Every Tudor enthusiast knows that Guildford Dudley, Lady Jane Grey’s equally short-lived husband, was blond. This “fact” comes from a supposed eyewitness description of Jane’s solemn entry into the Tower of London, printed in a 1909 “biography” by Richard Davey:
She walked under a canopy, her mother carrying her long train, and her husband Guilfo walking by her, dressed all in white and gold, a very tall strong boy with light hair, who paid her much attention.1
In 2009 Jane’s biographer Leanda de Lisle argued convincingly that this description must be a fraud, and Dr. Stephan Edwards, a scholar devoted to the study of Jane Grey, has now confirmed this.2 Indeed, Davey’s book is full of fakes, and the only other description of Guildford Dudley’s dress likewise appears in no earlier source than Davey’s work: On the day of the young couple’s trial Guildford is said to have worn a “black velvet suit slashed with white satin”.3
So, if we know nothing about his dress and hair colour, do we know anything else about his appearance? ‟A comely, virtuous and godly gentleman“, called him the Elizabethan chronicler Grafton. Now, Grafton was enjoying the patronage of Robert Dudley, among others, and so is unlikely to have written anything unfriendly about Robert’s late brother, but he quite probably had also met Guildford personally.4
A few words on Guildford, apparently from his own lifetime, appear in a letter recently discovered by Dr. Edwards. Written by an unknown Italian, it says on 24 July 1553, it was printed in Venice in the 1560s as part of a collection of interesting material. The author may have been an eyewitness to some proceedings, or at least used information supplied by someone who had seen Guildford as a bridegroom and “consort”. He describes him as “un bello adolescente”.5 Indeed, the writer believed his “bellezza” to be Guildford’s only real asset, being just the fourth son of a father still alive.6 That a teenager should be handsome is not a surprise, and Guildford came from a family of good-looking people; Robert Dudley a few years later would be described as “giovane bellissimo” (“a very handsome young man”).7
The Italian reporter of 1553 was scandalized by the reversal of the natural order in having the parents serve their own children:
To speak with her and to serve her on bended knee. Not only all the others, but the father and the mother! … The husband stood with hat in hand, not only in front of the Queen, but in front of father and mother, all the other Lords making a show of themselves putting the knee on the ground.8
The reign of Queen Jane broke all rules, certainly, but there was also a tradition of foreign visitors taking exception to the perceived servility at the English court. English etiquette was ‟very strange“, they found, requiring princesses, dukes, and earls to sit on simple stools at a fair distance from their monarch, serving him (or her) on bended knee.9
Guildford standing with his hat in hand, even in front of his sovereign wife, appears a harmless enough figure in the Italian letter; although, like other accounts, this one too reported some behind-the-scenes gossip, there is no trace here of rows or ill-feeling between the young couple. Guildford may not have had many other gifts beside his beauty, but he was not the spoilt brat of tradition either.
1 Davey 1909 p. 253
2 de Lisle 2009; Edwards 2013
3 Davey 1909 p. 317
4 Ives 2009 pp. 185, 275
5 Lettere f. 222 verso
6 Lettere f. 223 recto
7 CSP Venetian 4 May 1559
8 Lettere f. 223 recto
9 Loach 2002 pp. 143 – 144
Calendar of State Papers Relating to English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, Volume 7 – 1558–1580. http://www.british-history.ac.uk/source.aspx?pubid=1006
Lettere di Principi, le quali si scrivono o da principi, o ragionano di principi. (ed. J. S. Edwards, 2013) http://www.somegreymatter.com/lettereintro.htm
Alford, Stephen (2002): Kingship and Politics in the Reign of Edward VI. Cambridge University Press.
Davey, Richard (1909): The Nine Days’ Queen: Lady Jane Grey and Her Times. Methuen & Co.
de Lisle, Leanda (2009): “The Faking of Jane Grey”. BBC History Magazine. http://www.leandadelisle.com/articles/
de Lisle, Leanda (2013): Tudor: The Family Story. Chatto & Windus.
Edwards, J. S. (2013): “The Spinola Letter”. http://www.somegreymatter.com/spinola.htm
Ives, Eric (2009): Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery. Wiley-Blackwell.
Loach, Jennifer (2002): Edward VI. Yale University Press.