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Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton. National Trust, Knole.
Signature of Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton from Doyle's 'Official Baronage'
Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton  (1540-1614)

HENRY HOWARD, Earl of Northampton (1540-1614), born at Shottesham, Norfolk, on 25 Feb. 1539-40, was second son of Henry Howard, earl of Surrey; was younger brother of Thomas Howard, fourth duke of Norfolk and uncle of Philip Howard, first earl of Arundel. On the death of his father in 1547 he and his brother and sisters were entrusted to the care of his aunt, the Duchess of Richmond, who employed Foxe the martyrologist as their tutor. With Foxe Howard remained at Reigate, a manor belonging to the Duke of Norfolk, throughout Edward VI's reign.

On Mary's accession, the children's grandfather, the Duke of Norfolk, was released from prison, and he straightway dismissed Foxe. Henry was admitted to the household of John White, bishop of Lincoln, an ardent catholic, and when White was translated to Winchester in 1556, Henry went with him. While with White, Howard read largely in philosophy, civil law, divinity, and history, and seems to have acquired a strong sympathy with Roman Catholicism. On Mary's death and Elizabeth's accession, White was deprived of his bishopric, and Elizabeth undertook the charge of Howard's education. He was restored in blood 8 May 1559.

At the queen's expense he proceeded to King's College, Cambridge, where he graduated M. A. in 1564. He afterwards joined Trinity Hall, obtained a good reputation as a scholar, read Latin lectures on rhetoric and civil law in public, and applied to a friend in London for a master to teach him the lute.1 He protested in 1568 to Burghley that his religious views were needlessly suspected of heterodoxy, and wrote for his youngest sister, Catharine, wife of Lord Berkeley, a treatise on natural and moral philosophy, which has not been published; the manuscript (in Bodl. Libr. Arch. D. 113) is dated from Trinity Hall 6 Aug. 1569. On 19 April 1568 he was incorporated M. A. at Oxford, and it was rumoured that he contemplated taking holy orders in the vague hope of succeeding Young in the archbishopric of York.2

Want of money, and a consciousness that he was living 'beneath the compass of his birth,' brought him to court about 1570, but the intrigues of which his brother, Thomas Howard, fourth duke of Norfolk, was suspected at the time, depressed his prospects.3 When in 1572 Norfolk was charged with conspiring to marry Mary Queen of Scots, Banister, Norfolk's confidential agent, declared in his confession that Howard was himself first proposed 'for that object.'4 He was thereupon arrested, but, after repeated examinations, established his innocence to Elizabeth's satisfaction, was readmitted to court, and was granted a yearly pension. It was generally reported, however, that he had by his evil counsel brought about his brother's ruin.5

After the duke's execution Howard retired to Audley End, and directed the education of his brother's children. He visited Cambridge in July 1573, suffered from ill-health in the latter part of the year, tried by frequent letters to Burghley and to Hatton to keep himself in favour with the queen's ministers, and managed to offer satisfactory explanations when it was reported in 1574 that he was exchanging tokens with Mary Queen of Scots. But Elizabeth's suspicions were not permanently removed. His relations with Mary were undoubtedly close and mysterious. He supplied her for many years with political information, but, according to his own account, gave her the prudent advice to 'abate the sails of her royal pride.'6

Howard sought to regain Elizabeth's favour by grossly flattering her in long petitions. About 1580 he circulated a manuscript tract in support of the scheme for the marriage of Elizabeth with the Duke of Anjou, in answer to Stubbes's 'Discoverie of a Gaping Gulf,' 1579,7 and at Burghley's request began a reply to a pamphlet denouncing female government, which he completed in 1589.8 In 1582 his cousin Edward De Vere, seventeenth earl of Oxford, quarrelled with him, and revived the charges of heresy and of treasonable correspondence with the Scottish queen. He was again arrested, and defended himself at length in a letter to Elizabeth, in which he admitted that he had taken part in Roman catholic worship owing to conscientious difficulties 'in sacramentary points,' but declared that it was idle to believe that 'so mean a man'9 as he could win Mary Stuart's 'liking.'

