Visit any historic site or town today and you can reasonably expect to find some form of heritage interpretation board. But you might not realise that visitors and pilgrims to the churches of medieval Europe would have found historical information displayed in a similar manner.
Normally referred to as tabulae or ‘tables’, these were texts written on parchment and attached to boards that were then placed around the church. They were intended to be read by literate visitors or used as an aide memoire by members of the religious community when showing people around the church. A popular topic for these boards was the history of the church or monastery – many of these were of course foundation myths! An example of this time of tabula is the Magna tabula Glastoniensis which is held in the collections of the Bodleian Library – catalogue entry here. It consists of six parchments leaves mounted on a wooden frame and recounts extracts of the history of Glastonbury and the saints said to be buried there.
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.
Henry Fitzroy was the second child, and eldest son, of Henry VIII – the result of the king’s affair with 18/19 year old Elizabeth Blount. Although illegitimate, Fitzroy was a person of importance at the royal court and received multiple titles and appointments. When he was 6 years old, he was made a Knight of the Garter; created earl of Nottingham, and duke of Richmond and Somerset; made Lord Admiral; and appointed as the warden-general of the Scottish marches. Between 1525 and 1529, he lived in Yorkshire – dividing his time between Sheriff Hutton and Pontefract – the traditional base of the royal representatives in the north. A number of potential foreign matches were suggested but came to nothing. In August 1529, he was summoned to parliament and, despite his young age, attended sessions where he was treated as an adult.