DUDLEY, Sir John (1504/6-53), of Halden, Kent; Dudley Castle, Staffs.; Durham Place, London; Chelsea and Syon, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer




Family and Education

b. 1504/6, 1st S. of Edmund Dudley of Atherington, Suss. and London by Elizabeth, suo jureBaroness Lisle, da. of Edward Grey, 1st Viscount Lisle; bro. of Sir Andrew. m. by 1526, Jane, da. of Sir Edward Guildford of Halden and Hemsted, Kent, 8s. inc. Sir Robert 2da. suc. fa. 18 Aug. 1510. Kntd. 4 Nov. 1523; KG nom. 23 Apr. inst. 5 May 1543, cr. Viscount Lisle 12 Mar. 1542, Earl of Warwick 16 Feb. 1547, Duke of Northumberland 11 Oct. 1551.3

Offices Held

J.p. Surr., Suss. 1531-45, Warws. 1532-d., Kent 1537-d., Staffs. 1538-d., Worcs. 1540-d., numerous counties 1547-d.; jt. (with Sir Francis Bryan) constable, Warwick castle, Warws. Mar. 1532-50, knight of the body by 1533, master of the armoury, Tower of London 10 July 1534-44; sheriff, Staffs. 1536-7, chief trencher 16 Feb. 1537-12 Jan. 1553; v.-adm. Feb. 1537-Jan. 1543; dep. gov. Calais 29 Sept. 1538; ambassador to Spain Oct. 1537; master of horse to Queen Anne of Cleves 1540; warden, Scottish marches 8 Nov. 1542-?Apr. 1543, 20 Oct. 1551-July 1553; ld. admiral 26 Jan. 1543-17 Feb. 1547, 28 Oct. 1549-14 May 1550; PC 23 Apr. 1543-July 1553; gov. Boulogne 30 Sept. 1544-31 Jan. 1545; chamberlain, Household 17 Feb. 1547-1 Feb. 1550, master 20 Feb. 1550-July 1553; lt. of the north 17 July 1547; constable, Beaumaris castle, Anglesey by 1548-d., pres. council in the marches of Wales 1549-50; ld. lt. Warws. 1550, ld. pres. the Council Feb. 1550-July 1553; gov. Northumb. and warden of the east marches 27 May 1550-July 1553; earl marshal 20 Apr. 1551; chancellor, Camb. Univ. 1552-3, steward, ct. augmentations, Yorks. (E. Riding) 13 Apr. 1552-July 1553; chief steward, Exchequer, Cumb., Northumb. Westmld., Yorks. 2 May-July 1553; trier of petitions in the Lords, Parlt. of Mar. 1553; numerous commissions and minor offices.


After his father’s execution the wardship of the infant John Dudley was acquired by Sir Edward Guildford and his mother married Henry VIII’s kinsman Arthur Plantagenet, later Viscount Lisle. Two years later Guildford petitioned the King for the reversal of the attainder and under the Act (3 Hen. VIII, c.19) for Dudley’s restoration he was confirmed in the guardianship. Although Guildford was not as much at court as his brother Sir Henry Guildford, his ward grew up there, married his daughter and succeeded him as master of the royal armour. Dudley served as Guildford’s lieutenant in the campaign of 1523 and was knighted by Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, for his valour at the crossing of the Somme. He soon gained renown in the mock warfare of the court and joined the group of young men whose task it was to amuse the King. In 1527 he accompanied Wolsey to France and five years later went to Calais with the King. In 1533 he was a cup-bearer at the coronation of Anne Boleyn and he led the procession at the christening of Princess Elizabeth. Cromwell more than once considered him for the vice-chamberlainship of the Household but although he enjoyed the minister’s friendship he did not obtain the office. At a by-election held on 19 Oct. 1534 he replaced his father-in-law as one of the knights for Kent, taking his seat in the Commons at the opening of the seventh session two weeks later. His name appears on a list compiled by Cromwell on the back of a letter of December 1534 and thought to be of Members particularly concerned, perhaps as a committee, with the treasons bill then being debated. He was doubtless returned to the Parliament of 1536 in accordance with the King’s general request for the re-election of the previous Members; on the eve of its assembly he informed Lisle that this Parliament was to condemn Anne Boleyn.4

