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Historical Tombs

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The Norfolk Tombs

We know, from a survey before his fall in 1547, that the 3rd Duke of Norfolk had pulled down the old chancel with its two aisles and had partly built another one. This was the start of the existing magnificent structure, but because of the fall of the House of Howard it was Edward VI himself who ordered the completion in 1553. The building is unusual because little church construction was being carried out at this time of great uncertainty. It was only in cases of specific requirement - here to provide a mausoleum for Howard tombs - that intending builders would risk the changing requirements of Catholic or Protestant doctrine. The windows are as they were originally inserted except for the large east window itself which was set up in 1743 by the rector, James Brooke.

We will imagine that we are walking clockwise around the chancel beginning in the north end.


The first is the coloured alabaster tomb against the north wall of the chancel. This commemorates Henry Earl of Surrey and his wife Frances de Vere, daughter of the l5th Earl of Oxford. Surrey was born in 1517 at the house of his father, the 3rd Duke of Norfolk, at Kenninghall. His classical education at the hands of scholars and his study of Virgil later gave him a poetical talent two hundred years ahead of his time. He is to this day referred to as `The Poet Earl'. In his youth he found favour with King Henry VIII and formed a deep friendship with the Duke of Richmond. In later years Surrey inherited his father's military genius in a tactical sense and distinguished himself at Boulogne and Landrecy. His pride of ancestry and his foolhardiness in the dangerous days at the close of Henry VIII's reign left him open to the intrigues of those who plotted for the court supremacy which would come after the King's death. Surrey was tried for treason on fabricated charges at Guildhall on l3th January 1547 and executed on the 2lst.

Frances de Vere and Henry Howard were betrothed when they were both 15. She does not appear to a large extent in the history of the time, perhaps being overshadowed by the circumstances revolving round the great family into which she had married. After Surrey was executed she was `relieved' of the upbringing of her children, their care being entrusted to the Duchess of Richmond. During the reign of Edward VI Frances married Thomas Steyning of Woodbridge and they lived at Earl Soham Lodge, in the neighbouring village to Framlingham. She gave birth to a daughter, Mary, and died at Earl Soham in 1577 but was buried at Framlingham.

Following his execution in 1547, the Earl of Surrey's remains were buried at All Hallows church in Tower Street , London . Before his own death in 1613 Henry Earl of Northampton , Surrey 's youngest son, made provision for his father's body to be removed to Framlingham and the present memorial erected in 1614. By 1976 the structure was in a very bad state of repair and funds were made available to restore the monument to something like its original form.

There is nothing religious about the tomb, in contrast to the finer monuments to other members of Surrey 's family within the church. The Latin inscription refers to Surrey being the son of `The Second Duke'. This, although confusing, is strictly correct for, after the Battle of Bosworth, the dukedom was rendered extinct and the Second Duke became the First of the new creation, and so on. However, genealogically, the line is taken as unbroken from John Howard, lst Duke of Norfolk. The effigies at the foot of the tomb represent, at Surrey 's feet, Thomas who became 4th Duke of Norfolk and at his side Northampton . At their parents' head are the daughters, Jane, wearing a coronet, who became Countess of Westmoreland; in the centre Katherine, who married Henry Lord Berkeley; and Margaret, who married Henry Lord Scrope of Bolton.

After the death of the 3rd Duke in 1554, it was his grandson, elder son of the beheaded Poet Earl, who succeeded as 4th Duke of Norfolk. He became involved in a number of plots during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, many of which were concerned with Mary Queen of Scots. Norfolk was a widower three times and it was his attempts to marry again, this time to the Queen of Scots herself, which cost him his head. He was executed on Tower Hill on 2nd June 1572 and was buried at St Peter-ad-Vincula where his body still lies.

Next is the small altar tomb which commemorates Elizabeth, the infant daughter of the 4th Duke by his marriage to Margaret Audley. The ogee arch is upon pilasters and is crocketed with a finial. In the front are two plain shields between Ionic pilasters and on each side is a plain lozenge.


The tomb in the north-east corner of the chancel commemorates two of the wives of Thomas, 4th Duke of Norfolk. He first married Mary FitzAlan, heiress after her father's death to the Arundel estates. She died after a year of marriage having given birth to Philip, Earl of Arundel, who was canonised in 1970 for refusing to renounce his Roman Catholicism under Elizabeth I. It is from this marriage that the present Duke of Norfolk takes his name of `FitzAlan-Howard' and why his seat is at Arundel. Mary FitzAlan was never buried at Framlingham but first at the church of St Clements-without-Temple Bar and then, under the direction of her grandson's Will, at Arundel.

