Born: ABT 1498
Died: BEF 22 Feb / 25 Nov 1558
Buried: Lambeth Parish Church, Surrey, England
Father: Thomas HOWARD (2º D. Norfolk)
Mother: Agnes TILNEY (D. Norfolk)
Married: John De VERE (14° E. Oxford) 15 Apr 1512
Daughter of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk, and his second wife, Agnes Tilney. We do not know anything about her life until her marriage to John de Vere, nephew and heir of John de Vere, thirteenth Earl of Oxford, was finalized in 1511, but it is highly probable that Anne grew up mainly in Framlingham Castle, the main estate of her family in Norfolk. Oxford died in 1513, and his will shows that the marriage had taken place in Sep 1512. The Howards then obtained guardianship from Anne's husband, the new fourteenth Earl of Oxford, then still a minor, and the couple grew up in the Howard house.
Anne was in the party accompanying Princess Mary on her journey to marry the King of France in 1514. From 7 Jun to 24 Jun 1520, Anne was with the nobles attending the Field of the Cloth of Gold. Oxford attained his majority in Aug 1520 and took livery of his lands. Their marriage was probably officially solemnised and consummated at this point. The couple then moved to Hedingham Castle in Essex, the main seat of the earldom of Oxford.
Apparently, the new freedom was not easy for the young Oxford, who began to behave irresponsibly and arrogant, he dressed lavishly, drank and ate too much, did not manage his money or property, spent all his time hunting, had bad company. He treated Anne very badly, while she struggled to manage her husband and her household. Anne had taken on more household management than wives generally did, incurring Oxford’s displeasure. The main source for this time is a series of letters between Anne, her husband Oxford, and Cardinal Wolsey, preserved in the Henrician state papers. The letters began on 5 Apr 1523.
Elizabeth Stafford extended continual hospitality to her to her half-sister-in-law Anne, Countess of Oxford, who stayed with Elizabeth to escape marital problems. The Howards and Wolsey became involved and an unusual ordinance was enrolled in the court of Chancery in Feb 1524, regulating Oxford’s behaviour and sending the couple back to live with Anne’s father.The ordinance indicated that it did not grant subsidies nor annuities without the advice of Cardinal Wolsey, to avoid ‘the great Decaie of his Lands’ could be avoided; he was to ‘use himself honourably, prudently, and sadly, forbearinge all riotous and wild companies, excessive and superfluous apparel’; ‘have a vigilant regard that he use not much to drink hot wines, ne to drink or sitt up late’; ‘moderate his hunteing or other Disports’; ‘give no Ear to simple or evil tongued Persons’; and ‘lovinglie, familiarlie, and kindlie intreate and demeane himself towards the said Countesse his wife’.
Anne was very disturbed by the company that he kept, notably his cousin and heir, Sir John De Vere. Vere was fifteen years older than Oxford and appears to have had considerable influence over him. Anne wrote that ‘my lord wyll do nothing without the counsel off Sir John Vere’. Oxford’s friends, led by Vere, were actively stirring trouble between him and Anne so that they might not produce an heir. Vere was eager to inherit the county, and the possibility of Oxford and Anne having an heir was an obstacle between him and the old earldom of Oxford.
In 1525, the ill health of Anne's husband caused the Howards to convince Oxford to sign a contract that gave Anne more of their joint estate, for her to enjoy after his death. Anne’s brother Thomas, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, was the driving force behind this act, he was the principal male name on the indenture. However, Agnes Tilney was also a signatory and her name is listed first, before Norfolk’s.
The couple were childless and Oxford died two years later in Jul 1526. When Sir John Vere, 15th Earl of Oxford, his cousin and heir, inherited his title, he stopped paying Anne’s jointure and sent a mob to rampage through her lands. They ended up killing many of her deer, a valuable commodity at the time as the deer provided food.
