The Courtier Poets: Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey

A drawing of the Earl of Surrey
A drawing of the Earl of Surrey | Source

"...the most foolish proud boy that is in England."

Henry Howard was born with royal blood in 1517 as the son of Thomas Howard, the third Duke of Norfolk. The title of the Earl of Surrey was extended to Henry at birth.

In 1532 Henry married Lady Francis Vere but due to his age was unable to obtain a household until 1535.

At the age of twenty, 1536, Henry witnessed the Anne Boleyn Trials. During this same year he became a war hero when he aided in the supression of the Pilgramage of Grace Rebellion. This rebellion saw northern england nobleman rebel against the rule of King Henry VIII.

Henry's role in the supression of the Rebellion gained his graces at the court of King Henry VIII where he was to perform his role as courtesian.

In 1539 he commanded invasion forces in Norfolk and in 1543 led the siege of Landrecy. The height of his military fame came though in 1545 when he was wounded at the siege of Montreuil.

In 1547 he was charged with treason and was beheaded at the age of thirty.

Painting of the Earl of Surrey
Painting of the Earl of Surrey | Source


Prior to Henry sonnets written by the Courtier poets had been primarily influenced by Petrarch. Almost all the sonnets written for the court had two quatrains and a sestet which would look like this: abba abba efg efg, or something similar.

Henry began writing his sonnets as abab cdcd efef gg which resembled Shakespeare's sonnets. So the Earl of Surrey started a new trend in sonnet writing in England. No longer were poets influenced deeply by forms from the Italian Renaissance.

Now we see the sonnets of England arise from the depths of the English court.

"The fancy, which that I have served long"

The fancy, which I have served long,

That hath always been enemy to mine ease,

Seemed of late to rue upon my wrong

And bad me fly the cause of my misease.

And I forthwith did prease out of the throng,

That thought by flight my painful heart to please

Some other way, till I saw faith more strong.

And to myself I said: "Alas, those days

In vain were spent, to run the race so long."

And with that thought I met my guide, that plain

Out of the way wherein I wandered wrong

Brought me amids the hills in base Bullayn,

Where I am now, as restless to remain,

Against my will, full pleased with my pain.

Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey

Poulter's Measure

Henry created a measure called Poulter's measure which he used to write his Psalms while waiting for his execution. Rewriting the Psalms of the bible seemed to be in fashion when a courtier poet was waiting for his execution. Not all the Courtier poets wrote their Psalms in Poulter's measure since Poulter's measure made a poem sound rigid and lacking in passion.

Poulter's measure is a rhyming couplet where the first line is twelve syllables and the second line is fourteen syllables. This measure fit the style of Henry's writing in that he wrote very structured poetry that seemed to lack passion.

An example of Poulter's measure follows from Henry's Psalms:

"I found no wit could pierce so far, Thy holy dooms to know,

And that no mysteries nor doubt could be distrust

Till I come to the holy place, the mansion of the just,

Where I shall see what end Thy justice shall prepare

For such as build on worldly wealth, and dye their colors fair."

The tomb of the Earl of surrey
The tomb of the Earl of surrey | Source

Blank Verse

Henry's fame though comes from his creation of blank verse. Blank verse is unrhymed iambic pentameter and has been used by Shakespeare and throughout English poetry.

He fell upon blank verse when he decided to translate Virgil's Aeneid. The complete translation is written in blank verse.

What amazes me about the life of Henry Howard the Earl of Surrey is that he was able to play his part in Courtier politics, marry and have a household, become a war hero after fighting in multiple battles, and change the art of poetry all before the age of thirty.

One wonders if he would have lived a longer life what other contributions this amazing man would have left for us.

More by this Author


whonunuwho profile image

whonunuwho 20 months ago from United States

Interesting read my friend. Nice work and a great example for our own writing. whonu

billybuc profile image

billybuc 20 months ago from Olympia, WA

I can always appreciate a little Lit history. Thanks, Jamie!

Rakim Cheeks profile image

Rakim Cheeks 20 months ago

Great read! And this is great for the culture of Writing. I write poetry all the time, and I learned something new today. Thanks. Your hub rocks

jhamann profile image

jhamann 20 months ago from Reno NV Author

Thank you whonunuwho, Bill, and Rakim I hope you all have a wonderful day. Jamie

manatita44 profile image

manatita44 20 months ago from london

You tell these stories so well, My Brother Jamie. Great poetry! God bless your sincere and loving heart. Much peace.

The Examiner-1 profile image

The Examiner-1 20 months ago

Was that him on top of the coffin or was it a 'form'? That was interesting Jamie.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 20 months ago from High desert of Nevada.

Very interesting read on Henry Howard. I have never read anything before on the Earl of Surrey and really enjoyed this. His contribution to the fine art of poetry is a wonderful legacy.

Well done, Jamie. Thank you for this educational piece of history.

Up,U,A,B,I and H+

Lee Cloak 20 months ago

Bringing history and poetry together, great hub, fantastic to read, many thanks, voted up, Lee

suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 20 months ago from Taos, NM

Fascinating write, Jamie. I enjoyed reading this as this is the first I have heard of the Earl. I didn't realize his contributions to sonnets and free verse. You must become a poetry professor one day. Your knowledge and grasp of poetry is excellent and your own poetry is excellent also.

tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 20 months ago from New York

Great history combined with great poetry. This was fun to read and brought back memories of Old English writings.

Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.

jhamann profile image

jhamann 20 months ago from Reno NV Author

Thank you all for stopping by and reading my new hub. I am glad you enjoyed this. Jamie

AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 20 months ago from California

So interesting Jamie--I knew that he was beheaded at a young age, but somehow missed his skill as a poet--Thank you!

jhamann profile image

jhamann 20 months ago from Reno NV Author

Your welcome. So far I am enjoying this month I hope you are having fun. How are rehearsals going? Jamie

Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

Gypsy Rose Lee 20 months ago from Riga, Latvia

Voted up and interesting. This is a very fascinating hub. Enjoyed it very much and passing it on.

jhamann profile image

jhamann 20 months ago from Reno NV Author

Thank you Gypsy. Jamie

ocfireflies profile image

ocfireflies 19 months ago from North Carolina

Upped and Shared My Friend. Alas, his legacy lives on...


jhamann profile image

jhamann 19 months ago from Reno NV Author

Thank you Kim. Jamie

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