John Dudley and His Friends by Christine Hartweg

Posted By on March 18, 2016

John Dudley portrait Penshurst
Thank you so much to Christine Hartweg, author of the new book John Dudley: The Life of Lady Jane Grey’s Father-in-Law for sharing a guest post on John Dudley with us today. Christine’s book is an excellent read, and, as I state in my endorsement on its cover, it is “A meticulously researched, highly readable biography which brings John Dudley out of the shadows and into the limelight that this fascinating Tudor man deserves.”

John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, the somewhat notorious father-in-law of Lady Jane Grey, during his lifetime had many friends, however surprising this may appear. John Dudley, whose father Edmund Dudley had been executed when John was about six, grew up in Kent in the household of the courtier Sir Edward Guildford, who was his guardian and later also his father-in-law. The Guildfords, of course, were acquainted with other families from Kent, like the Wyatts.

The poet Thomas Wyatt was the same age as John Dudley and the two became good friends, from boyhood. The antiquarian John Leland, also from Kent, was another friend of both Thomas Wyatt and John Dudley, and from the 1520s he enjoyed Dudley’s patronage. But this Kentish intellectual network was even bigger, Leland being also friends with Thomas Wriothesley, another of John Dudley’s friends. Whether John knew members of the Boleyn family, also resident in Kent, is unknown, though it would not seem unlikely. If he did not know them from Kent, he certainly met them at court.

From the mid-1530s John Dudley and his wife Jane, née Guildford, belonged to the religiously reform-minded circles at court. The French religious refugee Nicholas Bourbon, Anne Boleyn’s protégé, also taught young Henry Dudley, John’s eldest son, who died aged 19 in the siege of Boulogne 1545. Later in Henry VIII’s long reign, John Dudley appears again in reformed circles. He and his wife were good friends of Katherine Parr and her brother William. William Parr and John Dudley went to see the reform-minded prisoner Anne Askew, before she was tortured, to convince her to conform to the Henrician church. Anne, however, outspoken as ever, told them it:

was a great shame for them to counsel contrary to their knowledge. Whereunto, in few words, they did say, that they would gladly all things were well.

With the accession of the nine-year-old Edward VI John Dudley and his evangelical friends came even more to the forefront. The young king’s uncle, Edward Seymour, rose to become Lord Protector and Duke of Somerset, while his younger brother, Thomas Seymour, secretly married Henry VIII’s widow, Queen Katherine Parr. John Dudley was friends with both the Seymour brothers, although a post-1553 tradition claims he set up the brothers against each other. His letters, though, suggest otherwise. Intriguingly, Thomas Seymour informed the Protector and John Dudley, who were on campaign in Scotland, that Lady Warwick, John’s wife, was “also merry” (though she had been left behind). This clearly indicates that Jane Dudley was still in contact with Katherine Parr, whom she had served as lady-in-waiting.

In Katherine’s household lived the young Jane Grey, whose wardship Thomas Seymour had acquired; her parents were still alive, though, and they were also well acquainted with John Dudley. Henry Grey, Marquess of Dorset, and John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, who were also second cousins once removed, served as fellow godfathers to several children of Elizabeth and William Cavendish, Elizabeth being better known as Bess of Hardwick. Another godmother much in demand was Katherine Brandon, the Dowager Duchess of Suffolk, who happened to be Frances Grey’s stepmother. An outspoken Protestant, she had frequent dealings with John Dudley and was the friend of William Cecil, who in turn came to serve both Edward Seymour and John Dudley as close confidant.

Edward Seymour and John Dudley, in fact, were like two peas in a pod. From being jointly knighted, in 1523, on campaign in France to their afterlives as the good and the bad duke, respectively, they cannot be separated. Traditional history has emphasized the two men’s enmity; yet things were more complicated than the story of the evil John Dudley waiting in the wings to destroy his rival would suggest.

Edward Seymour, “by the Grace of God Duke of Somerset”, had become arrogant and seemingly unapproachable by 1549 and John Dudley, now Earl of Warwick, discreetly tried to warn him that trouble was brewing in the country. After subduing Kett’s Rebellion in East Anglia, which had resulted from Somerset’s ill-advised policies, John joined other plotters in the council to remove the Lord Protector from his office. The beleaguered Protector, who ensconced himself with the young king at Windsor Castle, wrote a letter to John in which he pleaded their old friendship:

My Lord, I cannot persuade my self that there is any ill conceived in your heart as of your self against me, for that the same seemeth impossible, that where there hath been from your youth and mine so great a friendship and amity betwixt us, as never for my part to no man was greater, now so suddenly there should be hatred …

The other plotters were the Earl of Arundel and John’s old friend, Thomas Wriothesley, now Earl of Southampton. Had these two had their way, Somerset would have been executed, and John Dudley with him; after all, every measure passed by the Protector had “from article to article [been done] by the advice, consent, and counsel of the Earl of Warwick”.

John Dudley was tipped off of their plans, though, and decided to invite Arundel and Wriothesley to his house (where he supposedly lay sick). He called their bluff, placing his hand on his sword and proclaiming:

my lord, you seek his [Somerset’s] blood and he that seeketh his blood would have mine also.

These words basically saved the ex-Protector; John Dudley held command over the army and effectively was the most powerful man in the country. The Duke of Somerset was soon a free man again and restored to the council and the privy chamber. There was also a wedding, in June 1550, of John Dudley’s son and heir, John, and Somerset’s eldest daughter, Anne.

