Thomas Howard: Interior design and treason

Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, bought the Charterhouse in 1564 and renamed it Howard House, using it as his principal London residence. He is responsible for some of the highlights of the Charterhouse buildings you can see today. These include the wooden screen in the Great Hall carved with his initials, the heraldic ceiling of the Tudor Great Chamber bearing his coat of arms, and the beautiful brick vaulting of his garden gallery, the Norfolk Cloister. He lived in the Charterhouse until his execution for high treason.


Charges of treason ran in the family. His father, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, became the last person to be executed on the orders of Henry VIII in January 1547. At the same time his grandfather was imprisoned in the Tower of London awaiting execution – he was spared when the king died a day before it was due to take place. The title of Duke of Norfolk therefore skipped a generation and passed to Thomas Howard from his grandfather in 1554. His first son was also sentenced to death.  Philip Howard, a converted Catholic, spent ten years in the Tower before dying of dysentery – he was canonised in 1970.


The Charterhouse became the scene for Tudor intrigue when Thomas Howard was implicated in a conspiracy, known as the Ridolfi Plot, to replace Elizabeth I on the throne with her rival Mary, Queen of Scots. In 1570 the Duke, who had been under suspicion and already spent some time in the Tower, was placed under house arrest at Howard House. When Elizabeth I’s agents intercepted letters pointing towards his involvement, Howard House was raided and evidence was found incriminating the Duke: coded letters and the key to crack them, hidden under a mat and in the roof tiles. Thomas Howard was beheaded on Tower Hill in June 1572, aged 36.

NB well done all those who have spotted that this painting says he died in 1573… no idea why it says that.



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