John Dudley: Life Story

Chapter 4 : More Legal Wrangling

Dudley’s character for rapacity was clearly well known. On the death of his father-in-law, Sir Edward Guilford, Sir Edward’s brother-in-law, John Gage, wrote to the Duke of Norfolk, that a dispute was likely to break out over Sir Edward’s estate. Gage thought the matter so serious that he immediately summoned Lord de La Warre to come to Sir Edward’s house to be ‘a stay' between Sir John Dudley and Sir John Guilford (Sir Edward’s nephew, son-in-law of Lord de La Warre). Sir John believed that Edward Guilford had intended him to be his heir, as his nearest male relative, rather than his daughter, Dudley’s wife, Jane.

Gage was right to anticipate problems – the arguments between Dudley and John Guilford continued for some five years. Cromwell ordered Dudley to present a true record of Sir Edward’s goods (excluding the land). He promised to obey, whilst complaining that those sent to enquire into the landed estate were not impartial. Dudley requested that the goods be put in his custody until the matter of the whole estate was resolved.

Shortly after Sir Edward’s death, Dudley was granted his office of Master of the Armoury in the Tower of London and elsewhere, at a salary of 12d per day, with 6d per day for a page, and a further 3d per day for an under-page.

Dudley continued to behave cavalierly in money matters. Thomas Pope wrote to Cromwell that ‘Sir John Dudley has not yet paid me a penny of my money, but has delayed me from time to time as no one would have treated the lewdest fellow in a country’.

In October 1534, Dudley wrote to Cromwell from Kent, where the Guilford lands were located. He reported that a severe storm had drowned Guldeford Marsh and various villages, near the port of Rye.  To recover the lands would cost as much as had been expended to drain them in the first place, as the sea-wall had been washed away. Dudley was concerned that if he spent money on the land, and it was then adjudged to be the property of his rival, Sir John Guilford, he would ‘well-mocked for his labour’.  On the other hand, immediate action needed to be taken, so he hoped that the King would ‘consider his charges’ as part of the affected land was in the King’s hands to recover debts from Sir Edward Guilford.

In a first hint as to Dudley’s religious beliefs, in the same letter he reported to Cromwell that the Vicar of Tenterden had exhorted his parishioners to avoid the ‘new learning’ and continue in their old ways, and other ‘papists’ doctrines’.  Nevertheless, he was moderate in his conduct. When a priest was accused of speaking words against the King, Dudley and his colleague examined two of the ‘most honest men’ in the parish, and concluded that the matter had been cooked up out of spite.

In February 1535, Dudley requested Cromwell to obtain from Lady Guilford (his wife’s grandmother, née Joan Vaux) the evidence relating to her jointure, as part of his case against John Guilford which he prosecuted vigorously.

On 16th June 1535, Dudley wrote to his step-father. He asked after Lisle’s health and assured him that the King and Lisle’s friends were all in good health. The King was at Windsor, and was planning to begin his Progress to the West Country in early July. Dudley requested Lisle’s permission to entertain the King and Queen at the Lisle estates at Painswick, Gloucestershire, or King’s Lisle. In return, he offered the use of any of his property in Kent to Lisle.

Lisle must have agreed, as Henry and Anne stopped at Painswick.  Whilst there Henry enquired about a sale of wood in Painswick Park. Dudley assured the King that no new sale had been made, only the one to Mr Button referred to above. Henry forbade the sale of the trees to Button be completed, as it would ruin the park, a message that Dudley passed on to Lisle. Dudley had previously tried to prevent the sale by threatening the tenants with dispossession. He now had the King’s ear and had obtained a prohibition on the sale that Lisle could not possibly argue with.