HOWARD, Thomas (d.1611), of Waterston Manor; later of Bindon, Dorset.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer




Family and Education

2nd s. of Thomas Howard, 1st Visct. Howard by Elizabeth, da. and coh. of John, 2nd Baron Marny. educ. Queens’, Camb. 1550; M. Temple 1566. m. Grace, da. of Bernard Duffield, s.p. suc. bro. Henry as 3rd Visct. Howard 1590. KG 1606.

Offices Held

Mayor, Weymouth and Melcombe Regis 1580-1.

J.p. Dorset 1579, capt. musters, v.-adm. by 1586, ld. lt. 1601, keeper of royal game 1603, custos rot. by 1605.


Howard’s father, the leading Dorset magnate, on good terms with the gentry of the county, probably wished to have a member of the family sitting in the House of Commons in 1563 because two bills affecting him were coming up for discussion. He could not sit himself, and his heir Henry, Thomas’s elder brother, was insane, ‘very mean’ as a contemporary put it, referring to his habit of going about in a peasant’s smock. Thus it fell to Thomas Howard to represent the family. He was little better than his brother, though he held county office for over 30 years. Described by a modern historian as ‘spiteful’ and ‘odious’, and by his enemy Sir Walter Ralegh as a ‘peevish fool’, Howard alienated the whole county, and his name was conspicuously missing from the list of 76 Dorset gentlemen who signed the Bond of Association in October 1584. As early as 1561 he had been arrested by the watch for complicity in a fatal assault on his father-in-law. He took an active part, on the Melcombe side, in the disputes between Weymouth and Melcombe before and after the union of the two boroughs in 1571. After the 1577 commission of inquiry into piracy in Dorset, he wrote a letter of complaint about Robert Gregory, for which he was summoned to London. More notorious, and splitting the county into two camps, was his quarrel with Sir Walter Ralegh’s friend Arthur Gorges, who had married Douglas, the heiress of Thomas’s insane brother Henry. Their daughter, Ambrosia, became heir to the Howard land in Dorset, so that, in 1590, Thomas Howard inherited the title without the estates. For a decade until Ambrosia’s death in 1600 he fought to prove her illegitimate, and when, on her father’s re-marriage, she became a ward of the Queen, Howard was imprisoned for slandering her, February 1592.

Not surprisingly the appointment of such a man as lord lieutenant was opposed. At least one of the deputy lieutenants, (Sir) Mathew Arundell, was against it. But the office had been in commission for three years, an appointment was necessary, and Howard could not be passed over. He soon found himself at odds with all four of the deputies, Arundell, (Sir) Richard Rogers, (Sir) George Trenchard I, and (Sir) Ralph Horsey. In 1602, writing about defects in the county forces, Howard said:

I have been slower in the reformation of these objects by reason of the cold assistance, or, rather, secret crossings of my deputies; otherwise I could not make any sufficient excuse for keeping the state of the country so long uncertified.

He pursued relentlessly his vendetta with Ralegh, supporting the brothers John and Henry Mere against him, and generally attacking his credit in the county while Lord Henry Howard (afterwards Earl of Northampton) attacked it at court. It must have given him satisfaction to be made KB in the new reign while Ralegh was in the Tower. Howard died 1 Mar. 1611.

CP; C66/1682; R. Lloyd, Dorset Elizabethans, passim; Roberts thesis; HMC Hatfield, passim; PCC 22 Wood.

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: P. W. Hasler