A Duke Undressed – John Dudley in August and September 1553

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 remorse and evil conscience were astonishing. His younger son wept when he was near the Tower.1

The journey on 25 July 1553 through the City of London to the Tower had been an unpleasant and frightening experience for John Dudley, for “all the people reviled him and called him traitor and heretic”. Still, his captor, the Earl of Arundel, and his guards accorded him the respect due to his rank: “the duke was brought unto London worshipfully as he had deserved”.2

St. Thomas’ Tower, where John Dudley was held prisoner, as seen fom the Thames, in the foreground. Photo by Christine Matthews CC-BY-SA 2.0

Rank held society together and the formal niceties of it were not easily disregarded. Though Northumberland signed his last letter as simple John Dudley, he still died a duke the next day. His attainder was passed only in September, but even then his widow and his children continued as the Duchess of Northumberland, the Earl of Warwick, the Lords Ambrose, Robert, Guildford, and Henry. This was the custom and no-one deemed it inappropriate.

As Grand Master, the principal officer of Edward VI’s household, the Duke of Northumberland should also have been present at his master’s funeral on 8 August 1553. And indeed in a sense he was: an expenditure of nil was recorded for his and his entourage’s mourning blacks. Richard Cox, Edward’s former tutor, even managed to be released from prison to attend.3 Northumberland (and thus his putative entourage) was absent, of course, and he was otherwise busy:

Sonday the 6 of August … the Duke of Northumberland was twise examined by the Quenes Counsell in the Tower, with other prisoners. The 7 of August the Duke of Northumberland was examined againe, with other prisoners.4

The procedure cannot have been unfamiliar to him, for in the past he had grilled one or two high-profile prisoners himself. Now, as is betrayed by the entry in the chronicle, he was the news. And people were eager for news; already a couple of days before a letter had reported: “I hard saye this daye that the duke of Northumberland, the marques of Northampton, the earle of Huntingdon, sir John Gates, and Mr. Palmer, wear alredie condemned to dye.”5

Charles V’s ambassadors – reporting no less eagerly – wrote that “inquiries are being conducted into the nature of the late King Edward’s illness. It is found that his big toes dropped off, and that he was poisoned“, and that ‟the proceedings against the Duke of Northumberland and his accomplices … are being pursued with diligence. He was confronted with them and examined, and he has confessed generally most of the indictments against him. He has not yet declared who was the author and instigator of his practices.“ Some, perhaps most, of the members of the board of examiners might well have known a lot about this last point; interest in it was limited, though, and when John Dudley was dead the ambassadors summed up: “it appears that it was thought best not to inquire too closely into what had happened, so as to make no discoveries that might prejudice those who assisted in the trial and the rendering of the sentences.”6

The emperor was by now very impatient: ‟Send us every detail that comes to your knowledge of the depositions made by the Duke of Northumberland, especially on the death of the King and on the intrigues, correspondence and intelligence between him and France or other countries.“ Charles had convinced himself that King Edward had been poisoned and that there were not one, but “two plots that sought to deprive [Mary] of her right to the Crown and to bring about her brother, the late King’s, death”.7

The Imperial ambassadors also noted that before the end of the first week of August Queen Mary took care of her most important prisoner’s soul: “for fearing that the Duke of Northumberland might fall a prey to despair in his prison, she thought that a priest should be sent to comfort him”. This proved to be a very sensible move with a mutually satisfactory result: It surely helped John Dudley to recover from his nervous breakdown and paved the way for his return to the Catholic faith, giving the prisoner a good end and the government a great success.

Though being repeatedly questioned, Northumberland, the Habsburg servants wrote, “made no confession as to the French intrigues or as to the charge of poisoning”.8 The indictments against him comprised only three items, all committed after Edward VI’s death, namely that he had been in the field against the queen (i.e. Mary), that when in the field he had proclaimed her a bastard and Jane queen, and himself captain-general of the kingdom.9 Had there been any substance in the poison theory or in the suspicion that he was about to trade English territory for French help, the government would not have hesitated to charge him for these crimes, too, nor would the duke have denied them. Everything indicates that he was ready to confess his actual misdeeds, but he was not prepared to make absurd statements. And he was not pressured to do so.

At his trial on 18 August, after pleading guilty to the charges, he even managed to make two good points, asking the judges:

Whether a man doing any act by authority of the Prince and Council, and by warrant of the Great Seal of England, and doing nothing without the same, may be charged with treason for any thing he might do by warrant thereof.

