King Guildford?

In July 1553, in the days following the death of Edward VI, the Greyhound, ”in company of five other of the King’s ships traitorously sent forth by the late Duke of Northumberland to obtain his wicked and devilish purpose against the Queen’s Majesty, rode before the town of Leigh in the River Thames”. The ship’s captain, Gilbert Grice, a “servant to the same Duke and a man by him specially put in trust for the furtherance of his devilish purpose, went on board the … Hart, and there with the other captains consulted togethers”. When Grice returned on board the Greyhound he was asked by the ship’s master, John Hurlocke, “what news, and whether the King were then on live”. – He replied “that King Edward was dead, but, praised be God as he declared, the realm had another King, being the Duke’s his lord and master’s son the Lord Guildford, who was married unto the Duke of Suffolk’s daughter, then also Queen.”1

Meanwhile in London, on 10 July, Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed queen. After the royal party had settled in the Tower – the monarch’s residence before the coronation – the Marquess of Winchester came with the real thing and asked Jane to try it on, “that I might put it on my head, in order to prove, whether it stayed on me well.” The marquess then said that there was a crown for Guildford, too, or that one could be commissioned, “the which words I heard with great dislike to me”.2 When Winchester had left the room a famous scene took place:

I was with my husband, and of that I discussed with him much, that I reduced him to consent, that, if he must be made King, it should be done by me, and by way of the Parliament. Afterwards I commanded to be called the Earl of Arundel, and the Earl of Pembroke, and I told them, that, when the crown came to me, it was resolved by me not to wish to make my husband King, nor ever to consent to it: but that it contented me to make him a Duke. The which being related to his mother, she angered herself with me in every way, and persuaded her son, that he should not sleep with me anymore: the which he obeyed, declaring to me that he did not desire to be a Duke, but King.3

The Duke of Northumberland was at this point still in the capital gathering troops to march against Mary Tudor, who was putting up unexpected resistance in East Anglia. When Mary’s letter of defiance had arrived the Duchesses of Suffolk and Northumberland had burst into tears. They clearly saw into the abyss, and now Guildford’s mother sensed once again where the wind was blowing: Guildford was to leave the dangerous court and go home, to Syon House. Queen Jane insisted on etiquette, though, and so Guildford had to stay to play the role of consort: “I was forced, as lady, and loving of my husband, to send to the Earl of Arundel, and the Earl of Pembroke, that they should work [it] so that he should come to me, which they did.”4

However much Jane may have opposed her spouse’s pretensions, she did embrace her married status and any ill feelings were gone when in the last days of her reign she agreed to act as godmother to the new-born son of Edward Underhill, a soldier at the Tower who had refused to march with the duke: Queen Jane ”named my son Guildford after her husband”.5

Guildford Underhill’s baptism on 19 July turned out to be the last thing to happen under the rule of Queen Jane. On the same afternoon Queen Mary was proclaimed in London and the Duke of Suffolk personally tore down his daughter’s state canopy at the Tower. He and his wife then managed to get out of the fortress, accompanied by some ladies-in-waiting, but – as the Imperial ambassadors gleefully related three days later – not everybody had been so lucky:

The Duchess of Northumberland, Guilford, her son, and the Lady Jane of Suffolk are detained in the Tower as prisoners, and receive sour treatment, somewhat different from that meted out to them during their eight days’ reign. Guilford tried to induce his wife to cede her right to the Crown to him, so that he might not only be consort and administrator, but king in person, intending to have himself confirmed as such by Parliament. But she refused to do so, and gave him the title of Duke of Clarence, which is reserved for the younger son of the king. He already had himself addressed as “Your Grace” and “Your Excellency,” sat at the head of the Council board, and was served alone. At present the Tower jailor serves him at table.6

