John Dudley: Life Story

Chapter 7 : Court Life

In early February, Dudley suggested a land-exchange with Lisle. He wanted Kibworth in Leicestershire, in return for lands in Kent. It seems from the general pattern of land that he kept that Dudley was keen to consolidate his landholdings in the Midlands. Lisle’s man of business, John Hussee, was nervous about such an exchange – not certain that Dudley’s title to the Kent lands were good, because of the dispute with Sir John Guilford.

Other financial and familial affairs also pre-occupied Dudley. He wrote to Lisle on 23rd February about his half-sisters. He had heard a rumour that Lisle intended to give all his lands to the elder daughter, Frances, whose marriage to John Bassett, was scheduled to take place that month – Dudley had promised to provide two bucks for Frances’ wedding feast.

He hoped that Lisle did not intend to treat his younger daughters so unfairly.  Although Dudley would show himself as ‘becometh a brother to his sister’ in respect of a potential marriage for Elizabeth, who was still living in his household, she had already lost one prospective match and could not hope for a respectable match if she did not receive a suitable dowry from her father. In relation to his own affairs, he requested his step-father to buy him yet another horse.

On 28th March, Dudley stood as godfather, along with the King and Cromwell to the son of the Earl and Countess of Sussex. The Lady Mary was godmother. Whilst there was a family connection – Lady Sussex was the niece of Lady Lisle – to be on a par with the King and Princess as godparent was a great honour for Dudley.

In April, the Dudleys, together with Elizabeth Plantagenet, were living at a property of Dudley’s at Whitefriars. Elizabeth had been sick of an ‘ague’ but was now recovered. The whole household were shortly to move to Kew. Later that month, Dudley was appointed to the Commission of Oyer and Terminer for Kent.

Dudley was still wheeling and dealing in land – in part because he, like almost every other Tudor courtier, was in debt to the King. He agreed a sale of the Guilford lands which had been adjudged to belong to his wife, to Cromwell.  He then began negotiation with Cromwell about his manor of Drayton, and his rights to the reversion of the Lisle lands in Gloucestershire.  Pressed for cash, he sold Drayton to a Master Pope. He assured Cromwell that he would have preferred to sell to him, but since Cromwell had been too busy with the King to negotiate over Drayton, and had offered such a low price for Gloucestershire that Dudley had had no choice. Cromwell was determined to have Drayton, and forced Pope to sell it for what it had cost him.

As well as debts to the King, Dudley owed £500 to Cromwell. In a letter thanking Cromwell for securing the suppressed abbey of Halesowen for him, he asked Cromwell to forbear repayment of the £500 until after the King’s forthcoming visit to his house at Halden. Dudley had spent all his ready cash paying other debts.

The grant of Halesowen was confirmed – it was a valuable property, with lands in the Midlands, near Dudley Castle. Dudley also acquired the manor of Acton Burnell from the Duke of Norfolk for £98.  The sale of most of the Guilford lands to Cromwell was then effected for a price in excess of £2,000. 

On 29th September 1538, Dudley was appointed as Deputy Governor of Calais, but there is not much information as to how much of a part he took in affairs there.  

During 1538 and 1539, a number of Henry’s relatives, friends and courtiers were accused of treason. On 14th February 1539, Dudley sat on the jury at the trial of Sir Nicholas Carew. Carew had been the childhood companion of Henry, but was caught up in the Exeter Conspiracy and condemned to death by Dudley and the other jurymen (including Carew’s brother-in-law, Sir Francis Bryan).

Another land dispute arose between Dudley and the widowed Elizabeth, Lady Savage, in relation to the lands that she held in jointure from her husband, Sir William Brereton, executed for alleged adultery with Anne Boleyn.

Dudley was still being named to the various Commissions of the Peace, including in Kent, despite having sold most of his lands there. In July 1539, he wrote to Cromwell, asking for a place in the Council for the Marches of Wales – rather extraordinarily saying ‘I have spent a great deal of my life and my youth in the Court about my master, and is now drawing homewards where I trust to make an end of my life in God's service and his’.  He was only 35, and there is no information about any illness that could have made him fearful of imminent death.

He was certainly feeling energetic enough the following day to dispatch a persistent poacher to Cromwell for severe punishment by the Council. The man had been forgiven previously, but Dudley now felt an example had to be made of him.