He was soon free, and retiring to St. Albans, spent a year (1582-3) in writing 'Preservative against the Poison of supposed Prophecies',10 a learned attack on judicial astrology, dedicated to Walsingham, and perhaps suggested by the astrological exploits of Richard Harvey. The book, which was revised and reissued in 1621, was suspected of 'seeming heresies,' and of treason, 'though somewhat closely covered',11 and in 1583 Howard was sent to the Fleet. For months, as he wrote to Hatton, he 'endured much harsh usage.'12 Mary, it was now asserted, had sent him a ring with a message that she 'did repute him as his brother.'13 Burghley declined to intervene in his behalf, but by the favour of Burghley's son Robert he was sent on parole to the house of Sir Nicholas Bacon at Redgrave. On 19 July 1585 he wrote thence to Burghley, begging permission to visit the wells at Warwick for the benefit of his health.

He was soon set at liberty, and is said to have travelled in Italy, 'visiting Florence and Rome.'14 In 1587 his repeated requests to take an active part in resisting the threatened Spanish attack were refused. He was at the time without any means of livelihood, except his irregularly paid pension. The lord admiral gave him as an asylum a 'little cell at Greenwich,' and in 1591 put under his charge 'a Spanish prisoner called Don Louis, who it was expected would divulge important secrets respecting the movements of the Spanish treasure fleet.' But Howard's relations with the Spaniard soon excited suspicion, and his prospects seemed utterly ruined. He thought of retiring to 'a grove and a prayer-book.'

On the rise of Essex to power Howard was not slow to attach himself to the new favourite. He thus came into relations with both Francis and Anthony Bacon, much to the disgust of their mother, who warned her sons to avoid him as 'a papist and a Spaniard.' At the same time, with characteristic adroitness, he managed to continue in good relations with Sir Robert Cecil, and through his influence was readmitted to court in 1600, when Elizabeth treated him considerately. He took no part in Essex's schemes of rebellion, although Cecil believed him to be meditating communication with the earl on his release on parole from York House in August 1600.15

After the earl's execution he took part with Cecil in a long secret correspondence with James of Scotland. Howard's letters of advice to the king are long and obscure. James called them 'Asiatic and endless volumes.' Following Essex's example he tried to poison James's mind against his personal enemies, chief among whom were Henry Brooke, eighth lord Cobham, and Sir Walter Raleigh. In letters written to Cecil he made no secret of his intention, when opportunity offered, of snaring his rivals into some questionable negotiation with Spain which might be made the foundation of a charge of treason.16 Howard also pressed on James the desirability of adopting, when he came to the English throne, a thorough-going policy of toleration towards Roman catholics. These communications convinced James of his fidelity; he wrote to Howard repeatedly in familiar terms, and, as soon as Elizabeth's death was announced sent him a ruby 'out of Scotland as a token.'17

The suppleness and flattery which had done him small service in his relations with Elizabeth gave Howard a commanding position from the first in James I's court. He attended James at Theobalds, and was made a privy councillor. On 1 Jan. 1604 he became lord warden of the Cinque ports in succession to his enemy Lord Cobham, and on 13 March Baron Howard of Marnhull, Dorsetshire, and Earl of Northampton. On 24 Feb. 1605 he was installed knight of the Garter, and on 29 April 1608, when Salisbury became treasurer, he was promoted to the dignified office of lord privy seal. Grants of the tower in Greenwich Park and of the bailiwick of the town were made in 1605.

In 1609 the university of Oxford appointed him high steward, and in 1612 he and Prince Charles were rival candidates for the chancellorship of Cambridge University in succession to Salisbury. His wealth and learning seem to have easily secured his election; but he at once resigned on learning that the king resented the university's action. He managed, however, to convince James I that he intended no disrespect to the royal family, and at a new election he was reappointed.18 When, on Salisbury's death in 1612, the treasurership was put into commission, Northampton was made one of the commissioners.

Northampton took an active part in political business, and exhibited in all his actions a stupendous want of principle. He was a commissioner for the trial of his personal enemies Sir Walter Raleigh and Lord Cobham in 1603, for that of Guy Fawkes in 1605, and of Garnett, with whose opinions he was in agreement, in 1606. His elaborate and effective speeches at the latter two trials appear in the 'State Trials' (i. 245, 266). He supported the convictions of all. It was rumoured afterwards that he had privately apologised to Cardinal Bellarmine for his speech at Garnett's trial, in which he powerfully attacked the papal power, and had told the cardinal that he was at heart a catholic. The report gained very general currency, and the failure of contemporary catholic writers to denounce Northampton in their comments on the proceedings against Garnett appeared to confirm its truth. In 1612 Archbishop Abbot is said to have produced in the council-chamber a copy of Northampton's communication with Bellarmine. In the same year Northampton summoned six persons who had circulated the story before the Star-chamber on the charge of libel, and they were heavily fined.

