The Story Of Sir Edward Howard


Sir Edward Howard was the second son of Thomas, Earl of Surrey,

afterwards Duke of Norfolk, and treasurer to Henry VIII. He seems to

have begun early in life to testify his inclination for the sea service,

and we find him employed in the Flanders expedition in 1492, when King

Henry VII. thought fit to assist the Duke of Burgundy against his

rebellious subjects.

The Flemings, naturally a brave people and fond of freedom, grew uneasy

under the yoke of the House of Austria, and under the command of the

Baron de Ravenstein began to throw off allegiance. In doing this, they

seized the town and harbour of Sluys, whence they fitted out a number of

vessels of considerable force; and, under colour of pursuing their

enemies, took and plundered vessels of all nations without distinction.

As the English trade with Flanders was then very extensive, English

ships suffered at least as much as any others; and this was the reason

why King Henry, upon the first application of the Duke of Burgundy, sent

a squadron of twelve sail to his assistance under the command of Sir

Edward Poynings, with whom went out Sir Edward Howard, then a very young

man, to learn the art of war. The Duke of Saxony, in consequence of his

alliance with the Duke of Burgundy, marched with an army into Flanders,

and besieged Sluys by land; and Sir Edward Poynings thereupon blockaded

it by sea.

The port was defended by two strong castles, which the Flemings, who had

nothing to trust to but force, defended with unparalleled obstinacy;

insomuch, that though Poynings attacked them constantly every day for

twenty days successively, yet he made no great impression, till at last,

through accident, the bridge of boats, by which the communication

between the castles was preserved, took fire; whereupon the besieged

were glad to surrender their city to the Duke of Saxony, and their port

and castles to the English. After this expedition Sir Edward was made a

knight for extraordinary bravery, of which quality he gave many proofs

during the reign of Henry VII., so thoroughly establishing his

reputation that Henry VIII., on his accession, made choice of him for

his standard-bearer, which in those days was considered not only as a

mark of particular favour, but as a testimony also of the highest

confidence and esteem.

In the fourth year of the same reign he was created lord high-admiral of

England, and in that station convoyed the Marquis of Dorset into Spain.

The admiral, after the landing of the forces, put to sea again; and,

arriving on the coasts of Britanny, landed some of his men about Conquet

and Brest, who ravaged the country and burnt several of the small towns.

This roused the French, who began immediately to fit out a great fleet,

in order, if possible, to drive the English from their coasts; and, as

this armament was very extraordinary, King Henry sent a squadron of

five-and-twenty tall ships, which he caused to be fitted out under his

own eye at Portsmouth, to the assistance of the admiral. Among these

were two capital ships; one called the Regent, commanded by Sir Thomas

Knevet, master of the horse to the king; and the other, which was the

Sovereign, by Sir Charles Brandon, afterwards Duke of Suffolk. When

these vessels had joined the admiral, his fleet consisted of no less

than forty-five sail, with which he immediately resolved to attack the

enemy, who were by this time ready to come out of the harbour of Brest.

Authors differ much as to their number, though they agree pretty well as

to the name of the admiral, whom they call Primauget; yet it seems they

agree in a mistake, for the historians of Britanny assure us they have

no such name in that province, and that undoubtedly it ought to be


Whatever his name was, or whatever the force of his fleet might have

been (our writers say it consisted of thirty-nine, and the French only

of twenty, sail), he was certainly a very brave man. The ship he

commanded was called the Cordelier, and was so large as to be able to

carry twelve hundred fighting men, exclusive of mariners. At this time

there were nine hundred on board; and, encouraged by their gallant

officer, they did their duty bravely. Sir Thomas Knevet, in the

Regent, which was a much smaller ship, attacked and boarded the

Cordelier, and the action lasted for some time with equal vigour on

both sides. At last, both flag ships took fire and burnt together,

wherein the two commanders and upwards of sixteen hundred valiant men

were lost. It seems this accident struck both fleets with amazement; so

that they separated without fighting, each claiming the victory, to

which probably neither had a very good title.

