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Portrait of Thomas Howard, count of Arundel and his wife Alathea Talbot Sir Anthony Van Dyck | by Real Distan
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Portrait of Thomas Howard, count of Arundel and his wife Alathea Talbot Sir Anthony Van Dyck

Howard, Thomas, fourteenth earl of Arundel, fourth earl of Surrey, and first earl of Norfolk (1585–1646), art collector and politician, was born at Finchingfield, Essex, on 7 July 1585, the only son of Philip Howard, thirteenth earl of Arundel (1557–1595), and his wife, Anne Dacre [see Howard, Anne, countess of Arundel (1557–1630)], daughter and coheir of Thomas, Lord Dacre. He was grandson to Thomas Howard, fourth duke of Norfolk, executed for treason in 1572. Both parents were Roman Catholics, regarded with suspicion by the government, and shortly after his son's birth Philip was imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he died ten years later, after being convicted of treason in 1589. This meant the loss of the Arundel title and confiscation of his property, including that brought to him by his wife.


Early life and young adulthood

The young Thomas Howard, known in his youth by the courtesy title of Lord Maltravers, therefore grew up in greatly straitened circumstances under the influence of an embittered mother. From earliest childhood he was taught that the titles and properties that were his birthright, as heir to the greatest noble family in England, had been taken from him through two corrupt judicial sentences. This upbringing left a permanent imprint on his character, giving him a fierce pride in his ancestry, an intense desire to recover everything that his father and grandfather had lost, and an aloof and prickly demeanour that contemporaries variously interpreted as nobility or arrogance. Despite its animus, the earl of Clarendon's pen portrait suggests the effects of a lonely and bereaved childhood on Arundel's mature personality:

He was a man supercilious and proud, who lived always within himself and to himself … so that he seemed to live as it were in another nation, his house being a place to which all men resorted who resorted to no other place; strangers, or such who affected to look like strangers. (Clarendon, Hist. rebellion, 1.69)

But this haughtiness was tempered by a sense of his responsibility as England's premier nobleman, voracious curiosity about foreign cultures, and generosity towards people who shared his enthusiasms and won his trust.


According to an early biographer the young Maltravers was educated at Westminster School, where he would have studied under William Camden, before proceeding to Trinity College, Cambridge, and rounding out his education by a tour of the continent (Hervey, 34). Although the loss of Westminster's records makes this account impossible to verify, it seems plausible and would help explain Arundel's lifelong interest in antiquarian pursuits and later patronage of other Westminster scholars, notably Sir Robert Cotton and John Selden. As a young man he also fell under the influence of Gilbert Talbot, seventh earl of Shrewsbury, whose daughter Aletheia [see Howard, Aletheia, countess of Arundel (d. 1654)] he married in September 1606. Shrewsbury was an early collector of paintings, who passed on his enthusiasm to both his daughter and his son-in-law.


By the outset of James I's reign the Howard family had begun to recover from its disastrous loss of royal favour, chiefly through the careers of Maltravers's uncles, Henry Howard, first earl of Northampton, and Charles Howard, first earl of Nottingham. The success of these relatives was something of a mixed blessing, since they acquired from the crown many properties that had once belonged to the senior Howard line. But it did facilitate Thomas's restoration in blood by act of parliament on 14 April 1604, which brought the restoration of his father's title, as well as his entry into the court, where despite a disappointing début as a jouster on 5 March 1606 his standing steadily improved. On 17 July 1607 the king and the earl of Salisbury stood godfather at the baptism of his first son, James. The following year he regained possession of Arundel House on the Strand from Nottingham, reportedly for £4000. About this time he joined the circle around Henry, prince of Wales, after whom he named a second son, born on 15 August 1608. He participated in ‘Prince Henry's barriers’, a joust embellished with verse by Ben Jonson and scenery designed by Inigo Jones (January 1610), and was installed as knight of the Garter, along with Prince Charles and the royal favourite Robert Carr, earl of Somerset, in May 1611. A year later he and his wife entertained Prince Henry and Prince Charles with a May day banquet at their suburban mansion in Highgate.

