Old Friends – John Dudley and William Parr

William Parr, c.1540. Drawing by Hans Holbein

On 20 June 1543 John Dudley, Viscount Lisle updated his absent friend William Parr with promising court news: Parr’s sisters, Katherine, Lady Latimer and Anne, Lady Herbert, had been seen in the company of ‟my Lady Mary’s Grace and my Lady Elizabeth“, the king’s daughters. Three weeks later William Parr became Henry VIII’s new brother-in-law, while Jane Dudley, Lady Lisle supported the bride at the wedding ceremony.1

It has often been claimed that John Dudley had no friends. Indeed his stomach ulcer may have prevented him from much socializing (and the required drinking), but the chief cause for such assertions is simply that in August 1553 he died a man without a friend. Yet William Parr, about nine years younger than Dudley, certainly had been one throughout the previous decade.

What may have drawn William Parr and John Dudley to each other were their reformist religious views; views which naturally gained importance at the court of Katherine Parr. In the summer of 1546 the conservatives around Stephen Gardiner, the Bishop of Winchester, sought to regain some of their former strength: they took up the case of Anne Askew, a very outspoken and ‟heretical“ former housewife with excellent court contacts. The proceedings against her were well advanced when William Parr and John Dudley – perhaps nervous that she should name the ladies that had befriended her – tried to convince her to adopt the doctrine of the Henrician church:

Then came my lord Lisle, my lord Essex [Parr], and the bishop of Winchester, requiring me earnestly that I should confess the sacrament to be flesh, blood, and bone. Then, said I, to my lord Parr and my lord Lisle, that it was a great shame for them to counsel contrary to their knowledge. Whereunto, in few words, they did say, that they would gladly all things were well.2

Dudley and Parr, while not made of the stuff of martyrs, tried to rescue Anne Askew from the terrible torture and death that lay ahead for her, a no less Christian quality.

Six months later, a new king was in place, the nine-year-old Edward VI. His uncle, Edward Seymour, made himself Lord Protector and Duke of Somerset; Dudley and Parr became Earl of Warwick and Marquess of Northampton, respectively.

In July 1549, Northampton was appointed to lead a royal army against the Norfolk rebels who were about to take over the city of Norwich. On 1 August his men suffered a humiliating defeat in a battle that saw the captured Lord Sheffield butchered by ‟a butcherly knave … who by occupation was both a carpenter and a butcher“, while Northampton had been distracted by a feint petition for pardon.3 – Somerset himself had judged the Norfolk ‟commotion“ a minor affair, to be dealt with a small contingent of troops. Now, he blamed Northampton for tactical errors and poor leadership, while remaining undecided how to proceed further. In the meantime John Dudley had been scheduled to lead contingents to several destinations between Scotland and the West Country, none of which had come to pass, when he learnt of his commission to go to Norfolk to face the rebels; his letter of thanks was almost entirely concerned with the psychological well-being of William Parr:

I do think myself much bounden to my Lord’s Grace and the Council to receive so great a charge, so I cannot but wish that it might please the same to permit and suffer my Lord Marquis of Northampton to continue still in the force of his commission, … forasmuch, the nobleman having lately by misfortune received discomfort enough, haply this might give him occasion to think himself utterly discredited, and so for ever discourage him; which, in my opinion, were great pity.

Wherefore, if it might please his Grace to use his services again, I shall be as glad for my part to join with him, yea, rather than fail, with all my heart to serve under him, for this journey, as I would be to have the whole authority myself; and by this means his Grace shall preserve his heart, and hable him to serve hereafter, which, otherwise, he shall be utterly in himself discouraged – I would wish that no man for one mischance or evil hap, to the which we be all subject that must serve, should be utterly abject; for, if it should be so, it were almost a present discomfort to all men before they go to it, since those things lie in God’s hand.

Therefore, good Mr. Cecill, use your accustomed wisdom, and good heart that you bear to my Lord’s Grace, in declaring this matter with effect to the same, and with diligence let me hear from you again … Fare you well.

At Warwick, this Sunday, at four in the morning,
the 10th of August.
Your faithful friend,

J. Warwick4

John Dudley's signature as Earl of Warwick

As it turned out, Northampton served as Warwick’s second-in-command in the second attempt to deal with the rebel host, this time with a much larger force. Northampton’s renewed appointment ‟gave Warwick the benefit of the former’s knowledge of conditions at Norwich and reaffirmed his judgment that the earlier debacle had not been entirely the result of Northampton’s mismanagement.“5 The campaign was still no easy affair; several offers of pardon were rejected by Kett’s men, and it needed days of house-to-house fighting in Norfolk and a full-scale battle at Dussindale to defeat them: ‟on both sides, the casualties had been appalling“.6

continued at
Close Allies – Northampton and Northumberland

1 Porter 2011 pp. 142, 143
2 Foxe p. 544
3 Beer 1982 p. 123
4 Tytler 1839 pp. 193 – 194
5 Beer 1982 p.128
6 Wood 2007 pp. 67 – 69

The Acts and Monuments of John Foxe. Volume V. (ed. George Townsend, 1846).

Beer, B. L. (1982): Rebellion and Riot: Popular Disorder in England during the Reign of Edward VI. The Kent University Press.

James, Susan (2004): “Parr, William, marquess of Northampton (1513–1571)”. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.

Porter, Linda (2011): Katherine the Queen: The Remarkable Life of Katherine Parr. Pan.

Tytler, P. F. (1839): England under the Reigns of Edward VI. and Mary. Volume I. Richard Bentley.

Wood, Andy (2007): The 1549 Rebellions and the Making of Early Modern England. Cambridge University Press.

About Christine Hartweg

Hi, I'm the author of "Amy Robsart: A Life and Its End" and "John Dudley: The Life of Lady Jane Grey's Father-in-Law". I blog at www.allthingsrobertdudley.wordpress.com
This entry was posted in friends & foes, John Dudley, letters and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Old Friends – John Dudley and William Parr

  1. Thanks for such a lovely blog involving William Parr; there isn’t much info published on him — I am posting a link to this page on my Facebook page for Queen Katherine.

  2. Carol says:

    Was it confirmed that John Dudley suffered from a stomach ulcer?. I had read that he had periodic stomach pain – so it does seem quite likely. Great article as always

    • Thanks, Caroll! It is assumed he had some stomach ailment, we know nothing for sure, of course. He had “inward bleeding” and disgorged blood. A French diplomat wrote in 1553 that Northumberland had regularly suffered from instances of severe pain and this seems to be borne out by his absences and his correspondence. The Melancholy Duke

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