In the beginning of the next April the admiral put to sea again with a

fleet of forty-two men-of-war, besides small vessels, and forced the

French into the harbour of Brest, where they fortified themselves, in

order to wait the arrival of a squadron of six galleys from the

Mediterranean. Sir Edward Howard, having considered their position,

resolved, since it was impossible to attack them, to burn the country

round about; which he accordingly did, in spite of all the care they

could take to prevent it; and yet the French lay still under the cover

of their fortifications and of a line of twenty-four large hulks lashed

together, which they proposed to have set on fire in case the English

attempted to force them to a battle. While the admiral was thus

employed, he had intelligence that M. Pregent, with the six galleys from

the Mediterranean, had arrived on the coast, and had taken shelter in

the Bay of Conquet. This circumstance induced him to change his plans;

and he now resolved first to destroy the galleys, if possible, and then

to return to the fleet. Upon his advancing to reconnoitre Pregent's

squadron, he found them at anchor between two rocks, on each of which

stood a strong fort; and, what was likely to give him still more

trouble, they lay so far up in the bay that he could bring none of his

ships of force to engage them. The only way open to him now was to put

the bravest of his sailors on board two galleys which were in his fleet,

and with these to venture in and try what might be done against the six.

This being resolved on, he went himself, attended by Sir Thomas Cheyne

and Sir John Wallop, on board one of the galleys, and sent Lord Ferrers,

Sir Henry Sherburn, and Sir William Sidney on board the other; and,

having a brisk gale of wind, sailed directly into the bay, where, with

his own galley, he attacked the French admiral. As soon as they were

grappled, Sir Edward Howard, followed by seventeen of the bravest of his

sailors, boarded the enemy, and were very gallantly received; but it so

happened that, in the midst of the engagement, the galleys sheered

asunder, and the French, taking advantage of this circumstance, forced

the English overboard, except one seaman, from whom they quickly learned

that the English admiral was among the slain. Lord Ferrers, in the other

galley, did all that was possible for a very brave man to do; but,

having spent all his shot, and perceiving, as he thought, the admiral

retire, he likewise made the best of his way out of the harbour.

In Lord Herbert's "Life and Reign of Henry VIII., 1513," there are some

very singular circumstances given relating to this unlucky adventure. He

says that Sir Edward Howard having considered the position of the French

fleet in the haven of Brest, and the consequences which would attend

either defeating or burning it, gave notice thereof to the king,

inviting him to be present at so glorious an action; desiring rather

that the king should have the honour of destroying the French naval

force than himself; a loyal, generous proposition--supposing the honour,

not the danger, too great for a subject, and measuring (no doubt very

justly) his master's courage by his own; the only standard men of his

rank and temper of mind ever use.

But, his letter being laid before the council, they were altogether of

another opinion; conceiving it was much too great a hazard for His

Majesty to expose his person in such an enterprise; and therefore they

wrote sharply to the admiral, commanding him not to send excuses, but to

do his duty. This, as it well might, piqued him to the utmost; and as it

was his avowed maxim that a seaman never did good who was not resolute

to a degree of madness, he took a sudden resolution of acting in the

manner he did. When he found his galley slide away and saw the danger to

which he was exposed, he took his chain of gold nobles which hung about

his neck, and his great gold whistle, the ensign of his office, and

threw them into the sea, to prevent the enemy from possessing the spoils

of an English admiral. Thus fell the great Sir Edward Howard, on April

25th, 1513, a sacrifice to his too quick sense of honour in the service,

and yet to the manifest and acknowledged detriment of his country; for

his death so dejected the spirits of his sailors that the fleet was

obliged to return home.

Sir Edward Howard, we are assured, was very far from being either a mere

soldier or a mere seaman, though so eminent in both characters; but he

was what it became an English gentleman of so high a quality to be--an

able statesman, a faithful counsellor, and a free speaker. He was ready

at all times to hazard his life and fortune in his country's quarrels;

and yet he was against her quarrelling on insufficient occasion or

against her interests. He particularly dissuaded a breach with the

Flemings, for the wise and strong reasons that such a war was

prejudicial to commerce abroad; that it diminished the customs, while it

increased the public expenses; that it served the French, by

constraining the inhabitants of Flanders to deal with them against their

will; and that it tended to the prejudice of our manufactures, by

interrupting our intercourse with those by whom they were principally


Thus qualified, we need not wonder he attained such high honours, though

he died in the flower of his age. Henry conferred upon him many titles

and other rewards, making him Admiral of England, Wales, Ireland,

Normandy, Gascony, and Aquitaine, for life, and causing him to be

chosen Knight of the Garter; believing that he should thereby command,

as indeed he did, not only the utmost service of Sir Edward, but also

all the force and interest of his potent family; an interest in later

years which he but ill requited. As soon as the news of his unfortunate

death reached the ears of his royal master he was succeeded in his high

office by Sir Thomas Howard, his elder brother.

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