On 21 June 1553 John Dudley, Earl of Warwick signed the letters patent that declared his sister-in-law, Lady Jane Grey, Edward VI’s heir. His name was one of 102 on the document. Three weeks later, on 10 July, the court of Queen Jane took residence in the Tower of London. On the same day a letter arrived from Princess Mary, announcing that she was the rightful queen and demanding the council’s allegiance. The Duchesses of Suffolk and Northumberland burst into to tears, but nevertheless it was decided to send an army (which had yet to be assembled) to Norfolk to get hold of Mary. The Duke of Northumberland hesitated to leave the council and go himself, but in the end gave in to their entreaties: “Well … since ye think it good, I and mine will go, not doubting of your fidelity to the queen’s majesty, which I leave in your custody.”1 With “I and mine” the duke was referring to himself and his sons John, Ambrose, and Henry, who was perhaps 14 or 15. Also included were the boys’ uncle, Sir Andrew Dudley, and their 15-year-old brother-in-law Lord Hastings with his father, the Earl of Huntingdon.
They marched to Cambridge and Bury St. Edmunds, and then retreated to Cambridge again, before hearing on 20 July that the council in London had declared for Mary. John Dudley accompanied his father and Dr. Sandys, the university’s vice-chancellor, to the market-place, where Northumberland proclaimed Queen Mary:
The duke cast up his cap with others, and so laughed, that the tears ran down his cheeks for grief. He told Dr. Sandys, that queen Mary was a merciful woman, and that he doubted not thereof; declaring that he had sent unto her to know her pleasure, and looked for a general pardon.2
He then dissolved his remaining army, on the council’s orders. The city, which the previous week had welcomed the duke splendidly, was now nervous to please the new queen: the mayor and a large force of university and town’s men surrounded King’s College, where Northumberland and his party were lodged. They sent a delegation to the duke’s apartments; he gave no resistance, but his son Warwick and the Earl of Huntingdon “did not surrender as easily”.3 Soon afterwards another missive arrived from London, saying that “all men should go each his way”:
“Ye do me wrong to withdraw my liberty”,
Northumberland told his captors,
“see you not the council’s letters, without exception, that all men should go whether they would?” At which words they than set them again at liberty, and so continued they all night; insomuch that the Earl of Warwick was booted ready to have ridden in the morning.”
Alas, they had tarried too long, for Warwick could now see the Earl of Arundel, whom a week earlier he had seen assuring Northumberland of his wish to spill his blood at the duke’s feet, in the antechamber: “and when the duke knew thereof he came out to meet him; and as soon as ever he saw the Earl of Arundel he fell down on his knees and desired him to be good to him, for the love of God.”4
A few days later the prisoners reached the outskirts of the capital, and “the duke was brought unto London worshipfully as he had deserved”, although “all the people reviled him and called him traitor and heretic, and would not cease for all they were spoken unto for it.” Among the other captives were “the Earl of Warwick, Ambrose Dudley, Henry Dudley, Andrew Dudley, the Earl of Huntingdon, Lord Hastings, Sir John Gates that was Captain of the Guard, and Sir Henry Gates his brother, Sir Thomas Palmer, Dr. Sandys.”5 Charles V’s ambassadors noted:
Though on his way to the Tower the Duke preserved tint bonne myne [a quite good countenance], when he reached his prison they say his only care was to have nobles to judge him, as is the custom in England, and that his remorse and evil conscience were astonishing. His younger son wept when he was near the Tower.6
Northumberland was imprisoned in St. Thomas Tower, in apartments located right above Traitor’s Gate, the Tower’s entrance from the waterside. His sons were lodged in the Beauchamp Tower.7 On 18 August 1553 the Duke of Northumberland, the Marquess of Northampton, and the Earl of Warwick were tried, by their peers, at Westminster Hall. Northumberland said that he deserved death but had acted on the orders of prince and council, and asked “whether any such persons as were equally culpable of that crime … might be his judges”;8 naturally, the judges were unimpressed by this, “and once the sentence was passed, he asked the Council that he might desire the penalty and the manner of death to be moderated; but above all to have compassion for his sons, the which had erred, like youths, and ignorantly, in obedience to him”.9
