Robert Howard (1537-1598)

A Royal connection?

Robert Howard was born on 1 Jan 1537 in Syon House, London, England and died in 1598 in Allsaints Parish, Norfolk, England. He was the son of Lord Thomas Howard (1511-1537) and Lady Margaret Douglas Princess & Countess Lennox (1515-1578).  Robert was the first born son of Margaret, Countess of Lennox and Uncle of James Stewart; aka, James I King of England, 1567-1625. None of this is disputed. Robert is the direct ancestor of our Henry Joseph Howard born 1916 in Gravesend. Whilst disputed (by some) this connection gives the Howard family of Gravesend a direct line back to King Rollo in Normandy in the year 800AD.

The argument is made is that Margaret and Sir Thomas were not legally married; However since the birth was recorded in church documents and Robert kept the family name of Howard one has to assume they were married but without permission or knowledge of the King; By law then the family title Duke of Norfolk was never granted to Robert.

In those days marrying was a simple matter and the religious ceremony could be the man and woman and a vicar and a few witnesses needed. In a fit of jealous rage over Sir Thomas’s healthy son, Henry VIII threw the Duke in the Tower in April 1537 and finally executed him 31 October 1537. After the execution King Henry passed a law (punishable by death) that no one at court could marry or have any relationship without the Kings permission – which implies SOMEONE did? Margaret was sent to the monastery Syon House in London where she gave birth to Robert.

Robert’s mother Margaret, niece of King Henry, survived the controversy, was reinstated at court and made sure that Robert had substance and opportunity.

This birth and in fact the whole story is rejected by the current Royal family and all the royal historians. This is not surprising as it gives a more direct line of descent than the Windsors. There is a lot of historical support for the parentage of Sir Robert, but it is mostly circumstantial as it would be in the 16th century. What is disputed is whether Margaret and Thomas were married, not whether they had a child but from a family history point of view the legality is irrelevant and only the connection is needed to document the family line.

Another account of the same story is found online here: Once upon a time in History

Margaret Douglas was the only child of Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scotland’s second marriage to Archibald Douglas. As well as her half-brother James V being the king of Scotland, she also had close ties to the English crown, the current king Henry VIII was her uncle. Margaret was born in Northumberland in England, and went to live with her godfather Cardinal Wolsey when she was fourteen. In 1530 Margaret went to live with her cousin Princess Mary, and the two began a lifelong friendship. After King Henry married Anne Boleyn, Margaret was appointed as one of her ladies-in-waiting in 1533. It was during this time that Margaret became well acquainted with the Howard family, including Thomas Howard.

Lord Thomas Howard (1511-1537) was the youngest son of the Duke of Norfolk and uncle to Anne Boleyn, who had arrived at court in 1533 along with the influx of Howard relations reveling in the success of having one of their relatives become queen. During 1535 Margaret and Thomas had met, fallen in love and become secretly engaged. Their affair had been conducted with the help of Thomas’ sister Mary Howard, and the queen Anne Boleyn. In April 1536 the couple secretly married per verba de presenti with only two witnesses; Lady Williams and a Howard servant named Hastings. This marriage was kept secret until July of that year when King Henry was made aware of it.

As soon as King Henry heard about the secret marriage, he reacted badly to it; the pair were arrested on June 8th although there were no laws as of yet which declared it illegal to marry without the kings consent, this was about to change as it was this scandal for which Henry created such a law. On July 9th interrogations of the Boleyn household, with whom Thomas had familial connections, were made to ascertain their involvement in the scandal – the Boleyn fortunes had drastically changed by this time as Anne Boleyn had been executed in May and Jane Seymour was now queen. On July 18th a Bill of Attainder against Thomas Howard was passed, and Henry was free to keep the pair prisoners in the Tower for as long as he pleased. Henry appeared to have softened towards his niece, helped along with letters from Margaret’s mother, his sister, and Margaret was moved from the Tower in November to Syon House.

The timing of Margaret and Thomas’ romance could not have been worse; Margaret was already holding a high position in the English line of succession and was therefore a useful tool to Henry in terms of possible marriage politics. However in 1536 between the death of Anne Boleyn and subsequent bastardisation of the Princess Elizabeth, and the birth of Prince Edward in 1537, Margaret was the legal heir to the throne of England if Henry died, due to the fact that all of Henry’s children – Mary, Elizabeth and Henry FitzRoy – were illegitimate by law and her own brother James V could not succeed as he was ineligible due to already being monarch of a country. The heiress presumptive to the English throne was at the centre of a marriage scandal with a courtier.

On the 31st October 1537 Thomas Howard died in the Tower. In the winter of 1537, Henry pardoned Margaret with the order that she dismiss two servants of her former lover from her household, however she grieved her husbands loss terribly. The king then passed a second succession law which stated that it was treason against the crown to marry a member of the royal family without the kings explicit permission. By 1539 Margaret and her uncle the king were once again reconciled as she was asked to be one of the royal party who met Anne of Cleves, Henry’s new bride, upon her arrival in England.

In 1540 Margaret Douglas once again fell for a Howard man, this time it was Sir Charles Howard, who was a brother of the new queen Katherine Howard and also the nephew of her previous lover and husband  Thomas. Again, a plan of a secret marriage was devised with the help of the queen, Charles’ sister Katherine, however in autumn of 1541 word of the plan reached the king. When the affair was discovered, Margaret was yet again imprisoned at Syon House until November 1541 when she was moved to a residence of the Duke of Norfolk. Charles Howard was banished from court and later fled the country to Holland and then France, where in Calais he died in 1542.

This affair, although it was considered scandal at the time, there was less of a backlash from the king when it was discovered due to the change in the political atmosphere from the previous incident in that the succession was now secure, and the less serious nature of the relationship – an affair not a secret marriage. Henry forgave his niece for her indiscretion and she was a witness at his final marriage to Katheryn Parr in 1543 and would become one of her chief ladies; Margaret and Katheryn had been acquainted with each other for many years since they both came to court in the 1520’s.

Margaret Douglas was married in 1544 to a Scottish exile, Matthew Stewart the Earl of Lennox (1516-1571), their marriage produced two sons; Henry Stuart Lord Darnley and Charles Stuart Earl of Lennox. Her son Henry married Mary, Queen of Scots and their son became James VI King of Scotland, and later King of England upon Elizabeth I’s death. Her younger son Charles married Elizabeth Cavendish – due to plotting between their mothers Margaret Douglas and Bess of Hardwick, whose marriage produced Arbella Stuart, yet another of the Tudor bloodline imprisoned for marrying in secret for love.

Thomas Howard’s nephew Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey was a famed poet, and wrote this as part of his works. These lines alluding to the fate of his uncle Thomas, dying in the Tower for his own love.

And, for my vaunte, I dare well say my blood is not untrew;
Ffor you your self dothe know, it is not long agoe,
Sins that, for love, one of the race did end his life in woe
In towre both strong and highe, for his assured truthe.”

Robert Howard (1537-1598)

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