Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Howard, William (1563-1640)
HOWARD, Lord WILLIAM (1563–1640), 'Belted Will,' was the third son of Thomas Howard III, fourth duke of Norfolk [q. v.], by his second wife Margaret, daughter of Lord Audley. He was born at Audley End, Essex, on 19 Dec. 1563, and his mother died three weeks after his birth. His father soon afterwards married the Dowager Lady Dacre of Gilsland, and betrothed his children to the Dacre heiresses, so that at the age of eight William Howard was contracted to Lady Elizabeth Dacre. He was educated by Gregory Martin, fellow of St. John's College, Oxford, a good scholar, and an adherent of the old religion; but he fled from England before he had time to produce much impression on the boy's mind. The execution of his father in 1572 left the boy under the nominal care of his half-brother, Philip Howard (1557-1595) [q.v.]; but probably he was brought up by the Earl of Arundel, his brother's grandfather on the mother's side. His marriage with Elizabeth Dacre was solemnised at Audley End on 28 Oct. 1577, and after that he proceeded to Cambridge, where he probably entered at St. John's College, as in later life he presented that college with some books 'devotissimæ mentis gratissimum testimonium' (Ornsby, Household Books, p. x, n.) In 1581 he took up his abode with his wife, probably at a house called Mount Pleasant, in Enfield Chase, Middlesex, where his eldest son was born on 6 Dec. 1581. He soon became involved in the fortunes of his brother Philip, earl of Arundel [q.v.]; was imprisoned with him in 1583, and joined the church of Rome in 1584. He was again imprisoned in 1585, when his brother tried to leave the kingdom, but was not arraigned with him, and was released in 1586.
Elizabeth disliked the Howards, and William knew that he was a suspected man. For many years he was involved in lawsuits about his wife's possessions. The claims of the Dacre heiresses had been disputed in 1569 by their uncle, Leonard Dacre, and the dispute was revived by another uncle, Francis Dacre, in 1584. There is a full account of the various suits written by William in Appendix i. to Ornsby's ‘Household Books.’ It is sufficient to say that the claims of Francis Dacre were disallowed; but the knowledge of the unpopularity of the Howards induced a northern neighbour, Gerard Lowther, to set up a title for the queen to the baronies of Gilsland and Brough. The case was tried at Carlisle in 1589, and was unopposed, as Howard was again in prison. Lowther pursued his course of dispossessing the Howards of their lands on the queen's behalf. Elizabeth took possession of most of them, and made Howard an allowance of 400l. a year. Ultimately in 1601 the queen permitted the sisters, Lady Arundel and Lady Elizabeth Howard, to buy back their lands by a payment of some 10,000l. each, and the long lawsuit was ended to the profit of the royal coffers. A partition was made of the estates between the two sisters, and in 1603 Howard took up his abode at Naworth Castle, Cumberland, a house which is indissolubly connected with his name as its restorer (an account of Howard's works at Naworth is given by C. J. Ferguson, ‘Naworth Castle,’ in the Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmoreland Archæological Society, iv. 486, &c.)
After settling at Naworth, Howard brought an upright character, a sound judgment, and a cultivated mind to the work of restoring order and furthering civilisation in the wild districts of the borders. He lived in a patriarchal fashion with his sons and their wives and families. He improved his estates, encouraged agriculture, and strove to promote the well-being of the people. His praiseworthy efforts were not always approved by his neighbours, and many attempts were made to bring him into trouble as a recusant. On account of his religion he held no public post till 1618, when he was made one of the commissioners for the borders (Rymer, Fœdera, xvii. 53). He insisted on the due execution of the laws, and by his perseverance annoyed the neighbouring justices and the captain of Carlisle Castle, whose shortcomings he laid before the privy council; but his proceedings were always in accordance with the law. Scott, in the 'Lay of the Last Minstrel,' has turned him into a mythical hero by the name of 'Belted Will.' But Scott has also made him lord warden, an office which he never held, and has transferred to him legends which properly belong to his Dacre ancestors. He was not known in his own days as 'Belted Will,' but ‘Bauld [bold] Willie,’ and his wife ‘Bessie with the braid [broad] apron,’ in allusion to her ample dower. Their 'Household Books,' which extend with some gaps from 1612 to 1640, give copious information of their domestic economy, which became a pattern to the neighbourhood. A diary of some southern visitors in 1634 gives a pleasant description of the generous hospitality of Naworth Castle, and says of its hosts: ‘These noble twain could not make above twenty-five years both together when first they married, that now can make above 140 years, and are very hearty, well, and merry’ (Household Books, Appendix, p. 489).
