Arundel and the Fitzalan Howards

By James Dickinson 8 June, 2023

Conveniently, James divided the content of his talk into four sections: The development of the Howard family, Arundel Castle and its Chapel, the duties of the Earl Marshal, and King Charles’ Coronation.

The Duke of Norfolk has his seat at Arundel, and, although a Roman Catholic, is the country’s foremost aristocrat, his lineage dating from the time of Edward I. The line is, however, very convoluted, passing through various ‘creations’ and periods of ‘attaint’ during the ensuing centuries. The holding Mowbray family, lacking heirs, died out in 1476, but the next holder, John Howard, 1st Earl of Norfolk, lost his life at Bosworth Field in 1485, so forfeiting the title. The union between FitzAlan and Howard came about in the 16th century, when Thomas Howard, 4th Earl, married Lady Mary FitzAlan of Arundel, although the double-barrelled style [Fitzalan-Howard, hyphenated, yet without a capital letter in the middle] does not feature until 1856, as may be illustrated by a brief listing of the most recent Earls of Norfolk, looking onwards from Queen Victoria’s time:

Bernard Howard                      12th             1815-1842

Henry Howard                          13th             1842-1856

Henry Fitzalan-Howard             14th             1856-1860

Henry Fitzalan-Howard             15th             1860-1917

Bernard Fitzalan-Howard          16th             1917-1975

Miles Fitzalan-Howard             17th             1975-2002

Edward Fitzalan-Howard          18th             2002-date

 (The current heir to the title is Henry, born in 1987)

 As may be appreciated, one factor rendering any study of this family a rather complex task is the proliferation of generations of those named Thomas or Henry. Nevertheless, examining several centuries, we can see clearly that, despite all the turbulence in England’s history, this Howard family has generally held a position at the forefront, a remarkable achievement.  

Arundel Castle, both mediæval and Victorian, was originally gifted by William the Conqueror to one Roger Montgomery with the Rape of Sussex. Of motte and bailey construction, it was situated 4 miles from the sea, but Montgomery built a great wooden fortification at its northern end, and it soon resembled Windsor with its figure-of-eight arrangement. Since 1070 it has possessed a Norman gatehouse, while the twin Barbicans at the front date from 1295. Its ‘shell keep’ is of Caen stone, while there is both a well and Well Tower, from which edifice the duke’s standard is flown when he is in residence. Reconstruction began in the 19th century, when the 11th duke made it a family residence, complete with library and a park, neo-Gothic in design. Apparently a bon viveur, his love of the good things in life did not extend to his personal hygiene, yet, despite this, he managed to sire twelve bastard children.

Founded in 1380, the Chapel was known for its music and choir during the Middle Ages, before being dissolved by Henry VIII and returned to the family. Physically attached to the Anglican Parish of St Nicholas, it is unique in the aspect of a Roman Catholic and Anglican place of worship being so conjoined. The Anglican nave and transepts are separated by a grille from the Roman Catholic chancel! Besieged by Parliamentarians in 1643/1644, it fell, and became a barracks for the Roundhead soldiers. The chapel serves as the burial site of the Earls of Arundel/Dukes of Norfolk, possessing very fine tombs.

All major state occasions are organised by the Duke of Norfolk as Earl Marshal, this hereditary royal office being one of the Great Offices of State. Historically, jousts were proclaimed by him, and today’s heralds of the College of Arms are appointed on the advice of the Earl Marshal, as President of the College of Heralds, Mediæval uniforms are worn at such formal occasions as the Garter ceremony and the State Opening of Parliament, an important aspect of Britain’s famous ability to ‘do’ pageantry. Bernard, 16th Duke, arranged the funerals of George V, George VI, and Sir Winston Churchill, both the 1937 and 1953 Coronations, and the Investiture of the Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle in 1969. His successor, the 17th duke, avoided any big occasions, but Edward, the 18th duke, has been busy with Elizabeth II’s funeral and King Charles’ Coronation on 6 May a few weeks ago.

Stefan Gatward