British Army Officer
Born 1915 Died 2002
Miles Stapleton Fitzalan Howard followed a distinguished career in the British Army from 1939 until 1967 after which he inherited the title of the Duke of Norfolk and became the country's premier peer at the age of fifty-nine.
Early Life and Military Career
Miles Francis Fitzalan Howard was born at No 49 Eaton Place in London on the 21st July 1915, being the eldest child of Bernard Edward Fitzalan Howard, 3rd Baron Howard of Glossop and Mona Josephine Tempest, née Stapleton, who was the Baroness Beaumont in her own right. He spent much of his early childhood at Carlton Towers, the Yorkshire seat of the Stapleton family, with his three brothers and four sisters, all of who were for some reason blessed with forenames beginning with the letter 'M'.
He was educated at Ampleforth College and Christ Church, Oxford where he read history and graduated with a third in 1937, after which he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the 1st Grenadier Guards. With the outbreak of World War II in 1939 both he and his younger brother Michael were posted as part of the British Expeditionary Force to France. There Miles was placed in command of an anti-tank platoon, and took part in both the defence of Louvain, and the evacuation at Dunkirk, when he was mentioned in despatches. In 1943 he was part of the expedition sent to take Tangier, and was afterwards with the Eighth Army in North Africa, Sicily and southern Italy, where his troops gave him the nickname of 'Bloody Kilometers'.
It was as the Major Howard that he took part in the battle of the River Sangro in 1943 during which he "undertook several recces on foot and showed the greatest energy and coolness in complete disregard for the enemy fire, spreading cheer and optimism wherever he went" for which he was later awarded the Military Cross. Promoted to the rank of Brigade Major, he subsequently took part in the D-Day landings with the 5th Armoured Brigade of the Guards Armoured Division and was again mentioned in despatches.
After the war he became British military attaché at Washington, which is where he met his future wife Anne Mary, the daughter of Wing-Commander Gerald Constable-Maxwell, a former World War I flying ace, being married at Brompton Oratory on 4th July 1949. He later served as the commanding officer of 2nd Battalion of the Grenadiers in the Suez Canal zone in the run up to the war, and in 1957 became head of the British military mission to the Russian Forces in Germany, where he got on well with the Russians whom he likened to "Irish Guard sergeants". Between 1961 and 1963 he commanded the 70th Brigade of the King's African Rifles in Kenya, during which time he managed to both learn Swahili and to pioneer the appointment of native African officers, being responsible for the creation of more than one hundred black officers.
Following Kenyan independence in 1963 he became General Officer Commanding of the 1st Division of the Rhine Army, before being appointed in 1965 as director of Service Intelligence at the Ministry of Defence, where he apparently became so frustrated at the level of bureaucracy and overstaffing in Whitehall which he regarded as "an absolute disgrace", that he decided to retire from the army as a major-general in 1967.
On leaving the army, he became a non-executive director of Robert Fleming, the merchant bank, where he spent two days a week helping them with euro dollars. His business career was however to be rather overshadowed by his rapid progression up the ladder of the British peerage.
He first succeeded his mother as the 12th Baron Beaumont in 1971, following which he succeeded his father as the 4th Baron Howard of Glossop in 1972, making him a baron twice over. However it had been clear for some time that Miles was the next male heir in line to his cousin Bernard, the 16th Duke of Norfolk, who had four daughters but no sons. Therefore with his cousin's inevitable death in 1975 he became the 17th Duke of Norfolk, adopted the surname of Stapleton Fitzalan Howard by deed poll, and became the head of the house of Howard, whilst also adding three earldoms and another four baronies to his collection of peerage titles. Or as he himself later explained to an audience of school children, "I have ten seats in the House of Lords, and only one bottom to put in them." To cap it all, he also became both the premier Duke and the premier Earl, and also held the hereditary offices of Chief Butler of England and Marshal of England, being therefore styled as the Earl Marshal.
