John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland

John Dudley (1501-August 22/August 23, 1553) was a Tudor nobleman and politician, executed for high treason by Queen Mary I of England.

His grandfather was a Knight of the Garter and Steward to King Henry V; his mother, Elizabeth de Lisle, a descendant of Richard de Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick, John was the eldest of Edmund Dudley’s sons. Jerome, Oliver, William, and Andrew Dudley were his brothers.

Sir Edward Guilford of Halden and Hemsted in Kent, Warden of the Cinque Ports (1474/9-1534) was a son of Sir Richard Guilford by Anne De Pympe. When Edmund Dudley was executed, Edward acquired the ward-ship of John Dudley (and apparently also of one of his brothers, possibly Andrew who was later made Admiral of the North Sea), who were then taken into the home of Sir Richard Guilford. In 1520, this ward, John Dudley married Jane Guilford, Edward's daughter.

Edward then died without leaving a will and leaving no children except this daughter, married to Sir John Dudley. The Guilford estate was thus to be the cause of a dispute between Guilford's nephew, John, and his son-in-law John Dudley. This nephew John was the son of George Guilford of Hemsted by Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Robert Mortimer of Mortimer's Hall, Essex.

Dudley claimed the manor of Halden, and other lands in Kent and Sussex, despite John Guilford's assertion that his uncle had intended him to inherit. Five years later Dudley sold the manor with others to Thomas Cromwell.

Jane’s father, Edward Guilford, had been a partner in many of Edmund Dudley's ‘profitable outrages’. Guilford had adopted John when the boy was nine, and within two years, in 1512, he was able to persuade King Henry VIII'th. to repeal Edmund's attainder.

In order to prosper under his new-found liberty, as a young man Dudley took part as Guilford's lieutenant in the campaign of 1523 in France under the King’s brother in law, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and won a knighthood on the field for gallantry after his valour at the crossing of the Somme. He was soon to gain prominence in the mock warfare of the royal court and so joined the group whose task it was to amuse the King. In 1527 he accompanied Cardinal Thomas Wolsey to France and in 1532 went to Calais with the King.

At about the time of the birth of his fifth son, Lord Robert, in 1532/3 that Sir John Dudley was appointed Master of the Armoury in the Tower of London. To it he brought the reputation of being the ablest commander both by land and sea that had then been of service to the Tudors. This helped rehabilitate the name of Dudley. At the coronation of Anne Boleyn in 1533 he was invited to be a cup-bearer, and he would lead the procession at the christening of the Princess Elizabeth.

From 1536 he appears to have encountered some difficulties that led him to part with much of his inheritance in favour of the Midlands estate of his cousin, John Sutton, 3rd Lord Dudley; he exchanged his reversionary interest in the lands left to him by his mother to Sir Richard for life. He then made extensive purchases, especially in Staffordshire and the Welsh marches, and in addition was given several manors by the King, so that his land base shifted to the central and west Midlands. He was elected sheriff of Staffordshire in 1536 after helping to put down the northern rebellion. In 1537 Dudley was sent on a mission to Spain and also began the connection with the Admiralty which, with his military commands from 1542, was to bring him to the fore during the closing years of Henry's reign. In January 1542 he resumed his seat in the Commons as one of the knights for Staffordshire, and upon his stepfather's death was created Viscount Lisle (derived from his mother) and made Lord Admiral for life, entering the Lords the following day to sit in regular attendance for the rest of the session.

Exercising his new prerogative, Dudley dispatched the French from the English Channel and stormed Boulogne, for which he was to become a Knight of the Garter and was on the April 23, 1543, admitted as a member of the Privy Council. As Lord Admiral he directed the naval operations of the next two years and his presence at the third session of that Parliament was respectively shortened. To his other duties there was added in late 1544 the governorship of Boulogne. In 1544 he accompanied his future rival, Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford to the capture and burning of Edinburgh. In 1544 a large English force, supported by a naval fleet, under Hertford's command, invaded the east coast of Scotland, sacking Leith and Dunbar and capturing Edinburgh.

