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"What do you take me for... a butcher's son?!" -Thomas Howard to his nemesis, Cardinal Wolsey

Thomas Howard is the third Duke of Norfolk in The Tudors and a distant descendant of the Plantagenet royal line; he is also uncle to two of King Henry's wives, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard, as well as the father of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. The patriarch of the powerful Howard family, he is never referred to by his actual name, but is simply called 'Your Grace' or 'Norfolk'. He is played by Canadian actor Henry Czerny in Season One, a main character.

An arrogant but intelligent and highly ambitious nobleman, Norfolk works relentlessly with his brother-in-law Lord Thomas Boleyn to usurp Henry's chief minister (and his greatest enemy) Cardinal Wolsey, using his niece Anne to discredit Wolsey to the King. Norfolk ultimately succeeds, but (contrary to history) dissapears from the series abruptly, apparently retired.

Season One []

Norfolk is confronted by Charles Brandon on behalf of King Henry

In the first episode of the series, despite already occupying a powerful position in King Henry's court (he is the second richest of the nobility), Norfolk hopes to rise higher; he seems to be pinning his hopes on the Duke of Buckingham, who like him is a descendant of the Plantagenet royal house proceeding the Tudors. Buckingham privately plans to assassinate Henry and take his throne, with Norfolk's hesitant support. Norfolk shares Buckingham's contempt for 'low-born' members of Henry's court, including Charles BrandonAnthony KnivertSir William Compton and especially Cardinal Wolsey. Norfolk works in close tandem with his brother-in-law Sir Thomas Boleyn, who is less confident Buckingham will succeed in overthrowing Henry and keeps a foot in both camps for Norfolk.

In episode two, Norfolk appears confident that Buckingham will succeed, but is given a rude shock when Buckingham is arrested on suspicion of treason; Thomas Boleyn secretly betrayed Buckingham's plot to Wolsey and the King. Norfolk is ordered to lead Buckingham's trial by peers; Charles Brandon confronts him on Henry's behalf before the trial, subtly threatening Norfolk's son while presenting him with a signet ring that belonged to Norfolk's father (who was executed by Henry VII in the War of the Roses). After considering his options, Norfolk throws his weight behind the King and finds Buckingham guilty of treason, leading to the latter's execution. His hatred for Wolsey, however, is undiminished, and he seeks to overthrow him with the help of Boleyn. Their main weapon for this is Anne Boleyn, Thomas's youngest daughter and Norfolk's niece. 

Norfolk (left) with his ally and brother-in-law Thomas Boleyn (right)

After Henry becomes attracted to Anne in episode 1.03, Norfolk and her father continually urging her to seduce him so they can gain Henry's favor; by episode 1.05, they hold even stronger positions in the King's court. Despite Norfolk's reluctance, he accepts Boleyn's suggestion to ally with Charles Brandon (since he is Henry's closest friend and like them, despises Wolsey) and helps restore him to court after he is banished by appealing to Henry. When Boleyn discovers damning evidence of Wolsey's corruption, Norfolk ignores his advice to bide their time and reveals it to Henry, but Henry is annoyed and offended (since his faith in Wolsey is still so strong he cannot believe the Cardinal would act corruptly) and Norfolk hastily backs down, realizing he is being too impatient.

Wolsey himself is fully aware of Norfolk's hatred for him, although he is initially unaware of the alliance Norfolk is making with Boleyn and Brandon. In episodes 1.06-1.07 Wolsey has Norfolk banished from court, but he can hardly prevent Henry from seeing Anne, whom Norfolk has instructed to discredit the Cardinal. In episode 1.06, Norfolk seems somewhat uncomfortable that his niece is falling genuinely in love with the King, telling her "It would be wise of you, not to be fooled by your own masquerade."

After Wolsey fails decisively to get Henry an annulment in episodes 1.08-1.09, Norfolk finally strikes, presenting Henry with all evidence of the Cardinal's covert offenses against him. He and Charles Brandon smugly present Wolsey with letters of his dismissal in 1.09, and are swiftly given positions of power in Henry's council. The Duke of Suffolk is content to enjoy his estates and, leaves most of the government work to the more experienced Norfolk. 