The Countess Anne had determined to relinquish all the goods remaining in her hands to John De Vere, no sooner, however, did he enter upon the estates, than he began to revenge himself upon her for her former thwarting of his schemes, by the outrageous aggressions detailed in the present letter:
“Please it your grace to be advertised, that upon Saturday last past I received your honourable letters, at which time I advertised your grace to have knowledge of my lord of Oxford's coming to this town, whereof these shall be [to advertise] your grace farther, that about eleven of the clock of the same day he entered into this town, accompanied with fifty horsemen, and many of them with bows; and the same day sir John Rainsforth, accompanied with thirty horsemen, came likewise unto this town; and my lord with his company brake the pale of my park, and entered into the same, with their bows ready bent, like as they would have killed all them that had resisted. And at that time they killed seventeen of my deer, and so departed the park, and tarried then in the town till Wednesday then next following. And on the Tuesday he likewise brake the pale and the gate of my park, and entered into the same, accompanied by estimation with five hundred persons, whereof a hundred of the same were bowmen, and every of them their bows bent, and an arrow in their bow, and in array, like as they should have gone unto the wars, and at that time they killed a hundred deer; and before this hunting he sent unto all the towns hereunto adjoining, giving them knowledge to hunt, as many as would come: by reason whereof it caused the people to assemble, The justice of assize hearing of this same, and being advertised what mischief might rise by reason of the same, repaired unto this town, to the intent to see a stay, that there should [be] no insurrection among the commons; at which time they bound both my lord and me to keep the king's peace: but all that notwithstanding, this day he hath been at Campys, accompanied with three hundred persons, and there hath broken up my house, and beaten my servants, and taken all my goods; and what he in tends to do further as yet I know not, but except the king's grace be good and gracious lord unto me, I know not what remedy. As knoweth God, who keep your grace in good health.
From Lavenham the 11th day of August.
Anne was expelled from her lands and ended her days in isolation at Tendring Hall. The violent proceedings detailed in the former letter succeeded in expelling the widowed Countess and her servants from her park of Lavenham and castle of Camps, but she was not of a mood quietly to sustain her injuries, and she wrote her complaints to the King's. In 1526 there were one ‘current’ Countess of Oxford, Elizabeth Trussell , and two dowagers (Elizabeth Scrope and Anne Howard). Anne was therefore styled "the young”, as a distinction. One of the privy councillors wrote a severe remonstrance to the earl upon his conduct, and Wolsey sent a writ to the justices of Cambridgeshire to interfere, which they did; but their efforts proving fruitless, the Countess addressed the present letter to her brother, the Duke of Norfolk, which was accompanied by a similar one to the Duke of Suffolk, and produced a united and earnest appeal from them and other nobles to Wolsey, to interfere in his office of chancellor and procure her redress.
“Please it your grace to have knowledge that the writ which I had of my lord cardinal into Cam bridgeshire doth nothing prevail me ; for the jus tices of peace , to whom the same was directed , with diverse other justices of peace of the same shire , were at the castle of Camps , there to have avoided ( turned out ) all such persons as kept the same by force : but that notwithstanding , they answered them not to depart for no man , until such time as they had commandment from my lord their master . And also the same justices perceived them self not able to remove them by their own power, nor yet with the raising of the country, without great disturbance of the king's peace, as they will justify at all times when they shall be called. They have not as yet proceeded no further in the execu tion of the said writ; wherefore, without your grace help now, I know not how to obtain my possession again, whereupon my special trust is; as knoweth God, who keep your grace in good health.
From Wittyforth, the 22nd day of August.
Your loving sister,
To my lord of Norfolk's good grace.”
Anne wrote a complaint dated from ‘Wyttysforth’: this was almost certainly Whittlesford in Cambridgeshire, a house owned by a branch of the Tilney family. The fact that she had gone to her mother’s kin for safety reveals the continued importance of these ties. Catherine, Countess of Bridgwater, also valued her Tilney kin, leaving jewellery in her will to ‘Emorye tylney my kinesmane’, who also witnessed her testament.
The dispute was not resolved until 1532. This gave her a sizable jointure with manors in Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Buckinghamshire, Essex, Kent, and Leicestershire.
Following her husband’s death, she remained dowager Countess of Oxford until her death. Anne never remarried, and lived the rest of her life peaceably on her Cambridgeshire manor of Castle Camps. She appears to have been close to her half-brother, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, and also enjoyed a strong patronage relationship with both Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell.