The Marquess of Northampton, the man in whose entourage John had travelled to France, must have surprised his fellow accused with the statement that “he was not himself ever in government”, and that he had been away hunting throughout Jane’s reign. When reminded that he had been caught in arms with the Duke of Northumberland at Cambridge, he confessed his guilt, “weeping openly”. It was then the Earl of Warwick’s turn, who pleaded his youth and his obedience to his father, “without knowing much else”, which was doubtless true.10 However:
The Earl of Warwick, finding that the judges, in so great a cause, admitted no excuse of age, with great resolution heard his condemnation pronounced against him, craving only this favour, that, whereas the goods of those who are condemned for treason are totally confiscated, yet her majesty would be pleased, that out of them his debts might be paid. After this they were all returned again to the Tower.11
Executions had been scheduled for 21 August, but were suddenly postponed. Instead an assembly of invited onlookers saw the Duke of Northumberland, Sir Andrew Dudley, Sir Thomas Palmer, the Marquess of Northampton, and Sir Henry Gates take the sacrament in the Tower Chapel St. Peter ad Vincula, with ‟all the … rites and accidents of old time appertaining“. The duke then made a speech in which he declared that
you and I have been seduced these 16 years past, by the false and erroneous preaching of the new preachers, the which is the only cause of the great plagues and vengeance which hath light upon the whole realm of England, and now likewise worthily fallen upon me and others here present for our unfaithfulness.
Of the men so far convicted, only the young Earl of Warwick and Sir John Gates were missing at this memorable performance. It seems plausible that the two needed a day longer to convince themselves to reject the “new doctrine” and go to mass. Gates was known to be a fanatical Protestant. The younger John Dudley, on the other hand, although 17 when his family’s household abolished mass in 1547, had grown up in a climate of religious reform. When John was four or five the French émigré Nicholas Bourbon urged the Dudleys “to continue to follow the banners of Christ”,12 and to discontinue the mass a few months into Edward VI’s reign was, according to English standards, a signal of reform. For Warwick to accept the old ways of religion would thus have presented a much greater challenge than for his father, who after all returned to the faith of his childhood, a psychological allurement of its own kind.
No source records when the government decided to spare most of the convicted men and execute only the Duke of Northumberland with John Gates and Thomas Palmer. Quite possibly the reprieved prisoners were unaware they had escaped death until the very morning of the beheadings on Tower Hill. At least for Warwick this seems to have been the case, as appears from the eyewitness account of an unidentified Tower resident:
On Tuesday the xxiith of August there came into the Tower all the guard, with their weapons, and about ix of the clock the Earl of Warwick and Sir John Gates were brought to the chapel and heard mass, receiving the sacrament. A little before the receipt whereof, they kneeling before the altar, one doctor Boureman, which said the mass, turned to them from the altar, and said these words, or much like, “And if ye do require to receive this holy sacrament of the body and blood of our saviour Christ, ye must not onely confess and believe that he is there really and naturally, very God and very man, yea the same God that died on the cross for our redemption, and not a phantastical God, as the heretics would make him; but also ye must here openly acknowledge and grant your abuse and error therein of long time … and then I assure you ye shall receive him to your salvation, were ye never so detestable an offender.” Then said Sir John Gates, “I confess we have been out of the way a long time, and therefore we are worthily punished; and, being sorry therefore, I ask God forgiveness therefore most humbly; and this is the true religion.” In much like sort said the Earl of Warwick; and then one asked the other forgiveness, and required all men to forgive them as they forgave every man freely.
