The Spanish Connection

In May 1537 arrived in England Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, a Spanish diplomat and poet from a most illustrious house. Charles V had sent his new ambassador, temporarily replacing Eustace Chapuys, to negotiate a marriage for the emperor’s cousin, the Lady Mary, Henry VIII’s daughter. Nothing came of this marriage proposal, but during his 15-month mission in England Mendoza doubtless became a much sought-after contact among Henry’s courtiers, and he stood godfather to Guildford Dudley, one of the younger children of Sir John Dudley and his wife Jane.1 In the same year, 1537, Dudley himself travelled to Spain, carrying the happy news of Prince Edward’s birth to the emperor.2

Diego de Mendoza, Guildford's faithful godfather, by Titian

Diego de Mendoza, Guildford’s faithful godfather, by Titian

Sixteen years later, John Dudley, now Duke of Northumberland, received a letter from the English envoys at the Habsburg court informing him that “Don Diego has promised to write to your Grace. I think my Lord Guildford, your son and his godson, shall have a fair jennet from him.”3 Don Diego also told the ambassadors of the mighty Duke of Alba, who was a candidate to succeed his deceased kinsman, the viceroy of Naples: “I know, saith he, they will never love him there; and he being mine enemy, and I his, would be glad he were where he might be beloved of few, and bear also the hatred due to his uncle that is now dead.”4 – Here was the true spirit of the Spanish aristocracy.

As the adolescent English king, Edward VI, had noticed in 1551, the emperor was not of good health and unlikely to live long. – “The poticary saith, his stomach waxeth very greedy, and the most fear that his physician hath, is that he will make some disorder by eating more than he should”, the English agents reported in April 1553 and Don Diego informed them

that two days agone the Emperor did feel his stomach very good, and did eat a good deal more goat’s milk than his physician, Dr. Cornelius, would he should have done; who perceiving that he had taken more in than he could after well digest, said his Majesty must no more do so. The Emperor’s answer was, they then must not serve him with too much.5

Less than three months later, it was King Edward who was dead and Guildford Dudley to be king – or so the Habsburg court believed. Mendoza 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.”6 – He probably really meant it, and when he came once again to England in the wake of Queen Mary’s victory in August 1553 she was unwilling to grant him an audience.7 There were political reasons for this, yet she may also have heard about his involvement with the Dudleys. Having dealt with their father, she was for the time being not prepared to pardon Guildford or his brothers and by October had not decided on anything, although the now widowed Duchess of Northumberland was “doing her utmost to secure a pardon for her children”.8

Again, the Spaniards were needed to move something on their behalf. Their brother-in-law Sir Henry Sidney took part in a diplomatic mission to Spain, as he said, to plead with the prospective King of England, Philip, “for the Liberty of John, Earl of Warwick and his brethren”. Alas, nothing could save Guildford who was beheaded in February, but the influx of Spanish nobles in the summer enabled his mother to make some great new friends. Don Diego de Achevedo, Philip’s chamberlain, seems to have been chief among these. In her will, written shortly before her death in January 1555, the duchess left him “the new bed of green velvet with all the furniture to it, beseeching him even as he hath in my lifetime showed himself like a father and brother to my sons, so I shall require him no less to do when I am gone.“9

Jane Dudley thanked many of the lords and gentlemen of Philip’s privy chamber, trusting that “God will requite them” for the good they did to her sons; she especially mentioned two dukes, of Savan and of Mathenon, but the most spectacular acquaintance she had made was undoubtedly Ruy Gómez, the king’s powerful favourite. The man who had made all these splendid contacts possible was none other than Guildford’s faithful godfather, Don Diego de Mendoza, or Lord Dondagoe Damondesay, as the duchess had understood his name. She added that Mendoza was “beyond the seas” as she wrote her will, but nevertheless left him “my little clock that hath the sun and the moon within it”, as well as her sundial which had “the golden number in the midst”. Finally, she thanked Don Diego “for the great friendship he hath showed her in making her have so many friends about the king’s majesty as she has found.”10

Whether Mendoza would have liked it or not, the Duchess of Northumberland also became friends with the Duchess of Alba, the great general’s wife. “Praying her Grace to continue a good lady to all her children as she hath begun”, Jane Dudley explained, “I give to the duchess of Alva my green parrot; I have nothing worthy for her else”.11

The Great Duke of Alba, by Titian. The widowed Duchess of Northumberland became friends with his wife.

The Great Duke of Alba, by Titian. The widowed Duchess of Northumberland managed to befriend his wife.

A month before her death she had had the honour to be the godmother to Philip Sidney, her only living grandchild; King Philip himself was one of the godfathers. As was the custom for royalty he would have acted by proxy, but still, for the widow of an “arch-traitor” it must have been an exhilarating experience. Meanwhile, her surviving sons had all been released from the Tower, though they had not yet been pardoned. – This formality was settled around the time of Jane Dudley’s death. One of the first things for Ambrose and Robert Dudley to do with their freedom was to participate in a tournament (their brother Henry was still too young for this sport). Arranged by Philip for December 1554 and January 1555, the purpose of these festivities was to promote Anglo-Spanish friendship.

