Howard Library Manuscripts

Scope and Content

Five manuscript commonplace books, in the hand of Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton (1540-1614), probably compiled in the late 16th century, and one 18th-century precedent book for the barony of Gilsland in Cumberland and a small adjoining area of Northumberland (part of the Howard of Naworth estates). The chief subjects of the commonplace books are alchemy, astrology, nobility, women, and devotional material. The precedent book also includes a rental.

Administrative / Biographical History

Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton (1540-1614) was the second son of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, and younger brother of Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk. Born at the zenith of his family's influence under Henry VIII, he suffered the trauma of his father's execution for treason in 1547, and his grandfather's imprisonment. Under Edward VI he was tutored by the Protestant martyrologist, John Fox, but a much deeper influence on both his religious outlook and his penchant for learning proved to be John White, the ardently Roman Catholic bishop of Lincoln, in whose household he was placed after the accession of Queen Mary and restoration of his grandfather as Duke of Norfolk. Under Elizabeth I, Henry Howard studied at Cambridge, graduating in 1564 and going on to read civil law, and to gain a reputation as a scholar. To his familiarity with Latin and Greek, he added a knowledge of French, Spanish and Italian. Uniquely for an Elizabethan nobleman, he taught for a time at the university, lecturing both on rhetoric and on civil law. His classical and legal education, and his training in rhetoric, are strongly apparent in the contents and organisation of his commonplace books.

Around 1570 Howard was drawn to court, but his career was blighted by his brother's execution in 1572 for plotting to put Mary Queen of Scots on the English throne, and by continuing suspicions about other members of his family, and about his own religious allegiance and contacts with Mary. These led to his arrest and imprisonment five times under Elizabeth. Frequently banished from court during the 1570's and 1580's, Howard resorted to scholarship to reingratiate himself, producing a flow of compositions upholding orthodoxy and royal authority, designed to flatter Elizabeth and win favour with her ministers. Few of his works appeared in print, however. The execution of Mary Queen of Scots in 1587 ended recurrent suspicions that Howard was engaging in treasonable correspondence with her, and his position at court improved in the 1590's with the emergence of his cousin, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, as Elizabeth's favourite, and the polishing of his own skills as a trimmer, maintaining good relations with both Essex and Robert Cecil. Under James I, with whom he had conducted a long secret correspondence, Howard's fortunes brightened. He achieved a leading role at court - he has been well described as the consummate Jacobean courtier - and became an active privy councillor, playing a prominent part in affairs of state from 1603 until his death in 1614. He was made Earl of Northampton in 1604.

Access Information

Open for consultation.

Acquisition Information

These manuscripts form part of the library from Naworth Castle, Cumberland, being the residual undispersed portion of the library of Lord William Howard (1563-1640), together with a few later books, which was acquired by purchase from Sotheby's sale on 14 December 1992, with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Purchase Grant Fund, the Friends of the National Libraries, and a private donor. The bulk of the collection consists of printed books; these are the only manuscripts.

Other Finding Aids

Available online at online catalogue

Separated Material

Manuscripts and papers of Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton are widely dispersed, but see especially British Library MSS Arundel 300 (A formularie of Psalmes and Prayers made by Henry Erle of Northampton, and writt by his owne hande) and Cotton Titus C.VI (manuscripts and papers of Northampton). Another of Northampton's commonplace books is at Castle Howard, Yorkshire.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to make any published use of material from the collection must be sought in advance from the Sub-Librarian, Special Collections (e-mail and, where appropriate, from the copyright owner. The Library will assist where possible with identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.

Due to their fragility, and to fading of the ink, these manuscripts are unsuitable for microfilming, and generally for photocopying.

Custodial History

Evidence is lacking as to how and when the commonplace books became part of the Naworth library, but, after the execution of his brother, Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, Henry Howard took charge of Norfolk's children, one of whom was Lord William Howard, who acquired the Naworth estates through his marriage to the heiress Elizabeth Dacre in 1577. When and why the precedent book became separated from the rest of the Howard of Naworth estate records (which are now also in Durham University Library) and strayed into the Naworth library is also not known.

Related Material

Howard of Naworth Papers


Mathew, David, The library at Naworth in For Hilaire Belloc: essays in honour of his 72nd birthday, ed. Douglas Woodruff (London, 1942), 117-130  Moss, Ann, Printed common-place books and the structuring of renaissance thought (Oxford, 1996)  Peck, Linda Levy, Northampton: patronage and policy at the court of James I (London, 1982)  Rainey, Elizabeth, The library of Lord William Howard (1563-1640) from Naworth Castle, Friends of the National Libraries, Annual report for 1992, 20-23

Additional Information

16 June 1999

Geographical Names