John Dudley: Life Story

Chapter 8 : Viscount Lisle

In late 1539, Henry VIII entered a treaty to marry Anne, sister of the Duke of Cleves. The Queen’s household, which had been dissolved on the death of Jane Seymour, was reconstituted. Dudley was appointed as the new Queen’s 'Master of the Horse'. This was a role that entailed a great deal of personal contact. The Master not only had overall responsibility for the Queen’s stable, but also attended her personally and was a member of her Council.  Dudley’s wife was named as one of the new Queen’s ladies.

Anne of Cleves’ official welcome took place at Blackheath on 4th January 1540. Dudley led her ‘horse of honour’, directly behind the lady herself, mounted on a palfrey.

Although the position of Master probably entitled Dudley to live at court, he rented a house in Hackney from Ralph Sadleir, a protégé of Cromwell’s who was beginning to make a name for himself.

A tournament was held at Westminster to celebrate May Day. Since the King himself no longer jousted, there were fewer tournaments than in the first half of his reign, but this particular event seems to have been one of some consequence. It lasted several days, and Dudley led the Challengers, seconded by Sir Thomas Seymour. On the first day, the Defenders were led by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, and 45 others. The second day, Surrey led the Defenders (26 in number) again, with Lord Clinton taking charge on the third day.  Unfortunately, there is no information as to whether the Challengers or Defenders won overall.

Shortly after the tournament came the shocking news that Dudley’s step-father, Lord Lisle, had been accused of treason and sent to the Tower. There is no record of Dudley’s reaction – he may have pleaded vehemently for Lisle. Or he may not.

Others were feeling the King’s wrath, as well. Henry was not attracted to Queen Anne, and had the marriage annulled so that he could marry Katheryn Howard. In the wake of the annulment, Dudley’s old friend, Thomas Cromwell, was executed.

Dudley, however, went from strength to strength. He was still being appointed to Commissions for the Peace, although generally now in the Midlands, and, on 9th January his name was put forward for a vacant stall in the Order of the Garter. On this occasion, it was not granted – his friend Seymour, now Earl of Hertford, being appointed instead, but it was a sign that he was part of the inner circle of courtiers.  He was perhaps compensated for any disappointment by the grant of the Priory of Dudley and the manor of Walsall.

Henry’s marriage to Katheryn Howard lasted somewhat longer than that to Anne of Cleves, but by November 1541, she had been accused of adultery and treason. Dudley was required to escort the Lady Mary and some of the Queen’s ladies away from the court to Hertford Castle in the wake of the Queen’s disgrace. He wrote to the Earl of Rutland that Henry, having been somewhat troubled by the allegations against his wife, was well, and that ‘all true subjects are bound to thank God that these sudden miseries are so soon revealed’.

One of the men examined in relation to Queen Katheryn’s disgrace, William Pewson, said he had first heard the rumours about the Queen and Francis Dereham from Dudley’s servants. It has been suggested that Katheryn was certainly not a popular choice with the evangelical members of Henry’s court, of whom Dudley was one, so it is possible that his servants might have revelled in gossip about her.

In March 1542, Henry became convinced that Lord Lisle was innocent. He sent a message to the Tower expressing his goodwill towards his uncle, but the gentleman was so overcome by the stress and emotion of hearing he was to be released, that he had a heart-attack and died. Within weeks, Dudley was created Viscount Lisle (his mother had held the Barony, but the Viscountcy, which could not pass to a woman had been recreated for Arthur Plantagenet, and was created again for Dudley).

The investiture took place on 12th March at Westminster Palace. The ceremony began with him hearing Mass, then proceeding to the Pages’ Chamber, near the King’s Great Chamber, where he dressed in a surcoat and hood.

He was led out by the Earls of Hertford, wearing a ‘habit of estate’ and the Lord Admiral, Sir John Russell, in his Parliament robe. Dudley’s mantle had the two and a half ‘bars’ or lines of fur appropriate to his new rank and was carried by Lord de La Warre, whilst Garter King of Arms carried the Patent of Nobility.

The procession entered the Great Chamber, where Henry was waiting with all his Council. The Lord Great Chamberlain took the Patent, and handed it to Mr Secretary Wriothesley, who read it aloud. Presumably at this point, Henry took the mantle and wrapped it around Dudley, transforming him into a Peer, entitled to sit in the House of Lords.

Lisle, as he was now called, dined in the Lord Great Chamberlain’s chamber, with the Earl of Huntingdon and Lord Cobham, amongst others. To celebrate, he took precedence over all other diners (the King was not there). During the meal, the King’s title was proclaimed, and that of the new peer – Viscount Lisle, Baron Malpas and Lord of Drayton Bassett. As well as the title, he was granted 20 marks (c. £16) per annum.

Now that Lisle was in the House of Lords, he was obliged to resign his seat as one of the Knights of the Shire for Staffordshire.