John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland

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Lord Admiral

Sir John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland
John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland.jpg
London, Kingdom of England
DiedAugust 1553
London, Kingdom of England
AllegianceFlag Kingdom of England.gif
Kingdom of England
Service BranchTudor Ensign 1485-1603.svg
Navy Royal
Years Active1521-1553
Highest RankLord Admiral
Commands heldChannel Squadron
Narrow Seas Squadron
Navy Royal
Battles/warsBattle of the Solent

John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland KG (1504 – 22 August 1553) was an English Military Commander, and Politician. He was twice appointed Lord Admiral of England (1543–1547, 1549–1550) as Minister of the Marine of the Admiralty Office then later Admiralty and Marine Affairs Office and as head of the Navy Royal. He later was appointed Chief Minister of England and led the English Government of the young King Edward VI from 1550 until 1553.

Early Life

John Dudley was born around 1504 in London to Edmund Dudley, a favoured servant of Henry VII, and his second wife, Elizabeth Grey. Nothing is known about his early childhood, but it was likely spent at his father’s main house in Candlewick Street, London. The King’s death in April 1509 led directly to Edmund Dudley’s downfall and execution (August 17, 1510). In November 1511 John's mother married Arthur Plantagenet, an illegitimate son of Edward IV, and John became a ward of Edward Guildford. At this time, John Dudley was restored in blood and his father’s attainder was annulled by statute. He was raised in Guildford’s household in Kent, but little is known of his upbringing.


John Dudley’s first exposure to public life occurred in 1521, when he was selected to serve in Cardinal Wolsey’s retinue during a mission to negotiate peace between Francis I of France and Charles V of Spain. Guildford was appointed knight marshal of Calais in 1518, and in 1522 he gave John a minor command within the garrison. John Dudley took part in several battles, and was knighted in 1523 by Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk having distinguished himself at the crossing of the Somme. By 1524 he was an esquire of the body, and appeared prominently among the jousters.

Dudley was a successful courtier by 1530. He kept a low profile during the King’s Great Matter (1528-1532), but emerged a minor member of the Boleyn/Cromwell faction by 1532. He gained in prominence during the next decade, taking over his father-in-law’s parliamentary seat as knight of the shire for Kent, and his mastership of the Tower armory. He was appointed a Vice-Admiral of the Narrow Seas in February 1537, and went on embassy to Spain with Sir Thomas Wyatt the younger in October 1537. Despite these advances, he still had not obtained major preferment by 1540. He was appointed Master of the Horse to Anne of Cleves, which did not bring him the breakthrough he had anticipated, and in June 1540 Thomas Cromwell, his mentor, was executed. Following Cromwell’s fall, he aligned himself with Archbishop Cranmer and took part in uncovering the infidelities of Catherine Howard. His stepfather Arthur Plantagenet, 1st Viscount Lisle, died in 1542, at which time Dudley was created Viscount Lisle “by the right of his mother, Lady Elizabeth, sister and heir to Sir John Grey, Viscount Lisle, who was late wife to Arthur Plantagenet, Viscount Lisle, deceased. He enjoyed marked political progress between 1542 and 1547. In 1542 he became knight of the shire for Staffordshire and Warden-General of the Scottish Marches. In 1543 he was made lord high admiral (and therefore an ex officio member of the Privy Council of England), and became a Knight of the Garter.

Between 1544 and early 1545 as Lord Admiral, Dudley was responsible for creating the Council of the Marine which later became the Navy Board, which for the first time coordinated the various tasks of maintaining the navy functioning and thus made English naval administration the most efficient in Europe. As Lord High Admiral he commanded the English Fleet at the Battle of the Solent (1545) and was afterwards charged by the King with the task of raising the Marie Rose which had been lost during the battle. Petre de Andreas and Symone de Maryne, two Venetian salvagers then in Southampton were employed but failed.The Marie Rose remained on the sea floor for more than 400 hundred years. John maintained the favour of Henry VIII and, upon the king’s death in 1547, he was one of the richest and most important subjects of the crown. Significantly, he was also named an executor of Henry’s will. "It confirmed the line of succession as Edward, Mary and Elizabeth; following them, the Grey and Suffolk families. The will was read, stamped and sealed on 27 January 1547, when the dying king was past speech. He died within hours, the next day."

Upon Henry VIII’s death, Edward VI was only nine years old. Thus, the executors of the will created a protectorate. Dudley became earl of Warwick and lord great chamberlain and Edward Seymour, the young king’s uncle, became Duke of Somerset and lord protector. These two men worked closely in governing the realm for a few years. However, by September 1549, Warwick had turned against Somerset and he took a prominent role in the overthrow of the lord protector. Warwick assumed the title of lord president of the privy council in February 1550. In this position, he promoted the reformed religion, to which Edward VI was very devoted. Warwick was created Duke of Northumberland on 11 October 1551. His political star ascended in the next several years, and Edward VI became greatly attached to him. Northumberland’s primary contribution to the crown was the restoration of effective conciliar government and the establishment of a relationship between the king and privy council. He had great political acumen, and managed to reduce the king’s debts, to consolidate Edward’s position as supreme head of the English Church, and to reinforce the administrative machinery of the privy council.

As a reward for his service, he was appointed Earl Marshal of England in April 1551 and warden-general of the marches of Scotland in October of the same year. Early 1553 found Edward VI unwell. For some months he had been concerned with his heirs, and his notes show him to have been obsessed with legitimacy and male succession. In his will, he bypassed both of his half-sisters as illegitimate, and started with an unborn son of his cousin Frances Grey (niece of Henry VIII by his sister Mary Tudor), continuing with the sons of her young daughters. This new order of succession was not considered serious politics, and was never discussed by the privy council or mentioned in parliament. However, upon Edward’s death, his wishes became public. No one wanted Frances Grey, duchess of Suffolk as queen, so his will was altered to settle succession on her eldest daughter, Lady Jane Grey, wife of Warwick's son Guildford Dudley, and her male heirs.

Following Edward’s death, Northumberland led the scheme for Jane to become queen at the expense of the Roman Catholic Mary Tudor. This was widely considered to be unlawful, and he was personally unpopular before the whole affair began. Ultimately, his attempts to install Jane as queen proved unsuccessful when his troops deserted him. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London on July 25, 1553, and tried for high treason in August. With his death imminent, he renounced Protestantism, despite having promoted it for most of his life. His religion has always been subject to controversy, and this statement has been central in portraying him as a stereotypical wicked duke who may not have had any true religion at all. It should be noted that condemned with him were his sons, John, Ambrose, Henry, Robert and Guildford and his brother, Andrew. Perhaps renouncing Protestantism was his attempt to save them.

Mary, having ascended the throne, ordered his execution which took place at Tower Hill on August 22, 1553. At the time of his fall, his lands generated an income of £4300 per annum equivalent to £2.44 million per annum today,[1] and his household numbered more than 200.

Family and Marriage

He was betrothed to Jane Guildford, daughter of his guardian and of Eleanor West around 1523, and the couple likely married by the end of 1525. They had at least eight sons and two daughters. It is not clear where the young couple lived, but it was probably at one of the manors in Surrey or Sussex that Dudley is known to have held later.


  1. Eric Nye, Pounds Sterling: Historical Conversion of Currency, Department of English, University of Wyoming. United States.