First trips abroad and formation of the collection

Arundel's participation in Prince Henry's court brought him into contact with immigrant artists like Constaninio de Servi and Saloman de Caus, as well as other young aristocrats interested in continental European cultures. His own fascination with the arts flourished in this environment, giving him a reputation as an expert. In March 1610 Sir David Murray told Salisbury that if he was unable to attend court with the paintings he had just acquired, ‘you may send my Lord of Arundel as deputy to set forth the praise of your pictures’ (Salisbury MSS, 24 vols., 1883–1976, 21.39). By this time Arundel was also patronizing antiquaries, including Cotton, with whom he formed a lifelong friendship, and John Hayward, whom he retained to compile a history of the Howard family (BL, Cotton MS Julius CIII, fol. 204).


In July 1612 Arundel obtained a licence to travel abroad for six months to seek a cure for his consumption. He departed for Spa in the Spanish Netherlands, probably stopping along the way to visit the duke of Aerschot's picture collection in Brussels. He met the painter Hendrik van Balen and, through him, Peter Paul Rubens, to whom he sat for a now lost portrait. In September he proceeded to Padua, where he learned of Prince Henry's death, which had occurred on 6 November. He returned to London remaining long enough to carry the sword of state during the wedding of Princess Elizabeth to the elector palatine in February 1613 and participate in the celebratory jousts, but in April he obtained a licence to return to the continent with his wife for three years for reasons of health.


The Arundels set out as part of the official entourage escorting the elector and Elizabeth on their journey through the Netherlands to Heidelberg, where they arrived on 7 June. After a week's stay Arundel and his wife departed with the duke of Lennox for Strasbourg, then headed south through Basel to Milan. Their party included Prince Henry's former surveyor Inigo Jones, who had not yet distinguished himself as an architect but who did speak Italian and was already acquainted with northern Italy. Experiences shared on this trip, which were fundamental in educating both Jones and Arundel in Italian visual culture, cemented a lifelong relationship between them. After a quick visit to Parma, abruptly terminated when the Spanish governor failed to pay him the respect he believed due to his rank, Arundel took up residence near the hot springs of Albano, a few miles outside Padua.


Arundel interrupted his cure to fulfil the diplomatic assignment of conveying James I's respect and support to the government of Venice, which had recently emerged from a serious dispute with the papacy. This mission assured him a lavish reception, by a welcoming party that included Gregorio Barbarigo, a cultivated and well-read follower of Paolo Sarpi, whose family had bought up the contents of Titian's studio after the artist's death. Barbarigo arranged a feste di gentildonne to conclude the earl's visit and must have educated him in the city's rich artistic culture. Arundel's connections with Venetian nobles probably also facilitated Jones's introduction to the architect Scamozzi and his inspection of Palladian villas in the Veneto. The earl himself quickly began acquiring paintings and patronizing Venetian artists. In September he wrote to Cotton, ‘if you could pick out some story of my ancestors, which would do well in painting, I pray send me it in writing’ (BL, Cotton MS Julius CIII, fol. 205).


That same month Arundel may have made a brief trip to Mantua to pay James's respects to its newly installed duke, before departing for Florence by way of Bologna. He then proceeded to Siena, where he took up residence in a monastery with his wife to perfect their Italian. In the winter he left Alathea behind to visit Rome, where he stayed several months, probably with the leading art patron Vincenzo Giustiani, who gained him permission to conduct an archaeological dig in the Forum and contrived to have ancient statues placed where he would uncover them. With these ‘discoveries’ Arundel began the collection of classical statues and inscriptions which he installed in the galleries and gardens of Arundel House. In March the earl and his wife visited Naples, before returning north at a leisurely pace through Florence, where Duke Cosimo gave them a lavish reception, and Genoa.


