John Dudley: Life Story

Chapter 2 : Beginning to Rise

Dudley’s mother probably died around in the period 1525/26. Although her date of death is usually given as 1528, Muriel St Clare Byrne in her work, The Lisle Letters, demonstrates that it must have been earlier because Dudley began to deal in his father’s lands, to which he only succeeded on his mother’s death, before then.

Over the following few years, he was granted licence to sell land in Hampshire – his manors of Bury and Swavelying in Hampshire, and Hamsey in Sussex which he sold to Lord de La Warre, his wife’s uncle.

In May 1527, Dudley was named as a member of Wolsey’s suite for the Cardinal’s visit to France. The purpose of the journey was to sound out King François of France on his possible support for Henry VIII’s request for an annulment of his marriage to Katharine of Aragon. Dudley was issued with a chain of office of gold, to the value of about £3.

Shortly after, Dudley faced a suit for possession of lands made by one John Maryng, who claimed that Dudley’s father had forged a conveyance, to take Maryng’s lands in the Isle of Wight into his own hands. A number of similar allegations had been made against Edmund Dudley. As he had been adjudged a traitor, it is hard to know whether the allegations were true, or whether unscrupulous individuals hoped to acquire land easily. However, Dudley’s own land-dealings throughout his life suggest a level of sharp practice that he may have gleaned from his father. 

Dudley’s first public appointment came in spring 1531 when he was named on the Commissions of Peace for Surrey and Sussex, along with numerous other courtiers, ranging from the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Warham, to Sir Brian Tuke, one of Henry VIII’s secretaries; his step-father, Viscount Lisle; and local gentry. The place was confirmed in January 1532, and at that time he was also named for the Commission of Peace in Warwickshire. Later he was appointed to the Commission for Rutland.

In August 1531, Dudley was again involved in some type of land dispute. Instructions were issued to Henry’s new right-hand man, Thomas Cromwell, to investigate the seizure of a manor in Sussex and a claim against Dudley for the profits. It is unclear whether this was another piece of land that Dudley’s father had possibly acquired by sharp practice, or whether Dudley himself was accused of taking it. Cromwell was also to question Dudley about another manor, Berkelely Horns.

In March 1532, Dudley received his first grant from the King – the wardship and marriage of Anthony Norton.  Norton’s lands, which Dudley would control until the heir came of age, were concentrated around Worcester. He was also appointed as Joint Constable of Warwick Castle and the Borough of Warwick, along with Sir Francis Bryan, together with other offices. Bryan had previously held the offices jointly with the King’s cousin, the Marquis of Dorset.

We can infer from this grant that Dudley was rising in the ranks of Henry’s courtiers and in October 1532, he was one of the gentlemen who attended Henry and Anne Boleyn on their trip to Calais to meet Francois I.

Christopher Hales, a colleague of Cromwell’s, wrote to Cromwell about the parsonage of Drayton Bassett. He observed that Dudley and a Mr Robynson were in contention for it. He asked for it himself, assuming that the dispute would result in it coming into royal control.

More land disputes arose. Edmund Dudley had been first cousin to Edward Sutton, Lord Dudley, who had been succeeded as Lord Dudley by his son, another John, in 1530. This Lord Dudley had inherited considerable debts from his father, and, to clear them, he mortgaged some of his land to Dudley for £2,000, repayable at the rate of £400 per annum each May. Lord Dudley claimed to Cromwell that he had only ever received £1,400 from Dudley.

Lord Dudley also appears to have borrowed a further £6,000 from Dudley, with his remaining lands as surety. Lord Dudley begged Cromwell to ask the King to lend him the money to pay the £1,400 to Dudley, in return for which the King would have a parcel of his land for twenty years on the death of Lord Dudley’s 86 year old mother. (Lady Dudley was probably nearer 70 in fact, but her age may have been exaggerated to make the offer more tempting. She did not die until 1539).

The letter to Cromwell closes with the information that Lord Dudley cannot ask him in person, as he dare not come to London as ‘Sir John Dudley lays wait for me in the city of London to keep me afore the days of payment’.  The meaning of this is not quite clear, although the implication is that Dudley was anxious to get his hands on the land.

Despite the promise of £10 per annum that Lord Dudley made to Cromwell if he could obtain the loan from the King, Cromwell either could not or would not help. Lord Dudley then asked Cromwell himself to pay the annual £400 owed to Dudley, in return for which Lady Dudley’s jointure lands would be made over to Cromwell.