Meanwhile, in May 1604, he acted as a commissioner to treat for peace with Spain, and in the autumn of the same year accepted a Spanish pension of £1,000 a year. In September 1604, with even greater boldness, he sat on the commission appointed to arrange for the expulsion of Jesuits and seminary priests. In 1606 he supported the union of England and Scotland.19 When, in 1607, the commons sent up to the House of Lords a petition from English merchants, complaining of Spanish cruelties, Northampton, in a speech in the upper chamber, superciliously rebuked the lower house for interfering in great affairs of state. In 1611 he strongly supported the Duke of Savoy's proposal to arrange a marriage between his daughter and Henry, prince of Wales, in the very sanguine belief that a union of the heir-apparent with a Roman catholic might effectually check the aggressiveness of the democratic puritans. At the same time he did good service by urging reform in the spending department of the navy.

In 1613 Northampton, in accordance with his character, gave his support to his grandniece, Lady Frances, daughter of Thomas Howard, earl of Suffolk, in her endeavours to obtain a divorce from her husband, the Earl of Essex. The lady was desirous of marrying the king's favourite, Robert Car, earl of Somerset, and Northampton doubtless thought, by promoting that union, to obtain increased influence at court. Northampton and Lady Frances's father represented the wife in an interview with Essex held at Whitehall in May 1618, in the hope of obtaining his assent to a divorce. Essex proved uncompliant, and Northampton contrived that the case should be brought before a special commission. When, however, the divorce was obtained, Somerset's ultimate acquaintance, Sir Thomas Overbury, dissuaded him from pursuing the project of marriage with Lady Frances.

Northampton thereupon recommended, on a very slight pretext, Overbury's imprisonment in the Tower, and contrived that a friend of the Howard family, Sir Gervase Helwys, should be appointed lieutenant of the Tower. Helwys frequently wrote to Northampton about Overbury's conduct and health, but neither of them seems to have been made explicitly aware of Lady Frances's plot to murder the prisoner. Doubtless Northampton had his suspicions. In his extant letters to Helwys he writes with contempt of Overbury and expresses a desire that his own name should not be mentioned in connection with his imprisonment, but he introduced to Helwys Dr. Craig, one of the royal physicians, to report on the prisoner's health.20 When, in 1616, after Northampton's death, the matter was judicially investigated, much proof was adduced of the closeness of the relations that had subsisted between Northampton and his grandniece, and his political enemies credited him with a direct hand in the murder. But the evidence on that point was not conclusive.21

In the king's council Northampton professed to the last his exalted views of the royal prerogative, and tried to thwart the ascendency of protestantism and democracy. In February 1614 he deprecated with great spirit the summoning of a parliament, and when his advice was neglected and a parliament was called together, he, acting in conjunction with Sir Charles Cornwallis, is believed, in June 1614, to have induced John Hoskins, a member of the new House of Commons, to use insulting language about the king's Scottish favourites, in the hope that James would mark his displeasure by straight way dissolving the parliament. Northampton remained close friends with James to the last. He interested himself in the erection of a monument to Mary Queen of Scots in Westminster Abbey, and wrote the Latin inscription. In 1613 he drew up James's well-known edict against duelling, and wrote about, the same time 'Duello foild. The whole proceedings in the orderly dissolveing of a design for single fight betweene two valient gentlemen',22 which is printed in Hearne's 'Collection of Curious Discourses,' 1775, ii. 225- 242, and is there assigned to Sir Edward Coke.

