The Earl of Surrey

Henry Howard was the Earl of Surrey and he lived from 1517 to 1547, so five hundred years ago, and yet his words sound as fresh and as sweet as if they had been just written. He is credited, with Thomas Wyatt, as being responsible for the modern sonnet with its distinctive form, of three quatrains (sets of four lines) which have an abab rhyme pattern, and then a rhyming couplet at the end.

Although the earldom of Surrey had been in existence since it was created by William the Conqueror, Henry held his as a courtesy title. He was a cousin of Anne Boleyn, which I guess did not always make his life very safe; he was a soldier who served his country and his king, Henry VIII well but such were the dangers and reverses in fortune of the times, that he was imprisoned, several times, although once was on account of his riotous behaviour! His early death  at the age of thirty was a tragedy for several reasons; he was executed as a traitor. He had two sons, Thomas, and Henry who, years and years later in 1614, had a magnificent memorial tomb made for him.

Here is a sonnet Henry senior wrote, which has great poignancy knowing of his tragic early demise:

Set me whereas the sun doth parch the green
Or where his beams do not dissolve the ice,
In temperate heat where he is felt and seen;
In presence prest of people, mad or wise;
Set me in high or yet in low degree,
In longest night or in the shortest day,
In clearest sky or where clouds thickest be,
In lusty youth or when my hairs are gray.
Set me in heaven, in earth, or else in hell;
In hill, or dale, or in the foaming flood;
Thrall or at large, alive whereso I dwell,
Sick or in health, in evil fame or good:
Hers will I be, and only with this thought
Content myself although my chance be nought.


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