1572: Thomas Howard, Ridolfi plotter

5 comments June 2nd, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1572, the Duke of Norfolk lost his head for a conspiracy to overthrow Queen Elizabeth.

Thomas Howard was a born plotter. Literally.

The fourth Duke of Norfolk, he inherited the title from the third Duke of Norfolk — his eponymous grandfather, the scheming courtier who had maneuvered nieces Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard into disastrous matrimony with Henry VIII.

Having run afoul of his ruthless sovereign, this elder Howard then had the distinction of dodging execution only because the king himself dropped dead the very day before Howard was to have been beheaded.

The Norfolk title, however, did skip a generation, because grandpa Howard’s son Henry Howard was not so lucky, and abdicated his birthright at the block.*

That left our day’s principal, a mere boy of 10 when his father got axed, as his lucky grandfather’s heir apparent — to carry on the Howard scheming against his second cousin, Anne Boleyn’s lucky daughter Queen Elizabeth.

And young Thomas Howard would prove to be a chop off the old block.

Howard’s sympathies for Catholicism and for swinging an ever-bigger dick led him into a machination to wed Elizabeth’s northern rival Mary, Queen of Scots.

Lucky to get off with just a slap on the codpiece, Howard went right back at it with an unabashed Spanish-supported conspiracy to depose Elizabeth, again in favor of Mary — the Ridolfi Plot.

This chicanery was sniffed out by Elizabeth’s pervasive spy network, and while Mary’s royal status enabled her to survive the revelation, Norfolk had already got down to his last chance.

The conflict between Elizabeth and Norfolk, heavily fictionalized and climaxing in the Ridolfi Plot, is essentially the plot of of the 1998 movie Elizabeth.

Having endured so much trouble from these nettlesome Howards, the crown left the Duke of Norfolk title vacant for nearly a century after this date’s beheading. It was finally restored to a mentally deficient Howard descendant with the post-Cromwell Stuart restoration.

* And that’s just on the dad’s side. His maternal grandfather and great-grandfather from the Stafford family also met their ends on the scaffold.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,England,Execution,God,History,Nobility,Politicians,Power,Public Executions

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1547: Not Thomas Howard, because Henry VIII died first

8 comments January 29th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1547, the Duke of Norfolk was to have been beheaded.

But thanks to the previous day’s death of the corpulent 55-year-old King Henry VIII, the duke’s death warrant was never signed, and the condemned noble died in bed … seven years later.

A force in the gore-soaked arena of English politics for two generations, Thomas Howard had steered two nieces into the monarch’s bed. Both girls had gone to the scaffold,* and the disgrace of the second, Catherine Howard, brought a collapse in the whole family’s fortunes. Thomas Howard’s son Henry was not as lucky as the father: Henry was beheaded just a few days before the king succumbed, on the same charge of treason that almost claimed Thomas this day.

Though Howard pere would survive long enough to see his title restored, this day was far from the last chapter of his grasping family’s encounter with that classic Tudor denouement, the chopping-block. Thomas, his executed son, and his executed grandson today stock the family tombs at St. Michael, Framlingham — itself a sort of late monument to the aristocracy unmade by Henry’s reforms more than by his executioners.

* “She has miscarried of her savior,” Howard famously remarked of the male heir his niece Anne Boleyn delivered stillborn. A few months later, the Duke presided over Anne’s trial and voted to condemn her to death. (Hat tip: Fiz.)

Part of the Themed Set: The English Reformation.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Beheaded,England,Lucky to be Alive,Nobility,Not Executed,Politicians,Power,Scandal,Treason

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