Next Gates turned to Edward Courtenay, who had only recently been released from the Tower after a stay of 15 years, asking to pardon him for holding him a state prisoner as Captain of the Guard, “not for any hatred towards you, but for fear that harm might come thereby to my late young master.” Everyone being in forgiving mood, Warwick likewise asked Courtenay’s pardon. It is possible that he also asked his young brothers-in-law Edward and Henry Seymour (who were standing by) for forgiveness. The Duke of Northumberland had explicitly done so the day before at the same place. The service then continued, the priest explaining:
“I would ye should not be ignorant of God’s mercy, which is infinite; and let not death fear you, for it is but a little while, to wit, ended in one half-hour. What shall I say? I trust to God it shall be to you a short passage (though somewhat sharp), out of innumerable miseries into a most pleasant rest; which God grant.” The priest having spoken these or much like words, gave them the host, which being finished, and the mass ended, they came forth again; and the Earl of Warwick was led to his lodging, and Sir John Gates to the lieutenant’s house, where he remained about half an hour and more.13
He remained there until Sir Thomas Palmer and the Duke of Northumberland were led out of their Tower cells, the three men proceeding towards the scaffold after a short farewell chat. There was no farewell between father and son on this morning, and it can be ruled out that Northumberland was allowed visits from family members during his imprisonment; he would have been able to write farewell letters, though.
Lodged in the Beauchamp Tower, John and his brothers were ideally placed to watch their father on his last walk out of the fortress and his return in a coffin. A month later the young men’s confinement was somewhat relaxed when they were allowed to take exercise on the leads of the Beauchamp and neighbouring towers, the Earl of Warwick especially “being crazed for want of air”.14 Also, from 24 September 1553, “or the day before, my lady of Warwick had licence to come to her husband”.15
Perhaps hopeful of his family’s future, John Dudley made a beautiful carving on one of the walls of the Beauchamp Tower: the bear and ragged staff of the earls of Warwick and the double-tailed lion of the Dudleys (of Dudley Castle). Beneath the heraldic beasts he inscribed his name: “IOHN DVDLI”. Around this heraldic shield he carved a rebus in form of a flowery border, the meaning of which he explained in an (incomplete) verse below:
Yow that these beasts do wel behold and se
May deme with ease wherefore here made they be
Withe borders eke wherein [there may be found]
4 Brothers names who list to serche the grounde
The plants shown in the border symbolized his younger brothers’ names: roses for Ambrose, gillyflowers for Guildford, honeysuckle for Henry, and oak leaves and acorns for Robert, from the Latin word for oak, robur.16
In late 1553 and early 1554, the four boys were all condemned to death, their mother’s incessant efforts to obtain a pardon for them notwithstanding. Wyatt’s Rebellion must have added to the feeling of crisis, the key battle taking place right outside the Tower. On 12 February 1554 the brothers took leave of Guildford, before watching him walk away and seeing the return of his remains, “his carcas thrown into a cart, and his head in a cloth”.17
On 18 October 1554 John Dudley was released from the Tower, with his brothers Robert and Henry, leaving behind only Ambrose. He died three days later, “at midnight”, in the house of his brother-in-law Sir Henry Sidney at Penshurst in Kent.18 It is unknown from what he died, but his death came not unexpected, which explains why Ambrose, now the family heir, was as yet not set free.19 John had been a healthy young man, a regular jouster, strong enough to carry the sword of state before King Edward on 23 April 1552 all through Westminster Hall, “unto the chapel” of the palace.20 In the same year his father prayed God to “restore you to perfect health”, and his mother wished him “health daily”; while these may be mere phrases, they may also indicate some illness or ailment. Sixteen years after the young earl’s – the young soldier’s – death, John Dee honoured him in his Mathematicall Praeface:
And so in sundry his other accounts, reckonings, measurings, proportionings, the wise, expert, and circumspect captain will affirm the science of arithmetic, to be one of his chief counsellors, directors and aiders. Which thing (by good means) was evident to the noble, the courageous, the loyal, and courteous John, late Earl of Warwick. Who was a young gentleman, thoroughly known to very few. Albeit his lusty valiantness, force, and skill in chivalrous feats and exercises: his humbleness, and friendliness to all men, were things, openly, of the world perceived. But what … vertue had fastened in his brest, what rules of godly and honourable a life he had framed to himself: what vices (in some then living notable) he took great care to eschew: what manly vertues, in other noble men (flourishing before his eyes) he aspired after: what prowesses he purposed and meant to achieve: with what feats and arts he began to furnish … himself, for the better service of his king and country, both in peace & war. These (I say) his heroical meditations, forecastings and determinations, no-one (I think) beside myself can so perfectly and truly report. … This noble earl, died Anno. 1554. scarce of 24 years of age: having no issue by his wife, daughter to the Duke of Somerset.