Despite these auspicious developments Ambrose, Robert, and Henry Dudley still seem to have got into trouble during 1555 and 1556; they were ordered out of London after being seen with suspicious persons at the door of St. Paul’s Cathedral and in the wake of the conspiracy of their distant kinsman Henry Dudley the authorities apparently sought their arrest and it was reported that they were on the run. Their prospects changed again in 1557, though, with a splendid start, for Lord Robert was among the persons considered worthy to exchange New Year gifts with Queen Mary. He gave her majesty a purse with £10 of cash and received a gilt cup of 20 ounces.12

Mary’s willingness to conciliate her more problematic subjects is remarkable, but even more so is the fact that it was Robert Dudley and not Ambrose, his elder brother, who was admitted to such honours. Robert was now clearly the adroitest and ablest family member, as well as the most politically active. He never became a member of Philip II’s household, but in spring 1557 he was at Calais with a military mission led by the Earl of Pembroke. The contingent was waiting to escort Philip back to England and Lord Robert was sent ahead to bring the happy news to Queen Mary:13

The xvij day of Marche cam rydyng from kyng Phelype from be-yond the see unto the court at Grenwyche, to owre quen, with letters in post, my lord Robart Dudley, … that the kyng wold com to Cales the xvij day of Marche.14

The chief purpose of Philip’s visit was to recruit a fighting force among those Englishmen who owed him a personal debt, and so “divers elected persons were chosen thereunto” and “went out to serve the king” – Lord Ambrose “waz kalled to serv the prins in her warz”, and so were his brothers.15

Kyng Philippe bycause of the warres towardes, betwixte him and the Frenche Kyng, the sixth of July passed over the Calais, and so into Flaunders, where on that syde the Seas hee made greate provision for those warres, at whyche tyme, there was greate talke among the common people, muttering that the Kyng makyng small accompt of the Queene, soughte occasions to be absent from hir.16

On the expedition Robert Dudley served as Master of the Ordnance, and during August and September 1557 the three brothers all took part in the victorious Siege of St. Quentin. In the storming on 27 August 1557 Henry was killed by a cannonball:

At the assault the Lord Henry Dudley, youngest son to the Duke of Northumberland was slain with the shot of a great piece, as he stooped upon his approach to the wall, and stayed to rip his hose over the knee, thereby to have been the more apt and nimble to the assault.17

Robert Dudley was shocked by what he saw with his own eyes, and he still remembered his brother’s gruesome death in 1576; but it also brought the Dudley siblings their restoration in blood. The attainder of Ambrose, Robert, Mary, and Katherine was lifted by Act of Parliament in January 1558.18 By November, Queen Mary lay dying and King Philip sent his agent, the Count of Feria, to sound out Elizabeth, the prospective queen, about her intentions. After a dinner with the princess, Feria made a remarkably accurate list of Elizabeth’s closest friends and servants. Lord Robert featured prominently on it.

Count Feria, who soon married Queen Mary’s friend Jane Dormer and went back to Spain with his new wife, did not like either Elizabeth or her favourite. But Robert Dudley always valued his Spanish connections and kept up a correspondence, assisting the count in his efforts to help Mary’s old exiled servants, Susan Clarencius and Lady Dormer, Jane Dormer’s grandmother.19 He also remembered, and acknowledged, as he would many times in the future, that it was King Philip “to whom he owed his life”.20

1 Higginbotham 2011b; Loades 2013 p. 72
2 L&P Henry VIII 20 October 1537
3 Higginbotham 2011b
4 CSP Foreign 11 March 1553
5 CSP Foreign 23 April 1553
6 Higginbotham 2011b; Ives 2009 p. 189
7 Loades 1989 p. 201
8 CSP Span 9 October 1553
9 Adams 2002 pp. 133 – 134
10 Collins 1746 p. 34; Higginbotham 2011a
11 Adams 2002 p. 134
12 Loades 1989 pp. 270 – 271, 360
13 Adams 2002 p. 158
14 Machyn p. 128
15 Adams 2002 pp. 158, 170
16 Holinshed
17 Holinshed
18 Adams 2008; Adams 2002 p. 158
19 Porter 2007 pp. 411 – 412
20 Adams 2002 p. 158; Chamberlin 1939 p. 83

Calendar of State Papers, Foreign, Edward VI.

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

The Diary of Henry Machyn. (ed. G. J. Nichols, 1848). Camden Society.

The Holinshed Project: 1.22. Queene Marie. (1577)

Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII.

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

Adams, Simon (2002): Leicester and the Court: Essays in Elizabethan Politics. Manchester University Press.

Adams, Simon (2008): ‟Dudley, Robert, earl of Leicester (1532/3–1588)“. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online edition.

Bellamy, John (2005): Strange, Inhuman Deaths: Murder in Tudor England. Sutton.

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

Collins, Arthur (ed.) (1746): Letters and Memorials of State. Volume I. T. Osborne.

Higginbotham, Susan (2011a): “The Last Will of Jane Dudley, Duchess of Northumberland”.

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

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

Kamen, Henry (1998): Philip of Spain. Yale University Press.

Loades, David (1989): Mary Tudor: A Life. Blackwell.

Loades, David (2013): Jane Seymour: Henry VIII’s Favourite Wife. Amberley.

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

Rodriguez-Salgado, M. J. and Adams, Simon (1984): ‟The Count of Feria’s Dispatch to Philip II of 14 November 1558“. Camden Miscellany. Volume XXVIII. Royal Historical Society.

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

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