Norfolk 's second marriage was to another heiress, Margaret daughter of Thomas Lord Audley of Walden. She also died young and was buried at St John the Baptist's church at Norwich . Whether, and, if so, when, her remains were re-interred at Framlingham is uncertain. In 1842 this vault was opened and found to be empty but for a skull and some ashes. Tradition has it that the inhabitants of the town hid some of their valuables in the tomb during the Rebellion of 1745 and swept it clean. It thus remains a mystery as to what contents there were. It would seem more probable that Margaret's body would have been reburied at Arundel in preference to Framlingham by this time. Margaret's children by her marriage to Norfolk were two boys and two girls.

The tomb has a fine display of heraldic quarterings and the effigies are shown in their robes of state. They rest their heads and feet on emblems connected with their Houses. It would seem that at some former period there were columns which supported a canopy over the tomb, which must have rendered it highly magnificent. It has been suggested that the large space between the effigies was reserved for Norfolk 's third wife or himself or even perhaps Mary Queen of Scots. Conjecture is tantalising!

Norfolk's third wife plays no part in the story of St Michael's. She was a widow when she married Thomas Howard, her late husband being Thomas, 4th Lord Dacre of Gillesland. However, Norfolk made remarkable marriage plans whereby Elizabeth 's three daughters became the wives of the sons from Howard's first two marriages. Thus Anne Dacre married Philip Earl of Arundel; Mary Dacre married Thomas who was created Earl of Suffolk (his descendants bear the title today) and Elizabeth Dacre married William Howard whose descendant was the ancestor of the present Earl of Carlisle.

Immediately to the north of the high altar is the tomb of Henry FitzRoy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset , KG, and his wife. This tomb was indeed at Thetford, for Richmond died in 1536. He was the illegitimate son of Henry VIII, his mother being Elizabeth Blount, one of the ladies-in-waiting to Katherine of Aragon . The King promoted FitzRoy to high honours and titles for he was the only son who survived more than a few days of life, apart, of course, from the future Edward VI. In his desire to promote the interests of his family, the 3rd Duke of Norfolk had arranged with the King that his daughter Mary should become Richmond 's wife. The couple were betrothed but due to their tender years did not live together and the consummation of the marriage was prevented by the early death from consumption of Richmond when he was only 17. The responsibility for FitzRoy's burial was placed upon Norfolk by the King who seems to have lost interest in his son, once dead. After the dissolution of Thetford, the tomb and its body were brought to Framlingham and Mary Richmond, Norfolk 's daughter, was buried therein after her death in December 1557.

The scenes in the frieze are all from the Old Testament. On the north side are: the birth of Eve; God giving the Garden in charge of Adam and Eve; the Temptation; and the Expulsion. On the west: the nursing of Cain and Abel, and Adam digging; Cain and Abel sacrificing, and Cain killing Abel. On the south side are: Noah's Ark ; the drunkenness of Noah; Abraham and the Angels; and Lot escaping from Sodom and Gomorrah . On the east are Abraham and Isaac; and Moses and the Tables, and the Israelites sacrificing to the Golden Calf.

Close by the Richmond tomb is the outline of a small door which was the private entrance of noblemen from the castle.

The most outstanding monument amongst all those at Framlingham is the tomb of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk. This stands immediately to the south of the high altar. Archeologically it bears comparison with anything in northern Europe if not perhaps in Italy . Around the four sides are the figures of the twelve Apostles together with Aaron and St Paul . On the south side there are St Matthew, St James the Great, St James the Less and St Andrew; on the west St Peter, Aaron and St Paul; on the north St Matthias, St Jude, St Simon and St Philip; and on the east St John, St Simeon(?) and St Thomas. These represent the last major display of religious imagery in England before the full weight of Reformation theology made such things impossible.

The design of the tomb is part-French and part-English and it is significant that it was commissioned, not by the Crown, but on behalf of the greatest nobleman in England . It is thought that parts, at least, of this tomb may have been incorporated in another which was at Thetford for Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk victor of Flodden . In turn, this man's father had been John Howard who had died fighting for Richard III at Bosworth and for whom the Norfolk dukedom had been created in the Howard name. It is known that there are two other male bodies interred in the 3rd Duke's tomb and it is an unproven supposition that these are the bodies of his father and grandfather, removed to Framlingham after the dissolution of Thetford Priory.


