The Duke of Norfolk’s Deeds: The early Howard Inheritance in Norfolk

The colourful history of the Howard dukes of Norfolk during the Tudor period led to their fall from grace and the loss of their Dukedom in 1572 when the 4th Duke was beheaded. Their faithful adherence to the proscribed Roman Catholic religion had played a large part in their story and the Duke’s son, Philip (later Saint Philip), 13th Earl of Arundel, had died in 1595 in the Tower of London, refusing to give up his faith. Large sums of money then had to be paid to the Crown to regain the key estates, but their fortunes were greatly assisted by the marriage in 1606 of Philip’s son Thomas, the ‘Collector’ Earl of Arundel to Alatheia Talbot, heiress of the estates of Gilbert 7th Earl of Shrewsbury. This marriage was critical for the future fortunes of the Howard family as it brought in vast new estates in North Notts., Derbs. and in the Sheffield area of South Yorkshire.  From then on the family’s activities would be centered mainly on the Sussex, London and the Sheffield estates. 

In Norfolk, by 1650, the Howard family’s main seat of Kenninghall Place, which had previously reached palatial proportions, had largely been demolished, with only a workaday house kept on for running the estate. Other key holdings at Thetford and in the hinterland of Great Yarmouth were also retained and, with Bungay Castle and attendant lands in Norfolk and Suffolk, they together formed the ‘Norfolk and Suffolk Estate’, administered as part of the ducal holdings for the ensuing centuries. These key estates in Norfolk, as elsewhere, were judiciously placed in the hands of Protestant trustees as a precaution against further sequestrations.

At the same time, hundreds of smaller properties throughout Norfolk and in other counties, which were now seen to be peripheral outliers, were sold off.  The Dukedom had been regained in 1660 in the life time of Thomas, grandson of the Collector Earl, who thus became the 5th Duke of Norfolk.  But, as he was declared to be a ‘lunatic’, his younger brother Henry (later the 6th Duke) was the one who did the actual work. He had made Norwich his home and had built his own ‘palace’ there. The King acknowledged his involvement and commitment by creating him Lord Howard of Castle Rising in 1669 and in 1671, Earl of Norwich and hereditary Earl Marshal.  This was perhaps the greatest gift of all. Entitlement to the office had previously been dependent on ownership of Kenninghall manor.  

Regretful as the Norfolk sales may have been, the bonus is this. Someone in the 17th century ‘office’ recognized the antiquarian importance of the earliest deeds and held them back at the point of sale. While, as an archivist, I may purse my lips at this offence to ‘provenance’, the plus side was that from that date to the present day the deeds have been carefully looked after in the ducal archives. At first it was in the archive room at Arundel House on the Strand and later in the archive building at the back of Norfolk House in St. James’s Square, Piccadilly. It was here that the 18th century Norfolk Historian Francis Blomefield studied numerous items from the collection for his prodigious ‘opus’, his  History of the County of Norfolk. I was most reliant on this publication while compiling my catalogue. I could research it on line for most of the background history I needed for the deeds. Finally, when Norfolk House was sold in the 1930s to pay death duties, the deeds came to Arundel Castle, where the present archive team have flattened and stored them all in archival materials; and renumbered them with their new references.

Arundel Castle

One of the treasures of this present publication is the collection of the most precious early family deeds which Francis Blomefield was not allowed to see. These are the Wiggenhall deeds relating largely to the purchases in Wiggenhall and other parishes in the North Norfolk Fens, made by Judge William Howard (d. 1307) the founder of the ducal family, Individually, each deed relates to a tiny amount of land, but collectively they open a window on the earliest members of the fenland Howards, the Judge, his brothers and numerous other male Howard relatives.

Aside from the Howard family, the greater part of this catalogue contains the names of hundreds of Norfolk people, hundreds of local place names, hundreds of descriptions of parcels of land in arable, meadow, common pasture and woods.  It describes an old country way of life and land management which has long gone. It gives a sharp insight into particular villages at a particular place in Norfolk at a particular point in time.  It has been a long and sometimes testing project for me, but I hope I hope it will prove to be the quarry into which local Norfolk historians can keep on digging.

The catalogue entitled Duke of Norfolk’s Deeds vol. 3: the early Howard Inheritance in Norfolk is available from: The Archives, Arundel Castle, Arundel, W.Sussex, BN18 9AB. For more information, email Archive@arundelcastle.org, or ring 01903 882173 ext. 235

by Heather Warne, retiring archivist at Arundel Castle in Sussex, the home of the 18th Duke of Norfolk

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