Guildford was the son of John Dudley, who eventually became the Duke of Northumberland, and his wife, Jane—whose maiden name, Guildford, served as her son’s Christian name. In 1544, the Dudleys’ oldest surviving son died during the siege of Boulogne, leaving his parents with five remaining sons. Historians are divided as to whether Guildford was the fourth or fifth of these, but the Spanish ambassadors described him in July 1553 as the fourth son. He or perhaps his brother Henry was the last of the brothers to marry: John had married Anne Seymour in 1550; Ambrose had married his second wife, Elizabeth Tailboys, some time in 1552 or 1553; Robert had married Amy Robsart in 1550, and Henry had married Margaret Audley before Edward VI’s death.
Both Simon Adams and G. J. Richardson give Guildford’s year of birth as being around 1535. In a letter written July 15, 1553, Don Diego Mendoza is quoted as referring to himself as Guildford’s godfather.
Nothing is known about Guildford’s interests or education, but his siblings were certainly well educated: His brother John owned an impressive collection of books and was interested in mathematics; his brother Robert was fluent in Italian and could read Latin and French; and his sister Mary is said to have known French, Latin, and Italian . There is no reason to suppose that Northumberland would have stinted on Guildford’s education.
The first we hear of Guildford Dudley is in 1552, when his father was trying to arrange his marriage—not to Lady Jane Grey but to her cousin, Margaret Clifford, whose father was the Earl of Cumberland. The privy council sent Cumberland a letter on July 4, 1552, urging him to finalize the marriage. This proposal prompted one Elizabeth Huggones to impute suspicious motives to the duke: she is recorded as saying “Have at the crown with your leave,” a point she emphasized “with a stout gesture.” The marriage never did go through; instead, arrangements were made the following year for Margaret to marry Northumberland’s younger brother, Andrew, though in the event this marriage never took place either.
The marriage that would ultimately cost both Guildford and his bride their lives came in 1553. According to Roger Alford in a letter written to William Cecil, the idea came from Elizabeth Brooke, Marchioness of Northampton, whose secret marriage to William Parr, Marquess of Northampton, had recently been legalized. By April 24, 1553, preparations for the wedding were underway: parcels of tissues and cloths of gold and silver were to be delivered to Jane, Guildford, their mothers, and the match-making Marchioness of Northampton herself. Just over a month later, on May 25, 1553, the couple were married. (Some sources give the date as May 21, but both Eric Ives and Leanda de Lisle cite evidence putting it at May 25.)
Various chronicles report Jane to have been a reluctant bride, but Guildford’s own feelings about the match are a mystery. We can only guess at how compatible the couple was or whether they might have achieved a happy marriage given time. Guildford is often depicted in historical fiction as being spoiled and even brutal, but there is no evidence of that; nor is there evidence to support his depiction in the movie Lady Jane as a frustrated social reformer who hides his idealism underneath a dissolute exterior until his marriage to Jane brings it to the forefront.
Edward VI, meanwhile, was dying, while rumors circulated that Guildford’s father was himself aspiring to the crown. Guildford had his own problems at this time: he and several others fell ill while eating some salad at his father’s house and was “still suffering from the results” as of June 12, 1553.
As Guildford was recuperating, Edward VI had decided to alter the royal succession: instead of the crown passing to his sister Mary, then his sister Elizabeth, it would go to Lady Jane Grey. Northumberland may or may not have urged this upon the dying king (the question is much debated), but the fiercely Protestant Edward VI took up the idea with enthusiasm. When Guildford learned about it is unknown, but Jane, writing to the victorious Mary after the fact, claimed that she first learned about the altered succession at the time when Edward VI’s condition became publicly known, or around June 19.
Edward VI died on July 6, 1553. On July 10, Jane and Guildford, along with their mothers and others, arrived at the Tower via barge. There is a description of both Jane and Guildford as they arrived at the Tower; unfortunately, Leanda de Lisle has pronounced it to be fictional, the 1909 invention of Richard Davey. If the description of Guildford as “a very tall, strong boy with light hair” is not authentic, then we are left with no idea of what he looked like. Portraits of his father and his brother Robert show them to have been dark-haired and dark-eyed; Guildford’s sister Mary, on the other hand, had reddish hair.
As recounted by Jane in a letter to Mary written after Jane’s brief reign had collapsed, the one recorded quarrel between Guildford and Jane—an episode on which most assumptions about Guildford’s character seem to be based—ensued soon thereafter. The hapless Marquis of Winchester brought Jane the crown and asked whether one should be made for Guildford. Not surprisingly for a sixteenth-century male, Guildford wanted to be king, whereas Jane insisted that he could only be a duke. (Bearing in mind the controversy that would arise as to Phillip’s role following his marriage to Mary, it doesn’t seem terribly unreasonable for Guildford to have expected to be made king.) Word got back to Guildford’s mother, whether through Guildford himself or through someone else Jane does not say. The Duchess of Northumberland reacted furiously to this snub to her son and persuaded him not to sleep with Jane anymore. Guildford would have also returned to his family’s house at Sion, according to Jane, had not Jane intervened and forced him, through the Earls of Arundel and Pembroke, to remain at court. The story does make Guildford sound rather like a petulant mother’s boy, but we have only Jane’s side of it, written at a time when Jane needed to present herself in the best possible light to Mary and at a time when the imprisoned Jane had little cause to speak kindly of anyone in the Dudley family.