In 1528, with his wife Ursula Vere, a sister and coheir of John, 14th Earl of Oxford, and other relatives, Edmund Knightley petitioned Wolsey about possessions claimed by the new Earl, Ursula's second cousin. The chancellor was dismissed before the case could be settled and in Oct 1529 Knightley and Sir Anthony Wingfield, husband of Ursula's elder sister, Elizabeth, signed an agreement with Anne Howard, dowager Countess of Oxford, over claims which had been submitted to arbitration.
After the fall of Wolsey, a series of letters from Anne seem to show, in addition to the vicissitudes of her personal life, a kind of friendly competition over whose patron was the most effective, with Anne holding out for Cromwell, while her mother Agnes relied on Thomas Audley, the Lord Chancellor.
The first, dated, 11 May 1530, says:
"Master Cromwell, In my hearty wise I recommend me unto you, thanking you for your great cheer, and also for your kindness to me shewed, advertising you that I am informed by my servant Foster, the bringer hereof, that he and others that may spend by the year 40L. be commanded to give attendance before the king's honourable council, to the intent that all such as may spend above the said sum of 40L. by the year should be made knights. Among which number, as I am credibly informed, my said servant, for the clear extent of his land, is not worthy to be taken. For, as he informeth me, and as he sayeth he will take his oath upon a book , that his land is not clear worth by the year to his purse but 38L .; and as for his substance beside, as all the country knoweth, is but heavy; and as for husbandry or other provi sion he occupieth none, but liveth only upon his land; nor he hath no fashion to provide otherwise, for he hath always been a serving - man, and hath continued in my lord my husband's service and mine this twenty year, and hath not regarded the improving of his land nor substance. Wherefore, the premises considered, I trust you will be so good unto him at my desire as to help to discharge him, and in so doing you shall bind me to my power to deserve your great kindness; as knoweth God, who send unto you good and prosperous health.
From Castle Campes, the 11th day of May.
Yours to my power,
To the right worshipful Mr. Cromwell these be delivered"
She participated in the Coronation of Queen Anne Boleyn. The Coronation feast was presided over by senior members of the nobility in their various roles of Butler, Panter, Larder, Cupbearer and Almoner. Queen Anne entered the Hall, still covered with her canopy of state. She sat down at the centre of the high table, under the Cloth of Estate. Standing on her left was her half-aunt, Anne Howard, Dowager Countess of Oxford, and on her right, Elizabeth Browne, Countess of Worcester. Their role was to hold a cloth in front of Anne’s face, should she wish to “spit or do other”.
In 1534 Anne wrote to Cromwell again. The letters were written following a visit that Anne had made to London, and her phrasing suggests that she had stayed with her mother Agnes, who owned the main Howard London residence of Norfolk House in Lambeth.
In the first, on 22 Jan 1534, she complains that there are various "lewd" people living near her and asks for help to punish them. He names Sir Alexander Irlam, parish priest of Otton Bel cham, William Walley of Haverell and Richard Rogers, whom he accuses of stealing deer from his property:
"Master Cromwell, I heartily recommend me unto you, most heartily thanking you of your great kindness, which I ensure you is more pleasure to me, being as I am, than any worldly good; for without you I know not how I should live in rest, for there be divers lewd persons dwelling near me that, lacking your help to punish them, I perceive I shall never be in quiet. And I am so many times bold to desire your favour and help, that I am now in doubt to trouble you; re membering your promise, the same maketh me the bolder. Wherefore of your goodness, if it may be your pleasure to help me to process of good abearing against sir Alexander Irlam, parson of Otton Bel cham, who in my lord my husband's time convented with other to have poisoned me, as it appears by his confession made to my lord of Essex, who of late sent me word in any wise to beware of the said parson, and that I should not suffer him to come near the place where I do dwell; but, for any thing I can do to the contrary, the same parson, with one William Walley of Haverell, and another, Richard Rogers, which have been both indicted of felony and riot, do resort to the house of Thomas Crokston, who is as ill - disposed as any of the rest, dwelling under my park pale, and there lay and kill and steal my deer, and have continued so this three years; which I could never come to knowledge of till now, since my coming from London. And now, by the reason of one of my tenants, neighbour to the said Crokston, all the matter is disclosed; but by reason the same Crokston dwelleth in a farm of the prior of Hatfield's, and is none of my tenants, and I can have no know ledge as yet that they killed any deer or hunted within my park, but the deer that is confessed to be killed was killed within the ground of the said prior; so that my counsel informeth me that I can have no remedy at the common law, but advise me to make suit to you. Wherefore, without by your goodness I may obtain the said process of good abearing, they will destroy my park, and wait to do me other dis pleasure if they may conveniently; but, the said process obtained against the said lewd persons, I doubt not to live in quiet. Also the hunters that hunted in my park at my last being at London, brake the park pale adjoining to Crokston's ground, and entered into the park through his ground and by his house. And also I insure you that there is never a time that I am at London but my servants that I leave in my house are in danger of robbing or other hurt. And if it will please you to give farther credence to this bearer my servant, he shall inform you of their lewd demeanour, which were too tedious to write; as knoweth God, who send you prosper ous health.
