The ceiling of the Great Chamber, created in the 16th century and destroyed almost entirely in the 20th century, has played a complex role in the changing hands of the Charterhouse.
The Great Chamber was originally built by Lord North after he purchased the Charterhouse following the dissolution of the monasteries (including the Carthusian Charterhouse) by Henry VIII. The property was eventually sold to the Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, who finished the room and placed his crest upon the ceiling.
Howard was the grandson of the 3rd Duke of Norfolk and the Earl of Surrey, and both of his grandfathers had been condemned to death during the reign of Henry VIII. Surrey was executed as ordered, but the king died before the 3rd Duke of Norfolk could have his sentence carried out, and so he was reprieved. Thus, upon the death of his grandfather, Thomas Howard became the 4th Duke of Norfolk. He gained his position during the reign of Mary I, and as such he named his first son Philip Howard after Mary’s husband Philip of Spain, who was the child’s godfather. Having been tutored by both a Protestant (John Foxe) and a Catholic (John White, Bishop of Lincoln and Winchester), he was able to withstand the changes in religion that were prevalent at the time.
When Mary died and Elizabeth ascended the throne, he remained an influential figure in her court due to their relationship as cousins through the Boleyn line. It was during her reign that Norfolk purchased the Charterhouse from Lord North and began his own renovations, including the Norfolk Cloister and the ceiling of the Great Chamber.
After the death of his third wife, Howard became part of the Ridolfi Plot between Mary, Queen of Scots, Philip of Spain, and English Catholic supporters to remove Elizabeth from the throne and make Mary the Queen of England instead. Interestingly, on the portion of the original ceiling that remains, amidst Howard’s own coat of arms, there is a thistle motif, perhaps suggesting Howard’s intentions to marry Mary and put himself on the throne beside her.
Elizabeth suspected that Howard was plotting against her and gave him the chance to confess, but he denied everything. His forged signature was found on incriminating documents, and in 1572 he was executed for treason in the Tower of London and buried within the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula with his cousins Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. Though Thomas claimed that he was Protestant until his death, his first son Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel converted to Catholicism in 1584 and was condemned to death for arranging a Mass to pray for the success of the Spanish Armada against Elizabeth. He died in the Tower of London and was buried like his father in the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula before being moved to Arundel Castle 29 years later.
The ceiling left behind by Howard after his death remained as the Charterhouse changed hands again to become Thomas Sutton’s almshouse. The ceiling, along with much of the rest of the Charterhouse, was badly damaged in the bombing during World War II. There is one portion in the back that remains, and it was used by Seely and Paget to recreate the ceiling during the restoration works following the war. The alcove in the corner also remains.
To learn more and to see the ceiling for yourself, book onto a Charterhouse tour by visiting http://www.thecharterhouse.org/visit-us/book-a-tour/.
House of Treason: The Rise and Fall of a Tudor Dynasty by Robert Hutchinson