Northampton long suffered from 'a wennish tumour'23 in the thigh, and an unskilful operation led to fatal results. One of his latest acts was to send Somerset expressions of his affection. He died on 15 June 1614 at his house in the Strand, and, as warden of the Cinque ports, was buried in the chapel of Dover Castle. A monument erected above his grave was removed in 1696 to the chapel of the college of Greenwich by the Mercers' Company.24

According to Northampton's will, he died 'a member of the catholic and apostolic church', saying with St. Jerome, 'In qua fide puer natus fui in eadem senex morior.'25 Although the expression ia equivocal, there can be little doubt that he lived and died a Roman catholic. To the king he left, with extravagant expressions of esteem, a golden ewer of £100 value, with a hundred Jacobin pieces, each of twenty-two shillings value. The Earls of Suffolk and Worcester and Lord William Howard were overseers.26 He left land worth £3,000 a year to Arundel. His London house, afterwards Northumberland House, by Charing Cross, he gave to Henry Howard, Suffolk's son, but he revoked at the last moment a bequest to Suffolk of his furniture and movables because he and Suffolk were rival candidates for the treasurership, and it was reported when he was dying that Suffolk was to be appointed.

Despite his lack of principle, Northampton displayed a many-sided culture, and was reputed the most learned nobleman of his time. His taste in architecture is proved by his enlargement of Greenwich Castle, by the magnificence of his London residence, afterwards Northumberland House, which was built at his cost from the designs of Moses Glover, and by his supervision of Thorpe's designs for Audley End, the residence of his nephew Suffolk. He planned and endowed three hospitals, one at Clun, Shropshire; a second at Castle Rising, Norfolk, for twelve poorwomen,27 and a third at Greenwich, called Norfolk College, for twelve poor natives of Greenwich, and for eight natives of Shottesham, Northampton's birthplace. He laid the foundation-stone of the college at Greenwich, 25 Feb. 1613-14, and placed its management under the Mercers' Company.

He was a witty talker, and his friend Bacon has recorded some of his remarks in his 'Apophthegms'.28 Bacon chose him as 'the learnedest councillor' in the kingdom to present his 'Advancement of Learning' to James I.29 George Chapman inscribed a sonnet to him which was printed before his translation of Homer (1614). Ben Jonson and he were, on the other hand, bitter foes.30

Besides the work on astrology and treatises already noticed, there are extant the earl's translation of Charles V's last advice to Philip II, dedicated to Elizabeth (Harl. MSS. 836 and 1506; Sloane MS. 1432; Stowe MS. 95; Cott. MS. Titus C. xviii.; and Bodl. Libr. Rawl. MS. B. 7, f. 32, while the dedicatory epistle appears alone in Lambeth MS. DCCXI. 20); and devotional treatises (Arun. MS. 300, and Lambeth MS. 660). Cottonian MS. Titus, c. 6, a volume of 1200 pages, contains much of Northampton's correspondence, a treatise on government, a devotional work, notes of Northampton's early correspondence with James and Cecil, and a commonplace book entitled 'Concilia Privata.'

1. Lansdowne MS. 109, f. 51.
2. Camden, Annales, an. 1571.
3. cf. his Latin letter to Burghley, 22 Sept. 1571, in Cott. MS. Cal. C. iii. f. 94.
4. Murdin, State Papers, p. 134.
5. Birch, Memoirs of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth, i. 227.
6. cf. Cotton MS. Titus, c. vi. f. 138.
7. Harl. MS. 180.
8. ib. 7021, and in Bodl. Libr. MS.
9. [mean, as in, of low status and/or wealth.]
10. London, by John Charlewood, 1583, 4to.
11. Strype, The History of... Grindal, 157.
12. Nicolas, Hatton, pp. 368-9, 376-77.
13. cf. his examination, &c., on 11 Dec. 1583 and January 1583-4 in Cott. MS. Cal. C. vii. ff. 260, 269.
14. Lloyd, Worthies, i. 67.
15. Correspondence of James VI with Sir Robert Cecil, Camd. Soc. p. 23.
16. cf. MS. Cott. Titus, c. ri. ff. 386-92; Edwards, Ralegh, ii. 436 seq.
17. cf. Correspondence of James VI with Cecil and others from Hatfield MSS. ed. Bruce, Camden Soc.
18. Hacket, Life of Bishop Williams, pt. i. p. 21; Cooper, Annals of Cambridge, iii. 47-52.
19. cf. Somers' Tracts, ii. 132.
20. Cott. MS. Titus B. vii. f. 479.
21. Amos, Great Oyer of Poisoning, pp. 167, 173-5, 853.
22. cf. Ashmole MS. 856, ff. 126-45.
23. [A sebaceous cyst.]
24. cf. Stow, A Survey of London, ed. Strype, App. 1 pp. 93-4.
25. [Roughly translated: "In the same faith, in which I was born, do I, in my old age, die."]
26. cf. Harl. MS. 6693, ff. 198-202; and Cott. MS. Jul. F. vi. f. 440.
27. cf. Blomefield, An Essay Towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk, ix. 55-6.
28. Bacon, Works, ed. Spedding, vii. 154, 164, 171.
29. Spedding, The Letters and the Life of Francis Bacon, iii. 252.
30. Jonson, Conversations with William Drummond of Hawthornden, p. 22.


