Elizabeth STAFFORD

(D. Norfolk)

Born: ABT 1494

Died: 30 Nov 1558, Howard Chapel, Lambeth, England

Father: Edward STAFFORD (3° D. Buckingham)

Mother: Eleanor PERCY (D. Buckingham)

Married: Thomas HOWARD (3° D. Norfolk) 8 Jan 1512/13, Easter Time


1. Catherine HOWARD (C. Derby)

2. Henry HOWARD (E. Surrey)

3. Mary HOWARD (D. Richmond)

4. Thomas HOWARD (1° V. Bindon)

Daughter of Edward, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, the premier peer and richest subject in England, by his wife, Eleanor Percy, daughter of Henry, fourth Earl of Northumberland. Elizabeth was to have married one of her father's wards, Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland, at Christmas 1512, but shortly before that she acquired a new suitor. Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey had recently lost his wife, Anne of York, daughter of Edward IV and niece to Richard III, who left him a childless widower. Buckingham offered his other daughters to Surrey, but the Earl was determined to have Elizabeth, described as "passably pretty, with soft features, light colouring and a distinguished forehead". Finally, her sister Catherine married Westmoreland, and other sister, Mary, married George Neville, Baron Abegavenny. Early in 1513, Elizabeth married Surrey. The Duke settled an annuity of five hundred marks on Elizabeth and gave Howard a dowry of twenty-five hundred marks. They had two sons, Henry and Thomas; and two daughters, Catherine and Mary.

Elizabeth had been one of Catalina of Aragon's attendant, and a member of the Queen's household, as were several of her Stafford aunts, Buckingham's sisters. The Countess of Surrey carried Princess Mary to the font at the princess's christening in 1516 and was a patron of the poet John Skelton, who describes Elizabeth and her ladies making a chapelet in the poem "A Goodly Garlande or Chapelet of Laurell". When the Earl of Surrey was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in the early months of 1520, he was ordered to take his entire family with him. There they were exposed to war, disease, crowded conditions, and severe shortages of just about everything. To make matters worse, during their sojourn in Ireland, Elizabeth's father was accused of treason and beheaded. Buckingham was arrested in Apr 1521, when Surrey had been gone for a year and his wife had returned to England. In mid-May Buckingham was convicted by a commission of peers of having "imagined and compassed" the King's death and promptly beheaded. This may well have begun Surrey's estrangement from his wife, for Elizabeth never believed that Surrey had done enough to oppose her father's death, a suspicion likely confirmed in Jul 1522 when her father in law, Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, and Surrey accepted a grant of six manors from the late Duke's estate. This act was either a tacit acceptance of Buckingham's judicial murder or, more charitably, mere prudence and greed; there was nothing to gain and much to lose from seeming to sympathize in any way with the fallen Duke.

In 1524, with the death of her father-in-law, Elizabeth became Duchess of Norfolk. She continued to serve as a lady-in-waiting to the Queen, at court for months at a time, but with the King's growing determination to obtain a divorce, her role changed. By 1530, Elizabeth was spying on her own husband, on the lookout for any information that would help Queen Catatalina. By then, there were also problems in Elizabeth's marriage. The Duchess temper, always haughty and unbalanced, became increasingly violent. She seems to have been obsessed by her royal blood and her Plantagenet connection.

In 1526, Norfolk took Bess Holland, daughter of his chief steward, as his mistress, a long-term relationship which he did not trouble to keep secret from his wife. Elizabeth continued to be vocal in her support of Catalina of Aragon. Norfolk, and most of the Howard family, favored the King's plan to marry Anne Boleyn, whose mother was his sister, Elizabeth Howard. In May 1533, Norfolk wrote to Elizabeth's brother, Henry Stafford, asking him to take her in. Stafford refused, expressing the fear that having her in his house "shuld be my utter undoing. Whiche is to put your Grace in remembrance of her acustomed wild langiage whiche lyeth not in my power to stope, wherebye so greate daunger myght insue to me and all myne". Elizabeth went so far as to refuse to bear Anne's train at her investiture as Marchioness of Pembroke and was conspicuously absent from both Anne's coronation and the christening of Princess Elizabeth.

The situation in Norfolk's household had become impossible for Duchess Elizabeth to bear. The matter came to a head on Tuesday of Passion Week, 1534. Norfolk arrived at Kenninghall, his principal residence, to find his wife in a rage because he was still keeping Bess Holland as his mistress. From their letters, neither Duke nor Duchess appears to have been very well tempered. Elizabeth described some scenes, such as being held down by Norfolk's servants until her fingers bled and, in her rage, she spit blood. The Duke locked her up and gave all her jewels to 'that drab, Bess Holland'. After Stafford's refusal, Norfolk's response was to lock Elizabeth in her chamber. The quarrel was patched up by the temporary withdrawal of Bess Holland to the Queen's household, where Norfolk joined her. The Duchess retaliated by dismissing the entire Holland contingent from her service.

When the Duke, with his mistress, returned to Kenninghall, both ladies fell to it again. At this point Norfolk made an offer of settlement and separation, and the Duchess departed to Redbourne, a manor in Hertfordshire. Elizabeth referred to this as imprisonment, even though she had twenty servants and an allowance of three hundred marks per annum.