So, did Guildford Dudley play the king? Could he expect the crown matrimonial? Did he want even more? The sources quoted above were all written in hindsight by persons with specific agendas, agendas which implied hostility (and in the case of the Imperial ambassadors extreme hostility) towards the Dudleys. Still, they betray what people really thought at the time: The notion of a female sovereign existed in theory but was not considered to be a very practical solution and it would have been assumed that a queen’s husband would at least share in the power. Even women, if they were the wives of kings, were known as queens and considered of equal rank to their reigning husbands, sharing some powers with them. It would thus have been perfectly normal for Guildford to expect to be made a king of some sort. When the French ambassador informed Henri II of Edward VI’s death he wrote of “le nouveau roy”, “the new king” – apparently referring to Guildford.7 The Habsburg court at Brussels also believed in the reality of King Guildford; when the Spanish diplomat Diego de Mendoza heard the news he was quick to express his delight to the English ambassadors: “I was his godfather, and would as willingly spend my blood in his service as any servant he hath.”8

It was certainly Jane’s reaction that was unusual when she decided not “to make my husband King, nor ever to consent to it.” And yet it was in keeping with the official documents. Her proclamation as queen “made it clear that Jane alone was to reign; Northumberland did not attempt to make … his … son … co-sovereign.”9 Likewise, the letters patent issued under the personal supervision of Edward VI made no mention of Guildford, although they did list the risk of marriage with a foreigner as a reason to bar the Ladies Mary and Elizabeth from the succession. Accordingly, in a speech before lawyers Edward did say good things of Guildford and stressed that he had married Jane with his royal consent.

It is often overlooked that under Edward’s will the principal beneficiaries were the Greys, not the Dudleys: If Jane and Guildford had only daughters, Jane’s sister Katherine was to inherit the crown after her; if Guildford died young, Jane could take another husband; if Jane died young without leaving a son, Guildford would lose his position of influence. While enforcing this scheme and risking much for it, it was only natural for the Duke of Northumberland to expect at least the title of a king for his son in return.

As it turned out, the duke obeyed the commands of his daughter-in-law (who had just declined to make his son a king), when she decided that he, instead of her father, should lead the forces against Mary:

Then went the councell in to the lady Jane and told her of their conclusion, who humbly thanked the duke for reserving her father at home, and beseeched him to use his diligence, whereto he answered that hee would doe what in him lay.

Northumberland sensed the council’s treachery and, exhorting them to stay loyal to Jane, expressed his doubts, which his double-tongued colleagues tried to allay with assurances of they being all in the same boat.

“I praie God yt be so (quod the duke); let us go to dyner.” And so they satt downe. After the dyner the duke went into the quene, wher his comyssion was by that tyme sealed for his liefetenantship of the armye, and ther he tooke his leave of hir.10

After Mary’s victory only three people were executed for the “plot” against her succession, chiefest among them the Duke of Northumberland. He died in the hope that his sons would be spared and indeed the Imperial ambassadors soon believed that there would be such an outcome; Lady Jane certainly could expect to be pardoned. However, other than their parents, all the young people remained in prison and had to stand trial at some point.

Part of Guildford Dudley's farewell message to his father-in-law with his signature

The second part of Guildford Dudley’s farewell message to his father-in-law at the bottom of Lady Jane’s prayer book

Jane and Guildford Dudley’s turn came on 13 November 1553, when they were led on foot from the Tower to the Guildhall with their co-accused, Archbishop Cranmer and Guildford’s brothers Ambrose and Henry. Importantly, and in spite of all the gossip, Guildford was not accused of having tried to usurp the crown or of assuming undeserved titles. His crime had been to “compass to depose” Queen Mary by sending troops to his father and the “receiving, honouring, and proclaiming” of his wife as queen.11 Jane’s own treason consisted in having signed certain documents as “Jane the Queen”. A few of these papers have survived, for example an order of 18 July to raise troops to be sent into the “rebellious” county of Buckinghamshire.12 We cannot know whether Guildford had something to do with the dispatch of such business, but it seems unlikely; not only did he not sign anything, but his father, his uncle, and all his brothers were away in the field and the Dudley influence in the privy council was surely on the decline.

