Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk was born on 10th March 1536 to Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey and was second cousin to Queen Elizabeth I through their grandmother, Lady Elizabeth Howard.
Although Howard was brought up to be a Protestant he had leanings towards Catholism and was well well rewarded during the reign of Queen Mary I. Howard played a key role in her coronation and served Mary’s husband, Philip as his first gentleman of the chamber. Philip was also the godfather to Howard’s son, Philip, whom he had with his first wife, Mary FitzAlan.
Thomas Howard’s first marriage was short lived as she died a year after they married giving birth to their only son, Philip. Howard married again to the Margaret Audley, daughter of the 1st Baron Audley of Walden in 1558. They went on to have four children together; Thomas, William, Elizabeth and Margaret.
In 1559 Elizabeth inducted Howard into the Knight of the Garter and soon created him Earl Marshal of England and Queen’s Lieutenant in the North and from February to July 1560 Howard was the commander of the English army in Scotland where he was tasked with defeating the French army who were stationed there under their regent, Mary of Guise. Initially Howard refused as he believed that there was a better way to protect England from France and that was if Elizabeth married Charles, Archduke of Austria. Howard eventually obeyed his orders and set off for Scotland and his job to provide supplies for the defence of Berwick and to begin negotiations. Few locals actually negotiated with Howard and documents showed that it was Sir Ralph Sadler and Sir James Croft that dealt with the negotiations and reported back to the Privy Council.
Howard was still in Scotland for the siege of Leith but instead of leading the army he was placed in charge of the reserves and eventually William Cecil arrived to negotiate the Treaty of Edinburgh. With Cecil’s arrival Howard returned home disgruntled at the fact he had not been more involved.
Despite his anger towards the queen he was bestowed many honours in the 1560s; he was sworn in as a member of the Privy Council, became a member of Gray’s Inn and even travelled with Elizabeth to Cambridge University. Despite the many honours Howard was still angry that Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, was receiving more honours than him and he let everyone know of his dislike of the Queen’s favourite.
Howard married for a third time to Elizabeth Leyburne, widow to Thomas Dacre, 4th Baron Dacre. Howard’s three sons from his first two marriages; Philip, Thomas and William married Elizabeth’s daughters from her marriage to Thomas Dacre.
In 1568 Howard as one of the only Duke’s in England was appointed as one of the three commissioners that heard evidence against Mary, Queen of Scots at York. On 11th October 1568 the commission were handed the Casket Letters by Regent Moray. These letters were private correspondence between Mary and the Ear of Bothwell and heavily implied that Mary was involved in the murder of her first husband, Lord Darnley. Howard believed that if Elizabeth would not recognise Mary’s claim to the English throne then the next best thing would be if she married an English peer. With Howard as the only Duke in England at the time and one of the most powerful men in the country he naturally elected himself. He believed that if Mary was Elizabeth’s successor he could guide Mary through the English government and help her rule the country, as King.
Despite a guilty verdict being passed on Mary for her involvement in her husband’s murder Howard began communicating with the Scottish Lords to propose marriage between Mary and him. He even suggested that Scotland sent an envoy to Elizabeth to propose the match, pitching it that Mary would be kept under control and under the radar. The match received some backing from Dudley and the Earls of Pembroke and Arundel as the succession was still a highly discussed topic within the realm. All the negotiations were secretive and Howard never formally declared himself as a candidate to marry Mary even after Westminster thought it was a good idea to keep an eye on Mary, instead he relied on pushing others to argue his case and gain support.
Towards the end of 1569 Howard had left court when the eye of suspicion fell on him and upon his return home he wrote two letters one to the Earl of Northumberland saying to not support any attempt to free Mary and the other was to Elizabeth to declare his loyalty to her. A cunning ploy to keep all sides happy, however, Elizabeth was already doubtful of his intentions she ordered Howard to return to court. Howard feigned illness to delay his return but on 2nd October he was placed under house arrest at Burnham.
Six days later on 8th October, Howard was removed from his home and taken to the Tower of London whilst his household staff and friends were questioned by the council. From the Tower Howard wrote to both Queens declaring his loyalty to each. Mary believed every word he said, Elizabeth did not. After 10 months in the Tower Howard eventually declared that he had been wrong in plotting to marry Mary and as a result Elizabeth allowed him to return to his home at Charterhouse to remain under house arrest.
Howard, not knowing when to give up, continued his negotiations with Mary and her supporters looked to King Philip of Spain to assist in a rebellion against Elizabeth to place Mary on the throne. Howard hired an Italian banker to act as negotiator between himself and King Philip and the he became the lead conspirator in what is now know as the Ridolfi Plot. The plot was discovered after Howard’s secretary was caught with a ciphered letter. The secretary was arrested and he revealed enough of the plot for Howard to once again be placed in the Tower.
Howard tried to protest against the charges against him by claiming that he had never wanted to marry Mary, he claimed that he did not trust her as she was an adulterer and a murderer. However, the evidence against Howard was too much and on 16th January 1572 it was announced that Howard would be placed on trial charged with high treason.
Howard was found guilty of plotting to marry with the queen’s permission, arranging a plot to gain Spanish help to invade England and place Mary on the throne. He was sentenced to death but with Elizabeth always reluctant to send people to the gallows she delayed. Eventually though on 2nd June 1572 Thomas Howard was executed.