The Rule By Northumberland

The Rule By Northumberland

He was John Dudley

Viscount Lisle

The Earl of Warwick

The Duke of Northumberland

John Dudley

He was born in 1504. He was not a peer himself, but both his parents came from, or married into, noble families. His father was executed by Henry VIII on charges of treason (he was the Dudley of 'Epsom and Dudley'). His mother remarried, and the lands and peerage remained within the family.

He was knighted at the age of nineteen in honour of his fighting in France. He managed to create a fortune for himself through negotiations and squabbles over inheritance, on his own behalf, and on the behalf of his wife, a Guildford. He became Viscount Lisle in 1542. Soon after he became Warden General of the Scottish Marches and then Lord High Admiral in 1543. By Henry's death he was the 8th richest peer in the realm. He became the Earl of Warwick as soon as the regency council was assembled.

Like Somerset he had a reputation as a soldier. He had seen action in Scotland in the reign of Henry VIII, and under Somerset.

He was able to orchestrate the downfall of Somerset, with a number of other members of the council. He had the control of London on his return from Ket's Rebellion. Somerset's army was not accessible to him due to the Western Rising. Russell and Grey had been given orders to disband, but they did not. Instead, they retained their forces and declared their support for Warwick.

He showed incredible political dexterity in firstly winning over the conservative faction, by pretending to be a catholic sympathiser; and then he plotted with the reform faction. Not before long he had control of the council. He also managed to gain access to the King through Cranmer.

In a political about-turn, reminiscent of Cromwell in 1536, he expelled the conservatives from council, and became the Leader of the Council. By October he had acquired the title, and lands, of the Duke of Northumberland.

Northumberland was concerned with expenditure on the wars with France and Scotland. Wishing to make the crown more solvent, he knew that he would have to seek peace.

In 1549 France had openly declared war on England, taking full advantage of its domestic situation. Boulogne was under threat. Instead of putting more troops in to defend the port, he withdrew. The withdrawal from Boulogne was finalised in the Treaty of Boulogne, 1550. This action has been interpreted in different ways by historians. Some have seen it as a pragmatic move, the only sensible one in the circumstances, while others, like EN Williams, have seen it as act of subservience to France. A knock-on effect of this diplomatic move was that it scared the Holy Roman Empire, the last thing they wanted was an Anglo-French alliance directed against them.

The Anglo-French rapprochement was further enhanced by the betrothal of Edward VI and Elizabeth, the daughter of Henri II. (The marriage did not take place, as Elizabeth was ridiculously young.)

Traditional policy was reversed under Northumberland. There was an alliance with the 'natural enemy', and the Holy Roman Empire was isolated more and more.

Northumberland's personal religious convictions remain ambiguous. He may have been driven more by political expediency than by religious beliefs. He sided with the conservatives in 1549, but then dumped them in 1550. He tried to secure a Protestant succession in the form of Jane Grey in 1553, and yet, in the same year, just before his execution, he recanted his beliefs:


There was no major religious policy in these years, and Northumberland's policy may well have been to try to keep the peace, learning from the events of 1549.

In 1552 the Book of Common Prayer was re-issued, along with a second Act of Uniformity. This time people would be penalised for not adhering to the contents of the Act, or failing to use the new prayer book. There were no protests or demonstrations.

Northumberland's priority was peace in the realm. He realised, probably from the mistakes that Somerset made, that what England needed was a period of stabilisation. Consequently, he sought to have sound control over the Privy Council, and over the localities.

He purged the council of conservatives when he became Leader of the Council, but there was not a massive change of faces. Many of Somerset's allies had also been friends with Northumberland. Consequently, his colleague of old, Paget, and William Cecil stayed.

He secured his hold over central government by creating an inner council. Policy would sometimes by-pass the Privy Council, and be implemented by this council instead. This made some of the members of the Privy Council very wary about his intentions, but on the whole he worked harmoniously with council. He preferred to have military men in council, possibly because he knew that if there were another rebellion he would have men and arms at the ready.

He preferred not to use proclamations. He made use of parliament.

As one of his first measures he sent the Lords Lieutenant out of court and back to their localities, thus ensuring that there was a member of the government's executive in all the regions of the kingdom.

Northumberland inherited a dire financial and economic situation.

Although we can't really call him a long-term planner, he did appear to have foresight in a way that his predecessor did not. He undertook a number of measures to try to increase the crown's revenue and stabilise the economy:

Cecil was put in charge of the treasury with the task of sorting out the crown's finances.

Gresham was sent to the Netherlands to negotiate with the Flemish cloth traders and foreign bankers. He met with some success.

In 1552 the council established a commission to investigate the revenue system.

In March 1552 the coinage was called in and reminted at its 1527 value, thus putting an end to the debasement of the coinage, and going some way to combating inflation.

He repealed the tax on sheep.

He reduced spending on foreign policy.

In his three and a bit years in office he managed to reduce the crown's debt from £260 000 to £180 000.

David Loades writes, "Northumberland was defeated by a cruel twist of fate." Others would argue that he fell because of his unrealistic ambition.

In 1553 it became obvious that the king was dying. No one had seen it coming; the king was only a couple of years off his majority. Northumberland had become increasingly unpopular at court in his attempts to secure the king's favour.

Edward had made provisions for his death in January 1553. In his 'devise' he ignored statute law (Henry VIII's will) and instead he formulated his own succession policy. The crown should pass down the Brandon side of the Tudor family in the event of his death. This made the heir to the throne, Edward's cousin, Frances Grey. Loades would argue that this piece of legislation was the sole work of Edward, but there are many others who see the hands of Northumberland and Cranmer at work.

However, when Edward was very ill the 'devise' was changed in favour of Frances Grey's daughter, Jane Grey, who just happened to be married to Northumberland's son, Guildford Dudley. To be fair there were a number of reasons why Edward would have wished for her to succeed him: she was Protestant, she shared the same schooling as he did, she was a good friend, and she was married to an English nobleman.

Thus when Edward died in the evening of 6th July 1553, Jane Grey was proclaimed Queen of England. The council was mute on the matter. After all, it was treason to question the king's decision. But Mary was on the move. She had the full support of the East Anglian gentry (although only one nobleman backed her). She proclaimed herself Queen at Framlington Castle. Northumberland had a decision to make, and he had to make it fast. Should he declare for the Queen in London, or stand for Jane Grey and march troops up to Suffolk? On the 14th July he marched 2 000 men to Suffolk, but they deserted him en route.

The Privy Council declared for Mary, and Northumberland was arrested in Cambridge. He was executed on 22nd August 1553 along with his son and his unfortunate daughter-in-law.

In the past Northumberland has had a poor press. He has, traditionally, been seen as the 'Evil Duke' (cf. Somerset as the 'Good Duke'). However, Dale Hoak in his Rehabilitation of the Duke of Northumberland has done a lot to remedy this.

Nigel Heard has a balanced view: "While Northumberland did little to resolve the underlying economic problems, he did check inflation, and ease the worse of the social distress."

Lotherington: "a genuine and able reformer"

Nevertheless, he still is the man that historians love to hate:

Jennifer Loach maintained that he was 'greedy' and 'ambitious'.

WRD Jones has him as a devious plotter of plots and counter-coups.