'Enough Survives' - The Earl of Surrey and European Court Culture

William Sessions on the connections of the charismatic courtier-poet who in a short and ill-fated life bridged the aristocratic Renaissance cultures of the Continent and the lifestyle of Henry VIII's court.

In the autumn of 1543 Charles V praised Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, in language seldom, if ever, bestowed by Europe's highest political authority on any English nobleman, even one of the rank of Howard. Indeed, the particular terms of this praise point to the level of elegance the twenty-six year old heir to the seventy-year old Duke of Norfolk had already achieved in the eyes of Europe, at least in those of the Holy Roman Emperor. Surrey had just left the retinue of the emperor in northern France and returned to England, and so Charles V wrote (in his favourite language) to 'nostre treschier et tresame bone Frere et Cousin' (our very dear and most beloved brother and cousin) Henry VIII, to explain how the young Howard would be a splendid translator and I communicator of the events in the autumn campaign against the French, particularly regarding the decisions made by the recent council of the coalition Imperial Spanish, German, and English armies.

A more complete letter would follow the return of 'nostre cousin, le Conte de Sorey pardela' (our cousin, the Earl of Surrey, from over there), but the young Howard himself will give 'bon tesmoingnage' of these events because he is the true son who would not want to fail to follow his father and his ancestors. This latter reference was a gracious response to Henry VIII's initial letter on October 1st, 1543, from Woodstock, to the emperor commending 'the Earl of Surrey, Knight of his Order, who desires to see the emperor's camp; and whose request in this Henry has readily granted, hoping that by experience of war he may succeed to the honourable qualities of his relatives'.

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