Tomb: Thomas Howard, 3rd duke of Norfolk

Who was the 3rd duke of Norfolk?

The eldest son of Thomas Howard, 2nd duke of Norfolk, and his first wife, Elizabeth Tilney, the 3rd duke of Norfolk is one of the more prominent of the supporting cast of political figures at the Tudor royal court. Like his father he was long lived (1473-1554) but he is most associated with the reign of Henry VIII. During his career he was a soldier, royal councillor and, after his father’s death, duke. The royal offices that he held included Lord Admiral, Lord Treasurer, and Lord Steward. He came close to death in 1545 when he and his son, Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, were arrested for treason and attainted by statute (declared guilty without trial). Surrey was executed whilst Norfolk was saved only by Henry VIII’s death and spent Edward VI’s reign in the Tower of London. His lands in Norfolk were given to Princess Mary Tudor and, when Lady Jane Grey declared herself queen, members of Norfolk’s affinity were among the first to give their support to Mary. On her accession, Queen Mary released and pardoned Norfolk, however, he enjoyed his freedom for just a year before his death.

Norfolk does not appear to have been a particularly nice person, though he was capable of appearing affable and sociable when it suited him. His poor reputation in the public imagination largely stems from his role in the life of his niece, Catherine Howard, who he first promoted to Henry VIII and then abandoned when she was arrested. However, this was far from an isolated action. Before the Battle of Flodden in 1513, he was credited with stating that no Scottish prisoners would be taken, a decision which contributed to the particularly high Scottish death toll. He was estranged from his second wife, Elizabeth Stafford, who accused him of ordering his servants to physically harm her. When several of his relatives were arrested alongside Catherine Howard, he deserted all of them and wrote a letter to Henry VIII referring to “mine ungracious mother-in-law [Agnes Tilney, Norfolk’s stepmother], mine unhappy brother and his wife…[and] my lewd sister of Brydgewater”. He refers to the “abominable deeds” of both his nieces (Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard) and implies that he passed evidence about his stepmother to the council before her arrest. Norfolk’s instinct to protect himself above his family was evident again when he was arrested in 1546. This time he confessed that he had concealed the “high treason” of his son, clearly he hoped that confession would make Henry VIII treat him with mercy and was happy to condemn his son to secure his own life. His estranged wife, his mistress, Elizabeth Holland, and his daughter, Mary Fitzroy, all gave evidence against him in 1547. Whilst Mary would later petition Edward VI for his release, it does not paint a good picture of his relationship with his close family.

Where is Norfolk’s tomb located?

View east along the south aisle with the 3rd duke’s tomb just visible against the east wall of the south chapel

The tomb is located under the arcade between the chancel and south chapel in the Church of St Michael in Framlingham, Suffolk. The tomb to his son-in-law, Henry Fitzroy, duke of Richmond, is located opposite on the north side of the chancel. The tombs to his son, Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, and daughters-in-law, Mary FitzAlan and Margaret Audley, are in the north chapel.

What is the tomb like?

Thomas Howard, 3rd duke of Norfolk’s tomb

It is a particularly large tomb chest that is generally held to be a fine example of French influenced sculpture. Around the sides are tall, shell headed niches separated by pilaster shafts. These contain beautifully carved, full length statues of the apostles and two Old Testament figures. At the corner of the chest are complex baluster shafts each with a central shaft and three slender balusters. On each central shaft there is a small figure on a small ledge, facing towards the tomb; clearly there should have been additional figures on each baluster that have been lost. At the corners of the chest are lions holding shields bearing Norfolk’s coat of arms within the garter. One of the lions is smaller than the others and has been taken from the tomb of Mary FitzAlan and Margaret Audley. On top of the chest are two effigies lying on rush mats, both wearing coronets and with their hands clasped in prayer. Norfolk is depicted in armour, ceremonial robe, and with the insignia of the Order of the Garter. His wife is wearing a ceremonial, fur trimmed robe.

