HOWARD, Henry Earl of Surrey

(c. 1517-1547)
In his Arte of English Poesie (1589), George Puttenham gave Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, the title of being among "the first reformers" of English poetry for having "greatly polished" its "rude and homely manner." Though the sub­sequent revival in literary reputation of Surrey s predecessors like Chaucer has led to a modification of Puttenham's evaluation, Surrey still remains an impor­tant figure in English literary history for his role in introducing new verse forms into English, in particular, blank verse and the sonnet form later made famous by William Shakespeare.*
Born into a noble family in Norfolk, England, Surrey continually lived in close proximity to royal power. At Henry VIII s* request, Surrey took up res­idence in 1529 at Windsor Castle to be companion to the king s illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy, the duke of Richmond. Though Surrey married in 1532, he was deemed too young to live with his wife and thus maintained his residence with the duke of Richmond until the two young men were sent to the French court for a year while Henry VIII s effort to divorce Catherine of Aragon gained momentum. In 1536, however, three years after their return from France, the duke of Richmond died, leaving Surrey to grieve for years afterwards. Many of Surrey s most affecting poems refer to these young years at Windsor.
The year 1536 was a time of other important events in Surrey s life. In May he acted the part of earl marshal at the trial of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII s second wife. In the autumn a rebellion against the king s policies known as the Pil­grimage of Grace broke out, and though Surrey and his father, the duke of Norfolk, were clearly sympathetic to some of the reforms demanded by the rebels, they helped as ordered to repress the rebellion. One Lord Darcy, however, who had played a prominent role in the rebellion and was thus condemned to death, alleged in his final testimony that Surrey and Norfolk's true loyalties were to the rebels. The charge so infuriated Surrey that he struck Lord Darcy on royal premises, the punishment for which was normally the loss of one s right arm. Through the intercession of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII s chief minister at the time, the punishment remained limited to four months' confine­ment at Windsor.
Although by 1541 Surrey had introduced blank verse into English in his translation of the second and fourth books of Virgil s Aeneid, he was made a knight of the Garter that year by Henry VIII mainly for his continued military service. Indeed, for several years following, military service most engaged his life, particularly in connection with hostilities against France. The year 1545 marked the pinnacle of his military career when he was appointed lieutenant general of the king on sea and land for England s continental possessions. In the very next year, however, a military debacle in a battle near Saint-Etienne in France led to his losing his title of lieutenant general and to his effective retire­ment from military service. Surrey s life ended tragically soon thereafter. In the fall of 1546 trumped-up charges of conspiring against the king were brought against Surrey and his father based on resemblances of their family coat of arms to the king s. Though his father was spared his life, Surrey was found guilty as charged and was executed in January 1547.
All except one of Surrey s poems were published posthumously, most im­portantly in a volume called Richard Tottel s The Book of Songs and Sonnets (known as Tottel s Miscellany) in 1557 that staked something of a claim to breathing new life into English poetry. Insofar as Surrey, along with Sir Thomas Wyatt,* brought continental forms like the sonnet into English while inventing others, he did indeed revitalize English poetry.
W. A. Sessions, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, 1986.
Yu Jin Ko and Lisa Hinrichsen

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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