Thomas Howard became the third duke of Norfolk during the reign of Henry VIII and was intimately involved in many of the most controversial episodes of that era. By some accounts Norfolk became known as the greatest soldier and aristocrat alive under Henry VIII's rule, in Britain a period of transition from medieval to modern and spanning the Renaissance and Reformation.
The Ebbs and Flows of Fortune is the first comprehensive biography of Norfolk. In this study David M. Head confronts the central paradox of Norfolk's career—one that lies in his unpleasant personality, marked by vain and tyrannical behavior. Ultimately these flaws prohibited him from achieving the social posture he believed was owed to him, mainly because of his family's position and wealth. Essentially a conservative, both socially and religiously, Norfolk was uncomfortable with reformation ideology and the "low-brow" men of the court. The duke sought a primary position within the court on the model of that earned by Cromwell and Wolsey but was unwilling to perform the sustained hard work required to achieve that stature. By the 1540s Norfolk was probably the richest man in England, but nonetheless, at the hands of Cromwell and Wolsey, he was repeatedly exiled from the court for emotional excesses. He found himself assigned to posts at considerable distances from the crown—military assignments in France and diplomatic appointments to Ireland and Scotland. While in France he illustrated the cruelty of his character by hanging dozens of men and lamenting his lack of authority to execute more.
To understand Thomas Howard is to grasp the intimate scale of Tudor England and its measurement of power as one's proximity to the crown. He serves as a symbol for this age of transition—a nobleman, a figure from the feudal past, adjusting to a changing age that he did not always understand and to which he could never completely accommodate himself.
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