“Your loving and obedient son wishes unto your grace long life in this world with as much joy and comfort, as did I wish to myself, and in the world to come joy everlasting. Your most humble son to his death, G. Duddley” – note in a prayerbook from Guildford to his father-in-law, Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk
Born in March 1537, Guildford Dudley was the fourth surviving son of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland and Lady Jane Guildford. Northumberland ruled the regency council while King Edward VI was a minor. The Spanish diplomat Don Diego de Mendoza arrived in England in May 1537 and agreed to act as godfather to Guildford. Educated mostly with his younger brothers Henry and Charles, Guildford may have spent some time in the household of his uncle by marriage, Francis Jobson. He received a humanist education, and they brought him up as an adherent to the Protestant faith.
Northumberland’s original plan was to marry Guildford to Lady Margaret Clifford, who, through her mother, was a grandniece of King Henry VIII. These plans for the Clifford marriage caused suspicion, but King Edward VI spoke in support of the match with Margaret’s father, Henry Clifford, 1st earl of Cumberland. By early 1553, Northumberland had substituted his younger brother Andrew for his son regarding these plans. Strong evidence exists the Marchioness of Northampton first proposed the idea of a marriage between Guildford Dudley and Jane Grey.
Northumberland may have considered he could secure a second Dudley dukedom upon the death of Jane’s father, Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk. The earliest evidence of the couple’s betrothal is a warrant dated April 24, 1553, requesting the delivery of ‘wedding apparel’ to the bride and groom and others. This match was one of three, with Jane’s sisters Katherine and Mary also being betrothed. Jane and Guildford were third cousins once removed. If they had been Catholic, papal dispensation would have been required, but they were both Protestant.
They celebrated the three weddings of the Grey women on May 21, 1553, at Durham House, one of the Duke of Northumberland’s London residences. Two days of celebration and a magnificent wedding feast followed the ceremony. Unfortunately, Guildford and several other guests fell very ill after eating some salad. But everyone recovered.
We do not know Guildford or Jane’s reaction to her wedding. The imperial ambassador reported the couple would not immediately consummate the marriage because of the young age of the parties. For much of June, Guildford and Jane appear to have lived apart, visiting and building their relationship. By the time they proclaimed Jane Queen, the couple were living in Durham House and sleeping together.
Guildford’s marriage to Jane compelled him to become entangled in plans to divert the succession of the throne of England from King Edward’s Catholic half-sister Mary Tudor to his Protestant wife. The king, being a minor, could not legally write a will and so he drew up a ‘devise’ in which he set aside his half-sisters, the Princesses Mary and Elizabeth, stigmatizing them as bastards and reversing his father’s will and testament and Parliamentary approved succession, and naming his cousin Lady Jane Grey and, in default, her sisters Katherine and Mary, as his immediate and legitimate successors.
Edward gave a speech to his lawyers after drawing up his ‘devise’, during which he spoke complimentarily about Guildford Dudley. He executed the ‘devise’ with letters patent, although the letters were never approved by Parliament as required. The letters patent clarified that if Jane and Guildford had only daughters, Jane’s sister Katherine was to inherit the crown after her. If Guildford died young, Jane could take another husband. If Jane died young without leaving a son, Guildford would lose his position of influence. At the king’s request, Lady Margaret Clifford lost her place in the succession and only her male heirs could inherit the throne.
Edward VI died on July 6, 1553, but they kept his death secret for three days. They informed Jane Grey she would be queen. Mary, through her contacts, knew of the king’s death and had made her way to Hunsdon, twenty-eight miles from London, far enough away to avoid capture and calling on local Catholic gentlemen to rally to her side. On July 8, she proclaimed herself Queen. On the 10th, councilors in London prepared to proclaim Jane queen when a letter from Mary arrived calling on them to proclaim her. Despite this, they named Jane queen that afternoon, and Guildford and Jane were escorted to the Tower with the traditional ceremony where they awaited Jane’s coronation. Guildford wore white and gold and paid a great deal of attention to his wife.
The evidence for Jane refusing the crown because it belonged to Mary Tudor, and that her parents and Guildford bullied her into accepting the honor, is derived from Abbé Vertot’s 18th century introduction to the French diplomat Antoine de Noailles’ dispatches. This is neither a primary source nor a text from the 16th century and therefore is suspect.
There is evidence Jane discussed with Guildford the issue of him becoming king. He requested the crown matrimonial, and she told him in no uncertain terms it was up to her and by act of Parliament. Guildford agreed to this, but his mother was furious. Jane then called for Arundel and Pembroke to explain she had in mind of Duke of Clarence for Guildford and she would never consent to giving him the crown matrimonial. The Duchess of Northumberland made her son say he would not sleep with Jane and that he wanted to be king, not a mere duke.
She also told her son to leave the Tower and go to Syon, but Jane put her foot down and sent Arundel and Pembroke to tell Guildford to remain at court. By now, Jane understood they had deceived her. Guildford had taken it for granted he would be king and must have been in on the secret of Edward VI’s ‘devise’.
By Friday the 14th, Northumberland set out with limited troops, intending to rendezvous with reinforcements in Cambridge. The reinforcements never arrived and reports that Mary had sufficient forces spooked the councilors in London. On July 19th, Northumberland halted his advance against Mary, while the council abandoned Jane Grey to the relief of the city. On July 20th, Northumberland himself proclaimed Mary Queen.
