Howard was the eldest son of Sir Charles Howard, baronet, and Frances Courthope Howard. He was born probably at their manor of Eastwick, near Great Bookham, in Surrey County, England, and was baptized there in the Church of Saint Nicolas on September 17, 1643. An offshoot of a great and numerous family whose destiny intertwined with that of England, the Howards of Surrey County were Anglicans who were neither as wealthy, politically potent, nor as notorious as their distant relatives, the Catholic Howards of Norfolk County. His parents enjoyed the prosperous existence of the well-connected rural gentry, which assured him and his younger siblings a comfortable rise to adulthood. Howard matriculated at Magdalen College, University of Oxford, in 1661, but like many young gentlemen of the time he did not pursue serious scholarship. He remained for one year, making valuable acquaintances that could advance him in later years.
On March 20, 1673, Howard’s father died, and he inherited the baronetcy and the family estates around Great Bookham. He soon thereafter became a justice of the peace for the county and a deputy to the lord lieutenant. On July 8, 1673, Howard married Philadelphia Pelham, of Sussex County. Although the wedding was a marriage of convenience that linked two gentry families in a time-honored way, the marriage turned into a deeply loving one, and he was a doting father to their five daughters and three sons, of whom one daughter and two sons survived to adulthood.
Howard might have remained in obscurity but for the death on April 26, 1681, of his cousin Charles Howard, third earl of Nottingham and fourth baron Howard of Effingham, which left him heir to the barony of Effingham. As a new baron, Effingham received little in the way of additional land or income, but he gained a visible presence at court. Two of his relatives, Henry Howard, sixth duke of Norfolk, and Henry Mordaunt, second earl of Peterborough, introduced him to two of the most influential men in the emerging English imperial center, William Blathwayt and the king’s brother, James, duke of York. At their urging on September 28, 1683, Charles II commissioned Effingham to replace the disgraced, as governor of Virginia.
Effingham jumped at the prospect. The appointment to high office carried a salary of £2,000 and other remunerative perquisites, which were appealing because the ever-needy Effingham maintained a sizeable household, and the steady income could sustain the family for years to come. When he sailed forlate in November 1683 he left behind his children and his wife, who was recovering from the recent birth of their eighth child. On February 10, 1684, Effingham’s ship anchored in the York River. The colony’s great men arranged a welcoming reception attended by nearly 300 dignitaries. They greeted the new governor with a mixture of caution and hope. Both Culpeper and his predecessor, Lieutenant Governor Herbert Jeffreys, had antagonized the colony’s principal political leaders. Writing to the London firm of Perry and Lane on February 25, 1684, council member expressed his hope that under Effingham the colony’s government would function “more for the countrys interest then formerly.”
Instead of a blustery army officer or a venal courtier as governor, in Effingham the Virginians had a minor peer of average intellect but one who was determined to succeed as his predecessors had not. Nothing deterred him—not the fierce opposition of the House of Burgesses, not repeated bouts of kidney stones that nearly killed him, not even the death of his beloved wife, who joined him in Virginia in the autumn of 1684 and died on August 13, 1685. That resolution drew equally resolute backing from Charles II and his successors,, and William and Mary. Effingham gave his royal masters what they wanted most, a diminished General Assembly and the return of the office of governor-general to its central place in colonial administration.
Effingham governed at a critical moment in Virginia’s development. During his tenure the colony built a new brick statehouse to replace the one burned during Bacon’s Rebellion, and he overcame determined resistance from men who attempted to obstruct him in carrying out his royal instructions. Following a prolonged struggle Effingham disqualified one of the leaders of the resistance,, from serving in any public office. He also another of the resistance leaders, Philip Ludwell, as a member of the Council of State. In 1688 Effingham seized an opportunity to appoint the clerk of the House of Burgesses, depriving the legislators of the appointment of their own clerk. Effingham eventually forced the great planters to become more amenable to the later Stuart kings’ vision of an empire more closely controlled from London, and he left the colony more firmly under royal control than it had been since it became a royal colony in 1625. Effingham’s time as governor illustrates how the chance juxtaposition of pressing events with someone of modest talents but steadfast perseverance decisively altered the direction of Virginia history.
Ill health afflicted Effingham throughout the five years he resided in Virginia. He vacationed in New York in the summer of 1684 prior to attending a major conference with the Iroquois at Albany and again in the summer of 1687 before another conference with the Iroquois at the same place. His poor health compelled Effingham to return to England early in 1689. By then he knew of James II’s overthrow, which put his political future in some doubt, as the House of Burgesses had sent Ludwell to England to lobby for his dismissal. Effingham took his seat in the House of Lords on May 3, 1689, and was reappointed governor by the new king and queen in 1690.
On January 20, 1690, Effingham married Susannah Felton Harbord, a widow. They had no children. His marriage and his physical condition worked against his return to Virginia, which explained his willingness to accept the appointment ofas lieutenant governor to preside in Jamestown during his absence. Effingham resigned his commission by February 1692. Dogged by illness, Effingham signed a new will on December 20, 1694, and died on March 30, 1695. He was buried near the body of his first wife in the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, in Lingfield, Surrey.