A Rare Glimpse of the Servant

On 13 July 1553 John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland had resolved to lead troops against Mary Tudor, who was assembling her supporters in East Anglia to fight for the throne. Northumberland was handed the commission “for his lieutenantship of the army” by his daughter-in-law, Queen Jane (who had insisted he go in place of her father, the Duke of Suffolk), and

then, as the duke came through the council chamber, he took his leave of the Earl of Arundel, who prayed God be with his grace; saying he was very sorry it was not his chance to go with him and bear him company, in whose presence he could find in his heart to spend his blood, even at his foot. Then my lord of Arundel took also my lord’s boy Thomas Lovell by the hand, and said, “Farewell, gentle Thomas, with all my heart.”

That the chronicler, a probable eye-witness at the Tower of London, should take such interest in a servant is remarkable; most narrative sources do only mention the V.I.P.s and one has to turn to wages lists and account books to find the names of the lesser folk who nevertheless played a crucial part in the lives of their social superiors. It is more often through literature or opera that we become aware of the significance of servants: Mozart’s Don Giovanni relies heavily on Leporello, not only to organize his busy love life, but even to read aloud to him an inscription on a tomb. It was clearly below a true gentilhuomo to do anything by himself. (The Earl of Essex, on the schaffold in 1601, instinctively called for his valet Williams before realizing he had to unfasten his ruff without help).

Why the Tower chronicler chose to impart anecdotal scenes featuring the Earl of Arundel can only be guessed at. He was not a Dudley or Grey partisan, yet he may have found Arundel’s turnabout rather amazing.

After a week had passed without much military action apart from Mary’s camp of supporters growing dramatically, the London council, under Arundel’s lead, decided to change sides and proclaim Mary queen. Arundel immediately rode to the new sovereign to inform her of their submission; he next went to Cambridge to arrest Northumberland, who had heard the news the day before and proclaimed Mary as well:

Then came the Earl of Arundel, who had been with the queen, to the duke into his chamber; 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. “And consider (saith he) I have done nothing but by the consents of you and all the whole council.” “My lord (quod he), I am sent hither by the queen’s majesty, and in her name I do arrest you.” “And I obey it, my lord (quod he), and I beseech you, my lord of Arundel (quod the duke), use mercy towards me, knowing the case as it is.” “My lord (quod the earl), ye should have sought for mercy sooner; I must do according to my commandment.” And therewith he committed the charge of him to diverse of the guard and gentlemen that stood by.

The servant Coxe, mentioned in the following, seems to have been a groom of the duke’s chamber and thus was probably among the group who received outstanding wages after their master’s execution. Still less is known about Thomas Lovell, who was clearly just a boy, a young teenager, as appears from below and from the detail about the Earl of Arundel taking him by the hand. The overriding importance of body servants is evident from the chronicle, one of whose anecdotes gives a wonderful psychological study of the fallen duke. It is not just a rare glimpse of the servant but also the master:

And so the duke continued walking up and down in the outer chamber almost two hours; and once or twice he would have gone to the bedchamber about some business, but he could not be suffered. Then was Tom and Coxe from him. At last the duke, looking through the window, spied the earl of Arundel pass by; then he called to him, and said, “My lord of Arundell; my lord, I pray a word with you.” “What would ye have, my lord?” said he. “I beseech your lordship”, quod he, “for the love of God, let me have Coxe, one of my chamber, to wait on me.” “You shall have Tom and your boy”, quod the earl of Arundell. “Alas, my lord!” quod the duke, “what stead can a boy do me? I pray you let me have Coxe”; and so both Tom and Coxe were with him.

The Chronicle of Queen Jane and Two Years of Queen Mary. (ed. J. G. Nichols, 1850)

Lacey, Robert (1971): Robert, Earl of Essex: An Elizabethan Icarus. Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Loades, David (1996): John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland 1504–1553. Clarendon 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 1553, John Dudley, sources & historians and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A Rare Glimpse of the Servant

  1. Joan says:

    This is very interesting. Thank you.

  2. Esther says:

    Great article. I am curious, though,: do you think that the “Tom” that joined Coxe in waiting on the imprisoned Northumberland the same as the boy, “Thomas Lovell”? Or, how many “boys” or menservants did Northumberland have? (probably, 20% or more of them were named “Thomas”).

    • Thank you, Esther! Of course we can’t be sure (the chronicle’s editor, J. G. Nichols, was), but I think the mere fact that the chronicler chose to tell this little detail might suggest that “Tom” (“Thome”) is probablly the Thomas Lovell of a few pages earlier; I think it’s curious that he included things like: “Then my lord of Arundel took also my lord’s boy Thomas Lovell by the hand, and said, “Farewell, gentle Thomas, with all my heart.””. “And then Thome and Coxe were from him” … and so on, and always in connection with Arundel! I’d also think that Thomas Lovell was the duke’s “boy” in the military sense, so it seems this was a boy first going to battle, considering Arundel’s remark. But then, as you say, this might as well have been any boy called Thomas. Sadly, there is no information whether he had these two servants in the Tower as well, he would have had one or two, but it’s unkown who that might have been.

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