Howard, Henry Earl of Surrey
Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey 1517-1547
English poet and translator.
Surrey is known as an important innovator in the development of English verse. Together with his friend and mentor Thomas Wyatt, Surrey is credited with adapting to English the Petrarchan sonnet, which became the dominant sonnet form of the Elizabethan period, and the form employed by Shakespeare. He is also heralded as composing the first blank verse in English, in his translation of Books II and IV of Virgil's Aeneid. He also authored numerous poems, sonnets, and elegies, the most famous of which, “Wyatt resteth here,” memorializes his friend, with whose name and critical reputation he has been inextricably linked.
Henry Howard was born in 1517 into the most influential aristocratic family in England. His father was the third Duke of Norfolk and his mother was Lady Elizabeth Stafford, daughter of the Duke of Buckingham. Four years before Surrey's birth his father and grandfather had defeated the Scots in battle at Flodden Field, thereby establishing the Howards as the undisputed military leaders of the country. The family also assumed a leadership position in defending the feudal rights and responsibilities of the old conservative nobility. When his grandfather died and his father became Duke of Norfolk, young Henry was granted the title of Earl of Surrey. The family then moved from Surrey's birthplace in Hunsdon, Hertfordshire, to Kenninghall, Norfolk, where Surrey was tutored in the classics and in religious conservatism by John Clerke, an Oxford scholar.
Surrey was a great favorite of Henry VIII, and in 1530 he became the companion and tutor of Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond, the illegitimate son of the king. The next five years were spent primarily in Windsor, although in 1532 Surrey and Richmond traveled to the Continent, where they took up residence at the French court for a year. Also in 1532 Surrey married Lady Frances de Vere, daughter of the Earl of Oxford; the couple had a son, Thomas, in 1536. That same year, Surrey joined his father in suppressing the Pilgrimage of Grace, a revolt in the north of England. Shortly thereafter, Surrey was imprisoned at Windsor Castle for a few months after striking Edward Seymour, brother of the queen, within the precincts of the court; Seymour had suggested that Surrey and his father were secretly supportive of the rebellion. Surrey memorialized his incarceration in the sonnet “When Windesor walles sustained my wearied arm.” In 1542 Surrey was briefly confined to Fleet Prison for issuing a challenge to John à Leigh, and in 1543 he was again imprisoned, this time for harassing citizens and breaking windows, along with a number of rowdy aristocratic companions. Surrey responded to the charges in the poem “London hast thow accused me” (also known as the “Satire on London”).
As a military man, Surrey rose to the position of “Lieutenant-General of the King on Land and Sea of all the Continental Possessions of England.” In 1545 he took up arms against the French and was wounded at Montreuil. For more than a year he served as commander at Boulogne, where he reorganized the English forces and fortified the defenses of the city—both of which were in a state of disarray when he took over. Back at court in 1546, Surrey became embroiled in another dispute with the Seymours. He was arrested for attacking a Seymour supporter, charged with treason, and convicted. He was beheaded on January 19, 1547; he was twenty-nine years old.
Major Poetic Works
The majority of Surrey's work was not published during his lifetime, but circulated in manuscript. The first significant publication of his works came in 1557, with Richard Tottel's printing of Songes and Sonettes (commonly known as Tottel's Miscellany). Although Surrey's name appears on the title page, he wrote less than a third of the book's contents, some forty poems. The remaining contributions have been attributed to Wyatt (ninety-six poems), Nicholas Grimald (forty poems), and various other authors who were collectively responsible for an additional ninety-five poems. Also in 1557 Surrey's blank verse translation of Books II and IV of Virgil's Aeneid appeared. Surrey additionally produced translations of several biblical psalms and a number of sonnets of the Italian poet Petrarch. More adaptations than true translations, Surrey's Petrarchan sonnets, along with those of Wyatt, represent the first poems in English to utilize the form. One of Surrey's best-known individual poems is “Spring Lament,” sometimes known by the beginning of its first line, “The Soote Season,” which adapts the conventions of Medieval amatory verse. Surrey's elegies include “So crewel prison,” mourning the death of the Duke of Richmond, the companion of Surrey's youth; “Norfolk Sprang Thee,” an epitaph on Thomas Clere, a family squire; and two elegies on Wyatt, the well-known “Wyatt resteth here” and a lesser-known sonnet based on one of Wyatt's poems. “Wyatt resteth here,” composed in 1542, at the time of Wyatt's death, was one of the few poems published in Surrey's lifetime, when it was printed around 1545 in An Excellent Epitaffe of syr Thomas wyat, with two other dytties. It has been called Surrey's most important single work, but is also considered his least characteristic, since it contains no personal references to his relationship to Wyatt or to his own grief at Wyatt's passing.
