Henry Howard, 1st Earl of Northampton

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Henry Howard, 1st Earl of Northampton (1540 - June 15, 1614), was the second son of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, the poet, and of his wife, the former Lady Frances de Vere, daughter of the 15th Earl of Oxford, and was the younger brother of the 4th Duke of Norfolk.

He was educated first by Foxe the martyrologist, afterwards by John White, Bishop of Lincoln, with whom he acquired Romanist opinions, and finally at the charge of Queen Elizabeth at King's College and Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he obtained his MA degree in 1564, subsequently in 1568 being incorporated MA, at Oxford.

The discovery of his brother's plot to marry Mary, Queen of Scots, and of his own correspondence with her, deprived him of Elizabeth's favour, and he was arrested more than once on suspicion of harbouring treasonable designs. In 1583 he published a work entitled A Defensative against the Poyson of supposed Prophecies, an ostensible attack upon astrology, which, being declared to contain heresies and treason, led to his imprisonment.

On regaining his liberty he is said to have travelled in Italy. His flattery of the Queen in lengthy epistles met with no response, and his offer to take part in the national defence against the Spanish invasion was refused. He attached himself, however, both to Lord Essex and to Robert Cecil, and through the influence of the latter was in 1600 again received by Elizabeth. At the close of the Queen's reign he joined with Cecil in courting the heir to the throne in Scotland, the main object of his long letters of advice, which James termed Asiatic and endless volumes, being to poison the royal mind against Sir Walter Raleigh and other rivals, whom he at the same time hoped to ensnare into compromising relations and correspondence with Spain. These methods, which could not influence Elizabeth, were completely successful with James, and on the latter's accession Howard received a multitude of favours.

In 1603 he was made a Privy Counsellor, on 1 January 1604 Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, and on 13 March Earl of Northampton and Baron Marnhull, of Marnhull in the County of Dorset; on 24 February 1605 he was given the Garter and on 29 April was appointed Lord Privy Seal. In 1609 he was elected High Steward of the University of Oxford, and in 1612 Chancellor of the University of Cambridge. The same year he was appointed one of the Commissioners of the Treasury.

He was one of the judges at the trials of Raleigh and Lord Cobham in 1603, of Guy Fawkes in 1605, and of Garnet in 1606, in each case pressing for a conviction. In 1604 he was one of the commissioners who composed the treaty of peace with Spain, and from that date he received from the Spanish Court a pension of 1000.

The climax of his career was reached when he assisted his great-niece, Lady Essex, in obtaining her divorce from her husband in order to marry the favourite Somerset, whose mistress she already was, and whose alliance Northampton was eager to secure for himself. He obtained the divorce by the decree of a special commission, and when Sir Thomas Overbury's influence seemed likely to prevent Somerset completing the marriage project, he caused the former to be imprisoned in the Tower.

Shortly afterwards Overbury died from the effects of poison administered by the direction of Lady Essex; and the close intimacy which existed between the latter and Northampton, together with his appointment of Sir Gervase Elwes or Helwys, a friend of his own, as the keeper of the victim, leaves his name tarnished with the blackest suspicions. The discovery of the crime was not made till some little time after Overbury had succumbed, and meanwhile Northampton's own death anticipated his fall, together with that of Somerset, from power. He advised against the summoning of parliament in 1614, and then fomented disputes to compel James to dissolve it. He died unmarried on the 15th of June 1614, when his title became extinct, and was buried in the chapel of Dover Castle, the monument erected above his grave being subsequently removed to the chapel at Trinity Hospital, Greenwich. His will shows that he died a Roman Catholic.

Northampton, who was one of the most unscrupulous and treacherous characters of the age, was nevertheless distinguished for his learning, artistic culture and his public charities. He built Northumberland House in London and superintended the construction of the fine house of Audley End. He founded and planned several hospitals. Bacon included three of his sayings in his Apophthegms, and chose him as "the learnedest councillor in the kingdom to present to the king his Advancement of Learning."

He was the author of:

  • a Treatise of Natural and Moral Philosophy (1569; manuscript in the Bodleian Library)
  • a pamphlet supporting the union between Elizabeth and the duke of Anjou (1580; Harleian MSS. 180)
  • A Defensative against the Poyson of supposed Prophecies (1583)
  • a reply to a pamphlet denouncing female government (1589; Harleian Manuscript 7021)
  • Duello Foiled, printed in Thomas Hearne's Collection of Curious Discourses (1775), ii. 225, and ascribed there to Sir Edward Coke
  • Translation of Charles V's Last Advice to Philip II, dedicated with a long epistle to the queen (Harl. 836, 1506 and elsewhere in Stowe 95, Kings Manuscripts 106)
  • devotional writings (Arundel Manuscripts 300)
  • speeches at the trials of Guy Fawkes and Garnet in State Trials, vol. i.
  • In Somers' Tracts (ed. 1809), ii. 136, his opinions on the union between England and Scotland are recorded.

See the life in Surrey's and Wyatt's Poems, ed. by GF Nott (1815), and Sidney Lee's article in the Dictionary of National Biography.


Template:Succession box two to one
Preceded by:
The Earl of Salisbury
(Lord High Treasurer)
First Lord of the Treasury
1612–1613
Succeeded by:
The Lord Ellesmere

Template:End box

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