Francis Howes was born at Morningthorpe, Norfolk, on 29 February 1776 and baptised at St John’s, Morningthorpe on 3 March 1776. Apart from his entry into the church, he was to become a classical scholar.
Francis was the fourth surviving son of the Revd Thomas Howes (1732–1796), ‘Lord of the Manor of Morningthorpe’ and Rector of St Edmunds, Fritton and St Andrews, Illington. Thomas was grandson of a much earlier Thomas Howes who had first acquired Morningthorpe Hall following the death of his own father in law, John Roope, who died without male heirs in 1686. For generations thereafter the Howes family were born at Morningthorpe.
Francis Howes mother was Susan Longe (1732-1822), the daughter of Francis Longe of Spixworth (1689-1735), also in Norfolk. Susan had married Francis Howes’s father, Thomas, on 11 Jan 1758 at St Peter’s church, Spixworth, Norfolk. Her elder brother had already married Thomas’s sister, Tabitha Howes, at the same Spixworth church in 1747 – brother and sister married sister and brother! Francis Howes eldest surviving brother, John (1758–1787), entered Gray’s Inn but died young. Two other brothers of his, Thomas (1770–1848) and George (1772–1855), took holy orders, the latter taking over in 1808 as Vicar of Gazeley cum Kentford, Suffolk and then as Rector of St Peter’s at Spixworth, the related Longe family home.
Francis Howes was first educated at Norwich Grammar School in 1790 under Dr Samuel Parr and then entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1794 and graduating with a BA in 1798 as ‘Eleventh Wrangler’, then proceeding to a MA in 1804. Between 1799 and 1800 he had obtained the ‘Members Prize’. His chief college friend was John Williams, the judge, who subsequently made him an allowance of £100 per annum.
Francis Howes is said to have ‘married early’ but in fact was of full age, having married Sarah Smithson (1773–1863) on 19 March 1802 in St Nicholas Chapel, King’s Lynn. It has been speculated that this comment ‘married early’ was probably because his family disapproved of the match; the bride’s late father had been a member of St John’s College, Cambridge – but as a cook, not as a Fellow! (Universal British Directory, 2, c.1792, 493). Francis and Sarah had a reported nine children of whom their sons were Thomas George (b. 1807), later rector of Belton, Suffolk; John (1808–1837), parish clerk; and Charles (1813–1880), fellow and chaplain of Dulwich College. Three of their six daughters married clergymen – a strong theme throughout the generations of the Howes.
Francis Howes was ordained Deacon on 21 December 1800 and priest on 9 August 1801. He was to accumulate a number of clergy appointments thereafter. He was appointed Vicar of Shillington, Bedfordshire, in 1801 and was to hold it until 1816, although it appears that he never lived there. Francis’s sons were baptised in Acle, Norfolk, from where his first books were dated. He was also Vicar of Wickham Skeith, Suffolk, from 1809 until his death, and Rector of Buckenham, with Hassingham, Norfolk, from 1811 to 1814. In 1814 he moved to St George Colegate, Norwich, as parish chaplain, a position which he held until 1831 when he was appointed Vicar of Bawburgh, Norfolk, remaining in this post until 1829. But in 1815 he was also appointed a minor canon of Norwich Cathedral, moving to Lower Close, St Mary in the Marsh, Norwich, where he lived for the rest of his life. He received the rectories of Alderford and Attlebridge in March 1826 and in 1829 was made Rector of Framingham Pigot, Norfolk, retaining them until his death in 1844:
The diocese of Norwich was notorious for pluralism and absentee clergy, but the Bishop of the time, Henry Bathurst, always pointed out that the majority of parishes were small and produced a low income.
As for scholastic writings of Francis Howes, some translations were from Latin into English verse and printed privately for him in 1801; they were included in his Miscellaneous Poetical Translations (1806). His translation of The Satires of A. Persius Flaccus (1809) was unsuccessful. Although he claimed that his translation of Horace’s Satires was ‘shortly’ to be published, The Epodes and Secular Ode of Horace did not appear until 1841 and The First Book of Horace’s Satires in 1842; both were privately printed in Norwich. It was only after his death when his son, Charles, gathered his translations from Horace and published them in The Epodes, Satires, and Epistles of Horace (1845); all the translations were written in heroic couplets, on which Francis Howes’s reputation was to rest. In 1892, John Conington praised these translations, noting that they had been forgotten by the public:
“very good, unforced, idiomatic, felicitous … I should be glad if any notice which I may be fortunate enough to attract should … extend to a predecessor who, if he had published a few years earlier, when translations were of more account, could scarcely have failed to rank high among the cultivators of this branch of literature.”
Howes, also composed epitaphs for monuments in Norwich Cathedral and spent his last years transcribing the diaries of his eccentric but cultured neighbour Sylas Neville. Neville was born in 1741, apparently in London. In 1768-9 he came to Great Yarmouth and settled at Scratby Hall. The years 1772-6 were then spent mainly in Edinburgh where he qualified as a doctor of medicine; the years 1777-80 were spent in foreign travel, mainly in Italy. On his return, and after visits to London, Edinburgh etc., he settled at Norwich in 1783 and there spent the rest of his life, intending to practise medicine but in fact subsisting increasingly on charity and the proceeds of begging letters. He was also to mutilate his diaries and letters later in his life, apparently in an attempt to remove compromising or politically embarrassing matter. Many of these excised passages were later restored by Francis Howes after Neville’s death in 1840 when his papers passed to Howes; he, in turn, transcribed some of the diaries, along with some of the correspondence – but afterwards destroying the originals! From Howes’ son the papers passed to the antiquary Hargrave Harrison then, on his death in 1896, they were purchased by L.G. Bolingbroke; from his family they went to Basil Cozens-Hardy.
Revd Francis Howes died at Lower Close, St Mary in the Marsh, Norwich, Norfolk on 26 March 1844 and was buried in the west cloister of Norwich Cathedral near his son John. According to the Norwich Mercury on 30 March 1844:
“Mr Howes was known as a ripe and spund [sic] classical scholar having addressed himself to this branch of learning from its earliest growth. He was not less distinguished for the benevolence of his disposition, the sweetness of his temper and the urbanity of his manners. The Editor of this Journal, who pays this tribute to his worth, passed through the Free School of this City upon the same form as him, and testifies with a mournful satisfaction to the early development of these his true qualities, to which they who knew him in later life will be ready to do the same justice, as well as to the liberality of his principles, and of his firmness in their assertion.”
Francis Howes widow died on 3 January 1863, aged 89 years.