As an innovator, Surrey is often credited with producing the first blank verse in the English language in his translation of the Aeneid, although this was not always acknowledged. According to Ants Oras, Surrey's “command of some of the finer points of blank verse technique seems … to have escaped the notice of literary critics.” O. B. Hardison, too, has observed out that “Surrey's achievement was ignored by his successors,” pointing out that John Milton, believing he was breaking new ground in Paradise Lost, “had to make many of Surrey's discoveries about heroic blank verse all over again.” Regarding Surrey's innovations in the sonnet form, Ivy L. Mumford has claimed that “Surrey was initiating a new stage of English Petrarchism in which it began to free itself from translation to establish some metrical independence of Italian sources.” In contrast, Emrys Jones has insisted that 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.” W. A. Sessions has asserted that Surrey, in his elegy to Wyatt, invented a radical new role for the poet in England. “Surrey defines the ideological terms for the new poet of honor and nobility,” Sessions claims, and Surrey's own role thus shifted to that of aristocrat-poet. This was widely recognized in the later Renaissance as not only radical but as “a special moment of origin,” according to Sessions. Today, Surrey's accomplishments and innovations, particularly in his use of blank verse, are recognized as marking a significant development in the history of English poetry.
An Excellent Epitaffe of syr Thomas wyat, with two other dytties c. 1545
Certain Bokes of Virgiles Aeneis Turned Into English Meter by the right honorable Lord, Henry earle of Surrey [translator] 1557
*Songes and Sonettes written by the right honorable Lorde Henry Haward late Earle of Surrey, and other 1557
The Poems of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey [edited by Frederick Morgan Padelford] 1920; revised 1928
The Aeneid of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey [edited by F. H. Ridley] 1963
Henry Howard Earl of Surrey: Poems [edited by Emrys Jones] 1964
Selected Poems [edited by Dennis Keene] 1985
*This collection, often called Tottel's Miscellany after its publisher, Richard Tottel, represents the first publication of most of Surrey's lyric poems, which circulated in manuscript during his life. It also includes works by Thomas Wyatt and others.
(The entire section is 128 words.)
SOURCE: Padelford, Frederick Morgan. “Surrey's Contribution to English Poetry.” In The Poems of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, Revised Edition, pp. 44-55. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1928.
[In the following essay, Padelford analyzes Surrey's prosody, declaring that “Surrey's claims to distinction rest primarily upon his establishment of the Shakespeare sonnet and his introduction of blank verse.”]
In the history of English literature the name of Surrey is invariably linked with that of Sir Thomas Wyatt for these two men were the most distinguished poets of the early Renaissance school. Attentive readers of the contemporary French, Italian, and Spanish poets and emulous of their achievements, they modernized English prosody and experimented successfully with poetry of varying types. With no adequate native tradition to support them, they borrowed, adapted or created artistic media and employed them for easy, graceful and spirited writing. This they accomplished by remodeling old metrical forms, by introducing new ones, by simplifying and disciplining English scansion, and by enlarging and refining the vocabulary of poetry.
Contrary to the received opinion, the greater credit for achieving these reforms must be given to Sir Thomas Wyatt rather than to the younger poet. Because little of his best verse found its way into print until the present century, Wyatt's real...
(The entire section is 4362 words.)
SOURCE: Oras, Ants. “Surrey's Technique of Phonetic Echoes: A Method and Its Background.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 50 (1951): 289-308.
[In the following essay, Oras discusses Surrey's blank verse translation of the Aeneid, maintaining that the work is very likely the first use of blank verse in English.]
