Born in Hunsdon, Hertfordshire, in 1517, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, was the eldest of Thomas Howard and Lady Elizabeth Stafford’s children. Surrey was of royal descent on both the paternal and the maternal sides of his family. He received an excellent education under John Clark. He learned Latin, Italian, Spanish, and French. Earl of Surrey was his courtesy title, bestowed when his father became the 3rd Duke of Norfolk. He was an early companion to Henry VIII’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond.
Surrey accompanied his first cousin Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII, and Fitzroy to France as part of a consultation between England and Francis I, King of France. He returned to England for the marriage of Richmond to Surrey’s sister. He was present in 1533 for the coronation of Anne Boleyn.
At the age of 15, Surrey married Lady Frances de Vere (daughter of the Earl of Oxford) in 1532, but they did not live together until 1535 because they were too young. His first son, Thomas, was born in March 1536. In the same year, his cousin Anne Boleyn was tried for treason and executed. Tragedy struck again when Henry Fitzroy died in July at the age of seventeen. Fitzroy was not only Surrey’s friend, but also his brother in marriage, having married Mary Howard. October of 1536 saw his father subduing the Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion, which protested against the King’s dissolution of the monasteries. Surrey served with his father in this action.
The Howards were strong supports of the Tudors, but the knew difficulties at court when Jane Seymour became queen in 1536. In 1537, the Seymours, a rival faction at court, accused the Howards of holding sympathies with those involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace. Surrey was imprisoned at Windsor when he struck a member of the court for repeating the slander expressed against his family. Surrey’s poem, “Prisoned in Windsor,” relates his boyhood days at Windsor with Fitzroy. He was released later in the year, and served as a mourner in Jane Seymour’s funeral.
Surrey was back in court favor by 1540. He reportedly sported well in the jousts held in honor of Anne of Cleves marriage to Henry VIII. He was made Knight of the Garter in May 1541 and steward of the University of Cambridge in September. Being honored so was not enough to keep his reputation spotless. He was twice imprisoned in Fleet Prison, once for quarreling with another of Henry’s courtiers and another time for a drunken riot that destroyed property. While in Fleet Prison, he composed his “Satire Against the Citizens of London.”
Finally released from Fleet, he served Henry VII in Flanders in an effort to take control of the Netherlands with the English army on the side of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.
In a letter to Henry VIII, the emperor commended Surreys “gentil cueur.” In 1544, Surrey return to England with a wound suffered at the siege of Montreuil but was back in France at the head of a company of 5,000 men in Calais. In 1545 he became Commander of Guisnes and Commander of the garrison of Boulogne. After several skirmishes and a defeat at the battle at St. Etienne in 1546, Surrey was replaced in the post by his longtime adversary Edward Seymour, Lord Hertford (later Duke of Somerset).
Surrey erred greatly by promoting his father’s position as Protector to young Prince Edward when Henry VIII’s health was failing in 1546. “The Seymours finally had their day, when Surrey ill-advisedly displayed royal quarterings on his shield. Arrested along with his father on charges of treason, he was imprisoned in the Tower. Several additional claims were made against him, including that he was secretly a papist. Surrey was indicted of high treason in January 1547, despite the lack of any real evidence, condemned, and executed (beheaded) on January 19, 1547, on Tower Hill. He was buried in the church of All Hallows Barking, but was later reinterred in the church of Framlingham, Suffolk. His second son Henry, Earl of Northampton, erected a magnificent tomb for him there in 1614. Surrey’s father, the Duke of Norfolk, remained in prison throughout the reign of King Edward VI, but was released when Queen Mary took the throne. Henry Howard’s first son, Thomas Howard, succeeded his grandfather to the title of Duke of Norfolk in 1553.
“Surrey continued in Sir Thomas Wyatt’s footsteps on the English sonnet form. Wyatt and Surrey, both often titled “father of the English sonnet”, established the form that was later used by Shakespeare and others: three quatrains and a couplet, with a rhyme scheme of abab cdcd efef gg. Surrey was also the first English poet to publish in blank verse, in his translation of part of Virgil’s Aeneid. Book 4 was published in 1554 and Book 2 in 1557.
“Surrey’s poetry circulated in manuscript form at court. He published his “Epitaph on Sir Thomas Wyatt, but most of his poetry first appeared in 1557, ten years after his death, in printer Richard Tottel’s Songs and Sonnets written by the Right Honorable Lord Henry Howard late Earl of Surrey and other. Until modern times it was called simply Songs and Sonnets; but now it is generally known as Tottel’s Miscellany. Of the 271 poems in the collection, 40 were by Surrey, 96 by Wyatt, and the rest by various courtier poets. Sir Philip Sidney lauded Surrey’s lyrics for “many things tasting of a noble birth, and worthy of a noble mind.” (Luminarium)
DESCRIPTION OF SPRING,
WHEREIN EVERY THING RENEWS, SAVE ONLY THE LOVER.
THE soote season, that bud and bloom forth brings,
With green hath clad the hill, and eke the vale.
The nightingale with feathers new she sings ;
The turtle to her make hath told her tale.
Summer is come, for every spray now springs,
The hart hath hung his old head on the pale;
The buck in brake his winter coat he slings ;
The fishes flete with new repairèd scale ;
The adder all her slough away she slings ;
The swift swallow pursueth the fliës smale ;
The busy bee her honey now she mings ;
Winter is worn that was the flowers’ bale.
And thus I see among these pleasant things
Each care decays, and yet my sorrow springs !
[In spring everything comes to life, says the poet, and “each care decays and yet my sorrow springs.”]
“Set me whereas the sun doth parch the green…”
Set me whereas the sun doth parch the green
Or where his beams do not dissolve the ice,
In temperate heat where he is felt and seen;
In presence prest of people, mad or wise;
Set me in high or yet in low degree,
In longest night or in the shortest day,
In clearest sky or where clouds thickest be,
In lusty youth or when my hairs are gray.
Set me in heaven, in earth, or else in hell;
In hill, or dale, or in the foaming flood;
Thrall or at large, alive whereso I dwell,
Sick or in health, in evil fame or good:
Hers will I be, and only with this thought
Content myself although my chance be nought.
[A woman bemoans her lover at sea, says that those who have their lovers at home are fortunate; and when the storm is over, she still worries as to whether he will visit her.]
Criticism: Almost all the verses left by Surrey are regular and harmonious and though his nature was less energetic than Wyatt’s he was the better artist. He was dominated by the Petrarchan convention much more than was Sir Thomas Wyatt and sang in sonnets his imaginary love for Geraldine. Less directly influenced by the Italians than his master, he had a sure sense of what best befitted the poetry of his nation For the sonnet form used by Wyatt – two quatrains followed by two tercets, he substituted the form used later by Shakespeare. He introduced blank verse to English literature in his translation of the second and fourth books of the Aeneid.