On 2 June 1552 the Duke of Northumberland wrote an urgent letter to William Cecil, his de facto private secretary. He wrote to excuse his and his eldest son’s absence from court duties on account of the death of a family member and the possibility of an infectious disease in his household. The first editor of the letter, Patrick Fraser Tytler, understood the deceased to be a child, a daughter, while the editor of the Victorian Calendar of the State Papers Domestic, Robert Lemon, without further explanation catalogued the document as concerning the death of an adult daughter-in-law. This has been followed, again without comment, by the editor of the revised edition of the calendar of 1992, C. S. Knighton.
The change of the dead female’s identity apparently came about by reading the letter to Cecil as a follow-up to one from the previous day, 1 June, to Lord Thomas Darcy and Sir John Gates (the Lord Chamberlain and the Vice-Chamberlain, Northumberland’s “special friends” about the king). From this letter (which was equally printed by Tytler) it appears that Ambrose, the second eldest son of the duke, had recently lost his first wife, Anne Whorwood, daughter of the former Attorney-General William Whorwood. It says nowhere, however, when exactly she died, the letter dealing exclusively with property issues, only one of which resulted from her demise:
After my most hearty commendations to your good Lordship, with the like to you Mr. Vice Chamberlain. … And where it hath pleased God to call out of this life the wife of my son Ambrose, and hath left no child alive, her next heir now is the son of one Harwood, whose father was my servant, and slain at Musselburgh Field, and held his lands of me. – Now, by the death of my said son’s wife, he is ward to the King’s Majesty for such lands as he shall have after my son Ambrose’s life, which he holdeth by courtesy of England, because he had a child by her.
It may therefore please you, at this my request, to move his Majesty only if I may have of his Highness the preferment of the child [i.e. the young Harwood]; which child, before the death of this woman, was my ward: and thus I cease not to molest you both in all my pursuits, which I know not how to recompense but with my faithful goodwill and friendship, as knoweth God, who grant you the desires of both your own gentle hearts.
From Otford, the 1st of June 1552.
Your Lordship’s and your assured faithful friend,
The letter to William Cecil, of 2 June, one of a series of messages back and forth on the same day, clearly reports a development that has only just occurred; for this reason alone it seems unlikely that the ‟daughter“ and “child” of this letter is the same person as the “wife” and “woman“ of the letter to Darcy and Gates. But the letter is generally different in tone:
After my most hearty commendations. Whereas I perceive by your letter of this instant, that, except the death of my daughter might seem dangerous and infectious, the King’s Majesty’s pleasure is that neither I should absent myself nor stay my son; whereupon I have thought good to signify unto you what moveth me to suspect infection in the disease whereof my daughter died. First, the night before she died, she was as merry as any child could be, and sickened about three in the morning, and was in a sweat, and within a while after she had a desire to the stool; and the indiscreet woman that attended upon her let her rise, and after that, she fell to swooning, and then, with such things as they ministered to her, brought her again to remembrance, and so she seemed for a time to be meetly well revived, and so continued till it was noon, and still in a great sweating; and about twelve of the clock she began to alter again, and so in continual pangs and fits till six of the clock, at what time she left this life. And this morning she was looked upon, and between the shoulders it was very black, and also upon the one side of her cheek; which thing, with the suddenty, and also [that] she could brook nothing that was ministered to her from the beginning, moveth me to think that either it must be the sweat or worse, for she had the measles a month or five weeks before, and very well recovered, but a certain hoarseness and a cough remained with her still. This [is] as much as I am able to express, and even thus it was: wherefore I think it not my duty to presume to make my repair to his Majesty’s presence till further be seen what may ensue of it. Neither my son, nor none that is in my house, except his Majesty, shall command the contrary, or that your Lordships’ wisdom shall think it without peril, being no more nor no less than before is declared requiring your Lordships’ farther answer hereupon, and accordingly I will [endeavour] myself. Thus I commit your good Lordships to the tuition of the Almighty.
From Otford in Kent, this 2d of June.
Your own most assured,
P. F. Tytler, writing in 1839, after remarking upon the businesslike tone of this letter, concluded that ‟the deepest is often the stillest grief.”1 More recently, the popular authors Hester W. Chapman and Alison Weir cited the letter as proof of the duke’s wickedness – his ‟icy heartlessness“2 (or “terrifying heartlessness”3) being apparent in the description of the corpse of his child; the academic historians Barrett L. Beer and Eric Ives, meanwhile, were impressed by John Dudley’s affection for his daughter-in-law.
Simon Adams, another academic historian and an authority on the Dudleys, wrote in 1995: “Ann Whorwood had died in childbirth in 1552”;4 nine years later he stated that she “died of the sweating sickness on 26 May 1552, shortly after the birth of a daughter (possibly named Margaret), who died about the same time.”5 From these contradictory statements it is unclear whether he sees Anne Whorwood as the deceased “daughter” and “child” of the letter of 2 June. The letter’s style and contents, such as the mention of the measles but not the recent birth, and the careful report of the hourly progress of the disease, suggest that a real child, one “as merry as any child could be”, had only just died, apparently the previous evening; and indeed one of John Dudley’s daughters may have died on 1 June 1552.
Due to a lack of reliable documentation the birth dates of most of John Dudley’s 13 children are hopelessly difficult to ascertain. Two of his five daughters were named Katherine: the later Countess of Huntingdon, and the youngest daughter, who died as a child. Two manuscript pedigrees give her age as seven years old, and it may have been this youngest daughter to whom Katherine Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk stood godmother in 1545.6 If she was born in 1545 and seven years old at the time of her death, she must have died around 1552.
1 Tytler 1839 p. 114
2 Chapman 1962 p. 65
3 Weir 2008 p. 93
4 Adams 2002 p. 328
5 Adams 2004
6 Adams 1995 p. 44; U Penn Ms. Codex 1070 f. 18v
Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, of the Reigns of Edward VI, Mary, Elizabeth, 1547–1580. (ed. Robert Lemon, 1856). Longmans.
Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, of the Reign of Edward VI, 1547–1553. Revised Edition. (ed. C. S. Knighton, 1992). HMSO.
Genelogies of the Erles of Lecestre and Chester: U Penn Ms. Codex 1070 http://dla.library.upenn.edu/dla/medren/detail.html?id=MEDREN_4218616
Adams, Simon (ed.) (1995): Household Accounts and Disbursement Books of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, 1558–1561, 1584–1586. Cambridge University Press.
Adams, Simon (2002): Leicester and the Court: Essays in Elizabethan Politics. Manchester University Press.
Adams, Simon (2004a): ‟Dudley, Ambrose, earl of Warwick (c.1530–1590)“. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.
Beer, B. L. (1973): Northumberland: The Political Career of John Dudley, Earl of Warwick and Duke of Northumberland. The Kent State University Press.
Chapman, Hester (1962): Lady Jane Grey. Jonathan Cape.
Ives, Eric (2009): Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery. Wiley-Blackwell.
Tytler, P. F. (1839): England under the Reigns of Edward VI. and Mary. Volume II. Richard Bentley.
Weir, Alison (2008): Children Of England: The Heirs of King Henry VIII 1547-1558. Vintage.