Read The Dukes Online

Authors: Brian Masters

Tags: #Non Fiction

The Dukes (7 page)

BOOK: The Dukes
10.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

With such sketchy information I trust the tangle of names which
follows may be reduced to comparative simplicity.


Cecil Woodham-Smith,
The Reason Why,
pp. 8-9.

Horatia Durant,
The Somerset Sequence,
p. 77.

Complete Peerage,
II, App. D.

Duke of Sutherland,
Looking Back,
p. 101.

Lord Kinross,
The Dukes of England,
15 November

6. Vita Sackville-West,
The Edwardians,
p. 75.

Complete Peerage,
VIII, App. A, by H. Pirie-Gordon and

A. H. Doubleday.

of Sarah Spencer, Lady Littelton (1912).

Nina Epton,
Milord and Milady,
p. 27.

Duke of Manchester,
My Candid Recollections,
p. 16.

Rosalind K. Marshall,
The Days of Duchess Anne,
p. 43.
Lady Holland to Her Son,
p. 102.

Vita Sackville-West,
The Edwardians,
p. 159.

Augustus Hare,
In My Solitary Life,
p. 93.

Nina Epton,
Milord and Milady,
p. 208.

Creevey Papers,
II, 129.

Duke of Manchester,
My Candid Recollections,
p. 233.

Duke of Bedford,
A Silver-plated Spoon,
p. 64.

Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan,
The Glitter and the Gold,
p. 83.

Life and Letters
of Lady Sarah Lennox, (1901), I, p. 92.

Augustus Hare,
In My Solitary Life,
p. 1 o 1.

Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan,
op. cit.,
p. 98.

130, and Duke of Portland,
op. cit.,

Complete Peerage,
VIII, 374 (d).

Complete Peerage,
VII, App. E and F.


1 The Old Nobility


Duke of Norfolk; Duke of Somerset

From 1572 until the reign of James I there were no dukes in England.
All the Dukes alive now derive their titles from creations well after
this purge, except two, which descend from the violent years of
pre-Elizabethan England. One survives from the Wars of the Roses -
the dukedom of Norfolk, conferred upon the Howard family by
Richard III in 1483, in suspicious circumstances which suggest at
the very least connivance in the murder of the rightful heirs to the
throne, the little princes in the Tower. The present Duke of Norfolk,
17th in line of descent from the alleged assassin, is therefore the
Premier Duke and Earl in the peerage of England, with precedence
over all other members of the nobility except the royal dukes. The
second early dukedom survives from the Tudor period - the dukedom
of Somerset, created in 1547 by the 1st Duke of Somerset and confer­red upon himself (in the name of the child King Edward VI, whose
uncle, Lord Protector, and virtual ruler he was). The present Duke
of Somerset is the 19th in line of descent from this man, Edward
Seymour, who seized power in the kingdom on the death of
Henry VIII.

Together, they represent all that remains of the dukedoms existing
when England was governed by gangsters, and when few of those
who wielded power died a natural death. The titles of Norfolk and
Somerset are owed to a bloody sword or to ruthlessness of a kind
which we now only find in Sicily or New York. They were both dukes
in the earliest sense of the word, leaders of men, military as well as
political. Having risen to the summit of ambition and honours, they
paid the price by sinking to the pit of disgrace, suffering numerous
attainders under successive monarchs. It is a wonder either family
survived at all. The 1st Duke of Norfolk died in battle, fighting
alongside his friend Richard III; the 2nd Duke was three and a
half years in the Tower of London, after being attainted by Henry
VII's first parliament. He later rose once more to eminence; the 3rd
Duke was found guilty of high treason, imprisoned in the Tower, and
only escaped beheading by the timely death of Henry VIII; his son
the Earl of Surrey (the famous poet) was imprisoned and beheaded;
the 4th Duke of Norfolk, son to the Earl of Surrey, was imprisoned
and beheaded for high treason in the reign of Elizabeth I; his son,
Philip, Earl of Arundel, died in the Tower. And so on. As for the
Seymours, Dukes of Somerset, the tale is similar. The 1st Duke was
attainted, imprisoned, and beheaded; his great-grandson the 2nd
Duke spent some time in the Tower. When his son, Lord Henry
Seymour, was imprisoned there in 1651, the 2nd Duke commented,
"I am very glad to hear that you have your health so well in the
Tower. It seems it is a place entailed upon our family, for we have now
held it five generations, yet to speak the truth I like not the place so
well but that I could be very well contented the entail should be cut