Once Mary established her authority, Jane and Guildford were arrested, and Jane’s father tore down the state canopy at the Tower. Her mother and father got out of the fortress, but the Duchess of Northumberland remained with Jane and Guildford, as the councilors who had been involved in the attempt to make Jane the queen deserted them. There was no question of Jane and Guildford staying together and he, along with his four brothers, were imprisoned in various towers within the Tower precincts. His brother Robert would join him in his cell and the tower jailor would serve them all at table, a sure sign of how far the Dudley family and Jane had fallen.
Jane wrote a letter to Queen Mary, protesting that the Duchess of Northumberland induced her son to no longer sleep with her. In another letter she described herself as a wife who loves her husband, but she revealed Guildford had disappointed her for being dominated by his mother. Jane informed Mary she had been betrayed by the Duke of Northumberland, by the council and by her husband, and mistreated by her mother-in-law.
They incarcerated the Duke of Northumberland and released his wife. She attempted to make her way to Queen Mary to request mercy for her children. Mary refused to give her an audience and ordered her to return to the Tower. Nearly two months after the execution of her husband, it was reported the widowed duchess was doing everything in her power to secure a pardon for her children. Eventually, the queen issued a reprieve for Guildford’s brothers, Ambrose and Henry.
At the Guildhall in London, on November 13, they arraigned Guildford for treason, together with his wife, his brothers Ambrose and Henry, and Thomas Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury. For the trial, they treated Jane as a commoner and forced her to walk about a mile through the busy streets. Accompanied by his escort, Guildford took part in the procession. They did not accuse him of having tried to usurp the crown or of assuming un-deserved titles.
His crime encompassed attempting to depose Queen Mary by sending troops to his father and of ‘receiving, honoring, and proclaiming’ his wife as queen. The accusations against Guildford included ‘falsely and treacherously helping, aiding, abetting and assisting the said Jane against his due diligence, and against the peace of the Queen, her crown and dignity.’ He pleaded guilty and placed himself upon the mercy of the Queen.
They found all the parties guilty and sentenced to death. The men would be hanged, drawn and quartered while Jane was condemned to be burned alive on Tower Hill or beheaded as the Queen should please. Queen Mary commuted their sentences to simple decapitation. The Lieutenant of the Tower allowed Cranmer and the Dudley brothers, including Guildford, access to the gardens. Near Jane’s lodgings, they may have had contact there. Even if she was unable to speak to her husband, Jane could have seen him after they moved him to the Bell Tower, lodgings reserved for more prestigious prisoners.
In the end, it was Jane’s father who caused the undoing of Guildford and his own daughter. Henry Grey refused to conform to the new religious settlement of Queen Mary, who was intent on returning England to the Catholic Church of Rome. Grey took part in Wyatt’s rebellion against Queen Mary’s marriage to Philip II, King of Spain. Following his capture, Grey arrived in the Tower as a prisoner on February 10, 1554. Despite this state of affairs, Queen Mary was still inclined to issue a reprieve over Jane and Guildford’s conviction and death sentence. But Simon Renard, the Habsburg ambassador, as well as the Queen’s council, put enough pressure on her to concede.
They agreed to execute Guildford first on Tower Hill and then his wife on Tower Green. A papal agent in London in 1554 reported Guildford wished to see and embrace Jane one last time before he died. Jane refused the request, believing a meeting would be too painful for them both. She sent him a message stating they would soon be together eternally. As Guildford left under escort at ten in the morning on February 12, she watched from a window in her lodgings when they handed him over to the sheriff of London, the man responsible for the execution.
At the outer gate, Guildford found well-wishers, and he begged them to pray for him. He shook hands with two men who were Catholic and supporters of Queen Mary. No priest accompanied him to the scaffold, showing he remained devoted to the reform of the church. He spoke to the crowd on his short walk to Tower Hill, but we do not know what he said.
On the scaffold, he knelt and prayed, turning up his eyes and hands to God many times. He then turned to the crowd and asked the people to pray for him. Finally, he put his neck on the block and the executioner killed him with one single blow of the axe. They put his body on a cart and brought him back to the Tower. On her way to her own execution, Jane viewed his body being unloaded and taken to the church of St. Peter ad Vincula. Jane had insisted on watching from a window, even though her ladies tried to dissuade her.
Contemporaries regarded Guildford as a victim of his father’s intrigues and were sympathetic. Grafton’s ‘Abridgement of the Chronicles of England,’ written in 1563, described Guildford as a ‘comely, virtuous and goodly gentlemen,’ who ‘most innocently executed, whom God had endowed with such virtues that even those that never before the time of his execution saw him, did with lamentable tears bewail his death.’
Further reading: “Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery” by Eric Ives, “Crown of Blood: The Deadly Inheritance of Lady Jane Grey” by Nicola Tallis, “The Sisters Who Would be Queen: Mary, Katherine, and Lady Jane Grey-A Tudor Tragedy” by Leanda de Lisle, “John Dudley: The Life of Lady Jane Grey’s Father-in-Law” by Christine Hartweg, “History of the events that Occurred in the Realm of England in Relation to the Duke of Northumberland after the Death of Edward VI” by Guilio Raviglio Rosso, entry on Lord Guildford Dudley in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography written by G.J. Richardson