Gerard Noel offers a personal tribute to Britain's premier peer and senior Catholic layman rie death of Miles, Duke of Norfolk, on Monday June 23, was a a cause of immense sadness to his large family and numerous friends and admirers as well as to the Catholic Church in England and Wales of which he had long been considered to be the leading lay figure. He inherited the dukedom in 1975 and held it longer than any previous owner, except his immediate predecessor, Bernard, who was Duke for nearly 60 years.
Officially, Miles was the 17th Duke of Norfollc, though strictly speaking he was only the 16th. The first Duke lost the title posthumously by way of attainder, which was never lifted.
Miles Stapleton Fitzalan Howard was born on July 21 1915 at 49 Eaton Place, the London house of his great aunt Vi, widow of the 9th Lord Beaumont. His mother, Baroness Beaumont in her own right, had elected for her son and heir to be born in the house of her aunt, rather than in their own less conveniently situated London house in Manchester Square. It was here that Miles spent most of his childhood years with his parents, Lord Howard of Glossop and Baroness Beaumont. Holiday periods were spent in the massive Victorian-Gothic country house belonging to Miles's mother, Carlton Towers, in what was then part of Yorkshire, but is now in Humberside.
Miles's first school was Gaveney House, Finchley Road, of which he always retained happy, if only vague, memories. At the age of nine, he entered the Junior House at Ampleforth, Gilling Castle not yet having been acquired by the Benedictines for a prep school. Three years later, he transferred to St Oswald's House in the senior school. One of his contemporaries — and subsequently a close friend — was the future Fr James Forbes OSB.
The headmaster of the day was Fr Rupert Neville, while another contemporary was Fr Benet Percival, who subsequently became a member of the community and is now the only survivor from Miles's school days.
Miles was still at Ampleforth in 1930 when one of the new entrants, and later a close friend was George (subsequently Basil) Hume, the future Cardinal. Miles left Ampleforth in 1933 and in the Michelmas term of that year went up to Christ Church, Oxford, to read Modem History. One of his tutors was the celebrated Professor Keith Felling.
He enjoyed his Oxford years where he worked hard, but sensibly, as he later put it, "not too hard". His happiest year there was his last, spent, as by custom, in "digs" rather than in college. Miles spent this year, with two other undergraduates, 1vdghi t the Cathulii, chap laincy. This was housed in the Old Palace, conveniently, almost exactly opposite Christ Church.
The atmosphere at the Old Palace was wholly congenial to Miles and had a lasting influence on his life and character. The Catholic chaplain at the time was the great Mgr Ronnie Knox. The two became lifelong friends, and Ronnie conducted, or preached at, several of the weddings of Miles's descendants.
Miles's view on the Church were based on a profound devoutness mixed with some original views that strikingly reflected Ronnie Knox's scholarly but urbane outlook on Catholic affairs. This was also true in the case of his friendship with the celebrated Archbishop David Mathew. Miles received his Territorial Commission while still at university and joined the Brigade of Guards as a Grenadier in 1937. He was thus one of the first to see active service when the War began, finding himself in France within a few weeks of the declaration of war.
This was the period of the so-called "phoney war" and Miles, with e rest-uhisbattal ion, was mainly engaged with the digging of trenches between the pill-boxes to stiffen France's defences on their north west border beyond the Maginot Line. It was in fact in just this area that the eventual invasion came.
His military career, an adventurous and distinguished one, lasted for 30 years. It has been fairly extensively chronicled in the many articles that have appeared so I will here concentrate, if I may, on certain aspects of it either not mentioned in the obituaries or only partially covered.
After Dunkirk, where his gallantry was mentioned in despatches, as well as being noticed and rewarded by General (as he then was) Montgomery, his next job was a hush-hush one, carried on while, outwardly, he was doing routine service at the staff college. More importantly he was a member of a committee working, behind the scenes, on contingency plans in case Germany invaded Spain and occupied Gibraltar.
After gaining his MC in Italy and taking part in the invasion of Europe, he was given the job after the War of being head of . . . . e uns y uussion tu the Russian forces in Germany. This, as he told me, many years later, was one of his most interesting and challenging tasks as a soldier.
