Later nicknamed 'Belted Will', he was the third son of the 4th Duke of Norfolk. At
an early age he was the victim of a matrimonial alliance aimed at securing the property
of the great Dacre family for the Howards. The widowed Duke and Lady Dacre were married
and their little children married too. William was only thirteen and his wife Elizabeth
a year younger. In the meanwhile the Duke had been beheaded for high treason in plotting against
Qijeen Elizabeth and planning to m~rry yet again Mary, Queen of Scots. Late in life
W 111am and Elizabeth were proud to claim how happy their marriage had been, and
that whereas they had only 25 years between them when they married, they had then
achieved over 150.
The Duke was an Anglican, but he chose as tutor for his sons, Philip
and William, a fine scholar called Gregory Martin, who had leanings toward Rome and
was later ordained at Douai. His influence on the young men was profound, both in
turning them towards the old faith, and in instilling a love of literature and scholarship.
After atime at Cambridge, William and his wife lived at Enfield Chase, where their
fifteen children were born. In 1583 Philip declared himself a Roman Catholic and
William soon followed his example. This immediately placed themin adangerous position,
as the Pope~s excommunication of the Queen resulted in all Roman Catholics being
regarded as treasonable. Both were imprisoned in the Tower on more than one occasion,
and Philip, who had planned to leave the country, eventually died there. He has in
recent years been canonised as a saint.
The Dacre family did not allow the estates
to pass to the Howards peacefully. Elizabeth's uncles 'stomached it much that so
goodly an inheritance descended by law to their nieces' and years of lawsuits resulted.
It was not till 1601 that Elizabeth at last allowed them to receive their estates,
and then only on a payment to the Crown of about £10,000 each. Soon afterwards William
made his home in Cumberland, restoring the old Dacre fortress of Naworth. After a
century and more of war and pillage the barony was laid waste and William set about
restoring order and prosperity. By a rareful survey of the area, a careful syatem
of accounting (both of which are recorded and of fascinating interest) and the re-establishment
of amarket at Brampton, he began the building up of a prosperous and peaceful countryside.
He was never Lord Warden of the Marches as Scott would have it, but he was active
in bringing mosstroopers to justice. Legends of his summary executions are belied
by the records but he was certainly active with his sons in establishing peace.
Howard was a scholar of note, a friend of Camden and Cotton and one of the little
group who set up the short-lived Society of Antiquaries. He built up a large library,
mainly of history and theology, was a pioneer in collecting Roman remains and edited
a monastic chronicle. Camden described him as 'a singular lover of venerable antiquitie,
and learned withal'.
Elizabeth died in 1639 and a year later, when Naworth was endangered
by a Scots army, the sick and aged man was taken by horse-litter to Greystoke, his
sister-in-law's castle. He only lived a few days and was buried in Greystoke church.
The families of two of his sons remained in the area at Naworth and Corby Castles,
and are there to this day. The great-grandson who became the first Ear; of Carlisle
became an Anglican, as his family have remained, while the Corby branch has always
been Roman Catholic.
Although his books have gone, his spirit still seems to inhabit
his tower at Naworth, where his bedroom, his library, with a wonderful ceiling, and
his oratory are little touched. In the last is an early sixteenth century German
painting of the Passion and a priest's hole. His portrait and that of his wife is
in the great hall.
His devotion to his faith, apparently without bigotry (for he came
to the help of Master William Warwick, the vicar of Brampton, with loans on several
occasions, once saving him from the hands of the 'pursivantes'), his charity, generosity
and hospitality are evident. The Brampton secondary school has been named after him.
Ornsby, who edited his papers a hundred years ago wrote: The strength and resolution
of Lord William's character, his stern determination to uphold, at all hazards, the
majesty of the law, his high-minded integrity of purpose, and his abhorrence of all
that was base and ignoble, left unquestionably an impress, strong and lasting, upon
the country over which his influence extended.
Commendation: 7th October.
George Ornsby (Cd.), Selections from the Household Books Of the Lard William Howard
of Naworth Castle. (Surtees SoCiety, 1878).