As well as:

Whether any such persons as were equally culpable in that crime, and those by whose letters and commandment he was directed in all his doings, might be his judges, or pass upon his trial as his peers.10

On 22 August 1553 the duke dressed up, only to undress again on the scaffold minutes later:

first, he put off his gown of crane-coloured damask … at the last he put off his jerkin and doublet, and then said his prayers; after which time the hangman reached to him a kerchief, which he did knit himself about his eyes, and then laid him down, and so was beheaded.11

As customary, the duke’s costly gown seems to have served as the executioner’s fee, and he and his fellows Sir John Gates and Sir Thomas Palmer had also received £10 14s. 4d. in cash “to give alms at their execution.”12 – The money-obsessed Imperial ambassadors misunderstood this ritual when they commented on Northumberland giving up all the money he had supposedly stolen from the crown on the scaffold.13

The reckoning of the duke’s and his family’s earthly possessions took place between 28 August and 13 September 1553, under the supervision of Richard Rich, 1st Baron Rich. In the duke’s town palace, Durham Place, the sum of “ready money found” was “nil”, yet at Cambridge the duke’s war treasure of nearly £1,999 of cash had been secured for “her Highness’s use”. An amazing 10,180 ounces of plate of all sorts were found at the duke’s houses, of which 234½ oz. of gilt plate and 417 oz. of silver plate were graciously delivered to the Duchess of Northumberland. So was her entire wardrobe.14

An inventory of the duke’s wardrobe was made by one John Empson and most items went to the queen, via her best friend Mrs. Clarencius (who habitually kept such stuff for her own benefit15 but equally may well have helped Jane Dudley to keep hers). The Earl of Devon received some of the rest, together with the fallen duke’s rapier. The Duke of Norfolk received Northumberland’s coronet, Garter collar, and parliament robes, and one wonders what the London jewellers were thinking of this perpetual recycling. One gown in Empson’s list was “with the duke at the Tower”;16 just one – and was it the “crane-coloured”?

Much household stuff was sold or given away “to divers persons”, and some stuff had been stolen, such as 2¼ yards of white sarcenet; a collection of stable equipment had been “taken away by the Duchess”. Northumberland’s widow was also granted carpets and tapestries from Syon House, as well as the “contents of the duke’s bedchamber” there. She was also allowed kitchen stuff: “A butt of malmsey and a butt of sack half wasted” had to be “spent”, though.

The Tower church of St. Peter ad Vincula, John Dudley’s resting place. Photo by Christine Matthews CC-BY-SA 2.0

The two noblemen rumoured in early August to be in for the same fate as the duke, the Marquess of Northampton and the Earl of Huntingdon, had escaped death and in the earl’s case even judicial proceedings. Both had been old friends of Northumberland and in Durham House Queen Mary’s commissioners even encountered a room called “The Earl of Huntingdon his chamber”; indeed Huntingdon and his son, now Northumberland’s son-in-law, had stayed often with the Dudleys. John Dudley the Younger, the duke’s eldest son, had also stayed with the Huntingdons, for example in 1550. He and his brothers were also at home in the house of Francis Jobson, their father’s brother-in-law. The commissioners found “the Earl of Warwick’s his goods … at Mr. Jobson’s house at Westminster” and sold them for £7. “The Lord Robert Dudley’s goods” were equally found there and sold for £6 13s. 4d. Lord Ambrose, on the other hand, had “the contents … of his chamber [at Syon] delivered to him for his furniture at the Tower”.17

The duke’s five sons were to stay for quite a while, awaiting their fate. From the Beauchamp Tower they would have observed with interest that on 14 September 1553 “the busshope of Canterbury was brought into the Tower as prysoner, and lodged in the Tower over the gate anenst the water-gate, wher the duke of Northumberland laye before his death.”18

1 CSP Span 27 July 1553
2 Greyfriars Chronicle pp. 80 – 81
3 MacCulloch 1996 p. 547
4 Wriothesley II p. 96
5 Chronicle of Queen Jane p. 15
6 CSP Span 4 September 1553; CSP Span 8 August 1553; CSP Span 6 August 1553
7 CSP Span 23 August 1553; 14 August 1553
8 CSP Span 4 September 1553
9 Guaras pp. 102 – 103
10 Tytler 1839 p. 224
11 Chronicle of Queen Jane pp. 21 – 22
12 Bayley 1830 p. 424
13 CSP Span 27 August 1553
14 Loades 1996 pp. 304, 307 – 308
15 Porter 2007 p. 249
16 Loades 1996 pp. 307 – 308
17 Loades 1996 pp. 308 – 310; CSP Dom p. 239; HMC Second Report p. 102
18 Chronicle of Queen Jane p. 27

Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, of the Reign of Edward VI, 1547–1553. Revised Edition. (ed. C. S. Knighton, 1992). HMSO.

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 and Two Years of Queen Mary. (ed. J. G. Nichols, 1850). Camden Society.

Antonio de Guaras: The Accession of Queen Mary. (edited by Richard Garnett, 1892).

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

Wriothesley, Charles: A Chronicle of England During the Reign of The Tudors, from A.D. 1485 to 1559. (ed. W. D. Hamilton, 1877).

Bayley, J. W. (1830): History and Antiquities of the Tower of London. Second Edition.

Loades, David (1996): John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland 1504–1553. Clarendon Press.

MacCulloch, Diarmaid (1996): Thomas Cranmer: A Life. Yale University Press.

Porter, Linda (2007): The First Queen of England: The Myth of “Bloody Mary”. St. Martin’s Press.

Sil, N. P.: “Jobson, Sir Francis (b. in or before 1509, d. 1573)”. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.

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

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, Ambrose Dudley, Jane Dudley, John Dudley and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Duke Undressed – John Dudley in August and September 1553

  1. Great post!
    That first picture, of St. Thomas’ Tower, is amazing.

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