Although Arundel returned to Venice to complete some sort of transaction with Scamozzi the couple had still not resumed residence at Albano in July when they received news that Northampton had died, leaving them most of his estate, including a large house in Greenwich and land worth £3000 a year. They returned home to take up this inheritance, arriving by January 1615 after delays caused by a magnificent reception at the duke of Savoy's court in Turin and a further bout of illness. Arundel commissioned a tomb for his uncle from Nicholas Stone and Isaac James, which included sculpted representations of the cardinal virtues that may have been influenced by the Roman statues he had brought back from Italy. His finances were further improved in May 1616 when Shrewsbury died, leaving Alathea half his estate. Arundel had now assembled most of the resources that ultimately gave him an income estimated by Lawrence Stone at over £13,000 per annum, making him one of the three wealthiest peers in England on the eve of the civil war.


This wealth allowed the earl to set about improving Arundel House, where he commissioned Jones to build or remodel a gallery for his collection, as well as his new mansion in Greenwich and a suburban retreat in Highgate. He also continued acquiring art. His reputation as a collector led Sir Dudley Carleton to seek him out in 1616, when he needed to dispose of a number of ancient marbles and modern paintings acquired in Venice for the earl of Somerset just before that favourite's precipitous fall. Carleton gave Arundel a large sculpted head of Jupiter in an attempt to interest him in his other sculptures and may also, as a further inducement, have commissioned Daniel Mytens's portraits of the earl and countess before idealized representations of the new gallery at Arundel House. Although Arundel declined to buy Carleton's statues he soon acquired them anyway, as a gift from the purchaser, his cousin Lord Ros.


Despite a devastating set-back in January 1617, when several prize paintings perished in a fire that consumed the Greenwich house, the collection continued to expand. In building it Arundel consolidated and enlarged the network of contacts with foreign artists, dealers, and other collectors that he had begun to form on his travels. Unlike other Jacobean aristocrats he rarely purchased entire collections for lump-sum payments, preferring instead to drive hard bargains for works that especially interested him. This required unusually good intelligence of foreign art markets. Like other courtiers he frequently used English diplomats and professional dealers as intermediaries, but he also recruited his own purchasing agents—notably William Gage, John Markham, and William Petty. Markham went to Asia Minor in search of antiquities and was replaced after his death in 1624 by Petty, who spent years scouring the Ottoman Levant for finds, travelling with Greek fishermen, collaborating with King Charles's ambassador in Constantinople, Sir Thomas Roe, and outmanoeuvring other collectors.

Relationships with artists and scholars

Arundel stood out among early Stuart collectors not only for the size and quality of his collection but for the depth of his intellectual interest in the arts, the range of his personal links with other collectors and artists, and the scale of his efforts to promote knowledge of visual culture. He almost certainly played a pivotal role in recruiting Anthony Van Dyck to England, both for his initial visit in 1620 and later in 1633. In Italy Arundel gathered a library of treatises on painting and architecture surpassing any then available in England, and after returning home he patronized scholars who wrote on subjects relating to art. These included Henry Peacham, whose influential manual, The Complete Gentleman, helped to disseminate a new ideal of gentility encompassing knowledge of art, and John Selden, whose Marmora Arundeliana (1628), analysing classical inscriptions in the earl's collection, deeply impressed Rubens. Another antiquary who enjoyed Arundel's patronage was Francis Junius (François du Jon), who transferred to his household from that of Bishop Samuel Harsnett and served him as a secretary responsible for correspondence with foreign scholars and collectors. Junius first acquired a scholarly reputation for his pioneering studies of Anglo-Saxon and ancient Germanic languages, but in the 1630s, with the encouragement of the earl and countess, he embarked on new studies of the arts in classical antiquity that culminated in the publication of De pictura veterum, translated as The Paintings of the Ancients (1638).


Peacham and Junius viewed painting as an extension of wider cultural and intellectual pursuits, including history, poetry, antiquarian research, and the empirical study of nature. This attitude reflected Arundel's own outlook. Unlike collectors such as the duke of Buckingham, who acquired works purely for purposes of display, the earl valued even mutilated artefacts and rough sketches for what they revealed about the artistic process. He acquired fragments of ancient sculptures and what may have been the best collection of drawings by major Renaissance artists ever assembled, including over 600 by Leonardo da Vinci alone. His interests extended to medallions and carved gemstones, which were regarded in the period as invaluable sources of antiquarian information. He exchanged gemstones with Rubens and in 1637 paid the Venetian dealer Daniel Nys £10,000 for a collection that had reputedly belonged to the dukes of Mantua. Clarendon asserted that Arundel was never able to understand the ancient artefacts he collected, but this seems unlikely in light of the expert advice at his disposal. An undated note by him survives requesting Cotton and a Mr James (or Jones?) to ‘come hither this morning to go along with me to see some excellent medals which I saw yesterday’ (BL, Cotton MS Julius CIII, fol. 209).


