John Dudley: Life Story

Chapter 12 : A New King

By the spring of 1546, the war was concentrated on the protection of Boulogne, and Henry’s desire to extend his fortifications in Normandy. Lisle, together with his old colleague, Hertford, who had replaced the Earl of Surrey as Lieutenant in Boulogne, discussed the various possibilities. Lisle brought plans for fortifications drawn up by Henry himself. The two were joined by Hertford’s brother, Lisle’s Vice Admiral, Sir Thomas Seymour, and Lord Grey. Between them, they persuaded Henry that a surprise attack on Etaples, which he wanted mounted, would not succeed.

All sides, Imperial, English and French, were now tired of the war, and negotiations began for a truce. Lisle, Paget and Dr Nicholas Wootton were the English negotiators. The matter hinged on Boulogne. The French were willing to pay up to 200,000 crowns for its return. Lisle and his team pointed out that it had cost 8m crowns to capture. If the French would repay that, and all the arrears of the numerous pensions and payments due to the English crown, at reasonable dates, then Boulogne would be returned.  The French took the sum of 8m as a joke, and eventually beat the English down to 2m crowns. 

The terms finally agreed were complex, but in summary, the French would be able to redeem Boulogne after eight years, on payment of the agreed sum, plus arrears of pension and so forth.  The Treaty of Camp was proclaimed on 13th June 1546. Two weeks later, Lisle, Durham, Dr Wootton and Sir Henry Knyvett were dispatched to Francois I to take the oath of ratification. Francois received them graciously at Fontainebleau, praising Lisle’s command of French and entertaining them with hunting.

Throughout the autumn of 1546, as Henry’s health declined, there was jockeying for position amongst his councillors. By and large, the councillors fell into two groups – the ‘conservatives’, led by Norfolk, his son, Surrey, Bishop Gardiner of Winchester and the Chancellor, Sir Thomas Wriothesley. Opposed were the ‘reformers’ – Hertford, Lisle, Paget and Archbishop Cranmer.

Whilst there was a religious element to it, that was not the only criterion. Hertford and Lisle were characterised by the Imperial Ambassador, Delft, as ‘great stirrers of heresy’, Surrey, whilst in the other faction, also leant towards the reformed faith. What he objected to was the growing prominence of the Seymour family, whom he saw as upstarts. The reformers (aided by Wriothesley, who was strongly Catholic) pulled off a notable coup by engineering the execution of Surrey for treason (the man was his own worst enemy, so it was not hard) and the dispatch of his father, Norfolk, to the Tower.

The rivalry grew personal. Hertford treated Wriothesley to ‘vain and injurious words’, and Lisle even so far forgot himself as to physically assault Bishop Gardiner during a Council meeting.

Henry VIII died on 28th January 1547. He had made and remade his will a number of times. The final version (although its legitimacy has been contested – see 'The King is Dead' by Suzannah Lipscomb) created a Regency Council, comprised of Councillors and Assistant Councillors. Henry did not intend for any single individual to have supreme authority during the minority of his son, Edward, who was nine years old, and would not be expected to take up his full regal powers until he reached the age of eighteen.

Lisle was one of the Executors of the will (for which he received £500) and a senior Councillor, along with his friends, Hertford and Pager. His old enemy, Gardiner, was excluded – Henry had apparently claimed that he was the only man able to manage the strong-minded Bishop. Queen Katherine, too, was excluded, although Henry’s previous will had named her as Regent, and she initially assumed that she would take the role.

Within days, Hertford had persuaded the other Councillors that, as the King’s oldest uncle, he should be installed as Lord Protector. Lisle’s Vice Admiral, Hertford’s younger brother, Sir Thomas Seymour, had not been named as a Councillor and had been excluded from the decision to appoint his brother as Lord Protector. He objected strongly to this, thinking that as the King’s other uncle, he should have an important role – preferably Guardian of the King’s person. Lisle was ‘trusted’ and ‘loved’ by both Seymour brothers, but, rather than using his position to reconcile them, he stirred up trouble between them, encouraging Seymour to demand guardianship of the King’s person.

Lisle was playing a long game – he obviously saw in the rivalries around him, the opportunity to advance himself. He was described by Sir Richard Morison as ‘[having] such a head that he seldom went about anything but he conceived first three or four purposes beforehand’. Such a level of foresight and calculation had served him very well as Admiral and soldier, now it was to be applied to politics. The Protector refused his brother’s demands, but appointed him as a Privy Councillor, by way of compensation.

Sir John Dudley

Sir John Dudley

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