Saint Philip Howard (1557 - 1595)
Celebrated: 19 Oct (Arundel & Brighton)
Philip Howard, son and heir of Thomas, fourth Duke of Norfolk, was born in the last year of the short reign of Mary Tudor, 1557. A glittering future could be predicted for him; but it was also an uncertain, troubled time. His mother died soon after he was born, and his father married again twice, his third wife being Elizabeth Dacre. a widow with four children. The Duke, to strengthen his family position, arranged the marriage of Philip and his stepdaughter Anne Dacre when they were still children, and they were married when Philip was fourteen. After her mother’s death Anne was strongly influenced by her Catholic grandmother, Lady Mounteagle. Philip was brought up as a Protestant, although for a time he was tutored by the Catholic Gregory Martin, the future translator of the Douai Bible.
In 1571 Duke Thomas’s ambition involved him in the Rising in the North; he was found guilty of high treason and executed in the following year. Lord Burghley now became Philip’s guardian; he dismissed Gregory Martin and sent his ward to Cambridge. There, at the age of nineteen, he graduated in Arts. He took the Oath of Supremacy and was introduced to Court. Before his death Philip’s father had warned him not to get too involved in the Court, and urged him to cherish his wife; but Philip ignored both these pieces of good advice. He became one of the circle of young courtiers vieing for the favour of the Queen, he spent money extravagantly, and neglected Anne – indeed, it seems that he was unfaithful to her. Eventually Anne, after making strenuous efforts to get him back, went to live with Philip’s grandfather, the Earl of Arundel. But before long the old man died, and in 1581 Philip succeeded him in that title, as the premier Earl of England. (He could not succeed to the Dukedom of Norfolk because of his father’s attainder.) He now began to attend the House of Lords, and to take an interest in public affairs, which meant that he spent less time at Court. Since Anne had lost her refuge at the death of the old Earl, she came back to Philip, and gradually won him over by her gentleness and patience.
Anne had outwardly conformed as a Protestant, but now (1583) her conscience led her back to the Catholic Church. It was a difficult decision to make, for she feared that to tell her husband would ruin the new relationship which was building up between them. But unknown to her, Philip himself had for some time been convinced of the truth of the Catholic Church. Two years before, he had attended the debate between Edmund Campion, a prisoner in the Tower, and some Protestant divines, and had been profoundly impressed by Campion’s arguments. But he had not yet come to the point of decision, with all the implications it would have for his future.
The Queen became aware of the change in Philip, particularly noting his reconciliation with Anne, so when Anne was reported to her as a recusant she seized the opportunity and had her arrested. Their first child, a daughter, was born while she was in the custody of Sir Thomas Shirley at Wiston in Sussex. Philip had her baptised in the Protestant church. But nevertheless he was very near to his great decision, which eventually he came to at Arundel Castle in 1584. He was reconciled to the Church by the Jesuit Father William Weston.
This was no token conversion. It meant a complete change of life for Philip. He had a priest in his Charterhouse home in London, so that he could have daily Mass. Prayer became a regular part of his life. He continued to attend the Lords and the Court, but avoided attending Church services on various pretexts. The great question now in his mind was; how could he best serve the Catholic cause? He wrote to Cardinal Allen at Douai asking his advice. The letter was intercepted, and the Queen’s Council, using a priest in their pay, sent a bogus reply recommending him to leave England. Although Father Weston and all his friends had been against it, Philip accepted what he thought was Allen’s advice, and secretly took ship for the Continent. But of course his movements were known to the Council, and off the coast he was boarded by a warship and brought back under arrest. After a night spent at Guildford he was taken to the Tower. The Council now had evidence against him, and he was brought before the Star Chamber, charged with being reconciled to the Catholic Church, attempting to leave the country without the Queen’s permission, and having correspondence with Cardinal Allen. He was fined £10,000 and imprisoned at the Queen’s pleasure. The year was 1585. Philip was twenty eight; he was to be a prisoner for the rest of his life.
He spent the first two years of his imprisonment in solitary confinement in the Beauchamp Tower. The Queen refused permission for his wife and children (he had never seen his infant son) to visit him. If she thought this would weaken his resolve she misjudged him. His determination was aided by prayer, and by letters smuggled in to him from Father Southwell, the Jesuit, who was living secretly in Arundel House as Anne’s chaplain.
Now for a time his conditions were eased; in the Lanthorn Tower he and other prisoners could even have Mass, one of the prisoners being a priest, William Bennett. But then in 1588 came the threat of a Spanish invasion, and it was rumoured that if the Armada were to land, there would be an immediate massacre of Catholics. Philip and the others held an all-night vigil to pray for the safety of Catholics. This was reported to the authorities. It was the excuse they were looking for to bring him to trial for treason.
Philip was tried by his peers in Westminster Hall. The witnesses against him were Sir Thomas Gerard and the priest William Bennett, both of whom had been with him in the Tower. The accusation was that he had prayed for the success of the Spanish Armada. But could prayers be a matter of treason? The foreman of the jury, Lord Burghley – the same who had been Philip’s guardian – declared that all the Queen sought was sentencing, not execution, and the waverers came round to the majority view. Philip was condemned unanimously and was returned to the Tower. He was never to know whether the sentence would be carried out. He intensified his hours of prayer and fasting, and occupied himself in writing and translating books of piety. For a time he was supported as before by Father Southwell’s letters, until he too was apprehended and sent to the Tower. The two never met, although Philip’s dog did find his way to Southwell’s cell.
By the time Robert Southwell was executed at Tyburn, Philip was dying by degrees, from the privations of his imprisonment. He appealed again to the Queen to allow him to see his wife and son. The Queen replied: “if Philip would go but once to their church, not only would she grant his request, but he would be restored to his estates and honours with as much favour as she could show.” Philip once more sadly declined the offer. Nothing could show more clearly that, as Robert Southwell had written, “your cause, by whatever name it may be disfigured, by whatever colour deformed in the eyes of men, is religion.”
The last night of his life was spent mainly in prayer; he died on Sunday 19th October 1595 at noon. He was thirty eight. The immediate cause of death was most probably dysentery, though rumours of poison were current at the time. They buried him in his father’s grave in the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower. It was nearly thirty years before his widow could get his body removed to her home at West Horsley, and then to Arundel, to be laid in the family vault, the Fitzalan Chapel.
Philip Howard was beatified in 1929 and canonised in 1970, in company with Edmund Campion, Robert Southwell and the others of the Forty Martyrs. The following year his body was brought to a new shrine in Arundel Cathedral, and in 1973, with the changing of the dedication of the Cathedral to “Our Lady Immaculate and St Philip Howard”, he became the co-principal patron of the diocese of Arundel and Brighton. As he himself had inscribed on the wall of his cell: “Quanto plus afflictionis pro Christo in saeculo, tanto plus gloriae cum Christo in futuro.”