(D. Norfolk)

Born: ABT 1477

Died: May 1545

Buried: 31 May 1545, Thetford Abbey

Father: Hugh TILNEY of Boston

Mother: Eleanor TALBOYS

Married: Thomas HOWARD (2 D. Norfolk) 17 Aug 1497


1. William HOWARD (1 B. Howard of Effingham)

2. Thomas HOWARD

3. Elizabeth HOWARD (C. Sussex)

4. Catherine HOWARD (C. Bridgewater)

5. Dorothy HOWARD (C. Derby)

6. George HOWARD

7. Agnes HOWARD

8. Anne HOWARD (C. Oxford)

Tilney,Agnes(DNorfolk)01.jpg (88322 bytes)

Agnes Tilney, Duchess of Norfolk

an engraving done long after her death

Agnes was born into the English gentry. Her mother came from an important Lincolnshire family through her father, Walter Tailboys. Her brother, Phillip, was in the service of Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, who was married to Agnes' cousin Elizabeth Tilney.

Elizabeth and her husband had arranged marriages of her children into the most important families in England, creating family ties that may have helped the family in a times of need. However, Elizabeth died in 1497, leaving Surrey free to remarry. He and Agnes were married four months later. Such a marriage was unusual; Surrey had undertaken a marriage that brought very little dowry. However, it was successful, producing several children, including the future Lord High Admiral William Howard, 1st Baron Howard of Effingham.

The marriage also came at the time of Surrey's political fortune. When Surrey's mother, the dowager Duchess of Norfolk, died, he inherited large areas of land in East Anglia. In 1499, Henry VII summoned him to court, and then to accompany him to France in 1500. In 1501, he was sworn in to the Privy Council and named Lord Treasurer. In 1502, he entered diplomatic negotiations with Fernando II of Aragon and Isabel I of Castilla for a marriage between the Spanish infanta, Catalina of Aragon, with Henry's eldest son Arthur, Prince of Wales. These proved successful; Arthur and Catalina were married, but came to an early end upon Arthur's death six months later, and Surrey played a prominent role in the funeral. In 1503, he escorted the King's daughter Margaret Tudor to Scotland, to be married to James IV, and forged good relations with the monarch, despite their earlier differences.

In 1509, Henry VII died and was succeeded by his son, Henry VIII. Agnes' greatest fortune was the defeat of the Scots by her husband at Flodden Field in 1513. Henry VIII rewarded Surrey by resurrecting the title of Duke of Norfolk in 1514. Agnes enjoyed the role of leading hostess in high society, and her role at court reflected her husband's success. In 1514, she accompanied Princess Mary to France for her wedding to King Louis XII.

She was godmother to Henry VIII's eldest daughter, Princess Mary, and was trusted enough for Wolsey to accept her recipes for medicines after he had succumbed to sweating sickness. The Duchess was evidently something of an apothecary, for she suggested to Cardinal Wolsey that 'vinegar, wormwood, rosewater and crumbs of brown bread is very good and comfortable to put in a linen cloth to smell unto your nose'. This was her remedy for the various noxious odours that pervaded the Tudor world. She was soon first lady of the Queen's household after the King's sister, Mary.

In 1525, the ill health of her Earl of Oxford, husnad of her eldest daughter Anne, caused the Howards to convince Oxford to sign a contract that gave Anne more of their joint estate, for her to enjoy after his death. Annes brother Thomas, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, was the driving force behind this act, he was the principal male name on the indenture. However, Agnes Tilney was also a signatory and her name is listed first, before Norfolks.

In 1527, the King began to look for ways to get an annulment of his first marriage to Catalina of Aragon, on the grounds of his failure to produce a male heir. Although initially disapproving of the plan, Agnes, now three years widowed, found strength in the fact that the new queen Anne Boleyn was a family relative. In 1529, she emerged to give evidence that Catalina of Aragon had been Prince Arthurs wife. Agnes bore the train wearing a robe of scarlet with a coronet of gold on her cap at Anne's coronation on Thursday 29 Jun 1533, and Lord Borough, the Queen's Chamberlain, supported the train in the middle. The Dowager Duchess also held Anne's infant daughter with the king, Princess Elizabeth, at her baptism.

Anne's own downfall, due to her own failure to produce a male heir, tarnished the reputation of the Howard family; Agnes' stepson, Thomas Howard, third Duke of Norfolk, retired temporarily to his country estates.

