Howard became Liberal MP for East Cumberland in 1879 on the death of his father the sitting Liberal MP. He lost the seat in 1880 but regained it in 1881 and held it until it was abolished for the 1885 general election. However he opposed Gladstone’s Home Rule policy and joined the Liberal Unionists but declined to contest the new seat of North Cumberland in 1886. As well as being a politician, Howard was a noted artist of the Etruscan School and a trustee of the National Gallery. He was a close associate of the artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, particularly Edward Burne-Jones.