1 Chronicle of Queen Jane p. 5
2 Foxe p. 591
3 MacCulloch 1984 p. 266; Chronicle of Queen Jane p. 10
4 Chronicle of Queen Jane pp. 10, 7
5 Greyfriars Chronicle pp. 80 – 81
6 CSP Span 27 July 1553
7 Chronicle of Queen Jane pp. 27, 33
8 Ives 2009 p. 97; Guaras p. 103
9 Rosso f. 30
10 Rosso f. 31
11 Chronicle of Queen Jane p. 121
12 Loades 2004
13 Chronicle of Queen Jane p. 19 – 20
14 Loades 2004; Chronicle of Queen Jane p. 27
15 Chronicle of Queen Jane p. 27
16 Wilson 1981 p. 61
17 Chronicle of Queen Jane p. 55
18 Machyn p. 72
19 Adams 2004a
20 Machyn p. 17
The Acts and Monuments of John Foxe. Volume VIII. (ed. S. R. Cattley, 1839).
Calendar of State Papers, Spain. Volume 11 – 1553. (ed. Royall Tyler, 1916) http://www.british-history.ac.uk/source.aspx?pubid=973
Chronicle of the Greyfriars of London. (ed. J. G. Nicholls, 1852). Camden Society.
The Chronicle of Queen Jane. (ed. J. G. Nichols, 1850)
John Dee: The Mathematicall Praeface. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/22062/22062-h/main.html
The Diary of Henry Machyn. (ed. G. J. Nichols, 1848). Camden Society.
Antonio de Guaras: The Accession of Queen Mary. (ed. Richard Garnett, 1892).
Report on the Pepys Manuscripts Preserved at Magdalen College, Cambridge. (ed. Historical Manuscript Commission, 1911)
Giulio Raviglio Rosso: History of the Events that Occurred in the Realm of England in Relation to the Duke of Northumberland after the Death of Edward VI. (ed. J. S. Edwards, 2011) http://www.somegreymatter.com/rossointro.htm
Adams, Simon (2004a): ‟Dudley, Ambrose, earl of Warwick (c.1530–1590)“. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.
Adams, Simon (2004b): ‟Dudley, Robert, earl of Leicester (1532/3–1588)“. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.
Higginbotham, Susan (2011): ‟How Old Was Guildford Dudley? (Beats Me).“ http://www.susanhigginbotham.com/blog/posts/how-old-was-guildford-dudley-beats-me/
Ives, Eric (2009): Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery. Wiley-Blackwell.
Loades, David (2004a): ‟Dudley, John, duke of Northumberland (1504–1553)“. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.
MacCulloch, Diarmaid (ed.) (1984): ‟The Vita Mariae Angliae Reginae of Robert Wingfield of Brantham“. Camden Miscellany. Volume XXVIII. Royal Historical Society.
Sil, N.P. (2001): Tudor Placemen and Statesmen: Select Case Histories. Rosemont Publishing.
Wilson, Derek (1981): Sweet Robin: A Biography of Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester 1533–1588. Hamish Hamilton.