      Lee, Sidney. "Henry Howard, first Earl of Northampton."
      Dictionary of National Biography. Vol X. Sidney Lee, Ed.
      New York: The Macmillan Co., 1908. 28-32.

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William Herbert, 1. Earl of Pembroke
Charles, Lord Howard of Effingham
Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk
Henry Howard, 1. Earl of Northampton
Thomas Howard, 1. Earl of Suffolk
Henry Hastings, 3. E. of Huntingdon
Edward Manners, 3rd Earl of Rutland
Roger Manners, 5th Earl of Rutland
Francis Manners, 6th Earl of Rutland
Henry FitzAlan, 12. Earl of Arundel
Thomas, Earl Arundell of Wardour
Edward Somerset, E. of Worcester
William Davison
Sir Walter Mildmay
Sir Ralph Sadler
Sir Amyas Paulet
Gilbert Gifford
Anthony Browne, Viscount Montague
François, Duke of Alençon & Anjou

Mary, Queen of Scots
Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley
James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell
Anthony Babington and the Babington Plot
John Knox

Philip II of Spain
The Spanish Armada, 1588
Sir Francis Drake
Sir John Hawkins

William Camden
Archbishop Whitgift
Martin Marprelate Controversy
John Penry (Martin Marprelate)
Richard Bancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury
John Dee, Alchemist

Philip Henslowe
Edward Alleyn
The Blackfriars Theatre
The Fortune Theatre
The Rose Theatre
The Swan Theatre
Children's Companies
The Admiral's Men
The Lord Chamberlain's Men
Citizen Comedy
The Isle of Dogs, 1597

Common Law
Court of Common Pleas
Court of King's Bench
Court of Star Chamber
Council of the North
Fleet Prison
First Fruits & Tenths
Livery and Maintenance
Oyer and terminer

The Stuarts

King James I of England
Anne of Denmark
Henry, Prince of Wales
The Gunpowder Plot, 1605
George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham
Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset
Arabella Stuart, Lady Lennox

William Alabaster
Bishop Hall
Bishop Thomas Morton
Archbishop William Laud
John Selden
Lucy Harington, Countess of Bedford
Henry Lawes

King Charles I
Queen Henrietta Maria

Long Parliament
Rump Parliament
Kentish Petition, 1642

Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford
John Digby, Earl of Bristol
George Digby, 2nd Earl of Bristol
Thomas Fairfax, 3rd Lord Fairfax
Robert Devereux, 3rd E. of Essex
Robert Sidney, 2. E. of Leicester
Algernon Percy, E. of Northumberland
Henry Montagu, Earl of Manchester
Edward Montagu, 2. Earl of Manchester

The Restoration

King Charles II
King James II
Test Acts

Greenwich Palace
Hatfield House
Richmond Palace
Windsor Palace
Woodstock Manor

The Cinque Ports
Mermaid Tavern
Malmsey Wine
Great Fire of London, 1666
Merchant Taylors' School
Westminster School
The Sanctuary at Westminster


Chart of the English Succession from William I through Henry VII

Medieval English Drama

London c1480, MS Royal 16
London, 1510, the earliest view in print
Map of England from Saxton's Descriptio Angliae, 1579
London in late 16th century
Location Map of Elizabethan London
Plan of the Bankside, Southwark, in Shakespeare's time
Detail of Norden's Map of the Bankside, 1593
Bull and Bear Baiting Rings from the Agas Map (1569-1590, pub. 1631)
Sketch of the Swan Theatre, c. 1596
Westminster in the Seventeenth Century, by Hollar
Visscher's View of London, 1616
Larger Visscher's View in Sections
c. 1690. View of London Churches, after the Great Fire
The Yard of the Tabard Inn from Thornbury, Old and New London

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