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Saint of the week

The aristocrat who died in the Tower after his wife inspired him to become a Catholic

St Philip Howard (October 19) wrote spiritual works while he was imprisoned

By on Friday, 19 October 2012

The Tower of London (Photo: PA)

The Tower of London (Photo: PA)

Philip Howard (1557-1595), handsome, clever, rich – also impeccably aristocratic – seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence. His conscience, however, and still more his wife, prevented his sinking into the abyss of privilege.

Born at Arundel House in the Strand, Philip was the only child of Thomas Howard, fourth Duke of Norfolk, and his wife Mary, daughter of the 12th Earl of Arundel. Philip of Spain, later King Philip II, became his godfather.

Philip’s mother died shortly after his birth. His father, by his next wife, had two more sons and three daughters. Then, through a third match, to Elizabeth, widow of the 4th Baron Dacre, he acquired four stepchildren. In 1571 Philip was married to Anne, the eldest Dacre daughter.

Widowed again in 1567, Norfolk intrigued on behalf of Mary Queen of Scots, whom he hoped to marry. Instead, he was executed in 1572 and the dukedom lapsed. 

Philip, after two years at St John’s College, Cambridge, took up residence at court in the hope of restoring his family
to favour. His wife he left neglected in the country.

Queen Elizabeth, however, never warmed to him, even though in 1578 Philip spent a fortune entertaining her at Kenninghall in Norfolk. His mother’s family, the Fitzalans, were far from impressed by his conduct. Nevertheless, in 1580 Philip succeeded his maternal grandfather as 13th Earl of Arundel.

Disappointed at court, he returned to his wife, a woman of strong character and intense religious sensibility, who converted to Catholicism. Philip followed her lead in 1584.

Next year, unable to support the pains of recusancy, he fled the country, without even informing his wife, whom he would never see again. Arrested at sea, he was arraigned before the Star Chamber, and imprisoned in the Tower. 

His father and grandfather (the poet, Henry, Earl of Surrey) had both been beheaded. Now Philip appeared to face the same fate.

In 1588 a Catholic priest called Fr William Bennet, imprisoned with him in the Tower, confessed under torture that Howard had instructed him to say Mass on behalf of the Spanish Armada. Bennet, however, later admitted he “confessed everything that seemed to content their humour”.

Howard was condemned to death, though the sentence was never carried out. Disdaining the offer of freedom should he return to the state religion, he passed his imprisonment in translating and writing spiritual works.

He died on October 19 1595 after an illness of two months. Poisoning was suspected. “The more affliction we endure for Christ in this world,” ran the Latin inscription in his room, “the more glory we shall obtain with Christ in the next.”

His son Thomas (1586-1646) succeeded as Earl of Arundel. Philip Howard was canonised in 1970.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    St. Philip Howard, pray for us and for England.