Very notable were his years between 1961 and 1963 when he commanded the 70th Brigade of the King's African Rifles. He played a key part in the process whereby certain promising black non-commissioned officers became full officers. As he ruefully told me later, one of those so advanced was a certain Sergeant Idi Amin.
In 1949, he became military assistant to General Julian Gascoyne, an old friend and now head of the British Military Mission in Washington. Miles exhibited considerable diplomatic as well as military skills at what was a politically delicate period in Anglo-US relations.
The obituaries record that it was in Washington that he first met his future wife, Anne Constable-Maxwell, which is not actually the case. He had met her previously in Hampshire, on the introduction of a brother adjutant, Bobby Steele, who described Anne as a charming "Catholic blonde girl", whom he was sure Miles would c. They were married at the London Oratory in 1949, the ceremony being conducted by Miles's old friend, James Forbes. They were married for 43 wonderful years and had three charming daughters and two splendid sons. The elder of the latter, Eddie, is now 18th Duke of Norfolk.
Of Miles's role as leading Catholic layman, it is difficult to know where to begin. He was profoundly devout, although his candour, combined with a certain puckishness, occasionally led to his saying things by which some Catholics were shocked. When he stated at an ostensibly private meeting that on the subject of birth control he agreed with Cardinal Heenan that this, in the final analysis, should be a matter for individual conscience, it got leaked to the press, and caused much comment.
Miles at the time was president of the prestigious Catholic Union of Great Britain, one or two of whose earnest members proposed a formal motion calling for his resignation from this post because of his views on Humanae Vitae. The motion was put to the general vote and crushingly defeated by 86 votes to four.
The Cardinal, as Miles often pointed out, later clarified and confirmed his views on this (originally given to Miles's sonin-law David Frost, lest they be downplayed by the "fainthearted").
This was not the only occasion on which Miles's views proved to be controversial. He made no secret, for example, of his opinion that Anglican priestly orders were valid and that Anglican-Catholic intercommunion, already widespread outside England, was desirable here as well. When some Catholics began giving him theological reasons why he was wrong, he would merely say, with his familiar twinkle: "I don't go for all that old codswallop."
As a member myself of the executive of the Catholic Union, I well remember Miles's blend of military efficiency and courteous attention in chairing the meetings.
His relaxed and sophisticated attitude toward the faith, in other words, befitted that of a member of such an old and distinguished English Catholic family. He was not the first member thereof, moreover, to be his "own man" on Catholic matters. When, for instance, Catholic dioceses were established for the first time in 1850, the Duke of Norfolk of the day temporarily left the Church in protest against what — because of the tasteless manner of its execution — was insulting at the time to most Anglicans.
Miles, on the other hand, could be shocked himself, when he thought Catholic honour was at stake. He protested vigorously, for example, when Neil Kinnock described Margaret Thatcher as the "immaculate misconception".
Miles, quite properly, played down his contribution behind the scenes to the appointment of the present and previous Archbishops of Westminster, realising that this was a sensitive matter, particularly among the clergy. All in all, in fact, Miles made his role as Catholic "leader" a largely private and discreet affair, despite his very public and courageous support of Catholic causes, especially in the House of Lords.
There is so much more that could be said about Miles as premier duke of the realm and hereditary Earl Marshall. His funeral today at Arundel was attended by the Heralds of the College of Arms of which he was head.
I am sorry not to have space to say more here about such an exceptional and very special person except, if I may, to recount one wartime happening that says so much about his family and the deeply Catholic atmosphere in which he was brought up. His devout and most delightful father, Lord Howard of Glossop, spent much of the war in London where he never gave up his job in the City. Every day he prayed for his three eldest sons — Miles, Michael and Martin, all in the Brigade — at St Mary's Church, Cadogan Street, and/or the Oratory. At least once a week he walked across the park to say similar prayers at Tyburn Convent. That his prayers were answered can be a matter of thanksgiving, together with all our other prayers, for Miles and his family.
David Twiston Davies: Page 9