29. Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, 1443 – 1524


On 9th September 1513, Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, on Henry VIII’s behalf, fought and won a decisive battle against the Scots at Flodden, also known as Branxton Moor which resulted in the death of King James IV of Scotland. Who was this man, then aged 70 and relatively old, even by today’s standards, and what was his background?

Thomas Howard was born in 1443 in Suffolk and was the only son of John Howard, 1st Duke of Norfolk and Katherine Moleyns. His political and army career spanned the period of the War of the Roses and then the Tudors under King Henry VII and VIII.

Thomas first joined the army under Edward IV and fought with him both on the winning and losing side. In 1470 when Henry VI was restored to the throne he was forced to flee to Colchester but he supported Edward in his campaign to regain the throne. In 1471, at the Battle of Barnet, just before the restoration of Edward IV to the monarchy, Thomas was wounded. However his loyalty to Edward was rewarded with promotion and a knighthood in 1478.

After Edward IV’s death in 1483, the Howard family supported Richard III who became king. He granted them additional lands, as well as conferring the title of Duke of Norfolk on Thomas’ father and Earl of Surrey on Thomas. They both fought for the king at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 which saw the defeat of Richard and the effective end of the War of the Roses with the ascent of the Tudor, Henry VII to the throne. Having fought on the wrong side what would happen next?

John Howard was killed and Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey was wounded and imprisoned in the Tower of London for three years. He was released in 1489 and his title of Earl of Surrey was restored, probably because he showed loyalty to the King by not escaping during a rebellion led by the Earl of Lincoln in 1487 when the gates of the Tower were left open. Thomas was sent north in that year to put down a rebellion in Yorkshire and he remained in this area as the King’s lieutenant until 1489. This period “up north” was to prove invaluable to him in the future. In 1489, Surrey accompanied Henry VII to France and in 1501 he was made Lord High Treasurer, thus becoming part of Henry’s inner circle. In 1503 he accompanied Margaret Tudor, Henry’s sister, north to Scotland for her marriage to James IV. This was intended to seal and strengthen relations between England and Scotland but time was to prove otherwise. On Henry VII’s death in 1509, he was succeeded to the throne by his son, Henry. Thomas, Earl of Surrey continued to be influential in his court, however, by now he was an old man whilst Henry was very young and keen to demonstrate his own ability and prowess.

Henry VIII’s determination to make his mark was shown in June 1513 when he sailed to France, his heart set on invading the country and extending his own kingdom. The Earl of Surrey thought he was to accompany him but instead he was left at home to deal with any problems or uprisings which might occur there. Ironically, this provided Surrey with his best opportunity to ensure his name was carried down in history. The French and the Scots were bound by the Auld Alliance dating back to 1295 and by this if either of them were invaded by the English, the other was required to attack. As England had invaded France, James IV of Scotland was duty bound to attack the English. This then led to the chain of events which resulted in the Battle of Flodden.

In August 1513, Henry VIII ordered the Earl of Surrey to travel north, mustering troops on the way in order to quell the Scottish invasion. Surrey mustered troops from Yorkshire, Lancashire and Northumberland in Newcastle, with his son, Thomas bringing additional troops by sea. At the beginning of September 1513, the troops travelled northwards towards the border to meet King James IV’s army who had already captured Norham Castle, crossed the River Tweed into Northumberland and were near Branxton and the Milfield Plain ready for battle.

The Earl of Surrey and his entourage, consisting of at least 13,000 men engaged in battle with King James IV of Scotland and his troops on 9th September 1513 resulting in the defeat of the Scots and the death of their king. This was all down to the tactics and determination of Surrey who would have been considered old to enter battle by today’s standards and even more so then when life expectancy was much lower.

Surrey’s success in the battlefield was rewarded with the conferment of the title of Duke of Norfolk on 1 February 1514. His son, Thomas who had been High Admiral and brought troops and mariners by sea to Newcastle became the 2nd Earl of Surrey. In addition to the title, Thomas Howard’s coat of arms were changed to include a shield bearing the lion of Scotland with an arrow through its mouth.

The now Duke of Norfolk did not retire from public life, despite being in his seventies. In 1514, he helped negotiate the marriage of Mary Tudor, Henry’s sister to King Louis XII of France and in 1517 helped suppress the Evil May Day riots in London which arose because of resentment to foreign workers. In 1522, now in his eighties, Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk finally retired from public life and his role as Lord High Treasurer. He died on 21 May 1524 at Framlingham Castle.

The family’s royal connections did not cease with Thomas’ death. His son, Edmund Howard was father to Catherine, Henry VIII’s 5th wife while his daughter, Elizabeth who had married Thomas Boleyn, had a daughter, Anne, making Thomas grandfather to two of Henry VIII’s wives and great grandfather to Elizabeth I.

Thomas, Earl of Surrey and latterly Duke of Norfolk was a remarkable man who lived through a turbulent time in English history. His lifetime spanned the reign of six monarchs and he wasn’t always on “the right side”. However, despite this, his ability as a diplomat and a soldier carried him through and has ensured that his name has gone down in history as the man who masterminded the victory for Henry VIII at Flodden Field.