Saint of the Day – 29 December – Blessed William Howard (1614–1680) Martyr, Married Layman and Father, 1st Viscount Stafford – born on 30 November 1614 in Strand, London, England and died by being beheaded on 29 December 1680 on Tower Hill, London, England.
William was the grandson of the Venerable Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel, fifth son of Earl Thomas (the first great art collector of England) and Uncle of Thomas Philip – Cardinal Howard. Brought up as a Catholic, he was made a Knight of the Bath, at the Coronation of Charles I, on 1 February 1626 and married Mary, sister of the last Baron Stafford, in October 1637; the title was revived for him on 12 September 1640 and he was immediately afterwards created a Viscount.
He is said to have joined the Royal army during the Civil War but perhaps erroneously, for in 1642 he was in Holland, attending the exiled Royal family and his mother and father. He was also employed by the Emperor Ferdinand in a missions to Flanders and Switzerland. After his father’s death on 4 October 1646, many painful quarrels with his nearest relatives ensued. The Howard properties in England having been sequestrated by Parliament, the family was much impoverished and William’s eldest surviving brother, Earl Henry Frederick, was induced to commence a series of unjust and vexatious lawsuits against his mother and practically robbed her of her dowry. William, as her representative, was involved in these painful and prolonged quarrels and even after both mother and brother had passed away, his cousins and their agents continued against him a quasi-persecution for several years.
The details of these transactions are obscure but it would seem that the Viscount was, under foreign law, twice actually arrested, at Heidelberg, in 1653 and at Utrecht in January 1656. In the latter case, he was acquitted with honour, though the charges, of which the particulars are not now known, were insulting and vexatious. In these troubles, his most dangerous opponents were perhaps Junius and other literary adherents of his father, who were claiming manuscripts and rarities from the Arundel Collections in payment of their debts, while Lord William successfully proved that those collections were not liable to such charges. After the Restoration in 1660, his rights were firmly established and his life within his large family circle must have been extremely happy. The brightest hours were perhaps those spent in conducting his nephew Philip to receive the Cardinal’s hat in Rome (1675).
Three years later, the infamous anti-Catholic Titus Oates and his abetters, included Lord Stafford in their list of Catholic Lords to be proscribed and eventually, he was put first upon the list. It has been supposed that this was done because his age, simplicity and the previous differences with other members of his family, suggested that he would prove comparatively easy prey. On 25 October, 1678, he was committed to the Tower and it was more than a year before it was decided to try him. Then the resolution was taken so suddenly that he had little time to prepare. The trial, before the House of Lords, lasted from 30 November to 7 December and was conducted with great solemnity. But no attempt was made to appraise the perjuries of Oates, Dugdale and Tuberville and the Viscount was, of course, condemned by 55 votes to 31.
It is sad to read that all his kinsmen but one (that one, however, the Lord Mowbray, with whom he had had many of the legal conflicts above here noticed) voted against him. His last letters and speeches are marked by a quiet dignity and a simple heroism, which give us a high idea of his character. Blessed William was condemned to execution by beheading.
His fellow prisoner and confessor, Father Corker OSB, says: “He was ever held to be of a generous disposition, very charitable, devout, addicted to sobriety, inoffensive in words, a lover of justice.” A portrait of him, see below, by Sir Antony Van Dyck belongs to the Marquess of Bute.
Blessed William was Beatified on 15 December 1929 by Pope Pius XI.