From Camps, the 22d day of January.
Your assured A. OXFORD.
To Master Cromwell, one of the king's most honourable council, this be delivered"
The unwelcome intrusion of poachers and deer - stealers, or, as she calls them, hunters, was complained of by the Countess in the former letter. On this occasion they were more than usually vexatious, since they forced her away from a visit of friendship she was paying to Cromwell. She seems to have been fond of visiting. Rowland Lee, afterwards bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, writing to Cromwell says, “My good lady of Oxford comes to the court upon Sunday, and intends to be merry with you Monday or Tuesday at supper - only to be merry and give you thanks of your goodness; praying you for my sake the rather so accept her from her. She is a woman of high wit, and leans to her friends from her."
The quarrel referred to in the following letter related to the park and bailiwick of Camps, which had been purchased by Robert Tyrrel, servant to Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, from the Countess of Oxford, but of which, from some violent displeasure excited against him on account of disrespectful treatment on his part, she attempted unjustly to deprive him. Cromwell sent her a letter by Tyrrel, giving her a frank and friendly exhortation to repair the in justice she had committed, and not incur the dishonour of a defeat in an open court of law about it, assuring her that the king was determined to see justice done; but this letter is undoubtedly the one which she says Tyrrel refused to give up, except at a personal inter view. Unconscious of its contents, therefore, she thus addressed Cromwell on the subject.
"Master secretary, In my most hearty wise I commend me unto you, heartily thanking you of your great goodness to me at all times shewed, praying you of the con tinuance of the same, which will be much to my comfort. May it please you farther to be advertised that I am informed how you have sent to me a letter by one Robert Tyrrell, servant to the bishop of Winchester, which letter as yet is not come to my hands, but the same Tyrrell hath reported in divers places of the country that he hath obtained of you such a letter, insomuch as of late he was with me here at Camps to have delivered the said letter ; but in con sideration that I have known the said Tyrrell of long time to be my enemy, and of truth I have been in fear to suffer him to come near me, I sent there fore two of my servants to him for the delivery of the said letter; which, because I would not speak with him myself, he therefore retaineth, and would by no means deliver: by reason whereof I am nothing privy of your pleasure in that behalf. But as I suppose the same Tyrrell hath obtained the said letter of you to desire me to be good concerning an old matter in suit betwixt me and him, which matter he hath not alonely had before the king's council but also at the common law, and hath so continued since the time I have been widow, always supposing that I should do him wrong; - which I insure you I never intended to do , but always minding if I had done him wrong to make him a large amends: - but , upon the whole matter indifferently heard, it was always supposed I had no more than my right, nor so much; as the bearer hereof, if it be your pleasure, shall advertise you more at large, which would be too tedious to write. I also farther desire you of your goodness to obtain for me, your letter to be directed to the abbot of Thorney in the county of Cambridge, twenty oaks, to be taken of his gift within his wood of Thorney, in the which request I suppose the abbot will not say you nay; and the same obtained will do me singular pleasure.
As knoweth God, who send you long life and much honour.
Your assured A. OXFORD"
All these letters are written in 1534, the year of the Suppression of the English monasteries. The next shows the interes of the Countess of Oxford in a house she had founded.
