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Portrait of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland
John Dudley, Earl of Warwick and Duke of Northumberland  (c.1502-1553)

JOHN DUDLEY, DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND, VISCOUNT LISLE, EARL OF WARWICK, was the eldest son of Henry VII's extortionate minister, Edmund Dudley, by his second wife Elizabeth, daughter of Edward Grey, Viscount Lisle, and co-heiress of her brother John, Viscount Lisle. He was probably descended from the old baronial house of Sutton alias Dudley; but his father's attainder and execution in 1509 clouded his prospects. His mother, however, married as her second husband in 1511 Arthur Plantagenet, the illegitimate son of Edward IV, who in 1523 was created Viscount Lisle in his wife's right; and Lisle's rise in Henry VIII's favour brought young Dudley into prominence.

In 1512 he was restored in blood and in 1538 he was made deputy to his stepfather, who was governor of Calais, and he does not appear to have suffered by Lisle's temporary disgrace and imprisonment in the Tower. Lisle died early in 1542 and Dudley was created Viscount Lisle on the 12th of March and was made warden of the Scottish marches in November, and Lord High Admiral of England in 1543 in succession to his future rival, Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford. He was also created a knight of the garter and sworn of the privy council on the 23rd of April 1543. In 1544 he accompanied Hertford to the capture and burning of Edinburgh. On the capture of Boulogne in September Lisle was given command of the town and of the Boulonnais; in 1545 he directed the operations of the fleet in the Solent which foiled the French attack on Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight; and he was sent to Paris to ratify the peace concluded in 1546.

Lisle had thrown in his lot with the reforming party, and he took an active share in the struggle at Henry VIII's court for control of affairs when Henry should die. Hertford and he were described by the Spanish ambassador as holding the highest places in Henry VIII's affections and as being the only noblemen of fit age and ability to carry on the government. The Howards were infuriated by the prospect, and Surrey's hasty temper ruined their prospects. Lisle quarrelled bitterly with Bishop Gardiner, served as commissioner at Surrey's trial, and was nominated one of the body of executors to Henry's will from which Norfolk and Gardiner were excluded. On Henry's death Lisle was raised to the earldom of Warwick and promoted to be Lord Great Chamberlain of England, again in succession to Hertford, who became Duke of Somerset and Protector. But he was not long content with Somerset's superiority, though he concealed his resentment and ambition for the time.

He accompanied Somerset on his Pinkie campaign, and materially contributed to the winning of that victory. Nor did he exhibit any sympathy with the intrigues of the Protector's brother, Thomas Seymour, the Lord High Admiral; his subtler policy was to exasperate the brothers and thus weaken the influence of the house of Seymour. He took a leading part in the proceedings which brought the admiral to the block in March 1549; and then used the Protector's social policy to bring about his deposition. Warwick, like most of the privy council, detested Somerset's ideas of liberty and his championship of the peasantry against the inclosure movement; one of his own parks was ploughed up as a result of a commission of inquiry which Somerset appointed; and when the peasants rebelled under Kett, Warwick gladly took the command against them. His victory at Dussindale made him the hero of the landed gentry, and as soon as he had returned to London in September 1549, he organized the general discontent with the Protector's policy into a conspiracy. He played upon the prejudices of Protestants and Catholics alike, holding out to one the prospect of more vigorous reform and to the other hopes of a Catholic restoration, and to all gentry the promise of revenge upon the peasants.

The coalition thus created effected Somerset's deposition and imprisonment in October 1549; and the parliament which met in November carried measures of political coercion and social reaction. But the coalition split upon the religious question. Warwick threw over the Catholics and expelled them from office and from the privy council, and the hopes they entertained were rudely dashed to the ground. But it was difficult to combine coercion of the Catholics with the proscription of Somerset; the Duke was therefore released early in 1550 and restored to the privy council; and his daughter was married to Warwick's son. Warwick himself assumed no position of superiority over his colleagues, and he was never made Protector. But he gradually packed the council with his supporters, and excluded his enemies from office and from access to the King. His plan was to dominate King Edward's mind, and then release him from the trammels of royal minority. He abandoned the Tudor designs on Scotland, and made a peace with France in 1550 by which it recovered Boulogne and was left free to pursue its advantage in Scotland. Nor did the betrothal of Edward to Henry's daughter Elizabeth prevent the French king from intriguing to undermine English influence in Ireland.

In domestic affairs Warwick pushed on the Reformation with none of the moderation shown by Somerset; and the difference between the two policies is illustrated by the change effected between the first and second Books of Common Prayer. Warwick, however, was widely distrusted; and the more arbitrary his government grew, the more dangerous became Somerset's rivalry. A parliamentary movement had early been started for Somerset's restoration. Warwick therefore kept parliament from meeting, and the consequent lack of supplies drove him into the seizure of church plate, sale of chantry lands, and other violent financial expedients. At length he resolved to get rid of his opponent; his opposition was magnified into conspiracy, and in October 1551, after Warwick had made himself Duke of Northumberland and his ally Dorset, Duke of Suffolk, and had scattered other rewards among his humbler followers, Somerset was arrested, condemned by the peers on a charge of felony, and executed on the 22nd of January 1552.

Parliament was permitted to meet on the following day, but for the next eighteen months Northumberland grew more and more unpopular. He saw that his life was safe only so long as he controlled the government and prevented the administration of justice. But Edward VI was slowly dying, and Northumberland's plot to alter the succession was his last desperate bid for life and power. Its folly was almost delirious. Edward had no legal authority to exclude Mary, and the nation was at least nine-tenths in her favour. Northumberland bullied the council and overawed London for a few days; but the rest of England was in an uproar, and as he rode out to take the field against Mary, not a soul cried "God speed." A few days later he returned as Mary's prisoner. He was tried for treason, professed himself a Catholic in the delusive hope of pardon, and was executed on the 22nd of August.

He was a competent soldier and one of the subtlest intriguers in English history; but he had no principles. He was, says a contemporary French account, "de parole affable, se composant a gracieusite et doulceur, mais au dedans felon, orgueilleux, vindicatif s'il en fut jamais." The violence of his rule and of his pretended Protestantism was largely responsible for the reaction of Mary's reign. His best-known son was Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, Queen Elizabeth's favourite.

(A. F. Pollard)

      Excerpted from:

      Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th Ed. Vol XIX.
      Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1910. 789.

Other Local Resources:

Books for further study:

Beer, Barrett L. Northumberland: The Political Career of John Dudley,
           Earl of Warwick and Duke of Northumberland.
           Kent State University Press, 1974.

Jordan, W. K. Edward VI: The Threshold of Power;
           The Dominance of the Duke of Northumberland.
           Allen & Unwin, 1970.

Loades, David. John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland 1504-1553.
           Oxford University Press, 1996.

Wilson, Derek. The Uncrowned Kings of England: The Black History
           of the Dudleys and the Tudor Throne.
           London: Carroll & Graf, 2004.

John Dudley on the Web:

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