Agnes, Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, who presided over the manors of Horsham and Chesworth in Sussex and the school for young relatives in her household, was rigidly religious, balancing the sins of her youth with a hair-shirt in the twilight of her life. She had most of the strength and shortcomings of her generation. She rarely went to court except on business or command, and she must have represented almost everything that Henry and the new men of the age most disliked. Her acid tongue, her stubborn defence of Henry's first wife, Catalina of Aragon, her studied disregard for the refinements of high society, and her total disdain for courtly etiquette must have made her distinctly unpopular at court. But under this starched and feudal facade lay both shrewdness and knowledge of the ways of the world, and despite her outward religious orthodoxy, there remained a good deal of amused toleration of the antics and escapades of youth. Officially frowning upon what went on in her 'maidens' chambers' at night, the Dowager probably knew a good deal more about such 'goings-on' than her guards gave her credit for.

Mary Lascelles was the sister of a former attendant on the Dowager Duchess, and a nurse to the children of Lord William Howard and his first wife, Catherine Broughton. When Lady Howard died on 23 Apr 1535, Mary entered the service of the Dowager Duchess as a chamberer. Catherine Howard, the Duchesss step-granddaughter, was also part of that household and Mary was in a position to observe the behavior of Catherine and the other young women living there. She became alarmed by the attention paid Catherine by a music tutor named Henry Manox, the son of the Duchess's neighbour, George Manox, and took it upon herself to warn Manox that Catherines relatives would undo him if they found out. Henry Manox, like so many others of the Dowager's entourage, occupied a tenuous position somewhere between that of a servant and a gentleman; nor was he the only member of his family to be in service at Horsham, since his cousin, Edward Waldgrave, was one of the gentlemen-in-waiting to the Duchess. Manox told Mary Lascelles to mind her own business and boasted that Catherine had promised him her maidenhead. Mary was still in the Duchesss household when Catherine grew tired of Manox and entered into an affair with another man, Francis Dereham. Catherine ordered Mary to steal the key to the maidens chamber so that she could let him in. Another of the Duchesss servants, Alice Wilkes, told Mary that Dereham spent his nights in Catherines bed. The Duchess knew full well where Francis Dereham was prone to spend his evenings, and more than once she was heard to exclaim: 'I warrant yon if you seek him in Catherine Howard's chamber ye shall find him there'.

Life was too short and too complex for the old Duchess to be burdened with the morals of her household, and all she asked was that lusty youth conform to outward appearances. Her time was filled with the multitude of tasks related to the running of a vast and disorganized estate. As one of the richest widows in the realm, she was chronically being hounded by poor relations, and her son, Lord William, was constantly plaguing her for money and an advance upon his inheritance.

In the paternalistic society of the sixteenth century her responsibilities reached out into the surrounding countryside, where she cared for her sick neighbours and prescribed 'treacle and water imperial' as a sure cure for all their ailments.

Nor is there any evidence that when Catherine's amour with Francis Dereham was finally brought to the attention of her elders, they were particularly shocked. The agent of revelation was that discarded and neglected gentleman, Henry Manox. In a burst of righteous indignation, he composed a letter which he left in the old lady's church pew, suggesting that the Duchess inspect the activities of her gentlewomen. 'For if it shall like you', he wrote, 'half an hour after you shall be abed to rise suddenly and visit their chamber, you shall see that which shall displease you'. Agnes went through her usual verbal storming at her servants for their negligence, but evidently she did not associate the warning with Catherine Howard and dismissed it as being of no great significance. Unfortunately for Mr Manox, Catherine spotted the letter in her grandmother's pew and later stole it from her coffer and showed it to Dereham, who turned in a towering rage on Manox. This seems to have been the end of the virginal player, for he shortly thereafter acquired a more suitable lady for a wife and disappeared from the scene. Though the Dowager may have been unaware of the full extent of the relationship between the two lovers, Catherine's aunt, the Countess of Bridgewater, and her uncle, Lord William Howard, were not so blind. Lady Bridgewater, however, was more worried by the nightly banqueting than by anything else, and she wisely warned her niece that 'if she used that sort [of thing] it would hurt her beauty'. Lord William's reaction was to blame Manox for stirring up needless trouble, and he made light of the affair saying: 'What mad wenches! Can you not be merry amongst yourselves but you must thus fall out'. Since Lord William was himself having an affair with one of Catherine's dormitory-mates, his position is quite understandable.