The Act for his restoration had assured Dudley of his patrimony in the south-west but on reaching 21 he sought to strengthen his title by litigation. The difficulties he encountered led him to part with much. of his inheritance in favour of the midland estate of his impecunious kinsman John, 3rd Lord Dudley; he also disposed of his reversionary interest in the lands left by his mother to his stepfather for life. The failure of Sir Edward Guildford to make a settlement of his property in Kent and Sussex bred contention between Dudley, as the heir general’s husband, and John Guildford as the heir male: after succeeding in his claim Dudley sold the manor of Halden and other lands to Cromwell. He also made extensive purchases, especially in Staffordshire and the Welsh marches, besides being given several manors by the King, so that his landed base shifted to the central and west midlands. He was pricked 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 connexion with the Admiralty which with his military commands from 1542 was to bring him to the fore during the closing years of the reign. It is not clear whether his appointment in 1538 as Lisle’s deputy at Calais, designed by Cromwell to strengthen the government of the town, had the effect of excluding him from the Parliament of 1539. He was not re-elected for Kent, but Lisle as lord warden could have had him elected by one of the Cinque Ports or he could have been returned for a borough in Staffordshire or, as a royal nominee, for one elsewhere. Two fragments of evidence favour the supposition that he sat in this Parliament: on the eve of its third session he wrote to Secretary Sadler about leasing a house near London, and after the session had begun he jousted with several men who are known to have been Members. During the second prorogation he had been named master of the horse to Anne of Cleves and had led her spare horse when the King received her at Blackheath.

The disgrace of Lisle in 1540 does not seem to have compromised Dudley. In January 1542 he took his place in the Commons as one of the knights for Staffordshire, but his stepfather’s death on 3 Mar. was followed nine days later by his own creation as Viscount Lisle. He entered the Lords the next day and was in regular attendance for the rest of the session; it is not known who replaced him in the Commons. After spending the summer of 1542 surveying the fortifications on the Scottish border, he was at court by the autumn when he was made lord warden of the marches, although ‘of small experience in the borders’. Before he entered upon the office the situation was transformed by the battle of Solway Moss, but his request to be relieved of it on the ground of his unsuitability to negotiate a peace was not granted until the following spring. He then resumed his seat in the Lords during the second session and was shortly afterwards admitted a Privy Councillor. As lord admiral he directed the naval operations of the next two years and his attendance during the third session of the Parliament was correspondingly curtailed. To his other duties there was added in late 1544 the governorship of Boulogne. After attending the first session of the Parliament of 1545 he went with the embassy to France to conclude peace. On his return he excused himself from Council meetings because of ill-health, but the imperial ambassador attributed his withdrawal to a quarrel with Gardiner, whom he had assaulted in the Council. He had reappeared there before the King died, and he was present for several days of the final session of the Parliament.5

Dudley was named an executor of the King’s will and according to Secretary Paget he was to have been elevated as Earl of Coventry; in the event it was the earldom of Warwick which he received from Edward VI. He exchanged the Admiralty for the chamberlainship of the Household, a post which he had asked for two years before when its holder fell ill, and he acquiesced in Somerset’s assumption of the Protectorate. Given the lord lieutenancy of the army against Scotland, as subordinate only to Somerset, he was generally credited with the success of the campaign, and on Somerset’s return south he remained to consolidate its gains. He thus missed the first session of the Parliament of 1547, but several of his kinsmen, servants and followers were returned to the Commons, presumably on his nomination. During the second session he was present in the Lords almost daily and he spoke at length in the debate on the eucharist. His appointment early in 1549 as president of the council in the marches of Wales fulfilled a long-standing ambition, but the military reversals in Scotland led to his summons north, whence he was recalled to meet Ket’s rebellion. He shared the widespread discontent with Somerset’s discharge of the Protectorate and at meetings held mostly in his London house after his return from Norfolk he and other Councillors engineered the duke’s overthrow. This paved the way for his own exercise of power, but within a few months he had a lapse of health: he managed to attend some Council meetings but missed almost the entire third session of Parliament, although affirming his Protestantism in the Lords and being one of the signatories to the Act for Somerset’s fine and ransom. On his recovery he assumed the presidency of the Council, but unlike the Protector he sought to diffuse responsibility. As ‘general warden of the north’ he took charge of the Scottish war, but pressure of business and renewed illness prevented him from taking the field. His handling of Somerset had no success: a heated exchange between the pair in April 1551 preluded the final rupture and in the autumn Somerset was arrested for conspiring to recover the Protectorate. His trial and execution, and Warwick’s elevation to the dukedom of Northumberland, signalized the transfer of power, with those who had broken away from the ex-Protector sharing in the distribution of honours.6