The only surviving sample of Guildford’s writing is a short farewell letter to his father-in-law, the Duke of Suffolk, whose unfortunate participation in Wyatt’s Rebellion in early 1554 gave Mary’s government a pretext to carry out the death sentences on Jane and Guildford. Guildford’s education may have been less intellectually exacting than that of his elder siblings, his tutors being hardly of the calibre of Roger Ascham or Thomas Wilson. He most likely was of the same age as his wife, namely 16,13 and his handwriting, in Jane’s rather small prayer book, betrays his comparative inexperience; his lines are the more touching:

youre lovyng and obedyent son wishethe vnto your grace long lyfe in this world wth as muche ioy and comforte, as dyde I wyshte to my selfe, and in the world to come ioy euer lasting

your most humble son to his dethe

On 12 February 1554 Guildford Dudley was beheaded on Tower Hill, his wife suffered an hour later within the fortress. “Jane of Suffolk who made herself queen and her husband have been executed”, the Habsburg ambassador reported with satisfaction. – There was also much sympathy for the young couple: Many gentlemen had come to take leave of Guildford and shake hands with him outside the Tower,14 and the chronicler Grafton claimed that “even those that never before the time of his execution saw him, did with lamentable tears bewail his death.” John Knox, even in 1554, rightly saw Jane and Guildford as “innocents … such as by just laws and faithful witnesses can never be proved to have offended by themselves”.15

1 Knighton and Loades 2011 pp. 287 – 288
2 Rosso ff. 56b – 57; Ives 2009 p. 189
3 Rosso f. 57
4 Rosso ff. 57 – 57b
5 Tudor Tracts p. 181; Ives 2009 pp. 205, 215
6 CSP Span 22 July 1553
7 Vertot II pp. 55
8 Higginbotham 2011; Ives 2009 pp. 189, 322
9 Knighton and Loades 2011 p. 288
10 Chronicle of Queen Jane pp. 5 – 7
11 Bellamy 1979 p. 54
12 de Lisle 2009 p. 110
13 Higginbotham 2011; de Lisle 2013 pp. 261, 492
14 Chronicle of Queen Jane p. 55
15 Ives 2009 pp. 275, 268

Ambassades de Messieurs de Noailles en Angleterre. Volume II. (ed. Abbé Vertot, 1763)

Calendar of State Papers, Spain. Volume 11 – 1553. (ed. Royall Tyler, 1916)

The Chronicle of Queen Jane. (ed. J. G. Nichols, 1850)

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)

Lady Jane Grey’s Prayer Book: BL Harleian MS 2342

Tudor Tracts, 1533–1588. (ed. A. F. Pollard and Thomas Seccombe, 1903). E.P. Dutton.

Bellamy, John (1979): The Tudor Law of Treason: An Introduction. Routledge & Kegan Paul.

de Lisle, Leanda (2009): The Sisters Who Would Be Queen: Mary, Katherine, and Lady Jane Grey. A Tudor Tragedy. Ballantine Books.

de Lisle, Leanda (2013): Tudor: The Family Story. Chatto & Windus.

Higginbotham, Susan (2011): ‟How Old Was Guildford Dudley? (Beats Me).“

Ives, Eric (2009): Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery. Wiley-Blackwell.

Knighton, C. S.; Loades, David (eds.) (2011): The Navy of Edward VI and Mary I. The Navy Records Society.

MacCulloch, Diarmaid (ed.) (1984): ‟The Vita Mariae Angliae Reginae of Robert Wingfield of Brantham“. Camden Miscellany. Volume XXVIII. Royal Historical Society.

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
This entry was posted in 1553, Guildford Dudley, Jane Dudley, John Dudley and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to King Guildford?

  1. bluffkinghal says:

    It is very interesting that spouses of Kings usually became queens, but there always has been a problem in England to crown spouses of Queens as kings. Possibly, the fear of becoming a queen without power.

    • True! That certainly was the underlying fear, while it is interesting that spouses of monarchs, in the whole of Europe, were called queens or kings even if they were not actually crowned.

  2. super blue says:

    Matthew Lewis’ “The Survival of the Princes” has an interesting suggestion about Lord Guildford and why Northumberland was so eager for his son to be crowned.

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