John Dudley: Life Story

Chapter 10 : French Campaign

Not content with interfering in Scotland, Henry was once again planning an invasion of France. Lisle, as Lord Admiral, was responsible for assembling the fleet. This was a complex business, as many of the ships were private vessels, chartered by the Crown, and there was no standing navy. Mariners had to be moved around between ports, without leaving any obvious landing places for invasion unprotected.

Lisle himself spent most of the summer in and around London. He was present at the ennobling of O’Brien as Earl of Thomond, and carried the sword which Henry draped across the new Earl. Although his wife had the honour of being one of the few guests present at the marriage of Henry to Katherine Parr on 12th July, Lisle was not present. He remained at Greenwich, whence he wrote to the King about the capture of some French ships by Sir Rice Mansfield. It is likely he remained at Greenwich, as the most accessible place for a speedy embarkation if he was required to put to sea.

Henry continued to show favour with the grant of a licence to Lisle to export 400 tons of tallow and 400 ‘dikkers’ of calf-skins at 10 dozen pieces to the dikker. He also received a number of stewardships of the King’s manors.

Lisle seems to have found naval matters naturally congenial. He had a head for detail and his extant letters and orders suggest that he took a very close interest in the minutiae of his role. He wrote confidently of the time required to rig and victual ships that Henry had sent for – pointing out that delaying an expedition for herring fishing to wait for the additional ships would take too long, allowing the French to take the fish.

In the spring of 1544, Lisle’s misgivings about the Earl of Angus, his brother, Sir George Douglas, and others of a group called the 'Assured Lords', who had sworn to serve Henry, proved true when many of them supported Cardinal Beaton in his attempts to expel Arran and the English party. Furious at what he saw as disloyalty and defection, Henry ordered Hertford to capture Edinburgh, destroy the castle, sack Holyrood Palace, burn the port of Leith and ‘put man, woman and child to fire and sword’ if they showed the least sign of resistance.

Lisle was ordered to take the fleet north to Newcastle, where the army was to embark and then sail up the Firth of Forth. In total, he commanded 11 ships owned by the King, a further 35 chartered or from English owners and 22 from foreign owners. The winds were against him. He left London on 20th March, but did not arrive in Newcastle for a month – probably becalmed near Harwich. The flotilla, with the men embarked, was then trapped in the mouth of the Tyne for a further 10 days. The delay was expensive. Lisle and Hertford wrote that a month’s wages and provisions had been expended for nothing.

The English fleet arrived on 5th May at Leith. Demands to surrender Edinburgh Castle were not met, although the Provost of Edinburgh offered to surrender the town. This was not good enough, and, with Lisle leading the vanguard, Hertford the centre and Shrewsbury ordering the rear guard, the English army proceeded to burn the city, destroy the Abbey of Holyrood and devastate the land as far as six miles from Stirling Castle. Satisfied that they had destroyed the economy of Scotland and removed any hope of recovery, even if Scotland’s French or Danish allies had sent aid, they marched south, leaving a trail of burnt out towns, and pillaged and dispossessed inhabitants.

Whilst they marched, they received letters and messages from Angus and Douglas, claiming always to have been in Henry’s service, and offering to hand over the Douglas castle of Tantallon to Henry, but Henry was not convinced and commanded that Sir George at least, should be treated his enemy.

The King was delighted with the Scottish campaign, and sent Lisle and the others his ‘hearty thanks’. Lisle was back in London by late May, taking part in Council business. He was rewarded with large grants of former monastic land.

The subjugation of Scotland was only part of Henry’s plan. The main action was to be in France. The muster rolls of March show that Lisle was expected to provide 100 mounted men for the campaign, but his chief duty was to command the fleet. Charles V gave orders that he was to be given every assistance by the Imperial fleet during the joint campaign.

By the end of July, Henry’s army was besieging Boulogne. Lisle wrote home to his friend William Paget about the progress of the siege, led by the Duke of Suffolk, and his own movements between Boulogne, Montreuil and Calais. He was involved in the military manoeuvres which led to the fall of Boulogne. 

As so many times before, Henry was disappointed of major victory, when Charles V and Francois agreed a truce. With no prospect of Imperial support, the English withdrew, although they maintained their winnings. Lisle was left in charge at Boulogne as Captain of the town. Lisle was not over-pleased with this, fearing that he would lose his position as Lord Admiral. He wrote to the Privy Council, asking that he be retained in the role.

‘My trust is that I shall have the King's Majesty's favor t'enjoy th'office of High Admyralltye of England, for it is an office of honor, of estimation and profit, and within the realm; and, having his Gracious favor thereunto I may occupy it with a deputy and serve in this notwithstanding, which I beseech your Lordships consider…’.

Not long afterwards, he received a letter of mild rebuke from Henry, who ‘marvelled’ to hear that Lisle had informed that Council that supplies were running low. Henry gave detailed advice as to how the foodstocks were to be managed, and how Lower Boulogne was to be fortified to resist French attempts to carry off the provisions.

He was also soon at loggerheads with the Council in Calais. He had demanded additional provisions, which they refused, as they had barely sufficient for their own men. They also criticised his management of the prisoners and labourers working on the fortifications of Lower Boulogne. They had heard that no arrangements had been made for food or lodging for them after they had laboured all day, and were not surprised that the vast majority had absconded – ‘the poor wretches are not much to be blamed’.