The Young Earl of Warwick, Part I

Robert Dudley was 12 when he lost his eldest brother, Henry, during the siege of Boulogne, in the late summer of 1544. The brother to succeed the 19-year-old Henry as the family heir was John, the third son of his parents, John Dudley and Jane Guildford. John the Younger was then 13 years old; when his father became Earl of Warwick in early 1547 he was styled Viscount Lisle, and later, when John Dudley senior became the Duke of Northumberland, John Dudley junior became the Earl of Warwick.

John’s birth in, most probably, late autumn of 15301 had been followed by that of his brothers Ambrose and Robert, and, not far apart in age, the three were educated together, it seems. The Cambridge scholar Thomas Wilson explained to Robert Dudley in 1572 that

I am to deal thus with your honour before others, because I have known you, and that noble race your brethren, even from their young years. And with your honour, and that famous Earl of Warwick deceased, and your noble brother now Earl of Warwick living [i.e. Ambrose Dudley], I have had more familiar conference than with the rest.2

The brothers’ tutors included Michelangelo Florio for Italian, and Thomas Wilson and Roger Ascham for “the new learning”. As heir to his powerful father, John was the dedicatee of two important works of English Protestant Humanism, Walter Haddon’s Cantabrigienses (1552) and Thomas Wilson’s Arte of Rhetoricke (1553). Wilson had passed an agreeable summer vacation at Sir Edward Dymock’s house, which gave him the leisure to write his Ciceronian work:

I therefore commend to your Lordship’s tuition and patronage this treatise of rhetoric to the end that ye may get some furtherance by the same & I also be discharged of my faithful promise this last year made unto you. For whereas it pleased you among other talk of learning earnestly to wish that ye might one day see the precepts of rhetoric set forth by me in English as I had erst[while] done the rules of logic.

The Dudley children, but also their parents, seem to have been fascinated by mathematics and cosmography, a field that originally came to their attention through the elder John Dudley’s career as vice-admiral and Lord Admiral in the 1530s and 1540s. The young mathematician and astrologer John Dee resided in the Dudley household as an intellectual companion for a time, where he was commissioned to write two treatises for the Duchess of Northumberland. As late as 1570 he remembered in the dedication of his masterwork, The Mathematicall Preface, how the younger John Dudley used to wear round his neck a little book – “his … counsellor most trusty”, with “rules and descriptions arithmetical”.

The title page of The Mathematicall Praeface by John Dee, dedicated to the memory of John Dudley, Earl of Warwick in 1570

The title page of The Mathematicall Praeface by John Dee, dedicated to the memory of John Dudley, Earl of Warwick in 1570

Perhaps this book, kept in “a rich case of gold”, was the “boke of Arthmetrik in Lattyn” found in John’s remarkably vast collection of literature. Apart from Tullius Cicero, Horace, Terence, and Virgil’s Aeneid, there were to be found a Greek grammar, a “King’s grammar”, “a boke to write the Roman hand”, as well as a “boke to speake and write Frenche”. Next two “bokes of cosmografye” and a number of plays by John Heywood, as well as two volumes in Italian, there were religious works like “a Testament in Frenche, covered with black velvet”, an “Anglishe Testamente”, “Aurilius Augustinus”, “a Frenche boke of Christ and the Pope”, and “a Tragidie in Anglishe of the unjust supremicie of the Bisshope of Rome” by the Italian reformer Bernardino Occhino.3

Young noblemen were brought up as sportsmen and warriors, of course, and John Dudley was made a Knight of the Bath at Edward VI’s coronation in February 1547. Jousts and tilts, as well as appearances in masques and pageants were on schedule for the young courtiers: Entertaining French visitors in May 1550, the Viscount Lisle and the Vidame de Chartres with their fellow contenders wore yellow in “a pastime of ten against ten at the ring”; their counterparts wore blue. In December 1551 the young Earl of Warwick issued a challenge against all comers – taken up by the Lord Ambrose and the Lord Robert, among others. The season went on with the three brothers performing in Twelfth Night celebrations and at least two jousts.4

John, Ambrose, and Robert Dudley all married within little more than half a year. The first was Ambrose, in about December 1549, after he and Robert had returned with their father from the suppression of Ket’s Rebellion. Robert had met his sweetheart Amy Robsart on the campaign, in which John seems not to have taken part; still, the latter’s marital history was determined by the following upheavals that removed Protector Somerset from the political scene. The boys’ father, then Earl of Warwick, emerged as the new strong man, but on realizing that some of his fellow councillors worked for both Somerset’s and his own execution, he decided to save the ex-protector, arranging for his release and rehabilitation in the early months of 1550. In the meantime, the Countess of Warwick and the Duchess of Somerset had organized banquets on an almost daily basis in order to reconcile their husbands, and now the two ladies embarked on arranging a wedding between their respective eldest son and daughter, John Dudley and Anne Seymour.

At the wedding on 3 June 1550, King Edward recorded, there was “a fair dinner made”, among plenty of other entertainments. The next day saw the marriage of Amy Robsart and Robert Dudley, and again Edward amused himself. Notably absent from the festivities was the elder John Dudley who, it was later claimed, feared to be poisoned.5

continued at: The Young Earl of Warwick, Part II

1 U Penn MS 1070 f. 18r; Mathematicall Praeface
2 Chamberlin 1939 p. 56
3 HMC Second Report p. 102; MacCulloch 2001 p. 52 – 53
4 Wilson 1981 pp. 42 – 43; Literary Remains II p. 389
5 Adams, Archer, Bernard 2003 p. 52

John Dee: The Mathematicall Praeface.

Genelogies of the Erles of Lecestre and Chester: U Penn Ms. Codex 1070.

Literary Remains of King Edward the Sixth. (ed. G. J. Nichols, 1857). Roxburghe Club.

Second Report of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts. (ed. 1874).

Wilson’s Arte of Rhetoricke. (ed. G. H. Mair, 1909). Clarendon Press.

Adams, Simon (2004): ‟Dudley, Ambrose, earl of Warwick (c.1530–1590)“. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.

Adams, Simon; Archer, Ian; Bernard, G. W. (eds.) (2003): ‟A ‘Journall’ of Matters of State happened from time to time as well within and without the Realme from and before the Death of King Edw. the 6th untill the Yere 1562“ in: Ian Archer (ed.): Religion, Politics, and Society in Sixteenth-Century England. Cambridge 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.

Chamberlin, Frederick (1939): Elizabeth and Leycester. Dodd, Mead & Co.

French, Peter (2002): John Dee: The World of an Elizabethan Magus. Routledge.

Haynes, Alan (1987): The White Bear: The Elizabethan Earl of Leicester. Peter Owen.

MacCulloch, Diarmaid (2001): The Boy King: Edward VI and the Protestant Reformation. Palgrave.

Sherman, W. H. (1995): John Dee: The Politics of Reading and Writing in the English Renaissance. University of Massachusetts Press.

Wilson, Derek (1981): Sweet Robin: A Biography of Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester 1533–1588. Hamish Hamilton.

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
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