Norfolk remains paranoid about the fact that Wolsey was dismissed from his posts (except from the Archbishopric of York) but not executed, remarking to Charles that, if Wolsey ever returned to power "we would all have great cause to fear his vengeance."Although Charles brushes off his concerns, they are soon justified; Norfolk finds himself unable to manage his new posts efficiently and Henry, angry with his failures, threatens to reinstate Wolsey. This causes Norfolk, Charles and the Boleyns to spend much of the season finale looking for a means to permanently destroy Wolsey. Ultimately, they succeed thanks to Thomas Boleyn's ally Thomas Cromwell, and Wolsey is sent to prison for high treason, where he commits suicide. Norfolk and Boleyn now dominate Henry's council.

Historic counterpart[]

For unexplained reasons, Norfolk does not return in Season Two, though it is implied he is now retired. This contradicts history, as he continued to play an important role at Henry's court during the time periods of Season Two and Season Three before he was eventually disgraced and expelled from court. Much of the arrogance and hostile browbeating of his daughters displayed by Thomas Boleyn in Season Two is in fact based on the historical behavior of Norfolk.

Despite opposing Wolsey (due to his low birth), as a conservative Catholic Norfolk disliked the Reformation that his Boleyn relatives supported, and although he helped suppress the Pilgrimage of Grace he also played a valuable role in destroying Thomas Cromwell and even sat as a judge at the trial of his niece, Queen Anne. Although his influence declined somewhat after Anne's death, he rose to prominence later when another one of his nieces- Katherine Howard- was married to the King. Contrary to the series, in which Edward Seymour and Sir Francis Bryan seem most responsible for bringing Katherine to Henry's attention, it was Norfolk who presented her to him. However, after Katherine's death, the King's new marriage to the Reformist Catherine Parr (who in turn re-increased the influence of the Seymours, also Reformers) isolated Norfolk.

Late in Henry VIII's reign, the King became increasingly paranoid due to the aggressive behavior of the Duke's son and heir, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. Eventually, he arrested both the Duke and the Earl and placed them in the Tower of London on trumped-up charges of treason, the same way he had dealt with Norfolk's niece, Anne Boleyn. Surrey was beheaded (rather than hanging, drawing and quartering as in the series) for treason in January 1547. Norfolk was not executed as Henry announced his plans to sign the death warrant on a certain day. However, Henry had died of syphilis the day prior to the planned execution. Because the death warrant remained unsigned, no beheading could be done.

During the reign of Henry's Protestant son Edward, Norfolk remained imprisoned in the Tower of London. However, he was released, pardoned and restored to the Privy Council when Mary I, a fellow staunch Catholic, took the throne in 1553. Norfolk's return to power was brief, as he died the next year; his dukedom was inherited by his grandson through Surrey. However, only a few years later Mary's Catholic restoration was undone by her Reformist sister and successor Elizabeth I, leaving the Howard family isolated again. The new Duke attempted to plan a marriage-alliance with the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, which would then usurp the throne from Elizabeth with French or Spanish support and restore the Howards to the Royal line. Ultimately, the plot was exposed by Elizabeth's spymaster Francis Walsingham, and Elizabeth took Mary hostage and had the Duke beheaded for treason.

Ultimately, Norfolk's ambition destroyed his dynasty, which became overshadowed by his Boleyn relatives. The relatives he used to build his family's power each met tragic ends; his son Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, his nephew George Boleyn and his nieces Queen Anne Boleyn and Queen Katherine Howard were all executed. Thomas Howard's grandson by Surrey, who became the fourth Duke of Norfolk, plotted against Queen Elizabeth Tudor during her reign and was also executed.


  • Lord Thomas Boleyn: "Norfolk has sent me, Your Grace"
  • Charles Brandon: "But, Norfolk hates me- I am a 'new man', after all, and he is far too grand for me."
  • Boleyn: "I suspect he despises us all for the same reasons. But, he has interests to protect, the same as the rest of us, so he must deal with us as he finds us. And, after all, there is someone he hates far more than Your Grace..."
  • Brandon: "The Cardinal."
  • Boleyn: "Of course."

  • Brandon: "A small gift to ease the king's conscience is hardly a sign that the Bishop of York be restored to his former glory. Look at it this way: when Satan fell from Heaven, was he ever invited back?" (walks away)
  • Norfolk: (under his breath) "You were."