Thomas Howard succeeded to the title in 1524 upon the death of his father the 2nd Duke. One of the last of the `old nobility', Howard found an early enemy in Cardinal Wolsey, whose destruction he helped to effect. He was active in battle and diplomacy throughout the whole of the reign of Henry VIII. He was present at Flodden ; at the suppression of the `Prentice Riots' in 1517; in the varying skirmishes against the Scots; in Spain and France ; and in Ireland where he was Viceroy for about two years.

Norfolk rebuilt the huge family mansion at Kenninghall, near Norwich, because Framlingham, like other castles had become outdated as a domestic residence. Norfolk's private life was disturbed by contentions with his second wife, Elizabeth Stafford, daughter of the 3rd and last Duke of Buckingham. The female effigy on the tomb is almost certainly that of his first wife Anne, daughter of Edward IV, who died childless in 1512.

Howard seems to have been as cruel and uncompromising in his dealings with his relatives as he was with his enemies in and out of Court, his treatment of the Catholics during the Pilgrimage of Grace being the subject of an apology from the King himself. Though he promoted two of his nieces, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, to be Queens of England for purposes of family advancement, he felt able to abandon them -and indeed pass sentence of death on Anne - in their time of need.

At the end of Henry's reign, when the succession was of doubtful continuance in the light of two daughters declared bastards and an only son who was sickly, inter-Court rivalry reached a peak over the protectorate of Edward (VI). On the one hand were the Seymour brothers, Edward's uncles, and on the other, Norfolk and his son the Earl of Surrey. Surrey acted rashly in the matter of armorial bearings and charges of treason were successfully, if unreasonably, pressed. Surrey lost his head and his father would similarly have died had not the King himself died during the night prior to the day fixed for Norfolk's execution. Howard spent the next six years in the Tower until Mary was proclaimed Queen at Framlingham itself. She released him — aged 80 — and he died at Kenninghall within the year. His was a momentous life. He has been called a cruel man … but one who lived in cruel times. For over thirty years one of the most powerful and active men in Tudor England, perhaps his greatest triumph was that he survived in his important offices so close to a despotic King, dying in his bed and not upon the block.


The tomb of Sir Robert Hitcham, the man who bought the Manors of Framlingham and Saxtead from Theophilus, 2nd Earl of Suffolk, for £14000, is to be found in the south aisle of the chancel. It consists of a black marble slab supported at each corner by the figure of an angel each having one knee upon the ground. Under the centre of the slab is a Roman urn and at the west end is the inscription in gold letters upon black marble which may be clearly read.

Hitcham was born at Levington near Ipswich and became a student of law at Pembroke College, Cambridge. He entered himself at Gray's Inn and soon after, in 1596, obtained a seat in the House of Commons as MP for West Looe in Cornwall. In 1603 Hitcham was appointed Attorney-General to Anne of Denmark, Queen Consort to James I, who knighted him upon his further appointment as King's Senior Sergeant at Law. He retained his high legal status under Charles I but was not noticeably so prominent in that King's unhappy reign. He bought a house in Ipswich and spent the rest of his bachelor days in that town. Hitcham held his first court in his newly acquired property of Framlingham in 1635, and the following year he made his Will and died. Considering Hitcham's great legal ability during his lifetime, his Will was an extraordinary document which was virtually impossible to execute. He instructed that a Poorhouse be erected in Framlingham, Debenham and Coggeshall. He left money for the building of a schoolhouse in Framlingham for the poor children of the above parishes and for the erection of twelve almshouses for the needy old people of the parishes. He left the Manors of Framlingham and Saxtead to his old college, Pembroke. However Hitcham left no provision or suggestion as to how the poor people of Coggeshall, being 45 miles distant from Framlingham, or Debenham, being 8 miles away, were to send their poor children to be educated or their paupers to work. No provision was made for their maintenance or habitation while at Framlingham.

In an effort to alleviate the difficulties created by Hitcham's Will, a petition was sent to Oliver Cromwell's Parliament. Even today weighty legal matters take much time in their settlement, but it was not until 1653 that an Ordinance was made for the better execution of Sir Robert's Will. The outcome was that a Poorhouse was erected at Framlingham and this building is to be seen today within the walls of Framlingham Castle. Schools were established at Framlingham, Debenham and Coggeshall. There are still good primary schools at the two former places and at Coggeshall an educational trust helps with the finances of young people entering university etc. All the ruins within the castle were dispersed leaving only the curtain wall visible today. The fine almshouses at Framlingham were erected but the financial benefits which Hitcham's Will allowed the inhabitants only exist today in the form of free heating! Nevertheless Sir Robert Hitcham remains a true benefactor of Framlingham and his great legacy to Pembroke formed the basis of a warm relationship which still prevails between the collegiate Lords of the Manor and St Michael's.

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