"Master secretary, In my hearty wise I recommend me unto you, advertising you that where I am informed that there should be sundry abbies under the sum of 200L. by the year at the king's grace's pleasure, to oppress when his grace shall think best. Wherefore, in con sideration that I have no more houses of my own than one to resort unto, for any chance of sickness, I therefore pray you to have your favour that by your goodness I may have to farm of the king's highness a place of nuns in Norfolk, called Black borough, of which place I am foundress; a and the same house, as I is under the sum of 100L . by the year , and adjoineth so near unto other manors that I have in those parts that the having of the same would be to me singular pleasure. Or else, if it shall not please you, upon such considerations suppose, a This statement is not easily explicable: Blackborough was founded by Roger de Scales in the time of king Stephen, and none of the Oxford family are recorded to have even been benefactors to it. Speed estimates the yearly value at 761. 38. 9 £ d . , but the Valor Ecclesiasticus only estimates it at 421. 68. 7 £ d . as you shall have in your knowledge, that I may have the said house of Blackborough, then it may please you that by your goodness I may have the house of Shouldham, which is in the said county of Norfolk, a and not far from my said lands. Where fore, your mastership being good in the obtaining of either the said houses, I shall not alonely deserve your kindness, but also you shall bind me as you have done always; as knoweth God, who send you much honour and long life.
From Lambeth, this present day.
Your friend to my power,
To the right honourable Master Secretary this be delivered"
The closeness of Anne, dowager Countess of Oxford, to her half brother Thomas, third Duke of Norfolk extended into their religious activities post-Reformation. In 1538, Anne became involved alongside Norfolk in the eradication of evangelical preaching in East Anglia. According to a letter written by Thomas Dorset, vicar of St Margaret’s Lothbury, London, to the Mayor of Plymouth in 1536, ‘one Lambert’ – John Lambert, formerly Nicholson – ‘was detect of heresy’ for declaring that it was a sin to pray to saints. The detection, according to Dorset, had come from the Duke of Norfolk, Henry Bourchier, 2nd Earl of Essex, and Anne, the dowager Countess of Oxford, who had collectively written to three different bishops about Lambert.
She played no obvious role at court the next years, but undertook custody of her niece Agnes ap Rhys when members of the Howard family, including her mother Agnes and her sister Catherine, were imprisoned during the fall of Catherine Howard in 1541. Again in 1542 she encountered difficulties from the current Earl of Oxford and appealed to Henry VIII for protection.
During Edward’s reign, Anne’s choices again appear to conform with religious policy. Perhaps a show of caution, since her protector brother Norfolk hers was in the Tower and Protector Somerset was not a friend of the De Vere family.
Clergy appointments were very often made through personal recommendation, and the number of well-known, senior individuals who made it into Anne’s beneficiaries might well indicate this. Kinship connections, indeed, undoubtedly played a role; William Hatch, appointed by Anne to Knapton in 1548, was later appointed to Gaywode in 1556 by Frances de Vere, Countess of Surrey, a relative of Anne’s. The appointments that Anne made under Mary undoubtedly included her most conservative: Stephen Bayly, an ex-Benedictine of the monastery at St Albans, appointed to Knapton, Norfolk, in 1553 but who resigned the benefice in 1556 in order to return to religious life in the newly restored monastery of St Albans. Conversely, they also included Edward Keble, former chaplain of the alleged evangelical Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, a married priest who was deprived of his previous benefice of Upminster in 1554 and who held onto Badlesmere successfully until his death in 1560.
She fades from the historical record after 1546, but did not die until 1559, shortly after exchanging New Year's gifts with Queen Mary I.
Like her niece Mary, dowager Duchess of Richmond; Anne, dowager Countess of Oxford, left no will. This may mean that they died unexpectedly. She was buried in Lambeth.
'...The xvij day of Feybruary was a herse of wax [erected] gorgyously, with armes, a ix dosen penselles and armes, [for the] old lade contes of Oxford, the syster to the old Thomas [duke of] Norffoke, at Lambeth...'.
[From The Diary of Henry Machyn]
Clark, Nicola. (2013): Dynastic Politics: Five Women of the Howard Family During the Reign of Henry VIII, 1509-1547 - Submitted to the History Department, Royal Holloway College, University of London, in consideration for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy -
Clark, Nicola. (2017): A ‘conservative’ family? The Howard women and responses to religious change during the early Reformation, c .1530-1558: The Howard women and responses to religious change, c .1530-1558. Historical Research. 90. 10.1111/1468-2281.12179.
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