Howard was also a scholar and an antiquary. Early in life he began to collect books and manuscripts, and in 1592 published at London an edition of Florence of Worcester's ‘Chronicon ex Chronicis, auctore Florentio Wigorniensi Monacho,’ which he dedicated to Lord Burghley. He formed at Naworth a large library, of which some of the printed books remain (there is a catalogue in the ‘Household Books,’ Appendix, p. 473). The collection of manuscripts has unfortunately been dispersed. A small portion is in the Arundel MSS. in the Royal College of Arms; but many valuable manuscripts in other collections may be identified as belonging to Howard by his marginal notes. It is clear that he was a man of considerable learning, and that his library was valuable. He was a friend of Cotton, Camden, and Spelman, and a correspondent of Ussher, who collated one of his manuscripts of the letters of Abbot Aldhelm (Veterum Epistolarum Sylloge, p.129). His intimacy with Cotton led to the marriage of one of his daughters to Cotton's eldest son, afterwards Sir Thomas Cotton. Camden calls Howard 'a singular lover of valuable antiquity and learned withal.' When a proposal was made in 1617 to revive the Society of Antiquaries, which James I had for some reason suppressed, a memorial in favour of the project sets the name of Howard first in the list of its probable members (Archæologia, vol. i. xvii). Living close to the Roman Wall, Howard collected Roman altars and inscriptions, and sent drawings of them, made with his own hand, to Camden, who was working at his ‘Britannia’ (Brit. p. 642). These he kept in the garden at Naworth, where they were seen by Stukeley in 1725 (Iter Boreale, p. 58). Even in Stukeley's day they were suffering from neglect, and were subsequently scattered or destroyed. Some information about them is to be found in Horsley's ‘Britannia Romana,’ pp. 254-8, and Bruce's ‘Lapidarium Septentrionale,’ pp. 176-8, 197-9. Howard's declining years were disturbed by the outbreak of civil troubles, and after the battle of Newburn in August 1640 there were fears that the Scots army would advance on Carlisle and attack Naworth on the way. It was therefore thought prudent to carry the old man to Greystock as a place of greater safety. He was so feeble that he had to be borne in a litter, and soon after his arrival there he died early in October, having survived his wife about a year. Among his ten children were Philip, whose grandson, Charles Howard (1629-1685) [q.v.], was created Earl of Carlisle in 1661, and Sir Francis of Corby Castle, Cumberland, a royalist colonel. There is a portrait of him by Cornelius Janssen at Castle Howard, and one of his wife at Gilling Castle, Yorkshire.[The life of Howard has been carefully told by Ornsby in the Introduction to the Household Books of Lord William Howard (Surtees Society), and the Appendix contains a number of illustrative documents; Howard's Memorials of the Howards; Duke of Norfolk's edition of the Lives of Philip Howard, earl of Arundel, and Anne Dacres, his wife; Hutchinson's History of Cumberland, p.133, &c.; Scott's Lay of the Last Minstrel, notes; Dugdale's Baronage, ii. 281; Lonsdale's Worthies of Cumberland; Lysons's Magna Britannia, 'Cumberland,' pp. 32 and clxxix-xxxi; Gillow's Dictionary of the English Catholics, iii. 455-8.]