The Dudley Carving of the Beauchamp Tower, Tower of London

Posted By on October 21, 2013

This beautiful carving of the Dudley coat of arms is thought to have been made by John Dudley, son of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, who died on this day in 1554 shortly after his release from the Tower of London.

Photo by Tim Ridgway

Photo by Tim Ridgway

John is said to have carved the coat of arms into the stone wall of the Beauchamp Tower of the Tower of London when he, his brothers and father were imprisoned there after the fall of Lady Jane Grey, wife of John’s brother, Guildford. The carving features the bear and ragged staff (the badge of the Earls of Warwick), the double-tailed lion rampant (badge of the Dudley family) and a floral border with oak leaves and acorns for Robert Dudley (Quercus robur is the Latin for English oak), roses for Ambrose Dudley, honeysuckle for Henry Dudley (Lonicera henryi) and Gilly Flower for Guildford Dudley.

The inscription reads:

“You that these beasts do wel behold and se, may deme with ease wherefore here made they be, with borders eke within [there may be found] 4 brothers names who list to search the ground.”

It is a breathtakingly beautiful carving and is one of my favourites, along with Anne Boleyn’s falcon badge. The carving appears in my latest book The Anne Boleyn Collection II.

John died at Penshurst, the house of his brother-in-law Henry Sidney, in Kent.

14 thoughts on “The Dudley Carving of the Beauchamp Tower, Tower of London”

  1. I was stunned by the quality of some of the carving on the walls of the cells at the Tower of London, even allowing for the great quantity of time that the prisoners had on their hands. As a stone carver I know the skill and experience needed to produce such work.

    One of the wardens told me that wealthy prisoners were often allowed perks, including hiring a stone carver to come to their cell. The quality of the carved decoration and the fine lettering suggest that this may well have been the case here.

    The aristocratic Duke of Northumberland might have learnt stone carving as a hobby though I think is is unlikely and this is the work of a hired hand. Nevertheless, it is a moving record of the family’s imprisonment.

    1. Carol says:

      This is thought to be the work of the son of The Duke of Northumberland. He was also called John.

      1. Father or son Carol, I believe it is unlikely that either of them would have trained as a stone carver, and this (note the lettering esp) is clearly the work of an experienced hand.

        1. Claire says:

          No, don’t blow away my illusions! I so want to picture John carving it, perhaps he had a hidden talent 🙂

        2. Claire says:

          I should point out here that Lucy does stone carving for a living.

  2. Fair enough Claire. I don’t want to rob anyone of their poetic illusions, just supplement the body of knowledge with an experienced viewpoint, is all!

    Given the smallness of the cell, even if this was carved by someone in his employ, Northumberland would have been close at hand to oversee the work and direct the design!

    In any case, it’s a wonderful experience to lean against the walls of the cell and imagine the carver leaning against the very same stones 500 years ago.

    1. Claire says:

      Ha! It is such a romantic picture I have in my head.

      I love visiting the Beauchamp Tower, it’s incredible. Some carvings are so simple and others are so intricate, but all are poignant, particularly when you read the stories of those who made them or had them made.

      1. Absolutely :>) When I was there last there was a fantastic video screen which displayed the visitors walking around in real time (like the cctv in shops), overlayed onto a film of an actor dressed as a prisoner, moving about the same cell. It really brought home the sense that we are only separated by time, and was very moving.

        1. Claire says:

          That sounds wonderful, Lucy.

    2. Lucy,
      Thank you for the clarification. I’ve always wondered whether an aristocrat would have had the time to acquire the amount of skill needed to carve this. What I hadn’t realised is that he could have been allowed to get someone in to do it! Whoever created it, it is still very moving.

  3. BanditQueen says:

    It is a wonderful carving; and John Dudley must have been gifted to have carved it.

  4. Are there any records of stone carvers admitted to the Tower? For example, there are sources which indicate what mattrasses and other household stuffs Ambrose Dudley was allowed in the Tower. And there are also records of people allowed to visit the prisoners. The problem is always that sources don’t survive and that they are “incomplete” in the first place. Re the younger John Dudley, he was well-educated and may have had exceptional artistic skills, although handiwork may of course be unlikely for aristocrats. What is interesting is that is carving remained unfinished.

    1. Claire says:

      In a leaflet by Historic Royal Palaces – see http://www.hrp.org.uk/resources/A3_Beauchamp3_2.pdf – it says “some may even have hired stonemasons…” but doesn’t give a reference for this, so I assume that there aren’t records to support the theory.

      1. Thanks for that link Claire :>) and Christine you’ve raised some good points.

        Even someone with exceptional artistic skills wouldn’t be able to produce carving and letter cutting of this quality – no matter how much time they had on their hands -without prior training and considerable experience in cutting stone. This is the work of an experienced mason using proper stone carving chisels, and has not been scratched in with impromptu tools.

        There are other carvings at the Tower which might, or might not have been carved by the prisoners themselves, and many scratched in motifs which obviously have been, but not this one. (Unless John Dudley bunked off his aristocratic duties in his youth and trained for some time as a stone mason).

        This technical perspective is in no way meant to belittle or detract from the memorial itself, which is both lovely and moving. Indeed, hiring a proper mason shows how much the Dudley’s wanted to be remembered by posterity.

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