The opening lines of the Earl of Surrey's version of the second book of the Aeneid read as follows:1
They whisted all, with fixed face attent, When prince Aeneas from the royal seat Thus gan to speak: “O Quene! it is thy wil I should renew a woe cannot be told, How that the Grekes did spoile and ouerthrow The Phrygian wealth and wailful realm of Troy: Those ruthfull things that I my self beheld …
These—probably the first lines of blank verse written in English2 if we disregard the somewhat doubtful precedent in Chaucer's Tale of Melibeus—are not just iambic pentameters divested of rhyme.3 That their rhythm, with its insistent caesura after the fourth syllable (in five lines out of seven) and its marked final pauses, shows little of the flexibility of later blank verse is all too obvious. But they have a grave stateliness of their own which is only partly due to the carefully chosen, dignified diction: there is a slow music in these verses. But music, in verse as...
(The entire section is 8369 words.)
SOURCE: Lewis, C. S. “Drab Age Verse.” In English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama, pp. 222-71. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954.
[In the following excerpt, Lewis explores the nature of the relationship between Surrey and Wyatt.]
Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey,1 was in his twenties when Wyatt died and there is no doubt that he greatly admired Wyatt both as a poet and as a man. But the relation between them was not exactly that of master and pupil. Surrey saw Wyatt as one who had ‘dayly’ produced some famous work ‘to turne to Britains gayn’ and ‘taught what might be sayd in ryme’. Though they come in a poetical elegy (where a man was not expected to be precisely critical) these words, as it happens, define pretty well what Wyatt meant to Surrey. He was not so much the technical master as the man who had suggested new possibilities, who had claimed, and partly shown, that the new-fashioned continental poetry could be naturalized in England. In that sense, he inspired Surrey. But Surrey had, of course, his own independent access to the Italians and the Romans, and his technical standards were, in their own way, higher than any that Wyatt could have taught him. In some respects he hardly competes with Wyatt. He is much less affected by the native lyrical tradition: perhaps less related to music at all. The pieces in which he is closest to Wyatt (‘Although I had a...
(The entire section is 2160 words.)
SOURCE: Jones, Emrys. Introduction to Henry Howard Earl of Surrey: Poems, edited by Emrys Jones, pp. xi-xxv. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964.
[In the following essay, Jones provides an overview of Surrey's career as an innovative poet.]
In his History of English Poetry (1781) Thomas Warton pronounced Surrey ‘the first English classical poet’. For him the observation did not need justifying, it was self-evidently true; but today it may perplex. Literary history is attended with many difficulties: it is rarely possible to say of a writer that he is doing something quite new and that he is ushering in a new school. The sixteenth century presents a confused scene—especially to the historian eager to distinguish ‘medieval’ and ‘Renaissance’ elements in literary compositions. We are accustomed to regarding the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as the age of neo-classicism; the term is not usually extended to the sixteenth. Nevertheless, the poetry of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, has qualities that led Warton to salute him in the way he did: as a forerunner of Milton, Dryden, and Pope. The justice of Warton's remark may be appreciated when Surrey's work is considered in its historical setting.
Surrey's life fell entirely within the reign of Henry VIII. It was the prime age of northern humanism. Erasmus, Colet, and others had propounded new educational ideals, and...
(The entire section is 5441 words.)
SOURCE: Jentoft, C. W. “Surrey's Four ‘Orations’ and the Influence of Rhetoric on Dramatic Effect.” Papers on Language & Literature 9, no. 3 (summer 1973): 250-62.
[In the following essay, Jentoft explains the reasons for the neglect of Surrey's poetry by twentieth-century scholars.]
The Earl of Surrey's modern critical reputation is a curious one: everyone knows about his poetry, but few have read it seriously, and fewer yet have read it approvingly. Its place in the development of English prosody requires a few paragraphs in any Renaissance survey, but its individual merits either go unnoticed or serve as foils to the very different virtues of poems considered more worthwhile. Its exclusion from serious consideration in the twentieth century has its origins in the rediscovery of the metaphysical poets by Grierson and Eliot and the related reassessment of Wyatt by Tillyard.1 Unfortunately, the indirect effect of these studies, and others that followed, has been that Surrey's poetry, because it does not seem to resemble Donne's, as Wyatt's clearly does, is usually given patronizing credit as a useful link in the chain of literary history and then dismissed as “less valuable for its own sake than as an exemplar for the poets to come.”2
As for its individual qualities, J. W. Lever expresses the majority view when he says that Surrey “lacked Wyatt's...
(The entire section is 5474 words.)
SOURCE: Davis, Walter R. “Contexts in Surrey's Poetry.” English Literary Renaissance 4, no. 1 (winter 1974): 40-55.
[In the following essay, Davis examines Surrey's “concern for wholeness, for singleness of effect” in his poetry.]
In his pioneering essay “The Art of Sir Thomas Wyatt,” Hallett Smith drew attention to Wyatt's superiority over Surrey by comparison of the former's “The longe love that in my thought doeth harbar” and the latter's “Love that doth raine and live within my thought,” both translations of Petrarch's “Amor, che nel penser” (CXL); Wyatt's superiority, he noted, lay in the greater clarity of his imagery and the forcefulness of his syntax.1 More recently, Maurice Evans has rephrased the contrast in order to emphasize both sides of the coin: “Surrey's sonnet is both less precise in wording and less faithful in content, but at the same time more fluid in movement,” or, in other words, while Wyatt conveys the intensity of an experience by vividness and roughness, Surrey is concerned with an effect of wholeness, for the sonnet as a unit rather than placing—or displacing—attention on its parts.2
Older critics, perhaps as early as Richard Tottel (who tried to assimilate Wyatt to Surrey by regularizing his meter), used to lament the fact that Wyatt was not like Surrey; it has become the fashion in more recent years to...
(The entire section is 6361 words.)
SOURCE: Fowler, Alastair. “Surrey's Formal Style.” In Conceitful Thought: The Interpretation of English Renaissance Poems, pp. 21-37. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1975.
[In the following essay, Fowler studies formal structure in Surrey's poetry as a way of discovering possible indirect meanings in his verse.]
Most critics find the temperate region confusing and prefer to operate either in the hot zone of poetry as communication (saying) or the cool zone of poetry as artefact (making). The recently dominant schools of Formalist criticism appear to have gone in the latter direction. But appearances are a little deceptive. The New Critics, it is true, left the author and his original audience so much out of account that they came to treat the work as a fairly simple machine, whose mechanism could be understood without reference to working procedures or conventions other than our own. Paradoxically, however, the Yale critics rebuilt the machine as a direct communication in current language. Naturally, for this to come off they had to concentrate on a particular canon. In Tudor poetry they wrote about Wyatt and the Sidney of Astrophil and Stella but neglected or disparaged the Arcadia, Spenser and Surrey. Surrey made a specially poor showing: his machines refused to disgorge much ambiguity, irony, or radical imagery; yet they paid out nothing very interesting in the way of plain...
(The entire section is 6600 words.)
SOURCE: Tromly, Frederic B. “Surrey's Fidelity to Wyatt in ‘Wyatt Resteth Here.’” Studies in Philology 77, no. 4 (fall 1980): 376-87.
[In the following essay, Tromly discusses the importance of Surrey's elegy to Wyatt in understanding Surrey's body of work.]
Surrey's hour seems to have come round (again) at last. In recent years a number of studies have rehabilitated his reputation by removing him from Wyatt's steadily lengthening shadow.1 By dissociating the two poets, Surrey's admirers have made it difficult to continue to regard, or rather disregard, him as merely an incompetent Wyatt. Their insistence on Surrey's separate identity has allowed attention to be focussed on his characteristic strengths: mastery of rhetoric and form, elegant diction, and rich allusiveness. Unfortunately, this desire to dissociate the two poets has inclined Surrey's champions to underestimate the significance of the closest point of literary contact between them, his epitaph “Wyatt Resteth Here.” Though critics have often praised it in passing as one of Surrey's finest poems, the epitaph has received only two detailed readings—neither of which examines closely the implied relationship of Surrey to Wyatt in the poem.2
The epitaph for Wyatt is a central poem in Surrey's canon because it defines his norm by deviating from it; it is his least characteristic poem. The anomalies...
(The entire section is 4634 words.)
SOURCE: Zitner, S. P. “Truth and Mourning in a Sonnet by Surrey.” ELH 50, no. 3 (autumn 1983): 509-29.
[In the following essay, Zitner discusses Surrey's elegy to Thomas Clere, focusing particularly on his adaptation of the Italian sonnet form.]