Dudley attended two thirds of the meetings of the Lords in the parliamentary session of January-April 1552, but his health was clearly breaking down and with growing infirmity went loss of political control. In March 1552 he established the commission for courts of revenue which proposed their reunion with the Exchequer. He wanted the reform implemented by a Parliament to be summoned in the autumn of 1553, but in December 1552 he yielded to opinion in the Council that it could not wait that long but should be dealt with by a Parliament in the spring. Early in the following month he scrutinized the ‘arguments and collections’ prepared by Cecil for this Parliament. He must have concurred in, if he did not initiate, the despatch of the circular letter to the sheriffs directing them to return ‘men of gravity and knowledge’ capable of furthering ‘such causes as are to be propounded in the said Parliament for the common weal of our realm’ and demanding their compliance in cases ‘where our Privy Council or any of them within their jurisdiction in our behalf shall recommend men of learning and wisdom’. His own intervention is reflected in the number of men appearing in this House who were linked to him by blood, marriage or service, several of whom had no previous experience in the Commons. He himself was joined in the Lords by his eldest surviving son John, under the courtesy title of the Earl of Warwick, and he was instrumental in the summoning of two other peers’ sons, (Sir) Francis Russell and George Talbot, in their father’s lesser dignities. Once again he was as regular in attendance as his health and commitments allowed, but apart from denouncing the episcopacy when Cranmer introduced the measure to revise the canon law he is not known to have spoken.7

The traditional belief that on realizing that the King was close to death Dudley set out without encouragement from the King to subvert the succession is not borne out by the events of the summer of 1553. In May Dudley married his son Guildford to Jane Grey, Jane’s sister to the son of his ally, William Herbert I, 1st Earl of Pembroke, and a daughter to the heir-apparent of the 2nd Earl of Huntingdon, thus linking his family with claimants to the crown, but he lay sick while the King drafted and amended the device altering the succession, insisted upon the preparation of a formal document based on his draft and compelled the witnesses to sign the document. The decision taken in June by Dudley and the Council to call a Parliament in the following September was presumably meant to give legislative force to the device by reversing the Succession Act (35 Hen. VIII, c.1) of 1544 and invalidating Henry VIII’s will. A warrant was directed to Chancellor Goodrich to issue writs for the Parliament but the matter was hardly in hand before Edward’s death on 6 July. After three days’ hesitation Dudley proclaimed his daughter-in-law Jane Queen and himself set out to arrest Princess Mary. The delay in proclaiming Jane combined with the failure to secure Mary while she had been conveniently near London suggests that Dudley had not expected the King to die, at least so quickly, and that he had made inadequate preparations against the possibility. His actions in July were inept and bear the signs of being impulsive and unplanned. When Mary eluded him, Dudley declared for her at Cambridge on 20 July. Brought a captive to the Tower three days later he was arraigned of treason and executed on 22 Aug. An Act (1 Mary St. 2, c.16) confirming his attainder was passed in Mary’s first Parliament.8

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: A. D.K. Hawkyard


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Date of birth estimated from age at the restoration in blood in 1512 when he was ‘under the age of eight years’ and from his sale of property in 1527. This biography rests on B. L. Beer, Northumberland, M. L. Bush, Govt. Pol. Somerset, and D. E. Hoak, The King’s Council in the Reign of Edw. VI.
  • 4. LP Hen. VIII, vii. 1522(ii) citing SP1/87, f. 106v.
  • 5. LJ, i. 184-284.
  • 6. Wealth and Power, ed. Ives, Knecht and Scarisbrick, 88, 90, 96-97, 101-2; M. A. R. Graves, ‘The Tudor House of Lords 1547-58’ (Otago Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1974), 274-5; A. J. A. Malkiewicz, ‘An eye-witness acct. of the coup d’état of Oct. 1549’, EHR, lxxv. 600-9; House of Lords RO, Original Acts, 3 and 4 Edw. VI, no. 31.
  • 7. Rep. R. Comm. of 1552 (Archs. of Brit. Hist. and Culture iii); Graves, 274-5, 302-4; CSP Span. 1553, p. 33.
  • 8. R. C. Braddock, ‘The character and composition of the Duke of Northumberland’s army’, Albion, vi. 343-55.