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He embraced the Church after hearing a saint debate – and it cost him his life


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Larry Peterson - published on 10/19/20

Philip Howard, a husband and father, is counted among the 40 Martyrs of England.

Thomas Howard, the Fourth Duke of Norfolk, and his wife, Lady Mary Fitzalan, gave birth to their only child, Philip Howard, on June 28, 1557, during the last year of Mary Tudor’s reign. A bright future was predicted for young Philip, but his life began during a troubled time, and nothing could be taken for granted. His mom died soon after he was born, and his father married twice more, his third wife being a widow with four children of her own. 

Philip’s father, the Duke, decided he should strengthen the family position, so he arranged a marriage between Philip and his stepdaughter, Anne Dacre, when they were still children. Philip was married when he was 14. 

Soon after, Anne’s mother died, and she fell under the strong influence of her Catholic grandmother, Lady Mounteagle. Philip had been raised in the Church of England but, for the foreseeable future, would be taught by a Catholic, Gregory Martin, the man who translated the Douay Bible.


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In 1571, Philip’s father, Duke Thomas, was involved in an uprising. The insurrection was quickly put down, and the Duke was found guilty of high treason. He was sentenced to death and summarily executed. Lord Burghley became Philip’s guardian. The first thing he did for Philip was to dismiss the Catholic, Gregory Martin. He sent Philip to Cambridge, where he graduated in Arts at the age of 19. 

Philip then took the Oath of Supremacy to the Crown and was introduced to Court. His father had warned him not to get too involved in the Court and always to cherish his wife, but Philip, enamored with the glitz and pomp, was soon ignoring that wise advice. He fell right in with the young courtiers, spent money freely, and partied openly. He also neglected Anne. Anne heard of his unfaithfulness and went to live with Philip’s grandfather, the Earl of Arundel.  

In 1581, his grandfather died, and Philip succeeded him as the Earl of Arundel and the premier Earl of England. He was now a member of the House of Lords and began to get involved in public affairs. He was spending less time at Court, and slowly, he and Anne began to reconnect. Her gentle ways and kindness began to win him over. She had also felt herself being pulled back to the Catholic Church. 

She did return to the Church, but was afraid that telling her husband might jeopardize their fragile relationship. She had no idea that Philip was feeling the same way about Catholicism. He had heard a debate a year earlier between Father Edmund Campion and some Church of England clerics in the Tower of London. He was very impressed by Campion’s arguments. However, the implications of taking up Catholicism were profound. Still, after hearing Father Campion and devoting himself to constant prayer, he embraced the Church and reconciled with his wife.

Philip had become a favorite of Queen Elizabeth while he was in Court. The Queen became suspicious of his reconciliation with Anne after she heard that Anne had returned to Catholicism. She had Anne arrested, such that Philip’s first child, a daughter, was born in prison. Elizabeth did not know that Philip had been reconciled by the Jesuit priest, Father William Weston.

Philip’s return to the Catholic Church meant a complete change of lifestyle for him. He had a priest staying in his home in London and had Mass said every day. Prayer became a regular part of his life. He continued to attend the House of Lords and the Court. Still, he avoided attending official church services by making various excuses. He desperately wanted to serve the Catholic cause. He wrote a letter to Cardinal Allen asking for advice. Elizabeth had Philip under surveillance, and a spy intercepted the message. 

Using a priest in her pay, the Queen sent a fake letter to Philip as if it came from Cardinal Allen. It recommended he return to Flanders for instruction, even though it was illegal for Catholics to leave England. Philip took the bait and boarded a ship where he was immediately arrested. He was taken to the Tower of London on April 25, 1585. The charges against him included being a Roman Catholic and sharing in “Jesuit plots.” He was fined and imprisoned at the Queen’s pleasure. He was offered his freedom if he would carry the Sword of State before the Queen to church. He refused. 

Queen Elizabeth sentenced Philip to death. However, the vindictive Queen never signed his death warrant. Philip did not know. He was kept permanently in fear of execution and languished in prison for more than 10 years. Philip Howard died on October 19, 1595, of dysentery. 

Philip Howard, 13th Earl of Arundel,  was canonized by Pope Paul VI on April 25, 1970.  He is counted as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. His feast day is October 19.

Queen Henrietta Maria

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