Arundel's interests were not limited to visual culture, however. He encouraged James Ussher to pursue his projected ecclesiastical history of Great Britain, employed Camden to draw up pedigrees for him, and enjoyed a friendship with his Norfolk neighbour the antiquary Sir Henry Spelman. From an early age he collected books and manuscripts. In 1636, while passing through Nuremberg on the way back from a mission to Vienna, he bought a major portion of the great Pirckheimer collection, including manuscripts illuminated by Dürer. Arundel's role as a bibliophile and the range of his scholarly interests are hard to appreciate today because his library has been dispersed—most of the manuscripts are in the British Library, while the books have been scattered among public and private collections, where many now lie untraced—but it is clear that he possessed one of the greatest libraries in the British Isles, probably totalling over 3000 volumes.

Political career, 1615–1640

After his return from Italy in 1615 Arundel began to play a more important role in the affairs of the royal court, despite rumours that his visit to Rome had involved inappropriate contacts with papal enemies of the king. He was sworn of the privy council in July 1616 and appointed to the commission charged with overseeing the creation of Prince Charles as prince of Wales later that year. On Christmas day he removed a major impediment to his political career by receiving communion in the Church of England. The next year he accompanied King James on a progress to Edinburgh, where he was sworn of the Scottish privy council; on the journey home he made a detour to visit Ireland and was named to the council in Dublin as well. That autumn Arundel supported Sir Dudley Carleton in the competition to succeed Sir Ralph Winwood as secretary of state. During January 1618 rumours circulated that Arundel would soon be made a duke, along with the king's cousin Lennox and the new favourite Buckingham. In the event he was the only one of the three not to receive the predicted elevation, possibly because he refused a new creation that would have placed him below Buckingham in precedence, holding out for a restoration of the title forfeited in 1572. Arundel was also rumoured to be a leading candidate for the treasurership in November 1619, although he was again disappointed.


Arundel was given many lesser responsibilities, however, such as appointments to a commission to discover the value of fines, heriots, perquisites, and offices at court, and to the council for the plantation of New England. About this time he also began to play a leading role on the commission for buildings that James I set up to enforce crown regulations governing construction in London. This responsibility, which Arundel continued to fulfil until the outbreak of the civil war, involved him in major projects such as building the new Banqueting House in 1620 and renovating St Paul's Cathedral, as well as in an unsuccessful effort to build a classical amphitheatre in London and many lesser attempts at improving the quality of the capital's housing stock. In the parliament of 1621 Arundel presided over the Lords committee that heard evidence against Francis Bacon after his impeachment on charges of bribery. After Bacon's dismissal he served, between 3 May and 10 July, as a commissioner for the great seal. He also took an active part in debates on the case of the monopolist Sir Giles Mompesson, trying to prevent the implication of Buckingham, whose favour he was then cultivating. When Sir Henry Yelverton openly accused Buckingham in the Commons of procuring patents of monopoly, Arundel moved to have the speech declared a dishonour to the king and argued against giving Yelverton the opportunity to explain his words to the Lords. This led to a testy exchange with Robert Spencer, Lord Spencer of Wormleighton, in which Arundel asserted that his own ancestors had been peers while his antagonist's were still herding sheep. He was briefly incarcerated in the Tower of London by order of the house for refusing to apologize to Spencer for this outburst, where he was consoled by visits from Buckingham and several of the favourite's friends.