There are yet other circumstances which suggest similarities in the
Howard and Seymour histories. Both families provided wives to
Henry VIII, and attained their greatest power as a result. Queen
Catherine Howard and Queen Anne Boleyn were grand-daughters of
the 2nd Duke of Norfolk and nieces to the 3rd Duke. Queen Jane
Seymour was sister to the Duke of Somerset. Thus both families were
united by blood to the Crown, the Seymours to Edward VI and the
Howards to Elizabeth I. Furthermore, both families have been
bedevilled by the most overweening pride. The Seymours engendered
a duke of such absurd pomposity that he is known to history as "The
Proud Duke"; this is the 6th Duke of Somerset (1662-1748) whose
extravagant conduct we shall see later. The pride of the Howards has
been consistent through the centuries. More than 400 years ago they
already regarded themselves as the sole representatives of the old
nobility, and looked upon the newly ennobled Seymours as upstarts.
The poet Earl of Surrey (15
was beheaded for having tried
too hard to prove the superiority of his ancestry to that of the


* * *

The Howards had every reason to brag of their antiquity. Although
John Howard was not created Duke of Norfolk until 1483, he was
descended through his mother from the Dukes of Norfolk of an earlier
creation, vested in the Mowbray family (who turn up in Shakespeare's
history plays); there had been a Mowbray Duke of Norfolk since
1397, descended from Thomas of Brotherton, a son of King Edward I.
So the Howard connection ascends, in one way or another, to the very
dawn of English history, and they have rarely been in danger of over­looking the fact.

The 1st Duke of Norfolk of the Howard line (1430-1485) was,
as Sir John Howard, the son of a small landowner with ideas above his
station who married the Mowbray heiress. There was still a Mowbray
Duke of Norfolk at the time, and no reason to suppose that the title
would not continue. But John Howard was nonetheless busy
insinuating himself into the highest circles. The time was ripe for
young men to advance themselves to the top if they happened to choose
where to place their allegiance. John Howard was lucky. He chose
the Yorkist side, became a close confidant of Edward IV, and, when
he died, was the closest personal friend of his brother, Richard III.
There is no doubt that John Howard and his son Thomas Howard
were hand in glove with Richard both before and after his sordid
machinations to occupy the throne of England. They were intimately
acquainted with his plans; they may even have helped carry them out.

The sequence of events is as follows. The last Duke of Norfolk of
the Mowbray line died in 1475. His daughter Anne was married at
the age of five to Edward IV's second son, the infant Duke of York,
who was then created Duke of Norfolk himself. They would event­ually grow up, prosper, beget children, and continue the new line of
Norfolks; they would also receive the Mowbray lands. If, however,
Anne Mowbray were to die without heirs, the Mowbray lands would
pass to two heirs by marriage, one of whom was John Howard.

