John Dudley’s Youth: In Kent, at Court, in France

Edmund Dudley’s decapitated body was buried in the precincts of the Blackfriars monastery in the west of the City of London. Fifteen months later, in November 1511, his widow remarried, on the king’s command; the lucky bridegroom was Arthur Plantagenet, Henry VIII’s uncle of illegitimate birth. He received a good share of Edmund Dudley’s confiscated lands, but did not succeed in becoming his stepchildren’s guardian, a circumstance which left him somewhat disgruntled.1 Instead Sir Edward Guildford petitioned for and received John Dudley’s wardship. At the same time, in February 1512, Edmund Dudley’s attainder was annulled by a parliamentary statute and his son was restored “in name and blood”. The king was hoping for the good services “which the said John Dudley is likely to do”.2

Henry Guildford, Edward's half-brother. His appearance gives an idea of 1520s court fashion.

Sir Henry Guildford, Sir Edward’s half-brother. His appearance gives an idea of 1520s court fashion.

The Guildfords had been loyal Tudor servants from the start and Sir Edward and his half-brother Sir Henry belonged to the circle of Henry VIII’s personal favourites. Now about seven years old, John Dudley would possibly have left his home to live in another family’s household, anyway; as it came, he moved to Kent to live with the Guildfords. We do not know how much he saw of his mother or his little brothers, Jerome and Andrew, in the ensuing years; we do not know where they grew up while Elizabeth Grey, now Plantagenet, bore her second husband three daughters who survived. She died, probably in childbirth, in 1525 or 1526.3

Sir Edward Guildford’s principal residence was at Halden in Kent. He married twice, and his two children were born of his first marriage: Richard, whose date of birth is unknown and who predeceased his father; and Jane, who would have been three years old when John Dudley was added to the household. The date of Guildford’s second marriage being unknown, it is possible that the Lady Guildford of 1512 was Richard’s and Jane’s stepmother. The children doubtless became John’s playmates and their schooling probably occurred at home under the direction of a private tutor. As his letters show, John Dudley became perfectly literate in English. In 1552, having received one of the youthful Edward VI’s drafts for reform, he complained that it was written “all in latin, I can but guess at it”, a remark which would support the assumption that he had no Latin. However, the truth is more complicated. On the one hand it was “polite convention” to underplay one’s capacities in this respect,4 and on the other he was quite capable to understand the meaning of Edward’s text, so he must have learnt his “grammar” as a youth and simply forgotten most of it.5

Sir Edward, in 1514, was appointed Master of the Tower Armouries and thus became responsible for the king’s personal body armour. Guildford organized jousts and tournaments, and served as marshal in many festivities held to impress foreign ambassadors.6 It seems likely that he introduced John to the court as a page during these years.7 John’s education was certainly that of a courtier and knight, comprising training with horses and weapons such as daggers, swords, and pikes. He soon would also have opportunity to brush up his French (which, conversing personally with Francis I and the future Henry II in later life, must have been excellent).

In May 1519 Edward Guildford was appointed Marshal of Calais, and it has been speculated that John Dudley, now about 15, went with his guardian to serve there at the garrison.8 Guildford was still at Calais in June 1520 when he was responsible for arranging the elaborate pavilions and lodgings for the Field of Cloth of Gold, where Henry VIII and Francis I met to celebrate their somewhat hollow friendship. In July 1520 Calais also saw the visit of the Emperor Charles V, Edward Guildford again being involved in the preparations.9 It is unknown if young John saw some glimpses of all this splendour, but quite possible.

A pavilion at the Field of Cloth of Gold, the kind of building Sir Edward Guildford was responsible for

A pavilion at the Field of Cloth of Gold, the kind of construction Sir Edward Guildford would have been responsible for at the festival

The next year, 1521, Sir Edward served as Constable of Dover Castle and became Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. His ward John, whom he seems to have always preferred before his son Richard, meanwhile entered the entourage of Cardinal Wolsey on a mission to France. The Cardinal, who was wont to tour Europe with a huge following, was to help negotiate a peace between the French king and the emperor; nothing came of it, though. We next find John (once again?) at Calais, in his first ever command at the garrison. War between England and France had resumed, and, towards the end of 1522, he gained his first experiences of military action in skirmishes around Calais.10 He was 18 years old.

