Tombs: Thomas Howard, 2nd duke of Norfolk

Unlike some of the noblemen I have written about, we don’t actually have a surviving tomb for Thomas Howard, 2nd duke of Norfolk. However, we know quite a bit about two tombs that were erected to him, and a third tomb that he designed before his death.

Who was Thomas Howard?

Thomas Howard was one of the leading political figures of late-15th and early-16th century England (with a slight hiatus when he was imprisoned after the Battle of Bosworth). He was born in 1443 and lived under the rule of six kings. The most notable single event in his career was probably the Battle of Flodden in 1513 when he led the English army that inflicted a crushing defeat on the Scots, killing King James IV and most of the leading Scottish nobility. He has tended to be overshadowed by his more famous son, Thomas Howard, 3rd duke of Norfolk, and by his granddaughters – Queen Anne Boleyn and Queen Catherine Howard. I recently wrote a biography of the 2nd duke which was published by Pen & Sword.

Tomb number 1

We know from Thomas Howard’s will (dated May 1520) that he had drawn up an indenture for a tomb on 31 August 1516. This was most likely him setting his affairs in order when he was suffering from a severe bout of illness in the summer of 1516. A letter written to the earl of Suffolk on 31 May had said that the Duke of Norfolk ‘was not likely to continue long.’ Norfolk set aside £133 6s 8d for the making of tomb which was to be placed before the high altar at Thetford Priory. Designs for the tomb, which was to include images of Norfolk and his second wife. Agnes Tilney, had been produced by the duke, Master Clerk (Larke) the master of the King’s works at Cambridge and, Wastell, a freemason of Bury, Norfolk. However, despite Norfolk’s carefully laid plans, this tomb was never erected.

Tomb number 2

On 24th June 1524, the 2nd duke of Norfolk was buried at Thetford Priory and, as requested, his grave was placed before the high altar. A drawing of the tomb erected over his grave by Sir Thomas Wriothesley, Garter King of Arms, is preserved in the British Library and you can see a copy of it here. He was depicted in effigy wearing armour under a heraldic tabard, parliamentary robes and with his helm and crest under his head. Around the sides of the tomb were various coats of arms. Alongside the tomb a board was displayed detailing in his life – the transcription of this narrative is pretty much the only surviving source for his early life.

We don’t know how far this tomb resembled the one designed by Norfolk in 1516 but crucially it does not depict Agnes. She had been the driving force behind the creation of a Howard chapel in St Mary’s church, Lambeth – over the road from Norfolk House – in 1522. This chapel came to be used for the burials of a number of Howard women, including. It is possible she chose not to be depicted on her husband’s tomb because she was already intending to be buried at Lambeth.

Above left: St Mary’s church, Lambeth. Above right: The site of Norfolk House

Thetford Priory was dissolved in 1540 and the site of the priory acquired by Thomas Howard, 3rd duke of Norfolk. The 3rd duke had sought to preserve the priory church as a parish church, not least because it contained the tombs of his father, several of the Mowbray dukes of Norfolk, and he was in the process of erecting tombs there for himself and his son, Henry Fitzroy. However, Henry VIII refused permission and the tombs for the 3rd duke and Fitzroy were instead built at St Michael and All Angels church, Framlingham. The 3rd duke does not seem to have attempted to relocate any of the older tombs and the tomb of the 2nd duke was destroyed prior to 1547. He probably chose not to relocate his father’s tomb because of size restrictions at Framlingham (the church had to be enlarged to take the tombs he did move), his commemorative vision for himself and Fitzroy (the tombs are designed to be viewed together), and his step-mother’s claims on her husband’s body.

Burial vaults before the high altar at Thetford Priory. The 2nd duke of Norfolk’s vault is the one closest to the altar steps.

The vault for the 2nd duke’s tomb is still visible in the ruins of the priory. It was excavated by the Office of Works in 1935 and no coffin was found at that time, however, fragments of painted heraldry were discovered alongside fragments of screens, tombs, and window tracery. While I was working on my PhD, one of the other researchers involved with the wider project, Dr Jackie Hall, to permission to reopen the vault. However, it was sadly discovered to have been filled with sand.

The modern plaque recording the site of the 2nd duke of Norfolk’s first grave

Tomb number 3

Rather than relocate her husband’s tomb, Agnes Tilney decided to erect a new monument. This was most likely done between 1542 and Agnes’ death in 1545. By 1542, Agnes had already taken steps to erect a monument to herself – a tomb chest with inset brass – in the Howard Chapel at St Mary’s church, Lambeth. If the decision to move her husbands body and tomb to Lambeth was taken before 1542, it would have made sense to have a double monument. Instead, he was commemorated with a floor ledger with an inset brass showing Norfolk in plate arm, and with four heraldic shields at the corners of the ledger.

Sadly the former Howard chapel and most of the memorials in it have been lost, including those to Agnes and the 2nd duke of Norfolk. However, a sketch of Norfolk’s tomb, preserved at Arundel Castle, can be seen here. When the Garden Museum was refurbished in 2015-17 a sole surviving Howard memorial was discovered – a plain ledger to Elizabeth Howard, perhaps better known to history as Elizabeth Boleyn, mother of Anne Boleyn.

The only surviving Howard memorial at St Mary’s church, Lambeth (now the Garden Museum) – a ledger to Elizabeth Howard, sometime Countess of Wiltshire


Phillip Lindley (ed), The Howards and the Tudors. Studies in Science and Heritage (Shaun Tyas, 2015)

Kirsten Claiden-Yardley, The Man Behind the Tudors. Thomas Howard, 2nd duke of Norfolk (Pen & Sword, 2020)

N. Clark, ‘The Gendering of Dynastic Memory: Burial Choices of the Howards, 1485-1559’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 68, No. 4, October 2017, pp. 753-4.

Blog post on the discovery of Elizabeth Boleyns’s ledger

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