The role of the history group is to set the Howard tombs in their social, political and religious context.

The Howards were one of the greatest families in Tudor England, but they lived at a time of dramatic change. Ideas about noble power and service to the crown were changing in the wake of the Wars of the Roses. The Renaissance rediscovery of Greek and Roman culture was affecting what it meant to be an aristocrat. The Reformation was destroying old religious certainties and old religious institutions, but there was bitter conflict over what should be put in their place.

The Howards were at the centre of these changes. The first duke had died at the Battle of Bosworth when the Tudors took the throne. The second duke trumpeted his service to successive kings in his epitaph. The third duke, one of Henry VIII’s leading councillors and generals, tried to save Thetford Priory and put the brakes on religious change. His son, the earl of Surrey, wrote fashionable Italianate poetry while commanding Henry’s armies, but was executed for treason in the king’s tense dying days. Surrey’s son, the fourth duke, tried to marry the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots to calm fears over the succession when Elizabeth refused to marry, and ended his life on the block as a result.

To see how the Howards fit into their times, we are studying the family, building on the work of other historians who have investigated each generation. But we are also recreating what the tombs would have meant to those who first saw them, by examining the changing relationship between tombs and portraits, houses, family histories, poetry, hospitality and funerals in the creation of family identities and the maintenance of aristocratic power.

The longer story of Howard memorialisation is being traced by the third member of the team, Dr Lisa Ford, whose research is focussed on the early 17th century retrospective tomb of Henry Howard, the poet Early of Surrey, which stands on the north side of the chancel at Framlingham. The tomb was commissioned by Surrey’s younger son, Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton and serves to restore Surrey to his place among the noble lineage of the Howards represented by the tombs, in a style popular among the Elizabethan and Jacobean courtiers and peers.