In 1481 Anne Mowbray died, aged eight. John Howard could still
not inherit the Mowbray lands, however, because the little Duke of
York and Norfolk was still alive. All changed when Anne's father-in-law,
King Edward IV, died in 1483. In his rush to usurp the throne,
Richard Duke of Gloucester was aided and abetted by the willing
Howard, who stood to gain almost as much by the removal of the two
princes as Richard did himself. First, the elder prince, the new King
Edward V, was conveyed to the Tower on 19th May.
The Constable
of the Tower who received him was none other than John Howard. A
month later, on 16th June, his brother, the little Duke of York, joined
him. Again it was John Howard who persuaded the widowed Queen
to hand over her second son into his (and Richard's) safe keeping.'
Events moved quickly in the next few days. Hastings was eliminated
with indecent speed, accused and executed, at Richard's behest,
within a few hours; and it was Thomas Howard, John's son, who
lured him into the trap which Richard had prepared.
On 25th
June Richard was urged to take the throne, which he did without
delay, supported at the right hand of the Chair of State in
Westminster Hall by John Howard. Three days later, on 28th June
1483, John Howard was made Duke of Norfolk and Earl Marshal of
England, and his son Thomas was created Eari of Surrey. At
Richard's coronation on 8th July it was John Howard who carried
the crown and filled the office of High Steward, while his son Thomas
carried the Sword of State.

Those who deny the complicity of Richard III in the murder of the
Princes in the Tower would do well to ponder this creation of the
dukedom of Norfolk. If the princes were alive on 28th June, the
creation could not have been made, as the younger prince, Duke of
York, was also Duke of Norfolk. By elevating John Howard to this
dignity, Richard tacitly admitted that the title was vacant and that
the little prince was therefore dead. By this reckoning, the princes
were murdered some time between 17th June and 28th June 1483.*

That Richard III was ultimately responsible for their deaths
cannot reasonably be denied; it was essential to his purposes that they
should both be eliminated. What is more interesting to us is that the
Duke of Norfolk and his son were privy to the plans. There is no cast-
iron evidence that Norfolk killed the boys, or personally ordered their
murder. But the circumstantial evidence which implicates him is
weighty. As Constable of the Tower he had the keys, and could
achieve access at any time, without superior authority. As the intimate
of Richard III over many years, and especially throughout these
days in June 1483, it is inconceivable that he did not know what
Richard was up to; indeed Richard relied on him to help realise his
plans. As the envoy to the Queen, it was he who brought the little
prince to the Tower. As heir to the Mowbray lands, he stood to gain
more than anyone from the death of the boy. And he was rewarded
for his fidelity by his elevation to the peerage so quickly that the
corpses may not yet have been disposed of. The times were so violent
that no man's life, be he ever so young, counted for much: power
alone mattered. Richard III seized power with his henchmen John
and Thomas Howard as wilful accomplices.

Fittingly, they were deprived of their power in the same violent
manner. Richard had sat on the throne for only two years when the
country was invaded by Henry Tudor, whom he went to meet with
his forces at Bosworth. The King died at the battle of Bosworth Field
in 1485, and by his side perished his faithful servant, John Duke of
Norfolk, pierced by an arrow. His son Thomas Howard (who there­


* In fairness, it must be pointed out that many historians do not accept this line
of argument. The Princes in the Tower had been declared bastards by an assembly
of Lords and Commons who accepted that the marriage of their father Edward IV
with Elizabeth Woodville was invalid under canon law. As bastards, they were
automatically disinherited of titles or honours of any kind. Thus they were
dead on 28 June 1483, though not necessarily
dead, and the dukedom
of Norfolk, held by young Richard of York, was vacant whether or not the boy
was alive. This might be said to beg the question, for the dukedom of Norfolk
had not been
by Richard of York, but was his by right of marriage to
Anne Mowbray, the Norfolk heiress. Readers interested in pursuing the matter
should consult P. M. Kendall,
Richard III
, Appendix I; Mancini's
Usurpation of
Richard III,
ed. Armstrong; Jeremy Potter,
The Trail of Blood.
The author is
indebted to Mr Jeremy Potter for these elucidations

BOOK: The Dukes
10.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Instinct by J.A. Belfield
Beautiful Just! by Lillian Beckwith
Danse Macabre by Stephen King
Blue Moon Promise by Colleen Coble
Tempest’s Legacy by Nicole Peeler
Hour of the Hunter by J. A. Jance