After attending the first session of the Parliament of 1545 Dudley was to direct the operations of the fleet in the battle of the Solent which frustrated the French attack on Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight. He went with the embassy to Paris to ratify and conclude the peace in 1546. On his return Dudley was absent from Council meetings on the grounds of ill-health, although the imperial ambassador ascribed his retirement to a difference of opinion with Bishop Stephen Gardiner, whom he had assaulted in the Council. He returned before the King died, and was in attendance at the final session of Parliament. By 1547, the year of the King’s death, he was Lieutenant General of all His Majestie’s armed forces.

Shortly before the coronation of Edward VI, son of Henry VIII, Hertford was named Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector of the Realm. The late King had appointed sixteen regents to govern the Kingdom during his sons minority, Dudley being amongst them, but the king’s uncle had disregarded this fact and elected himself sole Protector. He sought and was duly granted the right to bear the arms of the Earls of Warwick, with the distinctive badge of the Bear and the Ragged Staff.

In 1549 Dudley achieved his great political victory over the Norfolk rebels in their efforts to remove the land enclosure system. He was popularised, not only for his skill and courage, but for his mercy towards the prisoners. When his small troop was faced with destruction and outnumbered, he drew his sword, kissed the blade and spoke of death before dishonour. When the conflict was over, he responded to his officers' protests for revenge with : "Is there no place for pardon?" he asked "What shall we then do? Shall we hold the plough ourselves, play the carters and labour the ground with our own hands?"

By the end of 1549 most of the King’s Council, including Thomas Cranmer, Arundel, Paulet and William Cecil were united behind Dudley, a man with the ambition, will and determination to lead the elected who were ready to overthrow Somerset. Dudley had been a protégé first of Cardinal Wolsey and then of Thomas Cromwell, who both recognised his extraordinary abilities. It has also been noted that during this period their were considerably fewer executions on the grounds of religious intolerance and for a while England became a refuge for the persecuted from many lands. It was John Dudley who took the initiative in ousting the "Good Duke", leading the Palace rebellion against Somerset in 1552, and in the light of these facts history has been unforgiving.

John Dudley was given the title of Duke of Northumberland in 1551. One of Northumberland's first actions was to end the wars with France and Scotland initiated by Somerset. He surrendered the besieged town of Boulogne and withdrew the English garrisons from Scotland. Unlike Somerset, whom he had outmanoeuvred, Dudley did not take the title of Lord Protector, and encouraged Edward VI to proclaim his majority and formally become king. Nonetheless Northumberland effectively ruled the country by holding two offices: Lord President of the Council and Great Steward of the King's Household. Dudley obtained such an influence over Edward that the King was ready to make it appear that Dudley's ideas were actually his own. Whether or not it was justified, Dudley acquired a bad reputation, becoming known as a "tyrant", sometimes referred to as the merciless "bear of Warwick".

When Edward was dying, he and Dudley concocted a document which barred both Elizabeth and Mary (the remaining children of King Henry VIII of England) from the throne, in favour of Lady Jane Grey (who married Dudley's elder son, Guilford Dudley).

Dudley was forced to surrender to Mary I. He was arrested and executed for high treason in 1553. His most noted daughter Mary married Henry Sidney, the father of that most famous soldier and poet, Sir Phillip Sidney. His younger son, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, became powerful during the reign of Elizabeth I.

Preceded by:
The Earl of Hertford
Lord High Admiral
Succeeded by:
The Lord Seymour of Sudeley
Preceded by:
The Lord Seymour of Sudeley
Lord High Admiral
Succeeded by:
The Lord Clinton
Preceded by:
The Duke of Somerset
Earl Marshal
Succeeded by:
The Duke of Norfolk
Preceded by:
The Lord St John
Lord President of the Council
Succeeded by:
Preceded by:
The Earl of Wiltshire
Lord Steward
Succeeded by:
The Earl of Arundel

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