John Howard, Duke
of Norfolk (c.1425-1485)
Born: c. 1425, probably at
Duke of Norfolk
Died: 22nd August 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth, Leicestershire
John was the son and heir of Sir Robert Howard by Margaret, daughter of Thomas Mowbray, 1st Duke of Norfolk (d. 1399), and cousin and ultimately coheiress of John Mowbray, 4th Duke of Norfolk (d. 1476), is supposed to have been born about
1430, although slightly earlier seems likely. His father died in 1436
and his grandfather the following year, so John inherited the family
manor of Stoke-by-Nayland in Suffolk, probably at the age of about
twelve. His first recorded service is dated 1452, when he followed Lord L'Isle to Guienne, and was present at the
Battle of Chastillon on 17th July 1453. He entered the service of his kinsman John Mowbray, 3rd Duke of Norfolk (d. 1461) and, on 8th July 1455, the Duchess wrote to John Paston desiring him that, as it was “right necessary that my lord have at this time in the parliament such persons as long unto him and be of his menial servants,” he would forward the election of Howard as Knight of the Shire
(MP) for Norfolk. The Duke of York also wrote on his behalf. Some at least of the Norfolk gentry were indignant at having “a strange man” forced on them and the Duke was reported to have promised that there should be a free election, which made Howard “as wood as a bullock,” but in the end he was elected.
In the Wars of the Roses, it is evident that he soon became of great service to the Yorkist
cause. He led the Duke Norfolk's men for the newly proclaimed King
Edward IV at the Battle of Towton in March 1461 and, after the
Coronation, he was knighted, appointed Constable of Colchester Castle, Sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk, and one of the king's carvers, and was known to have “great fellowship” with the king. He took an active part in the Duke of Norfolk's quarrel with John Paston. He had a violent brawl with Paston in the shire-house at Norwich in August, and used his influence with the King against him, while Howard's wife declared that if any of her husband's men met with Paston he should “go no penny for his life”. As sheriff, Howard had given offence at the election of Paston and Berney, and in consequence of the many complaints preferred against him was, in November, it is said, committed to prison. His favour with the King was not diminished, for in 1462 he was appointed Constable of Norwich Castle and received grants of several manors forfeited by the Earl of Wiltshire and others. He was joined in a commission with Lords Fauconberg and Clinton to keep the seas safe and they made a made an attack on Brittany, taking Croquet and the Isle of Rhe. Towards the end of the year, he served under Norfolk against the Lancastrians in the north and was sent by the Duke from Newcastle to help the Earl of Warwick at Warkworth and, in the Spring of 1464, was with Norfolk in Wales when the Duke was securing the country for the King.
Howard returned home on 8th June 1464 and bought the reversion of the Constableship of Bamburgh Castle, worth ten marks a year, for £20 and a bay courser. During the last weeks of the year, he was with the king at Reading, where he presented him with a courser worth £40 and the queen with another worth £8 as New Year's gifts. On 3rd November 1465, he lost his wife Catherine, daughter of William, Baron Moleyns, who died at his house at Stoke Nayland in Suffolk. In 1466, he was appointed Vice-Admiral for Norfolk and Suffolk, was building a ship called the ‘Mary Grace’ and, being charged with the conveyance of envoys to France and Burgundy, remained at Calais from 15th May to 17th September.
On 19th January following, he married his second wife, Margaret, daughter of Sir John Chedworth and widow of both
Sir John Norreys, Keeper of the Wardrobe and Nicholas Wyfold, Lord Mayor of London.
The King sent them a 'pot of silver in green ginger' as a wedding gift.
Howard must have known the Lady Margaret for some time, since his own
daughter of that name was in the household of her step-son, Sir
William Norreys at Yattendon
Castle in Berkshire. He was married to Howard's cousin, Jane de
Vere. The new Lady Howard brought with her Norreys’ magnificent newly
built manor house, Ockwells, at
Bray, also in Berkshire, which Howard found a convenient base for attending the Royal Court at
Windsor Castle, only
a few miles away, as well as the Palace of Westminster, since his London
home was at Stepney, then a village some way east of the City. However,
many of the house's fittings were taken away to Yattendon Castle by
Margaret's step-son, so John was obliged to send down to Bray lengths of
arras, sumptuous cushions and a grand four-poster bed hung with crimson
damask. In April, he was elected Knight of the Shire for Suffolk, spending £40-17s-8d on entertaining the electors at
Ipswich, but, by the end of the year, he was increasingly spending time
in Berkshire, where he was appointed both Justice of the Peace and High
Sheriff. Although a member of the House of Commons, he is styled Lord Howard in a commission issued in November appointing him an envoy to France. He was,
also in this year, made Treasurer of the Household and held that office until 1474. He was employed, in June 1468, in attending the King's sister, Elizabeth, to Flanders upon her marriage with Charles, Duke of Burgundy.