In late summer 1621 Arundel received a coveted appointment as earl marshal—an ancient office previously held by his family, vacant since the execution in 1601 of the last incumbent, the second earl of Essex—which had jurisdiction over the heralds and all matters relating to honour. The king also awarded him a salary of £2000 per annum. Arundel had previously been appointed in 1616 to a commission charged with exercising the earl marshal's functions and had temporarily filled the post for ceremonial purposes during Charles's installation as prince of Wales in 1616 and in the procession opening the 1621 parliament. Lord Keeper Williams objected to the resurrection of the earl marshal's authority, since it was vaguely defined and ‘impossible to be limited’, but James overruled him and also granted Arundel the right to restore the ancient court of chivalry, over which the marshal and the high constable of England had once presided. This court encountered opposition from common lawyers, who saw it as an irregular tribunal. In 1630 it was attacked by the judges of the king's bench, led by Sir William Jones but including Sir Nicholas Hyde, uncle of Edward, the future earl of Clarendon. Arundel again prevailed but the issue resurfaced in the Short Parliament, with Edward Hyde leading the opposition, before being resolved when the Long Parliament abolished the marshal's jurisdiction.


Arundel's standing at court reached a new pinnacle in spring 1623. In April he received the constable's staff, making him the senior privy councillor in honorific terms, while in June he gained a more substantive appointment to the newly formed inner or ‘cabinet’ council charged with advising the king on sensitive issues relating to the Spanish match. The earl's inclusion in this group reflected both the continuing favour of Buckingham towards him and his own sympathies with the pro-Spanish orientation of royal policy and the greater measure of toleration for English Catholics that a marriage treaty would have entailed. Despite his outward conformity to the Church of England, Arundel remained sympathetic to his former co-religionists. In July 1621 he had joined with Buckingham and John, Lord Digby, in offering assurances to Gondomar that English Catholics would not be harmed in retaliation for Spain's involvement in the Palatinate crisis in Germany (Archivo General, Simancas, Libro 374, 2 vii 1621). In the same year he had also been among the first to congratulate the earl of Northumberland after his release from the Tower of London for alleged complicity in the gunpowder treason, and was dining with him the next day when the Spanish ambassador dropped by. Unfortunately the collapse of the Spanish match in the autumn of 1623 set Arundel on a collision course with the duke of Buckingham and, in effect, Charles, prince of Wales. In November he opposed Buckingham's proposal to break off negotiations with Madrid and by the end of the year was absenting himself from council meetings, as rumours circulated that he would soon be arrested. In January John Chamberlain listed him as one of five staunch supporters of the match in the cabinet council, which was now badly split. By then the earl was co-operating with the Spanish ambassador in efforts to undermine royal confidence in the favourite. In June it was rumoured that James had secretly met the Spanish ambassador at Arundel House.


So long as James lived it remained possible that Spain's supporters might regain the upper hand at court. Charles's accession in 1625 removed this hope and seems to have encouraged Arundel to become involved in parliamentary manoeuvres against Buckingham. His protégé Cotton began collecting precedents for punishing corrupt ministers of the crown, and three days after the dissolution of the 1625 parliament the earl of Kellie and Sir Arthur Ingram both reported rumours that Arundel—along with the earl of Pembroke, Lord Keeper Williams, and Archbishop Abbot—would be questioned over their roles in the session. The first overt sign of royal displeasure came in February 1626, following the coronation ceremonies, when Charles avoided the lavish reception Arundel had arranged for him in Cotton's riverside garden. A short time later the king gained an excuse to strike back more effectively, when Arundel's eldest surviving son eloped with the daughter of the third duke of Lennox, thwarting royal plans to marry her to Lord Lorne. Arundel was blamed for his son's transgression and was sequestered from the council and placed under arrest, preventing him from attending the Lords and voting his five proxies. The peers immediately protested against the arrest of one of their members during a session and on 26 May voted not to consider any other business until Arundel was permitted to take his seat. Although Charles gave way he imposed further restraints on the earl's liberty after the parliament's dissolution. These were fully rescinded only in March 1628, after Buckingham decided to appease former enemies before the start of a new parliament. The duke therefore arranged for Arundel to be received back into favour and restored to the council.

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Taken on October 1, 2009