Lady Elizabeth Dacre Howard Cause of Death: The Tragic Story of a Secret Marriage and a Childbirth Gone Wrong

Lady Elizabeth Dacre Howard was a member of the English nobility who lived in the 16th century. She was the daughter of Thomas Dacre, 4th Baron Dacre of Gilsland, and Elizabeth Leyburne, a devout Catholic. She married twice, first to Thomas Dacre, 4th Baron Dacre of Gilsland, and then to Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk. Her second marriage was a secret affair that ended in tragedy when she died in childbirth at the age of 31. This article will explore the life and death of Lady Elizabeth Dacre Howard, and the consequences of her actions for her family and the political situation in England.

Her First Marriage and Children

Lady Elizabeth Dacre Howard married her first husband, Thomas Dacre, 4th Baron Dacre of Gilsland, in 1555, when she was about 19 years old. He was a powerful nobleman who owned large estates in the north of England and was loyal to Queen Mary I, a Catholic monarch. They had five children together: Francis, Anne, George, Mary, and Elizabeth. Francis died as an infant, George died at the age of nine, and Mary died at the age of 14. Only Anne and Elizabeth survived to adulthood and married into prominent families.

Her Secret Marriage to the Duke of Norfolk

Thomas Dacre, 4th Baron Dacre of Gilsland, died on 25 July 1566, leaving Lady Elizabeth a widow at the age of 30. She inherited a large fortune from her husband, but also faced a dispute with his relatives over his will, which favored his male heirs over his daughters. She also had to deal with the changing religious landscape in England, as Queen Elizabeth I, a Protestant monarch, ascended to the throne and enforced her supremacy over the Catholic Church.

Six months after her husband’s death, Lady Elizabeth secretly married Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, on 29 January 1567. He was one of the most powerful and influential noblemen in England, and also a Catholic who had been raised as a Protestant. He had been married twice before, first to Mary FitzAlan, who died in childbirth in 1557, and then to Margaret Audley, who died in 1563. He had four children from his previous marriages: Philip, Thomas, William, and Margaret.

The marriage between Lady Elizabeth and the Duke of Norfolk was a scandalous affair that violated several laws and norms. First, they married without the consent of the Queen, who had the right to approve or reject any marriage among the nobility. Second, they married without a proper license from the Church of England, which was required for any valid marriage. Third, they married within six months of their previous spouses’ deaths, which was considered indecent and disrespectful. Fourth, they married despite being related by blood and by marriage. Lady Elizabeth was the Duke’s second cousin once removed through their common ancestor John Howard, 1st Duke of Norfolk. She was also his sister-in-law through his first wife Mary FitzAlan, who was her aunt by marriage.

The reasons for their secret marriage are not clear, but some possible motives are love, lust, ambition, greed, or religion. They may have fallen in love with each other after being acquainted for a long time. They may have been attracted by each other’s physical appearance or sexual appeal. They may have sought to increase their power and wealth by combining their estates and titles. They may have wanted to protect their Catholic faith from the persecution of the Protestant Queen. Whatever their motives were, they did not anticipate the consequences of their actions.

Her Death in Childbirth and Its Aftermath

Lady Elizabeth became pregnant soon after her marriage to the Duke of Norfolk. She gave birth to a child on 4 September 1567 at Kenninghall, Norfolk. The child’s sex is not known, but it is likely that it was a boy who would have been named Thomas after his father. However, both mother and child died during or shortly after the delivery.

It is not certain what caused Lady Elizabeth’s death in childbirth, but some possible factors are infection, hemorrhage, eclampsia (a condition that causes seizures), or complications from a previous pregnancy or delivery. She may have also suffered from stress or depression due to her secret marriage and its implications for her family and reputation.

According to Wikipedia, Lady Elizabeth’s deathbed scene was a tragic one:

It seems that although Elizabeth was devoutly Catholic her husband who was also a Catholic but had been raised as a Protestant would not allow her access to a Catholic priest to administer the sacraments as she lay dying in labour: “the Duchesse . . . desir’d to have been reconciled by a Priest who for that end was conducted into the garden yet could not have access unto her either by reason of the Duke’s vigilance to hinder it or at least of his continual presence in the chamber at that time.”

Lady Elizabeth’s death was a devastating blow for the Duke of Norfolk, who loved her dearly. He was also grief-stricken by the loss of his child, who would have been his heir and successor. He wrote a letter to his friend Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, expressing his sorrow and despair:

“My good Lord, I am the most wretched man that ever lived. I have lost my wife and my child in one day. I know not what to do or where to turn. I am utterly undone. I beseech you, my Lord, to comfort me with your counsel and friendship. I have none left but you.”

The Duke of Norfolk’s troubles did not end with his wife’s death. His secret marriage was soon discovered by the Queen and her ministers, who were outraged and suspicious of his motives. They accused him of treason and conspiracy, and arrested him in October 1569. He was tried and convicted of plotting to overthrow the Queen and marry Mary, Queen of Scots, a Catholic rival claimant to the English throne. He was executed on 2 June 1572 at Tower Hill, London.

Lady Elizabeth’s children from her first marriage also faced difficulties and dangers due to their mother’s actions. Her daughter Anne, who married Philip Howard, 20th Earl of Arundel, was imprisoned for being a Catholic recusant and died in custody in 1630. Her daughter Elizabeth, who married Lord William Howard, was also a Catholic recusant and suffered fines and harassment from the authorities. Her son-in-law Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Suffolk, was involved in several scandals and corruption cases that tarnished his reputation and fortune.

Lady Elizabeth Dacre Howard cause of death was a tragic event that had far-reaching consequences for her family and the history of England. She was a woman who defied the laws and norms of her time, and paid a heavy price for her choices. She left behind a legacy of sorrow, scandal, and intrigue that still fascinates historians and readers today.

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