The Rise of the Howards After the Death of Anne de Mowbray, Duchess of York

Anne de Mowbray, 8th Countess of Norfolk, was born in December of 1476 and was only a toddler when her father, John de Mowbray, 4th Duke of Norfolk, died on 14 January 1476, leaving her an immensely wealthy heiress.  Her mother, Lady Elizabeth Talbot, would be able to have very little say in how her daughter’s inheritance or marriage … which would be coming sooner than people were expecting, even for the 15th century.

little-girl-medieval-style-medieval-gown-Favim.com stand in for anne de mowbray

(I have no idea who this little girl is, but she is adorable. Little kids in this era were adorable and vulnerable, too – just like modern children. Let’s keep that in mind.)

Although wee Anne would inherent a vast amount of wealth and land, she wasn’t supposed to inherit the title. That was for men and male descendants, unless the crown made an exception. In this case, the king  made an exception, and not just because her aunt, Lady Eleanor Talbot, was one of King Edward IV‘s side pieces. It was also because there weren’t really any male heirs from male dukes to take the title.

The Mowbray men had been passing the title down to one surviving male heir since Thomas de Mowbray, 1st Duke of Norfolk, who had died almost 100 years before, in 1399. Anne’s great-grandfather, John de Mowbray, 2nd Duke of Norfolk, had three sisters, but her grandfather, John de Mowbray, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, had been and only child who also had one surviving child. The closest male relatives Anne had were 3rd cousins John, Lord Howard and William, Viscount Berkeley and, descendants of the 2nd duke’s sisters, Margaret (who married Sir Robert Howard of Tendring) and Isabel (who had children with her second husband, James Berkeley). Of the two, John Howard had the best claim to the title, but it was thin as small beer.

John-howard-1st-duke-of-norfolk

All that John Howard could do was wait and hope something happened to Anne, or try to marry her to one of his grandsons, preferably the eldest, Thomas, who had been born in 1473 and was only 3 years older than Anne. He certainly had good reason to think he’s be rewarded with Anne for his grandson, even if the king kept her as a royal ward. Howard was a York loyalist, and had been personally knighted by King Edward IV at the Battle of Towton on 29 March 1461. He served in the king’s household, eventually becoming Treasurer, and was made Lord Howard by decree on 15 October 1470 and was admitted to the Order of the Garter on 24 April 1472. Now, all King edward had to do was marry Anne off to the youngest Thomas Howard and make John’s grandson Duke of Norfolk jure uxoris.

King Edward IV wasn’t going to let a match like Anne de Mowbray go so easily, though. Instead of waiting until she was older and passing her along to Thomas Howard, the king married the 5 year old Anne to his 4 year old son, Richard of Shrewsbury, 1st Duke of York, on 15 January 1478. The king’s son would get the magnificent dowry, not John Howard’s grandson.

ENG120790081 01

This was a bit of a shock and a bit of a scandal. The church didn’t condone marriage that young, although it would tolerate precontracts and engagements, provided the child bride wasn’t wed until she was closer to 12 years old. King Edward wasn’t risking a wait, however. If Anne died before she was wed to Richard of Shrewsbury, her cousins were her legal heirs. The king was going to get as much material security for his second son as he possibly could, and wasn’t going to risk Anne passing away before he could make her a daughter-in-law.

John Howard may have forgiven the king the marriage – it was a dog eat dog world in the Middle Ages after all – but then Anne, Duchess of York, died around 19 November 1481, shortly before her ninth birthday. Her eight year old husband would inherit her lands and money, naturally. That was bad enough, since John Howard should have been the principle beneficiary. However, King Edward made it worse by pushing through an Act of Parliment in January 1483 making Richard Duke of Norfolk as well as York, which would revert to the descendants of his father, King Edward IV, if the young duke died without heirs.

John Howard was cut out completely. The riches of Norfolk would now remain firmly in the hands of the crown. This seems to have stuck in Howard’s craw, because when King Edward IV died and his son, King Edward V, came to the throne, Howard was one of the first men to help the new king’s uncle usurp his throne and become King Richard III.

With Anne’s widowed husband bastardised, John Howard became the new Duke of Norfolk on 28 June 1483. King Richard also made the new duke the Lord High Steward, as well as Earl Marshal, and Lord Admiral of all England, Ireland, and Aquitaine. At King Richard III’s coronation, Howard carried the crown, while his eldest son, now the Earl of Surrey, held the Sword of State. Shortly thereafter, Richard of Shrewsbury and his elder brother would disappear, removing all possible contention for Norfolk’s dukedom.

Richard III and Anne Neville

John Howard was shot in the face with an arrow and died in the service of King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field on 22 August 1485. Although Howard’s titles were declared forfeit after his death by the victorious new Tudor monarch, King Henry VII, the former duke’s son, Thomas, was given opportunities to prove his loyalty to the new king, and was restored to the earldom of Surrey in May of 1489.

Thomas Howard was loyal to King Henry VIII as well, most notably fighting for the crown against King James IV of Scotland at the Battle of Flodden. As a reward for his decades of service and the valor of his family at Flodden, Thomas Howard was restored as the 2nd Duke of Norfolk on 1 February 1514. Henry VIII would one day marry two of Thomas Howard’s granddaughters, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard.

It is weird to think of how the great-great grandfather and great-grandfather of Queen Elizabeth I fought against her grandfather in the Battle of Bosworth.

One thought on “The Rise of the Howards After the Death of Anne de Mowbray, Duchess of York


  1. “it was a dog eat dog world in the Middle Ages after all”.

    It always strikes me that History is a fantastic soap opera. It has all the ingredients of a well written novel: sex, greed, murder, treason, etc…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *