gentle Norfolk


Desperately seeking Cymbeline is on tour! Well, I’m in Norfolk, which is exactly as flat as you would expect. Norfolk is not a major setting for any of Shakespeare’s plays, but Norfolk as a person keeps cropping up…

Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, appears in Richard II – he is the man who fights with Bolingbroke at the beginning and is banished for life. He predicts (ish) the eventual outcome – “No, Bolingbroke; if ever I were traitor, My name be blotted from the book of life, And I from heaven banish’d as from hence! But what thou art, God, thou, and I, do know; And all too soon, I fear, the King shall rue.”

Thank you, the BBC!

Thank you, the BBC!

According to a throwaway line in Henry IV, Falstaff was once his page, which I reckon could be enough for some fascinating revenge-based fan fiction…

There’s another Duke of Norfolk in Henry VI, John Mowbray, grandson of Thomas. It is a minor Yorkist role, and one that doesn’t seem to have been cast yet in the (new) Hollow Crown. I suspect it is a role which is often cut, not least because…

There’s also a Duke of Norfolk in Richard III – John Howard. This was a new creation, not related to the Dukes of Norfolk in Richard II or Henry VI. And indeed Prince Richard (the elder of the Princes in the Tower) held the title briefly between the two*. Our man John fights for Richard on Bosworth Field and receives a warning note: “Jockey of Norfolk, be not so bold, For Dickon thy master is bought and sold.” Which Richard was, of course, thanks to the Stanleys, but the note is most likely a dramatic invention of Shakespeare’s.** Again no casting has been announced – he actually looked (or at least consented to be painted as if he looked) like this.


His son Thomas Howard is Norfolk in Henry VIII – grandfather to Anne Boleyn and conspirator against the Cardinal.*** The character is currently being played by Theoden (Bernard Hill) in Wolf Hall, but looked like this in real (portrait) life.

I wonder what the other side of his face looked like...

I wonder what the other side of his face looked like…

The same family still has the title now (they’re up to the 18th Duke), and because it has been held the longest, this means the Duke of Norfolk is the premier member of the British peerage, i.e. the first person below the Royal Family in rank. And, because the peerages are a little bit silly, he actually lives in Sussex…

Arundel Castle, seat of the Dukes of Norfolk. I wouldn't turn it down...

Arundel Castle, seat of the Dukes of Norfolk. I wouldn’t turn it down…


*Meaning that at least three people have held the title 1st Duke of Norfolk. Which isn’t at all complicated.

** Shakespeare you say? Taking dramatic liberties? You’re shocked, aren’t you…

*** He was also grandfather to Catherine Howard, Henry’s fifth wife, and the other one who got beheaded. I’m saying nothing.


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