Among the countless books dealing with Lady Jane Grey, England’s Nine Days Queen, there seem to be very few which make mention of the blood relationship between her and her husband. One is by David Mathew, published in 1972. On page 13 we can read about the Duke of Northumberland: “He was also through his mother’s family, the Greys, Lords Lisle, a distant cousin of the Lady Jane”. How distant a cousin was he? He was actually a second cousin once removed of Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk, Lady Jane Grey’s father – which would make Jane and Guildford third cousins once removed. Among their common ancestors were Edward Grey (a younger son of Reginald Grey, 3rd Baron Grey de Ruthyn) and his wife Elizabeth Ferrers, sue jure Baroness Ferrers of Groby. This couple’s eldest son was Sir John Grey of Groby, first husband of Elizabeth Woodville and great-grandfather of Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk, while another son was Edward Grey, 1st Viscount Lisle, the maternal grandfather of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland (see Table 1).
Table 1: The common descent of Jane Grey and Guildford Dudley from Edward Grey and his wife Elizabeth Ferrers, Baroness Ferrers of Groby
|Reginald Grey, 3rd Baron Grey de Ruthyn|
|Sir Edward Grey …………. married to||Elizabeth Ferrers, Baroness Ferrers of Groby|
|Sir John Grey of Groby||Edward Grey, 1st Viscount Lisle|
|Thomas Grey, 1st Marquess of Dorset||Elizabeth Grey, Baroness Lisle|
|Thomas Grey, 2nd Marquess of Dorset||John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland|
|Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk||Lord Guildford Dudley|
|Lady Jane Grey|
It is indeed remarkable that this family connection is practically never mentioned; the reason is probably that it does not accord well with one of the most widely held prejudices about the Dudley family — namely that they were upstarts of humble origins, Edmund Dudley, Guildford’s grandfather, reputedly being but the son of a carpenter. He was in fact the son of Sir John Dudley of Atherington, the younger son of the first Baron Dudley, John Sutton of Dudley Castle. This John Sutton, or Dudley, as he called himself, lived through most of the 15th century and managed to stay always on the winning side during the Wars of the Roses. For some years he was also among the personal favourites of King Henry VI. On his mother’s side the baron had interesting grandparents: Sancha de Ayala was the daughter of an alcalde (mayor) of Toledo and came to England with the Castilian princess who married John of Gaunt in 1371. In 1373 Sancha married Sir Walter Blount, the English knight who in 1403 fell in the Battle of Shrewsbury on the side of his king, Henry IV. As Sir Walter Blunt he became immortalized by William Shakespeare.
Baron John of Dudley Castle was only the most successful of a long line of heirs of that old castle in Staffordshire, going back to the early 14th century. From the viewpoint of Guildford, Robert, and Ambrose Dudley their most prestigious ancestors derived from their father John’s mother, Elizabeth Grey, daughter of the 1st Viscount Lisle. The interesting connection was not so much her father, but her mother, who also brought the Lisle title into the Grey clan: Elizabeth Talbot, sue jure Baroness Lisle was the granddaughter of John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, the hero of the Hundred Years War, also immortalized by Shakespeare. It was his marriage to Margaret Beauchamp which was so dear to Robert Dudley, however, for she was a daughter of Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick (see Table 2). This earl is probably best remembered for acting as tutor and guardian to the young King Henry VI, and his beautiful effigy can still be admired in the Beauchamp Chapel of St. Mary’s Church, Warwick. This is of course the church where Robert Dudley wanted to be entombed, in the place “where sundry of my ancestors do lie”. The Warwick descent was also of key importance to his father John Dudley, who managed to secure the title Earl of Warwick in the hands-out of honours after Henry VIII’s death.
Table 2: The descent of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland from Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick and John Talbot, 1st of Shrewsbury
|Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick|
|Margaret Beauchamp …………. married to||John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury|
|John Talbot, 1st Viscount Lisle|
|Elizabeth Talbot, Baroness Lisle|
|Elizabeth Grey, Baroness Lisle|
|John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland|
The fact that Jane Grey and Guildford Dudley were distant cousins may not have been significant; but the relationship was probably conducive to their fathers’ friendship. Henry Grey, for unknown reasons, was not highly regarded by Henry VIII, and he was equally unsuccessful under Protector Somerset. His career as a whole suggests that he may have been a somewhat ineffectual man, yet he certainly became a comrade of John Dudley after the protector’s fall in 1549 when Dudley secured him a place in the privy council. The goodwill of Edward VI’s chief minister would as well have been essential for Grey to become Duke of Suffolk on 11 October 1551, the day Dudley was created Duke of Northumberland. Furthermore, although Suffolk clearly played no significant part in Northumberland’s government, both men appear regularly as a team in the reports of the Imperial ambassadors. It comes as no surprise that they should have planned a marriage between their children at some point.
Guildford Dudley may not have been much of a marital prize, but he was not as unsuitable a bridegroom as is often implied. His chief asset was to be a son of the most powerful man in England, yet his pedigree was presentable as well, even on his mother’s side: Jane Guildford’s gentleman father and grandfather had been men of importance in the early Tudor court (Sir Richard Guildford being mentioned in Shakespeare’s Richard III). Her mother, Eleanor West, was a daughter of the 8th Baron West and 7th Baron de la Warr, and thus came from the old nobility.
Ives, Eric (2009): Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery. Wiley-Blackwell.
Loades, David (2004): ‟Dudley, John, duke of Northumberland (1504–1553)“. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.
Mathew, David (1972): Lady Jane Grey: The Setting of the Reign. Methuen.
Wilson, Derek (1981): Sweet Robin: A Biography of Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester 1533–1588. Hamish Hamilton.
Wolffe, Bertram (2001): Henry VI. Yale University Press.