Unfortunately, Edward Seymour was not altogether happy with his new position as premier peer and king’s uncle without portfolio. He was greatly annoyed by Dudley’s policies, especially the peace with France and Scotland; he surrounded himself with malcontents and engaged in somewhat aimless plotting to remove his rival. There was talk of arresting John Dudley and call a parliament, as “the kingdom had been very badly governed”. – Somerset also talked about executing his rival, although he said he later abandoned this particular idea.

After many months of all this plotting, John Dudley decided to strike first. According to his old comrade in arms, Sir Thomas Palmer, a man with a grudge against the ex-Protector, John invented a story about Somerset inviting him and William Parr to a banquet, there to cut off their heads. Somerset was duly convicted of felony, for killing a privy councillor was not treasonous but felonious, as John pointed out during the trial. The penalty was the same, though. Still, John Dudley was remarkably hesitant to actually send his erstwhile friend to the block. The Imperial ambassador noted that after having long talks with Somerset in the Tower he was “sorely puzzled” and did not know what to do. When rumours made the rounds that Somerset would be released and pardoned, William Parr and William Herbert – John’s other friends – became angry with him and pushed him in the direction they wanted.

While John Dudley may have been relieved to be rid of Somerset for the moment, he seems not to have been happy with it in the long term. Perhaps his daughter-in-law, who lived in his household, was an uncomfortable reminder. He certainly felt the need to personally ask the pardon of Somerset’s sons before his own execution, and according to several diplomats he confessed that “nothing had pressed so injuriously upon his conscience as the fraudulent scheme against the Duke of Somerset”.

Somerset’s old enemy, Thomas Wriothesley, had not lived to see him die. Ill from tuberculosis, he possibly committed suicide in 1550, but not without remembering his “friend” John Dudley (as well as his wife) in his will. William Parr, Marquess of Northampton, on the other hand, lived to an old age. He became a chief figure in John Dudley’s regime, after years of maltreatment under Somerset. John had sympathized with Northampton in the summer of 1549, when the latter suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Norfolk rebels. He asked the Protector to keep the marquess in command:

Wherefore, if it might please his Grace to use his services again, I shall be as glad for my part to join with him, yea, rather than fail, with all my heart to serve under him, for this journey, as I would be to have the whole authority myself; and by this means his Grace shall preserve his heart, and hable him to serve hereafter, which, otherwise, he shall be utterly in himself discouraged – I would wish that no man for one mischance or evil hap, to the which we be all subject that must serve, should be utterly abject; for, if it should be so, it were almost a present discomfort to all men before they go to it, since those things lie in God’s hand.

As it turned out, Northampton went on to serve, under John Dudley. When in power, John helped William Parr to divorce his unfaithful wife and marry his lover, Elizabeth Brooke, something the prim Lord Protector had denied him. Somerset had also removed him from the privy council; Northampton now regained his place, but social life also went on, John informing William Cecil: “My Lord Marquis hath been with me, I thank him; and some good fellows with him: we have been merry.”

Under Henry VIII, John Dudley had dined on puddings and red deer with William Paget, the king’s secretary. As fellow diplomats, the two men had enjoyed the good life at the French court. John even claimed he was too busy to write to his wife, who had asked him to bring back “some goldsmith’s work from Paris”. John rather wrote to Paget asking him to explain to her how he had spent all his money already.

Although Somerset’s supposed banquet massacre was to have been staged at his house, William Paget escaped with his life when Somerset’s circle was arrested in late 1551. The closest confidant of the Protector while in office, he had constantly warned him about his arrogant behaviour. Lady Paget, meanwhile, apparently was good friends with John Dudley’s wife, Jane writing a heartbreaking letter to her in August 1553 in which she asked her to plead with Queen Mary for John’s life. Although Jane ultimately pleaded in vain, the Dudley-Paget friendship survived, as did the friendship with the Parrs.

John Dudley also had two “special friends”. These were the Lord Darcy and Sir John Gates; they were chiefly political friends, “serv[ing] my purpose”, as John called it. Of his remaining friends the explorer Sebastian Cabot, the businessmen John Yorke and Thomas Gresham, the diplomat William Pickering, and the magus John Dee might be mentioned. That these and other talented men frequented John Dudley’s household in the years he rose to power is perhaps no surprise. The catastrophe of 1553 notwithstanding, though, they (or their sons) continued to be friends with John Dudley’s children; especially Robert Dudley and Mary Sidney.

John Dudley: The Life of Lady Jane Grey’s Father-in-Law by Christine Hartweg


John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland (1504–1553), one of the most notorious figures of Tudor England, is best known as the father-in-law of Lady Jane Grey, whom he helped to place on the English throne for nine days. However, he was also a courtier and diplomat, a general and de facto regent, as well as a patron of art and exploration and a devoted family man; and in the past decades his image has undergone significant changes from villain to talented statesman. The father of Queen Elizabeth’s friend Robert Dudley and grandfather of the poet Philip Sidney led a colourful life at the courts of Henry VIII and Edward VI which is vividly retold in this fully documented biography.

“A meticulously researched, highly readable biography which brings John Dudley out of the shadows and into the limelight that this fascinating Tudor man deserves.” – Claire Ridgway, The Anne Boleyn Files

Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (February 3, 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1517648416
ISBN-13: 978-1517648411
Kindle ASIN: B01BT0C016

Available on kindle and as a paperback at and