Norfolk sprang thee, Lambeth holds thee dead, Clere of the County of Cleremont though hight; Within the wombe of Ormondes race thou bread, And sawest thy cosine crowned in thy sight. Shelton for love, Surrey for Lord thou chase: Ay me, while life did last that league was tender; Tracing whose steps thou sawest Kelsall blaze, Laundersey burnt, and battered Bullen render. At Muttrell gates, hopeles of all recure, Thine Earle halfe dead gave in thy hand his Will; Which cause did thee this pining death procure, Ere Sommers four times seaven thou couldest fulfill. Ah Clere, if love had booted, care, or cost, Heaven had not wonn, nor Earth so timely lost.(1)
The sonnet-epitaph that Surrey wrote on his friend Thomas Clere is unmistakably right and proper English—not Italian octave and sestet, but three quatrains of alternate rhyme on six sounds, the final couplet rhymed on yet another. One formalist explanation for the establishment of this scheme, fixed by Surrey, is that it compensated for the absence in English of the relative ease of sustained rhyme in Italian. Increasing the number of terminal...
(The entire section is 8495 words.)
SOURCE: Hardison, O. B. “Tudor Humanism and Surrey's Translation of the Aeneid.” Studies in Philology 83, no. 3 (summer 1986): 237-60.
[In the following essay, Hardison credits Surrey with the invention of English blank verse.]
One of the more interesting facts about English blank verse is that it was invented. The evidence suggests that it was the result of a self-conscious effort by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, around 1540 to create a vernacular English form equivalent to the dactylic hexameter of classical epic and parallel to unrhymed continental forms such as Italian versi sciolti.
The background of this effort has been illuminated by the excellent studies of such scholars as Jones, Mason, Hagar, and Richardson.1 It is part of what can be called the esoteric phase of English civic humanism, in contrast to the exoteric phase. The exoteric humanists saw themselves as part of an international movement bent on restoring universal and timeless cultural values—those of antiquity—through the medium of a universal and timeless language, Latin. Conversely, the esoteric humanists recognized, at least tacitly, that the ideal of a universal culture was artificial and that their real task was to disseminate the values of classical culture in the regional and national cultures defined by vernacular languages. Translation was one obvious way to accomplish this,...
(The entire section is 9527 words.)
SOURCE: Guy-Bray, Stephen. “‘We Two Boys Together Clinging’: The Earl of Surrey and the Duke of Richmond.” English Studies in Canada 21, no. 2 (June 1995): 138-50.
[In the following essay, Guy-Bray contends that “So crewel prison” is not just an elegy, as it is often classified, but also a love poem.]
“So crewell prison” is a useful poem for historians of English poetry: Surrey, always (and now perhaps primarily) associated with technical innovation, is said in this poem and in some others to be beginning the tradition of the English elegy. But this is not the only possible generic description. The classification of “So crewell prison” as an elegy has, practically speaking, ruled out the possibility that the poem could fit into other kinds of poetry, and criticism has tended to concentrate on the poem's connections to the elegy to the exclusion of other poetic and generic considerations. I want to look at these other considerations, to suggest alternative generic contexts for the poem in order to suggest alternative ways to read the poem. Although “So crewell prison” is undeniably an elegy, it is, equally undeniably, not just an elegy; and my emphasis here is on the poem as a love poem and on its relation to other love poems.
The best way into the subject is to examine the different classifications of “So crewell prison” made by Surrey's two most important...
(The entire section is 5973 words.)
Bawcutt, Priscilla. “Douglas and Surrey: Translators of Virgil.” In Essays and Studies, edited by Kenneth Muir, pp. 52-67. London: John Murray, 1974.
Examination of the stylistic differences between Gavin Douglas and Surrey in their translations of the Aeneid.
Braekman, Martine. “A Chaucerian ‘Courtly Love Aunter’ by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey.” Neophilologus 79, no. 4 (October 1995): 675-87.
Discussion of “Complaint of a diyng louer” as part of the tradition of the Chaucerian love lyric.
Casady, Edwin R. “A Reinterpretation of Surrey's Character and Actions.” PMLA 51 (1936): 626-35.
Maintains that Surrey's reputation has been unjustly sullied for more than three centuries and that his actions were misunderstood by his contemporaries.
Harris, William O. “‘Love That Doth Raine’: Surrey's Creative Imitation.” Modern Philology 66, no. 4 (May 1969): 298-305.
Comparison of sonnets by Thomas Wyatt and Surrey, both of which claim the same Petrarchan sonnet as their source.
Jentoft, C. W. “Surrey's Five Elegies: Rhetoric, Structure, and the Poetry of Praise.” PMLA 91, no. 1 (January 1976): 23-32.
Evaluation of Surrey as an elegiac poet.
(The entire section is 497 words.)