Who does the female effigy depict?

It is generally accepted that Norfolk is depicted alongside his first wife, Anne Plantagenet, one of the younger daughters of Edward IV. There are no identifying coats of arms of badges so the identification is usually based on the position of her effigy on Norfolk’s right hand side. Etiquette books written in the late-16th and early-17th century tell us that, when two individuals were walking together, the person of higher status should be on the right hand side. We can see this positioning in portraits of the time – Mary Tudor for example is painted on the right hand side of her husband, Charles Brandon. There are some examples of tombs where the positioning of the effigies does not reflect the relative status of the individuals, however, in this case, the positioning is backed up by Norfolk’s personal life. We know that his tomb was under construction in 1539 by which time he was already estranged from Elizabeth Stafford. From what we know of their relationship, it seems unlikely that he would have wanted to be commemorated alongside her, even though she was the mother of his children.

Wait, the tomb was built in 1539, but Norfolk died in 1554?

Yes, the 3rd duke of Norfolk started work on his tomb well before his death, as he was 65 in 1539, he may have started to feel a sense of his own mortality that inspired him to begin work on his memorial. There is a tradition in the Howard family of planning memorials before death: Thomas Howard, 2nd duke of Norfolk had designed his tomb in 1516 (although it wasn’t built exactly as planned); Agnes Tilney, duchess of Norfolk erected a memorial for herself in Lambeth church before 1542 (she died in 1545); and the 4th duke of Norfolk erected a memorial to his first two wives during his lifetime, with a space left for his own effigy to be added. It is likely this familial forward planning was driven by a shared desire to control their image after death, and to ensure that the memorials were actually built as heirs and/or executors could not be relied upon to erect a memorial, even when instructed to do so.

The ruins of the church at Thetford Priory

We know from a letter written by Norfolk to Henry VIII when Thetford Priory was being dissolved that he was in the process of having two tombs constructed in the priory – one for himself and one for Henry Fitzroy, duke of Richmond. He requested that the priory be converted to a Collegiate Church or parish church. When his request was refused, he instead began work on enlarging the chancel of St Michael’s church in Framlingham so that it could house the two monuments. This work was interrupted when Norfolk was arrested in 1547; the enlargement of the church and erection of the tombs was not completed until c. 1555-7, after the 3rd duke of Norfolk’s death.

The enlarged east end of St Michael’s church in Framlingham

So is this definitely the tomb that was being constructed in 1539?

It was suggested (by Lawrence Stone and Howard Colvin in 1965) that the tombs for the 3rd duke of Norfolk and the duke of Richmond were both entirely constructed in the 1550s. However, fragments of tomb sculpture carved by the same stone mason that constructed the two tombs were discovered at Thetford Priory in the 19th and early-20th centuries. The iconography of the fragments – a New Testament frieze and bust of an Old Testament figure – fits with the decorative theme of the tombs as they were constructed in Framlingham. The most recent hypothesis is that the tombs were intended as a pair, with Old Testament frieze and busts on Richmond’s tomb and New Testament frieze and figures on Norfolk’s. When the tombs were moved some of the elements were left behind (possibly because they were incomplete). Other items, including small figures like those on the balusters of Norfolk’s tomb, were found in the vault of his tomb when it was opened in the 19th-century, indicating they were thrown away when the tomb was erected. Therefore, the tomb as it appears today is much as it was supposed to be in 1539 except for the missing baluster shaft figures and, possibly, a missing frieze.


Phillip Lindley, ‘Material, movement and the historical moment’ in Phillip Lindley (ed.) The Howards and the Tudors. Studies in Science and Heritage (Shaun Tyas, 2015).

Howard M. Graves, ‘Thomas, third duke of Norfolk (1473–1554), magnate and soldier’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 16, 1540-1541, ed. James Gairdner and R H Brodie (London, 1898)

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