficult form of composition the obedient interpreter of a poet’s feelings and of a poet’s fancies.

His most unsuccessful pieces are his Scriptural paraphrases and the poems written in Alexandrines, though one of these, "The Complaint of a Dying Lover", is valuable as being, after Henryson’s "Robine and Makyne", the first pastoral poem in British literature.[5]


Henry Howard Earl of Surrey tomb

Tomb of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (died 1547) and his wife Frances de Vere (died 1577), parish church of St. Michael the Archangel, Framlingham, Suffolk. Photo by Steve Parker, 2010. Licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Surrey was knighted early in 1541,[3] and in 1542 was made a Knight of the Garter a few weeks after the execution of his cousin, Queen Catherine Howard.[2]

He is buried in a spectacular painted alabaster tomb at St. Michael the Archangel, Framlingham.[4]

3 of his poems ("Description of Spring," "Complaint of the Absence of Her Lover being upon the Sea," and "The Means to attain Happy Life") were included in the Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900.[6]




Collected editionsEdit

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[8]



Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey Two Sonnets Poem animation

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey Two Sonnets Poem animation

See alsoEdit


  • PD-icon.svg Chisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). "Surrey, Henry Howard, Earl of". Encyclopædia Britannica. 26 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 138. . Wikisource, Web, Mar. 8, 2018.
  • House of Treason: The rise and fall of a Tudor dynasty by Robert Hutchinson, 2009
  • A Tudor Tragedy: Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk by Neville Williams, 1989
  • The Ebbs and Flows of Fortune: Life of Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk by David M. Head, 1995
  • Henry VIII's Last Victim: The Life and Times... by Jessie Childs, 2008.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. Web, Mar. 8, 2018.
  2. 2.0 2.1 John William Cousin, "Surrey, Nenry Howard, Earl of," A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: Dent / New York: Dutton, 1910, 366. Wikisource, Web, Mar. 8, 2018.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 3.16 3.17 3.18 3.19 3.20 3.21 3.22 3.23 3.24 3.25 3.26 3.27 3.28 3.29 Britannica 1911, 26, 138.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, Wikipedia, February 11, 2018, Wikimedia Foundation. Web, Mar. 8, 2018.
  5. from John Churlton Collins, "Critical Introduction: Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517–1547)," The English Poets: Selections with critical introductions (edited by Thomas Humphry Ward). New York & London: Macmillan, 1880-1918. Web, Jan. 5, 2016.
  6. Alphabetical list of authors: Daniel, Samuel to Hyde, Douglas, Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1900 (edited by Arthur Quiller-Couch). Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1919., Web, May 18, 2012.
  7. Selected Poetry of Henry Howard, earl of Surrey (1517?-1547), Representative Poetry Online, University of Toronto,, Web, Dec. 22, 2011.
  8. Search results = au:Henry Howard 1517, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Jan. 7, 2016.

External linksEdit

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