Henry Howard had a somewhat ostentatious childhood, as his friends and blood relations tied him to Henry VIII. He was first cousin to both Queens Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard (1523-1542), respectively the second and fifth wives of Henry VIII, both of whom he had beheaded. He was also childhood comrade and close friend to Henry FitzRoy, 1st Duke of Richmond and Somerset (1519-1536), Henry VIII’s illegitimate son.
He served as Lieutenant General of the King on Sea and Land, fighting in the wars against France. He also participated in the suppression of the Pilgrimage of Grace, the Yorkshire uprising against the dissolution of the monasteries. These official activities were offset by more unruly and imperious behavior, including striking a courtier and destroying property by rapping with pebbles on the windows of houses in London, for both of which actions he was imprisoned. He was beheaded for the prideful and treasonable act of quartering the arms of Edward the Confessor (1003-1066). Though he was entitled to bear Edward the Confessor’s arms, Surrey’s doing so posed a threat to Henry VIII who had him tried for desiring to usurp the crown from Henry’s only male heir, the future Edward VI. Surrey was condemned and executed on Tower Hill on January 19, 1547.
He was survived by five children by his wife Frances de Vere, daughter of John de Vere, 15th Earl of Oxford; memorialized by an opulent painted alabaster tomb in St. Michael’s at Framlingham; and immortalized in literature by joining Wyatt as one of the first poets to write sonnets in English. He most commonly used Wyatt’s English or Shakespearean sonnet form. These formal restraints release an intimate, emotional expression and responsiveness. In his translations of Virgil’s Aeneid Books 2 and 4, Surrey was the first to use blank verse, or lines of iambic pentameter, that has been deemed uniquely appropriate to the English language. His literary output included love poems, elegies, and translations of Psalms and Ecclesiastes from the Bible.