Renaissance tomb in Suffolk for a Tudor Norfolk

Framlingham Castle
Framlingham Castle, Framlingham, Suffolk.
One of the residences of Thomas Howard, the third Duke of Norfolk.

As Hilary Mantel’s historical fiction novels ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring up the Bodies’ receive the much lauded BBC period drama conversion to a television series, a new portrayal of Thomas Howard, the third Duke of Norfolk (1473-1554) will appear on our screens. This time the Duke is played by Bernard Hill and as in Mantel’s books he is loud, angry and ferociously ambitious. During the reign of King Henry VIII, the Duke of Norfolk was one of England’s most powerful nobles whose first wife, Anne, was sister to Henry’s mother, Elizabeth of York.

Despite the Duke of Norfolk being one of the most prominent courtiers, he remained a Catholic throughout the violence and upheavals of the Reformation during the latter part of Henry’s reign and the reign of Henry’s son, Edward VI. However, towards the end of the Henry’s reign both Norfolk and his son, Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey, ended up in the Tower of London. The pair had been found guilty of treason and in January 1547 Henry Howard was beheaded at the Tower. His father’s execution date was set for 29 January 1547 but King Henry died the day before. Following the death of Henry VIII the old Duke of Norfolk was not executed, but instead spent the next six years in the Tower. As a Catholic he was finally released on the accession to the throne of Queen Mary. He died a year later aged 80 years old at his Kenninghall residence, but before his death he had commissioned England’s finest early Renaissance tomb.

duke of norfolk tomb
The tomb of the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk, Church of St Michael, Framlingham, Suffolk.
From the left St Andrew, St James the Less, St James the Great and St Matthew.
Alabaster. Mid 16th century.

The chest-tomb is exquisitely carved from alabaster depicting the twelve Apostles plus St Paul and Aaron carved round the four sides with effigies of the Duke and his first wife, Anne, lying along the top.

duchess of norfolk
Effigy of Anne, first wife of the third Duke of Norfolk, daughter of King Edward IV and sister to Elizabeth of York, Queen Consort.

The representation of the twelve Apostles was a traditional Catholic theme that was found in churches across the country often painted on the rood screen. However, the interpretation of this popular medieval choice is created here in an early Renaissance European idiom, possibly carved sometime in the mid-sixteenth century. The sculptor is unnamed, but the work is regarded as Italianate in style, but also displaying French influences.

North side of tomb showing from the left St Philip, St Simon, St Jude and St Matthias with St Peter facing west.
North side of tomb showing from the left St Philip, St Simon, St Jude and St Matthias with St Peter facing west.

The individual saints stand in shell-headed narrow niches, four along the north and south sides, and three at the east and west ends of the tomb. The design of the tomb suggests it was intended to be viewed from all four sides, but this is no longer possible.

Instead, the tomb-chest is positioned up close to the east wall of the chancel. The Duke of Norfolk had been overseeing the partial rebuilding of St Michael’s Church when he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. The rebuilt and enlarged chancel was to provide space to accommodate the tombs that were removed from Thetford Priory with the dissolution of the monasteries. Of course, this tomb may originally have been destined for Thetford Priory where traditionally the Norfolks had been interred.

effigy thomas howard
Effigy of Thomas Howard, the third Duke of Norfolk.

According to a visiting Venetian ambassador, the Duke of Norfolk was described as ‘small and spare in person’ and here he is displayed as stern, thin and angular. The effigy wears full armour, it has a long, pointed beard and around the collar the inscription reads ‘Gracia Dei sum quod sum’ – ‘By the Grace of God I am what I am’.

Early Renaissance representation of St James the Greater and St Matthew embellishing a grand tomb for a very ambitious mortal.
Early Renaissance representation of St James the Great and St Matthew embellishing a grand tomb for a very ambitious mortal.
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A matter of delicacy

Surrey-tombThis is the fine painted alabaster tomb of ‘The Poet Earl’. Erected in 1614 it is the funereal monument for Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey and his wife, Frances, the Countess of Surrey. This monument is one of several Howard tombs at St Michael’s, Framlingham in Suffolk.

poet earl, earl of surrey
Detail of the Earl of Surrey tomb showing his sons Thomas, 4th Duke of Norfolk (front) and Henry, 1st Earl of Northampton (behind).
Painted alabaster, 1614.
St Michael’s, Framlingham.
(Thomas like his father also lost his head on Tower Hill.)
Detail from the tomb of the Duke of Richmond.
Detail from the tomb of the Duke of Richmond.
The Earl (1517-47) was the eldest son of Thomas Howard, the 3rd Duke of Norfolk, and great friend and brother-in-law to Henry VIII’s illegitimate son, the Duke of Richmond. Although, widely acknowledged as the King’s son, Richmond was illegitimate and as such when he died of consumption at just 17 years old he was buried with the Howards at Thetford Priory. The dissolution of the monasteries brought about the closure of Thetford Priory in 1540 and the tombs and their contents were moved to St Michael’s Framlingham.

The tomb of the Duke of Richmond, the illegitimate son of King Henry VIII.
The tomb of the Duke of Richmond, the illegitimate son of King Henry VIII.

More interestingly Henry Howard, the Poet Earl, was also friends with another Tudor poet, Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-42). Together with Wyatt, the Earl is credited with introducing the sonnet form of poetry into English.

Detail of heraldic sculpture on Earl of Surrey tomb. After centuries of neglect the tomb was restored in 1976.
Detail of heraldic sculpture on Earl of Surrey tomb. After centuries of neglect the tomb was restored in 1976.

During the reign of Henry VIII the ‘Norfolks’ were in and out of favour with the King and towards the end of his reign both Thomas (father) and Henry (son) ended up in the Tower of London. Following much court intrigue the pair were found guilty of treason and in January 1547 Henry Howard, the Poet Earl, was beheaded at the Tower. His father’s execution date was set for 29 January 1547 but King Henry died the day before. Following the death of Henry VIII the old Duke of Norfolk was not executed, but instead spent the next six years in the Tower. As a Catholic he was finally released on the accession to the throne of Queen Mary. He died a year later aged 80 years old at his Kenninghall residence – a Norfolk Howard that was not executed.

Wild-Boar-Surrey

Effigy of The Poet Earl atop his tomb in St Michael's, Framlingham, Suffolk.
Effigy of The Poet Earl atop his tomb in St Michael’s, Framlingham, Suffolk.

OF THE DEATH OF SIR THOMAS WYATT.

DIVERS thy death do diversely bemoan :
Some, that in presence of thy livelihed
Lurked, whose breasts envy with hate had swoln,
Yield CΓ¦sar’s tears upon Pompeius’ head.
Some, that watched with the murd’rer’s knife,
With eager thirst to drink thy guiltless blood,
Whose practice brake by happy end of life,
With envious tears to hear thy fame so good.
But I, that knew what harbour’d in that head ;
What virtues rare were tempered in that breast ;
Honour the place that such a jewel bred,
And kiss the ground whereas the corpse doth rest ;
With vapour’d eyes : from whence such streams availe,
As Pyramus did on Thisbe’s breast bewail.

Further poems from the Poet Earl can be found at Luminarium.

Following their parents, at the back of the tomb are the Earl of Surrey's three daughters, Jane, Katherine and Margaret.
Following their parents, at the back of the tomb are the Earl of Surrey’s three daughters, Jane, Katherine and Margaret.