Henry Howard Earl of Surrey

Biographical Information


Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517-1547) is widely referred to simply as "Surrey", the titled passed down to him by his father, the Duke of Norfolk. He was in line to take the title of Duke, but did not live long enough to receive it. He grew up as a close friend of the illegitimate son of Henry VII, though Henry Fitzroy bordered on a year and a half younger than himself. Surrey spent some time in France after accompanying Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn to the court of Francis I in 1532, and later that same year married Lady Frances de Vere, daughter of the Earl of Oxford. They did not live together for some time due to their young ages. Surrey’s pride led him to be be imprisoned several times for his political views and actions against other courtiers, and eventually he changed his coat of arms to suggest royal descent. This was viewed as treason by the unstable King, and ultimately lead to his beheading shortly before the King’s own death.

It is unknown how close Surrey was to Wyatt, though he did write two elegies about the man. He also continued with Wyatt’s trend of translating Petrarch, though often he did so in a smoother, more understated and accurate style. Surrey is attributed with the creation of the English (Shakespearean) sonnet form, and the originator of blank verse. His poetry appears before Wyatt’s in Songs and Sonnets (Tottel’s Miscellany).


“[Surrey's] powers of invention and of forming independent structures were small,” and “in those places in the sonnets where he deserts Petrarch he usually exposes his incapacity.” - Emrys Jones

“Surrey defines the ideological terms for the new poet of honor and nobility…” - W. A. Sessions


From Tuscan came my lady’s worthy race”: is classic example of Surrey’s English sonnet style – abab cdcd efef gg. In typical sonnet fashion, the poem extols the female’s beauty, “Beauty of kind, her virtues from above” (13), and ends with a slightly pining note which indicates he has not yet won the woman’s affections.
In a direct comparison with the Petrarch sonnet 140, translated by Armi, Surrey’s version seems to have much more erotic tension to it. This is shown in line 6: “My doubtful hope and eke my hot desire” as opposed to Armi’s considerably more mild: “Who demands that desire and ardent hope.”

Surrey’s Petrarch 310, The soot season that bud and bloom forth brings, is decidedly changed from the original intent of the poem. He harps on about the joyousness of spring, leaving his sorrow to stand strong in the last line.

His adaptation of 164, Alas, so all things now do hold their peace, is another sonnet about pining away for a woman. 145, “Set me whereas the sun doth parch the green” follows the same theme.

In Cyprus’ springs (whereas dame Venus dwelt)”: is a long series of couplets centering on the speaker’s perceived agonies which Love inflicts on him. Surrey uses colors and temperatures to lend vivid imagery, and claims that someone who loves “must turn into the thing beloved” (35) a transformation which he compares to training a lion. The lion is traditionally seen as a symbol of masculinity and strength.

When Windsor walls sustained my wearied arm”: Written when Surrey struck a fellow courtier for implying that his family was working with rebels against the King. The sonnet follows his English style, and harkens attention to his misery at being confined as a punishment.

So cruel prison”: also takes place after his infraction against the courtier. Surrey contemplates his boyhood at the castle with his friend, Henry Fitzroy. Fitzroy died young under suspicious circumstances, and Surrey mourns him through the memories in the poem.


1. "The Life of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517-1547)." Luminarium: Anthology of English Literature. Web. 11 Apr. 2011. <http://www.luminarium.org/renlit/henrybio.htm>.
2. "Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (English Poet) — Britannica Online Encyclopedia." Encyclopedia - Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Web. 11 Apr. 2011. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/575369/Henry-Howard-Earl-of-Surrey>.
3. Trudeau, Lawrence J. Ed."Howard, Henry Earl of Surrey - Introduction." Poetry Criticism. Vol. 59. Gale Cengage, 2005. eNotes.com. 2006. 28 Mar, 2011 <http://www.enotes.com/poetry-criticism/
4. Image: http://www.fineartprintsondemand.com/artists/holbein/henry_howard_earl_of_surrey-400.jpg
5. Poems from: Luminiarium.org. <http://www.luminarium.org/renlit/henrybib.htm>.

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