By Aug 1534 she was writing letters to Thomas Cromwell, bemoaning her poor estate and complaining of mistreatment at Norfolk's hands. The Duke, she said, "came riding all night, and locked me up in a chamber, and took away all my jewels and apparel". Shortly thereafter, "he sent his two chaplains, Master Burley and Sir Thomas Seymer, [to offer that] if I would be divorced, he would give me all my jewels and my apparel, and a great part of his plate, and of his stuff of household; and I rebuked his priests". Her letters to Cromwell redoubled in length and frequency. Redbourne was uninhabitable for one ‘born and brought up daintily'. None of her children came near her — ‘never woman bare so ungracious an eldest son and so ungracious a daughter and so unnatural’. Hearing that the King was at Dunstable, the Duchess rushed to throw herself at his feet. He listened gravely at first, then impatiently (he was on his way to hunt) and at last gave her a good talking to on the sanctity of marriage and wifely duty — of which, it must be said, he had first-hand experience. Henry commanded the maddened creature to write 'gently' to Norfolk, to whom, as a Christian, she owed obedience and submission.

The Duke now began to consider divorcing his wife; this was a complicated matter, involving her cooperation. Elizabeth refuse to accept a divorce, and continued to pour out her complaints to Cromwell. By 1539, Cromwell tired of the harangue, and advised her to return to her husband and live in peace. Perhaps understandably, she was unwilling to submit herself to Norfolk again, for she wrote: "I will never come at my Lord my husband for no fair promises ρor cruel handling. I had rather be kept in the Tower of London during my life, for I am so well used to imprisonment I care not for it; for he will suffer no gentlemen to come at me ... and very few gentle women".

In an undated letter to Cromwell, the Duke denied that he had, as she said, dragged her out of her childbed by the hair and pulled her around the house, wounding her in the head with a dagger, Norfolk closed this letter with an open threat: "Finally my lord I require you to send her in no wise to come where I am. For the same should not only put me to more trouble than I now have (whereof I have no need) but might give me occasion to handle her otherwise than I have done yet".

Legally Norfolk was within his rights to do as he wished with her. She tried three times for a reconciliation, but to no avail. Norfolk was not about to forgive some of the claims she had made, including one that he had assaulted her when she was pregnant with their daughter in 1519. Some of the charges may indeed have been "false and abominable lies", but Norfolk was known to have a temper, too.

In 1541, Elizabeth was still trying to regain freedom of movement, as well as a bigger allowance.

She would never, in any circumstances, go back to her husband: she was short of money, as usual. Norfolk was a gambler, as well as a lecher; also, he had broken up her marriage with the Earl of Westmoreland. He had had many other mistresses besides Bess Holland. Why had her daughter never received her dowry? The late Queen had promised Mary £1,000 a year if Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond, died. She herself continued 'poor and ailing' but 'though my children be unkind unto me, I have always love unto them ... ' As for Norfolk, she would never trust him, although 'he can speak fair, as well to his enemy as to his friend ... He is so doting in love with that quean that he neither regardeth God nor his honour’.

Her children, to her distress, sided with their father. Indeed, most people did. Wives were expected to put up with their husbands' infidelities, not make a fuss about them.

In Dec 1546 Norfolk and his son Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, were charged with treason. Mary, Duchess of Richmond and Bess Holland were forced to give evidence against them, but Norfolk remarked that Elizabeth knew nothing to incriminate him since they did not live together. He must not have been too upset by the estrangement, for he recalled that Cromwell had once said to him, "my lord, you are an happy man thus; your wife knoweth no such by you, for if she did she would undo you". At last the Duchess of Norfolk was given the chance of revenge for which she had craved in solitude and obscurity; but the evidence she had treasured up against her husband was rejected as confused, out of date and valueless.

During Henry VIII's last days, when his execution seemed imminent, Howard was deprived of all comforts, including books, sheets for his bed, and hangings for the damp stone walls above the west moat. Early in Edward's reign became clear that Norfolk would remain a prisoner. On 3 Mar 1547 Sir John Markham, lieutenant of the Tower, was ordered to provide Norfolk with clothing and personal furnishings befitting his station. As early as Feb 1547 Norfolk began to be allowed family visitors; Mary, Duchess of Richmond, and Elizabeth, Duchess of Norfolk, were permitted to visit Howard "at tymes and with traynes convenient, the Lieutenant being present".

When Edward died and Mary came to the throne, the Howard fortunes changed. When the Queen rode to London to take up her residence in the Tower until coronation day, the Duchess of Norfolk came with her. At Court, she was reunited with her husband, who had been released from prison and restored to his dukedom. He died at Kenninghall the following Aug.

On 28 Jun 1557, her great-grandson Phillip was born and four days later was christened at Whitehall Palace, by Nicholas Heath, Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor. The two god-fathers, Felipe of Spain, after whom the boy was named, and the Earl of Arundel, his grandfather, were present in person for the ceremony. Elizabeth, as his godmother, held her great-grandson over a font of gold, made of purpose and kept in the Treasury only for the christening of the princes of the realm.

Although both Elizabeth and Norfolk appear in effigy on the same monument in Framlingham, completed in 1559, only he is buried there. In her will, she left substantail legacies to Elizabeth Leyburne, Lady Dacre, who became the third wife of her grandson Thomas; and to Lady Dacre's daughters. Elizabeth, Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, was interred in the Howard Chapel in St. Mary's Church, Lambeth, in Dec 1558. The epitaph written by her brother lauds her kindness and says she was to him "a mother, sister, a friend most dear".


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)
Murphy, Beverley A.: Bastard Prince: Henry VIII's Lost Son (Sutton Publishing Ltd. -  2001 – Phoenix Mill)

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

Williams, Neville: Thomas Howard, fourth Duke of Norfolk (Barrie and Rockliff – 1964 - London)

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