The Marrying Kind

Charles Mosley welcomes a new history of the Dukes of Norfolk

Charles Moseley | Published in

The Dukes of Norfolk by John Martin Robinson

264 pp. (Oxford University Press, 1983)

The hexameter 'Bella gerant alii, tu, felix Austria, nube' ('Let others make war, you, fortunate Austria, marry') incited the Habsburgs to acquisitiveness. With gens Ovardia ('the Howard family') replacing felix Austria it would make an apt motto for the holders of England's premier non-royal dukedom of Norfolk. For although the early Howards were competent soldiers and even abler sailors, a principal cause of their material and genealogical enrichment was matrimony: first Joan, illegitimately granddaughter of King John's son Richard, Earl of Cornwall; next the heiress of the previous Mowbray Dukes of Norfolk; then the Fitz-Alan heiress of the ancient Earls of Arundel; lastly the Talbot heiress of the Earl of Shrewsbury. By these means they raised themselves from what Mr Robinson, the present Duke's librarian and private herald, hints may have been mercantile stock in the late thirteenth century. Few realise that the Howards might plausibly have been considered parvenus as late as the fifteenth century. Only the slaughter of the great medieval houses in the Wars of the Roses and the Tudor period raised them to solitary eminence; that and, for modern readers, the romantic appeal of recusancy.

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