Along with his raft of titles came a certain amount of property, including the traditional ancestral home of the Howards at Arundel Castle. Miles however regarded Arundel as "a vast great thing" that was far too expensive to actually live in, and preferred the attractions of rural Oxfordshire where he had acquired Bacres House at Hambleden near Henley whilst he was serving in the Army. As it happened his predecessor had formed much the same opinion, and was on the verge of signing it over to the National Trust when he died. Miles however had other ideas, and transferred the ownership of Arundel Castle to an independent trust, which under his direction spent well over a million pounds in renovating the castle. Although one of the consequences of this decision was that Miles was now forced to pay the going rate whenever he decided to stay the night at Arundel.
The Howards were also traditionally a Catholic family and Miles also effectively inherited the position of the country's leading Roman Catholic layman. He was a friend of Basil Hume and is said to have been responsible for the latter's appointment as Archbishop of Westminster, as well as putting in a good word for Hume's successor Cormac Murphy O'Connor, who happened to be his own diocesan bishop at Arundel. Of course as the leading Catholic peer he was an ideal choice for certain duties, and in 1978 represented the Queen at the funerals of both Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul I, as well as at the enthronement of John Paul II, who made him a Knight Grand Cross in the Order of Pius IX. Miles was similarly given the task of officially welcoming the pope when he visited Britain in 1982.
Although he appears to have been a devout Catholic who insisted that his clothing, whether civilian or military, featured an inside pocket for a Catholic missal, he was by no means doctrinaire in his approach to religion. Indeed he caused something of a scandal when he addressed the Catholic Teachers' Federation in 1984 and expressed the opinion that line taken by the papal encyclical Humanae vitae in 1968 on the subject of contraception was "nonsense", and that the officially sanctioned method of birth control was somewhat lacking in efficacy as in his own personal experience "it didn't bloody work". Although this led to calls for his resignation as president of the Catholic Union of Great Britain, he survived the resulting vote of confidence by eighty-six votes to four. If nothing else this illustrated his reputation for being both plain-spoken and unpretentious, the sort of man who would call a spade "a bloody shovel", and instructed everyone to "call me Miles". Indeed when he once required medical treatment after falling off a wall he simply presented himself at the local National Health Service hospital under the name of Miles Norfolk, and when Evelyn Waugh's novel A Handful of Dust was filmed at Carlton Towers, volunteered his services as extra playing the part of a gardener.
Although he was by instinct a Conservative, he was not particularly interested in party politics as such and generally expressed a preference to be "thinning trees" somewhere. This did not prevent him from leading a successful revolt in 1980 against the government's plan to impose charges for transport to schools in rural areas. He was equally ill-disposed to some of New Labour's ideas of modernisation and was an opponent of such measures as the lowering of the age of homosexual consent, the liberalisation of abortion law and the sanction of embryo research. Nonetheless numerous honours came his way, as he was made CB in 1960, CBE in 1966, a Knight of the Garter in 1983, GCVO in 1986, and received the Royal Victoria Chain in 2000.
He died of congestive cardiac failure at his home of Bacres House in Hambleden on the 24th June 2002, and was later interred at the family vault in the Fitzalan chapel at Arundel Castle on the 5th July. He was succeeded in the dukedom (and in his many other titles) by his elder son Edward, who had been appointed deputy Earl Marshal in 2000. He also left a younger son Gerald and three daughters: Tessa, married to Roderick Francis Balfour, 5th Earl of Balfour; Marcia, an actress better known under her stage name Marsha Fitzalan; and Carina, who married David Frost.
Burke's Peerage (which knows about these sorts of things) insists that the Barons Howard of Glossop bore the surname of Fitzalan Howard with no hyphen, and that Miles became a similarly unhyphenated Stapleton Fitzalan Howard by deed poll in 1975. Not everyone follows this convention and his surname is variously given as both Fitzalan-Howard and Stapleton-Fitzalan-Howard.
- P. L. Dickinson, 'Howard, Miles Francis Stapleton Fitzalan-,
seventeenth duke of Norfolk (1915–2002)', Oxford Dictionary
of National Biography, online edn, Oxford University Press,
- Obituary: The Duke of Norfolk, Daily Telegraph, 26/06/2002
- John Ezard, Obituary: The Duke of Norfolk, The Guardian June 26, 2002
- The entry for NORFOLK from Burke's Peerage and Baronetage 107th Edition