In August 1523 he got his first military post, again at Calais, as Lieutenant of the Spears. “As that position was in the gift of the Lord Deputy rather than the Marshall [Sir Edward Guildford], his advancement cannot be attributed to mere nepotism. He was a very promising young soldier.”11

A few weeks later he took part in the Duke of Suffolk’s campaign in France. This was meant to support the emperor and the Duke of Bourbon, who had recently switched sides and was now fighting against his master the King of France. However, Bourbon turned up at Marseille instead of in the Northwest of France, and the English army, about 11,000 men, soon got bogged down at the Somme. The October weather was terrible and many English soldiers succumbed to sickness. Nonetheless, towns and fortified places were taken in the revived cause of an English “empire” on French soil.12 The exploits of John Dudley’s guardian stood out:

Sir Edward Gyldford capitaine of the horsmen vewed the castle of Bowhen or Boghan, whiche euer was thought to be impregnable, but he iudged it might be wonne, for the castle was inuironed with Marryses [marshes], so that to no mans judgement it was possible to wynne it: But nowe he perceiued that the frost was so great and strong that it might be beseaged, & all that night it fresed againe: wherfore he desired the Duke to geue him leaue to assaute it whiche thereto agreed. Then he caused the ordinance to be set furth ouer the marrish. When they within the castle perceiued that the marrishe fayled theim, they were sore dismayed. Then sir Edward Guildeford shot thre great pieces at the castle, and the castilian shot thre pieces againe. Then as the Englishe gunners wer preparing to the battery, the capitain seyng his castle could not hold, by reason that the marishe failed, and that he could defende none assault, deliuered the castle to him to the behofe of the Emperor and the kyng of England, and after a small communicacion had betwene the sayd sir Edwarde Guyldforde and the capitaine, the capitaine with all his retinue departed leuyng behynd the ordinaunce of bombardes, curtawes, & demy curtaux, slinges, canons, volgers, and other ordinaunce, there were Ixxvi. pieces, plentie of pellettes & pouder.13

In early November the Duke of Suffolk in person made “Sir Edw. Semer” and “Sir John Dudlay” into knights,14 the first evidence of an often close relationship which would end in tragedy 30 years later. A friendship from boyhood was that between John Dudley and Thomas Wyatt, who was John’s exact contemporary. John was Edward Guildford’s ward, Thomas Henry Guildford’s protégé. Both the Wyatts and the Guildfords resided in Kent, and so did the antiquarian John Leland, who during the 1520s enjoyed John Dudley’s patronage.15 In 1527, when Sir John once again accompanied the Cardinal to Europe – as one of over 900 attendants – Leland composed a Latin poem for his friend Wyatt, who had remained in England; the piece was carried home by Dudley:

Dudley, about to arrange a journey from here to his native shores, advised that I should remember to present you, my familiar and old companion, with a greeting.16

John Dudley, by his 18th birthday, was firmly integrated into a Kentish network of intellectual friends; in July 1522 one of the group, writing from Louvain, desired “remembrance” to, among others, Dudley.17 By 1524 Sir John had also gained the king’s personal favour; he was now a Knight of the Body, which meant a lot of jousting and things like archery and wrestling, sports he still excelled in many years later.18

He was also about to become a married man. His intended bride was Jane Guildford, Sir Edward’s only daughter. Apparently this arrangement was agreed upon by Dudley’s mother and his guardian,19 probably many years before the consummation of the marriage. Since their first child, Henry, was born not later than 1525, the wedding may have occurred in 1524, perhaps after John’s return from campaigning in France. Jane would have been about 16, the perfect age to marry. She would form the opinion that her husband was “the most best gentleman that ever living woman was matched withal”.

continued from:
John Dudley’s Childhood, in London

1 Loades 2008
2 Loades 1996 p. 17 – 18
3 Grummitt 2008
4 Ives 2005 p. 45
5 Loades 1996 p. 203; Loades 2008
6 Lehmberg 2008
7 Loades 2008
8 Loades 1996 p. 20
9 Lehmberg 2008
10 Lehmberg 2008; Loades 2008
11 Loades 1996 p. 22
12 Loades 1996 pp. 21
13 Hall p. 671
14 L&P III No. 3516
15 Brigden 2012 pp. 80, 130
16 Brigden 2012 pp. 129, 130; Loades 1996 p. 24
17 Brigden 2012 pp. 89 – 90, 130; L&P III No. 2390
18 Loades 1996 p. 22; Ives 2009 p. 99
19 Loades 2008

Edward Hall: The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancastre and Yorke. (1809 edition).

Letters and Papers of Henry VIII.

Brigden, Susan (2012): Thomas Wyatt: The Heart’s Forest. Faber & Faber.

Grummitt, David (2008), “Plantagenet, Arthur, Viscount Lisle (b. before 1472, d. 1542)”. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online edition.

Gunn, S.J. (1999): ‟A Letter of Jane, Duchess of Northumberland, 1553“. English Historical Review. Vol. CXIV pp. 1267–1271.

Ives, Eric (2005): The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: ‘The Most Happy’. Blackwell.

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

Lehmberg, Stanford (2008): “Guildford, Sir Edward (c.1479–1534)”. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online edition.

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

Loades, David (2008): ‟Dudley, John, duke of Northumberland (1504–1553)“. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online edition.

Wilson, Derek (2005): The Uncrowned Kings of England: The Black History of the Dudleys and the Tudor Throne. Carroll & Graf.

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 family & marriage, friends & foes, Henry VIII, Jane Dudley, John Dudley and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.