When King Henry VI was briefly restored, he created Howard a baron by a writ of summons, dated 15th October 1470, and styling him Baron de Howard. Nevertheless, he appears to have remained faithful to the Yorkist cause, for, not only was he commanding a fleet sent to oppose the Lancastrians, but, upon Edward's landing in March 1471, proclaimed him King in Suffolk. A list of his retainers is extant for that year and it may therefore be concluded that he was present at both the Battles of Barnet and of Tewkesbury. In June, he was appointed Deputy Governor of Calais and, after having sworn to maintain the succession of the Prince of Wales, crossed over thither on 3rd June and was engaged in negotiations with France, and in the May following with the Duke of Burgundy.
In April 1472, he was made a Knight of the Garter. When Edward invaded France in July 1475, he was accompanied by Howard, who appears to have been one of the King's most trusted councillors during the expedition. He was one of the commissioners who made the truce at Amiens, received a pension from Louis XI and met Philip de Commines to arrange the conference between the two kings at Picquigny. Along with
Sir John Cheney, he remained in France as a hostage for a short time after Edward's departure and, upon his return to England, received, from the King as a reward for his fidelity and prudence, grants of several manors in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire forfeited by the Earl of Oxford. On being sent to treat with France, in July 1477 for a prolongation of the truce, he and his fellow envoys negotiated with the envoys of King Louis at Cambray and, in the following March and in January 1479, he was again employed in the same way. In that year also, he was sent to Scotland in command of a fleet. In May 1480, he and other envoys were sent to remind Louis of his engagement that his son, Charles, should marry Edward's daughter, Elizabeth, but their mission was fruitless.
The following year, upon the death of Howard's cousin and the King's
nine-year-old daughter-in-law, Anne Mowbray, his lordship inherited the
vast Mowbray estates centred on Framlingham Castle in Suffolk. At King Edward’s funeral in April 1483,
he was styled the King's Bannerer and bore the late King's banner.
Lord Howard attached himself to Richard of Gloucester and became privy to all his plans and doings. He was appointed High Steward of the Duchy of Lancaster, on 13th May, and a Privy Councillor and, on 28th June, was created Duke of Norfolk and Earl Marshal with remainder to the heirs male of his body, the patent thus reviving the dignities held by the Mowbrays and Thomas of Brotherton, son of King Edward I, from whom he was descended on the mother's side through females. He was concerned in persuading the widowed Queen to deliver up her younger son, the Duke of York, that he might be lodged with his brother in the Tower of London. At the Coronation of King Richard III, on 6th July, he acted as High Steward, bore the Crown and, as Marshal, rode into Westminster Hall after the ceremony and “voided the hall”. A few days later, he was appointed Admiral of England, Ireland and Aquitaine. On 10th October, he heard that the Kentish men had risen and were threatening to sack London and ordered Paston to come to the defence of the city. He probably accompanied King Richard on his visit to the north, for he was with him at Nottingham on 12th September 1484 when he was nominated chief of the commissioners to treat with the ambassadors of James III of Scotland. A story that he was solicited, in February 1485, by the Lady Elizabeth to promote her marriage with the King is doubtful. When, in August, it was known that the last of the Lncastrians, the Earl of Richmond (and future King Henry VII), had landed, Norfolk summoned his retainers to meet him at Bury St. Edmunds to fight for the King. The night before he marched to join Richard, several of his friends tried to persuade him to remain inactive and one wrote on his gate, “Jack of Norfolk be not to bold, For Dicken thy master is bought and sold”. However, for the sake of his oath and his honour, he would not desert the King. At the Battle of Bosworth Field, he commanded the vanguard, which was largely composed of archers, and he was amongst those slain there on 22nd August. He was
first buried in Leicester, but his body was later removed to the family
mausoleum in Thetford Priory. Not surprisingly, he was attainted by act of the first parliament of King Henry VII.
Norfolk was a wise and experienced politician, and an expert and valiant soldier, careful in the management of his own affairs and a faithful adherent of the House of York. His memory is, however, stained by his desertion of the interests of the son of his old master and by his intimate relations with the usurper. By his first wife, Catharine, he had Thomas, Earl of Surrey and Duke of Norfolk, and four daughters: Anne, who married Sir Edward Gorges of Wraxall in Somerset; Isabel, who married Sir Robert Mortimer of Essex; Jane, who married John Timperley; and Margaret, who married Sir John Wyndham of Crownthorpe and Felbrigg in Norfolk. His second wife, who bore him one daughter, Catherine, who married John Bourchier, 2nd Baron Berners, survived him and died in 1494.
Edited from Sidney Lee's 'Dictionary of National