Ven Sir William Howard Viscount Stafford

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William Howard, Viscount Stafford

Birthdate: (66)
Birthplace: Whitehall,Westminster,Middlesex
Death: December 29, 1680 (66)
London, England (Martyred on Tower Hill 1680)
Immediate Family:

Son of Thomas Howard, 21st Earl of Arundel and Lady Alethea Talbot, Baroness Furnivall
Husband of Viscountess Mary, 1st Countess Stafford
Father of Henry Stafford Howard, 1st Earl of Stafford and John Stafford Howard
Brother of Sir Henry Frederick Howard, 22nd Earl of Arundel; Anne Howard and James Howard, Lord Baron Maltravers

Occupation: Viscount Stafford
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Ven Sir William Howard Viscount Stafford,_1st_Viscount_Stafford

William Howard, 1st Viscount Stafford (30 November 1614 – 29 December 1680) was the youngest son of Thomas Howard, 21st Earl of Arundel, and his wife, the former Alethea Talbot. He was a supporter of the Royalist cause before being implicated in the Popish Plot and executed for treason. He is regarded as a Roman Catholic martyr.

Early life

William grew up in a nominally Anglican household, his father having converted to the Church of England in 1616. William was undoubtedly exposed to Roman Catholic influences. His grandfather, Philip Howard, 20th Earl of Arundel had been imprisoned by Elizabeth I in the Tower of London for being Roman Catholic and had died there after 10 years' imprisonment.

In 1620, William was placed in the household of Samuel Harsnett, Bishop of Norwich for an education, then attended St John's College, Cambridge at the age of eleven in 1624, but did not receive a degree. He was still regarded as part of the Church of England in 1633, being listed as an Ecclesiastical Commissioner at that time.

Marriage and children

He married Mary, sister of Henry Stafford, 5th Baron Stafford by a licence granted 11 October 1637. The Staffords were Catholics and the marriage was conducted by a Catholic priest, to the embarrassment of William's father. Following the forced surrender of the barony by Roger Stafford, 6th Baron Stafford, the Howard family secured the title for William, their being created Baron and Baroness Stafford on 12 September 1640. Two months later, William was created Viscount Stafford.

The couple had 3 sons and 6 daughters, of which are known:

Henry Stafford Howard, 1st Earl of Stafford, 2nd Viscount Stafford. Married Claude-Charlotte, daughter of Philibert de Gramont and Elizabeth, daughter of Sir George Hamilton; died without issue and was succeeded by his nephew, son of John.

John Stafford Howard. Married firstly Mary, daughter of Sir John Southcote of Merstham. Secondly Theresa, daughter of Robert Strickland.

Francis Stafford Howard, who married Eleanor, daughter of Henry Stafford.

Ursula Stafford Howard, who became a nun

Delphina Stafford Howard, also a nun

Alethea Stafford Howard, also a nun

Isabella Stafford Howard, who married John Paulet, 5th Marquess of Winchester

Anastasia Stafford Howard, who married George Holman of Warkworth

Exile and return

Stafford and family left England in Aug 1641, moving to Antwerp; his parents had also left England and were in the same area. He was allowed by Parliament to return to England with Mary in 1646 and 1647, however in 1649 his estates were sequestered and compounded for recusancy and royalism. At his trial in 1680, he claimed he performed duties for King Charles I during this time, travelling between England and the Low Countries, and visiting Rome, the Palatinate and Heidelberg; in the latter he was imprisoned for a year, allegedly for immorality; John Evelyn referred to the charge cryptically as " a vice that need not be named, but of which I am sure he repented." . He was also imprisoned in 1656 in the Netherlands, for his father's debts. There were many quarrels over the Howard inheritance, especially between William and his elder brother's family, which had pursued a series of suits against his mother and him for additional money. Stafford was clearly a quarrelsome individual: during the Popish Plot he pointed out the absurdity of linking him with Lord Arundell as a co-conspirator, since they had not been on speaking terms for 25 years. Over the years he quarreled with many of his Howard relations, including Henry Howard, 6th Duke of Norfolk, the head of the family, which was to prove unfortunate in 1680 when several of them sat as his peers to try him for treason. According to John Evelyn, of his close relatives in the House of Lords only the Earl of Arundel voted Not Guilty

He returned to England at the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 and was restored to his estates. He was never really prominent in political affairs nor amongst Catholics, although he did promote the removal of the anti-Catholic penal laws with King Charles II and James, Duke of York. He was also a Fellow of the Royal Society from 1665, becoming a council member in 1672. His relative obscurity was held against him during the Plot; informers cunningly invented quite plausible speeches in which he lamented the King's ingratitude and the lack of reward the Howards had received for their loyalty. In fact Stafford, like his fellow Plot victim John Belasyse, 1st Baron Belasyse thought that under the tolerant regime of Charles II, the Catholic nobility were as well off as they could reasonably expect to be and "we have no other interest than to be quiet".

Popish Plot

Main article: Popish Plot

In 1678, he was implicated by Titus Oates in the fictitious Popish Plot and was sent to the Tower of London on 31 October 1678, along with four other Catholic peers. They were due to be put on trial in early 1679, but Charles prorogued Parliament and it was delayed. Scepticism of the plot grew and it was thought the imprisoned peers may have been released, but anti-Catholic feelings grew again in 1680 and Stafford was put on trial in November for treason.


Evidence against Stafford was from Oates, who said he had seen a document from the Pope naming Stafford as a conspirator and from Stephen Dugdale, who testified that Stafford had tried to get him to kill the King. A third witness, Edward Turberville said he had also visited Stafford in Paris and had also been asked to kill Charles. Stafford was denied counsel and forced to conduct his own defence,[6] bringing forward witnesses to counter the evidence of his accusers. One such witness could have been Richard Gerard of Hilderstone who had come to London to testify, but was instead imprisoned on the word of Stephen Dugdale, and died in jail before the trial. Although the Lord High Steward, Heneage Finch, conducted the trial with great fairness, it was not enough : while Stafford maintained his innocence with great vigour, John Evelyn, a spectator, thought his speeches "very confused and without method". Stafford was convicted by a majority of 55 to 31 and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, the punishment of traitors, which was commuted by the king to beheading. It was noted with disapproval that seven of the peers who voted Guilty were Howard cousins, perhaps further evidence of his quarrelsome nature.


Stafford was executed on Tower Hill on 29 Dec 1680. Gilbert Burnet wrote that he was quickly forgotten, but others thought that the publication of a final letter to his daughter Delphina ( a nun at Leuven), in which he spoke eloquently of his innocence, helped turn public opinion against the Plot.


Stafford was attainted and the family lost the title; the title of Baron Stafford was returned to line in 1824 with the attainder being reversed but the title of Viscount was extinct as there were no male heirs. Mary Stafford had her title returned with the accession of James II and she was created Countess of Stafford on 5 Oct 1688, at the same time her son was created Earl of Stafford.


He was beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1929.

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Ven Sir William Howard Viscount Stafford's Timeline

November 30, 1614
Age 32
Age 45
December 29, 1680
Age 66
London, England
October 2, 1965
Age 66
December 4, 1965
Age 66
January 16, 1967
Age 66