In 1540, Henry undertook a fourth marriage to Anne of Cleves. Among the ladies in waiting appointed to attend the new Queen was Catherine Howard, the daughter of one of Agnes' younger stepsons. Henry was already disappointed with the appearance of his new wife, calling her a "Flanders Mare", and had taken an early shine to Catherine. Henry soon began to seek an annulment from Anne on the grounds of non-consummation. However, Anne's lawyers had made it difficult to achieve this easily, and the annulment was only realised by Anne's willingness to accept an annulment and become the King's honorary sister, retiring to her estates at Hever Castle, the former Boleyn family home, and Richmond Palace. This left Henry free to marry, and after a short courtship, Catherine accepted Henry's proposal under the advice of Agnes and her stepson the Duke of Norfolk

The marriage was not entirely non-political on Norfolk's part. The court, still mostly Catholic, wanted to put an end to the Protestant heresy that plagued Henry's court in the form of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Earl of Hertford. They had succeeded in bringing down Thomas Cromwell after he was blamed for Henry's disastrous marriage to Anne of Cleves, but the Catholics wanted an end to all the Protestant advisers. On the other hand, the Protestants Cranmer and Hertford were looking for ways to end such a dangerous marriage, as it was clear that Catherine would be influenced by Norfolk, the Dowager Duchess, and the other Catholics, such as Stephen Gardiner. Cranmer feared that Henry would have allowed himself to be politically influenced by Catherine, as it was clear that he was infatuated with her. The Catholics had scored the highest point so far in the war of court religion.

Soon after Catherine's marriage, however, her past life came to the Dowager Duchess' attention. Agnes ran lavish households at Lambeth and Horsham, and although she never neglected her relations who lived with her, she was much preoccupied with the running of the household, and had little time to notice the sexual indiscretions that went on behind her back. One of the men who had sexual relations with Catherine was Francis Dereham. It is possible that Agnes herself had him promoted to the position of secretary, as a way to keep him quiet about the past. Agnes raided his coffers and destroyed any incriminating evidence.

However, Mary Lascelles, brought the new Queen's past to the attention of Thomas Cranmer. Mary had wed a man named Hall and was living in Sussex. When John Lascelles, suggested his sister that she use her old acquaintance with Catherine to obtain a post at court, Mary refused, telling him that Catherine was light, both in living and conditions. When she provided further details, Lascelles, a dedicated reformer, felt compelled to repeat what she had said to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. Cranmer shared the information with Lord Audley and Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford. The Earl of Southampton was sent to Sussex to collect Marys testimony. Catherine was not helped by the fact that she had a lover while married to the King: Thomas Culpepper, one of the King's most trusted servants. When this came to light, and the Queen confessed, her queenship was over.

On 8 Dec Sir William Howard and his wife were sent to the Tower on charges of having concealed Catherine's treason, and the next day the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk followed after it was learned that she had burned a bundle of Dereham's letters to Catherine found in a chest at Lambeth. Agnes daughter, Catherine, Countess of Bridgewater, was likewise examined, imprisoned and her house searched. The Tower of London was said to be full with prisoners, and that some had to be lodged in the royal apartments. Sir Anthony Browne took part in the questioning of the culprits, taking evidence in his own handwriting from one of the Queen's attendants and examining the Duchess of Norfolk about the relations between the Queen and Francis Dereham.

The major business of Parliament in Jan 1542 was the attainder of Catherine and her accomplices. The draft of a bill of attainder was introduced in the upper house on 21 Jan but was not ready for final approval until 11 Feb. These three weeks witnessed something of a progressive victory, for the finished act also attainted Agnes Howard and Lady Bridgewater (both indicted, but neither convicted of misprision of treason) as well as William Howard, his wife, and the lesser folk convicted earlier of complicity in Catherine's crimes. Margaret, the wife of Lord William Howard, and Anne, the wife of Catherine's brother Henry, were released from the Tower and pardoned of the crime of misprision within two months; and Lord William was pardoned in Aug 1542. With the act approved by letters patent (sparing the king the pain of condemning his wife in person), on the morning of 13 Feb 1542 Catherine and Jane Parker, Lady Rochford, were brought to the scaffold on Tower Hill. 

Eventually, the Dowager Duchess was released in 1543, but her stepson the Duke was never returned to favour.

Agnes Tilney, Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, died in May 1545, and on the 31st was buried at Thetford Priory. In Nov, in accordance with her own wishes, her remains were re-interred at Lambeth. At his death in 1524, the second duke's widow, Agnes Tylney, retained a considerable jointure, in-cluding twelve manors in Suffolk, Surrey, Essex and Lincoln and more than a dozen others in Sussex. These lands returned to the dukedom only at her death in 1544, and not until Jul 1546 was the third duke confirmed in possession of Agnes's holdings.


Chapman, Hester W.: Two Tudor Portraits: Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey and Lady Katherine Grey (Little, Brown and Company - 1960 - Boston)

Head, David M.: The Ebbs and Flows of Fortune: The Life of Thomas Howard, Third Duke of Norfolk (The University of Georgia Press Athens & London 1995)

Smith, Lacey Baldwin: A Tudor tragedy The life and times of Catherine Howard (The Reprint Society Ltd. 1962 - London)  

to Bios Page

to Home Page