The Making of Two Dukes

On Candlemas eve, the 1st of February 1514, Henry VIII formally elevated two men to the tiles of Duke. Charles Brandon formally Viscount Lisle was created Duke of Suffolk. Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey was created 2nd Duke of Norfolk. The ceremony took place at Lambeth and was conducted by the King.

Along with the nearly created Dukes of Suffolk and Norfolk the other only Duke in the Kingdom was Edward Stafford the Duke of Buckingham. Buckingham was a descendent of Thomas Woodstock, youngest son of Edward III.  In addition to this his mother was Katherine Woodville, sister of the late Queen Elizabeth Woodville, wife of King Edward IV. At the time Buckingham was also the richest peer in England with an annual income of around £6000 per year (£2,902,620.00) as well as being High Steward of England and a Privy Councillor. These positions gave Stafford a great deal of power. With royal blood running through his veins and an arrogant attitude Buckingham was a regular member at court but it was reported that he often made those around him feel uncomfortable.

Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk was the second of his name and came from noble family. His father, Thomas Howard 1st Duke of Norfolk was head of Richard III’s vanguard at the Battle of Bosworth and was slain by an arrow through the brain defending his King. Thomas Howard also fought at the Battle of Bosworth but was injured and captured by Henry VII. Overtime Howard proved his loyalty to the new Tudor Monarch and was restored to his title of Earl of Surry.

Howard made an advantageous marriage for himself when he married Anne of York, daughter of the late King Edward IV in 1495. After her death in 1511 Howard married Elizabeth Stafford, oldest daughter of the Edward Stafford Duke of Buckingham. This made the newly created Duke of Norfolk the son in law of the Duke of Buckingham! Elizabeth and Norfolk had several children together, one of those being Mary Howard. Norfolk would seek to advance himself in the King’s favour and organised a marriage between his daughter Mary and the King’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy. The pair were married on the 26th November 1533, although due to their young ages (both were only fourteen) the marriage was never consummated. Norfolk was now related to the King yet Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk would go one step further in 1515 and become brother in law to the King!

Unlike the Dukes of Norfolk and Buckingham, Brandon did not come from royal blood nor did he come from a noble family. His father had fought valiantly for Henry VII at the Battle of Bosworth but there was no history of nobility – he had after all only been Knighted the day before the battle. Instead Brandon’s rise was due to his friendship with Henry VIII and his proven skills in military service. Born in 1485 Brandon was fourteen years older than the King but shared many common interests with him including jousting, hunting and archery. Brandon also shared a deep love of women and enjoyed participating in courtly dances and masquerades. Brandon would go one step further and in early 1515 he married Henry VIII’s younger sister Mary without the King’s permission. Although an act that was considered treason the King forgave Brandon and Mary and welcomed them back at court with only the threat of a fine. Brandon was now not only the Duke of Suffolk, the King’s greatest friend but he was also Henry VIII’s brother in law. In addition in the 1520’s with the King having no male heir it was Brandon’s son, Henry, that had a strong claim to the throne. An impressive feat for a man born of no royal blood!

The Duke of Buckingham was executed on the 17th of May 1521 upon Tower Hill. He had been charged with desiring the King’s death and seeing himself on the throne. With Buckingham’s execution it would leave only the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk who would rule as the two highest peers in the realm.

Over the decades the Duke of Norfolk would rise and fall in the King’s favour but it would be Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk that would always retain the King’s friendship as well as play an important part of the government of England at the time. He was appointed as President of the King’s council and in 1539 Brandon was appointed The Lord Grand Master/Lord Stewart of the Household. Brandon was now the first dignitary of court and was responsible for the household of the court below stairs.

Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk and Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk


Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, 1509-47, ed. J.S Brewer, James Gairdner and R.H Brodie, His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1862-1932.

Hutchinson, Robert 2009, House of Treason The Rise & Fall of a Tudor Dynasty, Phoenix, London.

Weir, Alison 2008, Henry VIII King & Court, Vintage Books, London.

Wriothesley, C, Hamilton, W.D. (ed) 1875, A chronicle of England during the reigns of the Tudors, from A. D. 1485-1559, Camden Society, London.


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