John Dudley: Life Story

Chapter 5 : Growing Influence

As Master of the Armoury, Dudley was responsible for the King’s personal armour. On one occasion, Henry ordered that a suit which had fitted him in 1532 should be given to Sir Marcus Mayer. As Dudley was not sure exactly which suit Henry had in mind, he sent a list of the various suits to Cromwell, for Henry to specify more exactly. He did not want, accidentally, to give the wrong armour away.

Shortly after, he acknowledged a loan of £2,000 from Cromwell, for which he would pay £200 per annum, and bind all his land as surety.

In October 1535, Dudley requested Lisle to sign some paperwork in connection with the claim for the estate of Sir Edward Guilford. In his letter, Dudley noted that Lisle had told him that he, Lisle, bore a grudge against Sir Edward for having tried to disinherit his ward, and also for obliging him to marry Guilford’s daughter. Quite how this would improve Dudley’s case against John Guilford is unclear. He politely hoped that his step-father would soon be in England.

Dudley was still selling the reversion of the Lisle lands. He disposed of Iron Acton to a Mr Popley, who was concerned that, if he died as the result of his activities as Vice-Admiral, Lord Lisle would frustrate the sale, leaving Popley out of pocket. Lisle was again asked to sign the necessary documents.

Whatever the legal wrangling between them, Dudley and his step-father were still on reasonably friendly terms. Dudley wrote to Lisle requesting that he buy him a horse in Calais, suitable for tilting, as Dudley could not come by one in England, and Henry had commanded that every man should have ‘horse and harness’.  Lisle obliged, sending the horse immediately.

As well as his duties as Master of the Armoury, Dudley continued to act in his capacity as a Justice of the Peace. As an example of cases he heard, one at Lichfield in Warwickshire in February 1536, related to a case of horse-stealing.

Rebellion broke out in Lincolnshire in October 1536. Dudley was called, along with other gentlemen of Kent, to attend the King in person, with a force of 200 men.  The Lincolnshire Rebellion, and the associated insurrections, the Pilgrimage of Grace and Bigod’s Rebellion were crushed, but war in Europe between France and the Emperor Charles V led to danger to English shipping in the Channel. Dudley was appointed Vice-Admiral, with the task of protecting merchant ships.

Dudley set sail on 22nd February 1537, alongside Sir Thomas Seymour, one of Queen Jane’s brothers, also appointed as Vice-Admiral. The two were in command of four ships. Dudley’s instructions were to patrol the sea between the Downs and Poole. He was not to leave that area, other than to chase a foreign ship,  recover spoil or prevent French or Flemish ships from ‘molesting’ the King’s subjects. There were other instructions to avoid breaking England’s treaties or taking unlawful prizes. He was not to run any undue risks, or put himself in the position of being captured.

His first report, written on 8th March, confirmed that there were no foreign ships in English waters – although attacks had been made on Rye and an English ship stopped and stripped of ready cash and wine by a French ship.

Soon, however, Dudley met with more excitement. In a short encounter near Rye, he captured the Admiral of Sluys after a Flemish ship had attacked the port. He held the Admiral at Dover to await orders from the King as to the action to be taken. The Admiral denied that the depredations at Rye had been made by the Emperor’s ships, blaming it on the Lord of Camfyer, who sent out so many ships with unpaid crew that they turned pirate of necessity. He added that although he had ‘borrowed, now and then, a piece of wine of [from] Englishmen, and sometimes a barrel or two of herrings’ they had always been freely given. Dudley told the Admiral that his behaviour was not that of a gentleman (a severe reprimand) and that any Englishman would be punished for treating the Emperor’s subjects in such a fashion.

Dudley added in his report that the storms had been such that two of his ships were unaccounted for and his own was leaking badly. He needed another ship to continue his duties.

Continuing to expand his land holdings, Dudley purchased from his cousin, Lord Dudley, the castle of Dudley with a large swathe of lands in the vicinity, for £4,000. Like all Tudor land deals, this was complicated by side-agreements with other people, the grant of sureties and provision for the deal to be void in certain circumstances.

As well as the Vice-Admiralty, Dudley had also been appointed to the position of King’s Chief Trencher, at a fee of £50 per annum.