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Mary Howard was born in 1519 at Kenninghall, Norfolk, the perils and advantages of being upper-class

Updated: May 10, 2023

March 2021 ·

It's Sunday, 26th November 1533, and a young girl no more than 14 years of age, waits impatiently within the Royal Chapel of Hampton Court. She shivers, feeling the cold frosty air through her heavy red velvet gown. Ruby and silver jewels sparkle, catching the light of the many candles dotted around. Finally, a teenage boy takes his place by her side. Her father stands proudly as his arrangement 3 years in the making is officiated. Repeating the vows the betrothal is complete, and the youths are officially man and wife. Mary Howard was born in 1519 at Kenninghall, Norfolk. She was the youngest daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth Stafford the 3rd Duke and Duchess of Norfolk and the 2nd most senior nobles in the English peerage. Elizabeth claimed after two days and one night in labor, Thomas roughly took her out of bed and proceeded to drag her around the house by her hair. In a letter to Cromwell, he denies this writing that a scar on her head was several months old. Mary's first introduction to the dangers of the Tudor court was in 1521 when her grandfather Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham was executed at tower hill. Mary grew up in Norfolk, spending her childhood divided between the Howards properties in East Anglia. As her older brother Henry was well educated it is most likely she was given an education appropriate to her social standing. She could undoubtedly read the scripture in English and knew some French and later assisted with the writing of the Devonshire script which contained poems created at court. Mary is described as having a kind demeanor and was both beautiful and intelligent a deadly combination for some in the Tudor court. Her father once said, 'She is too wise for a woman and that's why I love her so much'. At 10 years old her father and Henry VIII ( supposedly pushed by Anne Boleyn) arranged her marriage without a dowry, betrothing her to Henry Fitzroy. Henry was the bastard son of Henry VIII and his mistress Bessie Blount, Born at Ingatestone, Essex, Fitzroy was a well-educated boy recognized by the king and the given title of Duke of Richmond and Somerset. Mary's mother was fiercely against the union and after a blazing row with Anne Boylen, she was banished from court. Katherine Marys older sister was married in 1529 to the Earl of Derby but tragically, the union was brief as she died just months later of the much-feared Plague. Mary was devastated. She joined the court in 1532, attending to Anne Boylen alongside the other ladies in waiting. Anne rewards her whilst at Windsor Castle by declaring her Marquise of Pembroke. It's Sunday 26th, November 1533. Mary is married to Henry Fitzroy at just 14. As the law stated girls could be married in Tudor times as young as 12 and boys aged 14. Love and romance are not considered in an aristocratic marriage. As they were so young they were not permitted to cohabitate after the wedding so both traveled back to their respective homes. On 22nd July 1536, Anne Boylen was executed for treason. Just a month later Fitzroy suddenly took to his bed, dangerously ill, displaying symptoms such as Fever, headache, and weakness. His unexpected demise was explained to the court as tuberculosis that killed him. Henry was inconsolable. and very quietly and quickly taken and buried at Thetford Priory. The low-key funeral and speed of the burial were unusual and it was rumored that the deceased was involved in a conspiracy to strip the king of his throne putting Fitzroy in his place. This combined with the fact of Jane Seymour's pregnancy (later miscarried) put Fitzroy, 2nd in line for the throne with the king then having a legitimate heir. It was sure that the king knew of this plan but did he believe Fitzroy was heading the plot? Did Fitzroy die of Tuberculosis? That we will never know for sure. Mary went home, as her parents had separated she lived with her father on his handouts, but when it became clear the king was refusing her Jointure (money for marriage) she wrote to Cromwell pleading her case. The king had decided that as her marriage was never consummated, he did not have to pay the fee. Mary resulted to selling off her land and even her precious collection of jewels to make ends meet. After stubbornly continuing her argument, the King gave in and paid the fee. In 1540, Mary, from a devoutly Catholic family, begins to follow the new faith. In December 1546, her father, Duke of Norfolk, and her brother were arrested for treason and held at Ely Place then imprisoned in the Tower of London. Late one day the commissioners turned up at Kenninghall where they tore the house apart searching for proof of high treason, As they questioned her Mary is said to have been 'sore, perplexed fumbling and likely fell down. Come January 1547, her brother was found guilty and sentenced to be hung, drawn, and quartered but after hearing pleas of the court the King showed mercy and decided on a beheading at Tower Hill. On the 28th of January 1547, the legendary King Henry VIII passed away in Whitehall Palace, London. It's not clear how he died but documentary evidence states it was either smallpox or the complications of the ulcer obtained in a hunting accident. He was interred at St Georges Chapel in Windsor next to his 3rd wife Jane Seymour the only woman he truly loved. Thomas Howard escaping execution by days, was released and sent home to Kenninghall. Mary collected her Nieces and Nephews and took them home, employing John Foxe as their Tutor.

On 7th December 1577, Mary passed away. Her death was sudden and unexpected. It is said she died of influenza, which was rife among the ladies at court. Mary did not leave a will. She is buried in a tomb at St Michaels the Archangel in Framlingham next to Fitzroy who had previously been moved due to the dissolution of the Priories. Framlingham was chosen as the castle was the official seat of the Howard family.

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