If the Spanish ambassadors can be believed, Guildford did console himself by aping royal style: “He already had himself addressed as ‘Your Grace’” and ‘Your Excellency,’ sat at the head of the Council board, and was served alone.”
Guildford had very little time to concern himself with his royal status or lack thereof, however. Mary asserted her right to the throne, and by July 20, Jane, Guildford, and the Duchess of Northumberland were prisoners in the Tower. There, the ambassadors noted with considerable satisfaction, “At present the Tower jailor serves [Guildford] at table, and stands in the stead of his captain of the guard.”
From the Beauchamp Tower, where he was imprisoned, Guildford had a front-row seat as his family's fortunes collapsed. His father and his brothers John, Ambrose, and Henry were brought as prisoners to the Tower on July 25, and his brother Robert arrived on July 26. By July 26, the Duchess of Northumberland had been released. She promptly rode out toward Beaulieu, where Mary was staying, “to move her to compassion towards her children,” but was refused an audience.
At the Beauchamp Tower, Guildford had two servants waiting upon him; his expenses (including meals and “wood, coal, and candle”) for the period from July 20 to July 29 amounted to 109s, 6d. He had the company of one of his brothers, either Robert or Henry, in the Beauchamp Tower. From there he would have witnessed the dreary spectacle of his father being led out to execution at Tower Hill on August 22, 1553, followed by the sight of his headless body being returned for burial at the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula.
With their father dead, Guildford and his brothers were allowed the “liberty of the leads” of their respective places of imprisonment in September. Guildford’s brothers John, Ambrose, and Robert were allowed to receive visits from their wives, but there is no indication that Guildford and Jane were allowed contact with each other.
On November 13, Guildford, along with Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lady Jane Grey, and Ambrose and Henry Dudley, were led on foot to the Guildhall, where they were to be arraigned for treason. With an ax borne before them, the Archbishop led the gloomy procession, followed by Guildford, Jane, and Ambrose and Henry. All were found guilty of treason. Jane was sentenced to burning or beheading; Guildford and the other men were sentenced to be drawn, hanged and quartered.
Guildford and Jane might well have been eventually pardoned were it not for the outrage provoked by Mary’s upcoming Spanish marriage. Determined to stop the marriage, and presumably to replace Mary with her sister Elizabeth, Thomas Wyatt entered into a conspiracy against the queen. Among the co-conspirators was Jane’s father, Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk. The rebellion was a failure, and with its end died all of the hopes that Jane and Guildford, neither of whom had participated, would be allowed to live.
Jane’s last days have been described in detail; Guildford’s have not. The word “Jane” carved into the wall of the Beauchamp Tower might have been his effort; it is unlikely to refer to his mother by the same name, as she was in no danger of death and there was no need to memorialize her. At some point Guildford wrote a message to his father-in-law in a prayer book, the one which Jane was to take to the scaffold: “Your loving and obedient son wishes unto your grace long life in this world with as much joy and comfort, as did I wished to myself, and in the world to come joy everlasting your most humble son to his death G Duddley.” A few pages later in the same prayer book, Jane added her own note to her father “The Lord comfort your grace and that in his word wherein all creatures only are to be comforted and though it has pleased God to take away 2 of your children, yet think not, I most humbly beseech your grace, that you have lost them but trust that we, by losing this mortal life have won an immortal life and I for my part, as I have honored your grace in this life, will pray for you in this life. your Grace’s humble daughter Jane Duddley.” Jane had expressed nothing but contempt for Guildford’s own father after his downfall; it says something about Guildford, surely, that he was able to write without rancor to Jane’s father, the man whose ill-advised participation in Wyatt’s rebellion had sealed his fate.
With death approaching, Guildford is alleged by Commendone to have asked to say farewell to Jane in person, to be allowed “to embrace and kiss her for the last time.” Jane, however, refused on the ground that as such a meeting “would only tend to increase their misery and pain, it was better to put it off for the time being, as they would meet shortly elsewhere, and live bound by indissoluble ties.” This has been taken by some to suggest that Jane was indifferent to her husband, but as Eric Ives suggests, it’s more likely that Jane simply did not want to be distracted from the serious business of preparing for death. Assuming that Guildford still was sharing quarters with one or more of his brothers, at least he had their moral support.
The executions (commuted to beheading) took place on February 12, 1554. Guildford was to go first at Tower Hill, Jane second at Tower Green. Because of a misreading of “prayers” as “tears” by Stowe and Holinshed, Guildford has been depicted as sniveling his way to the scaffold. In fact, walking to the scaffold without a priest but surrounded by well-wishers, he conducted himself with quiet dignity:
The monday, being the xijth of Februarie, about ten of the clocke, ther went out of the Tower to the scaffolde on Tower hill, the lorde Guilforde Dudley, sone to the late duke of Northumberland, husbande to the lady Jane Grey, daughter to the duke of Suffolke, who at his going out tooke by the hande sir Anthony Browne, maister John Throgmorton, and many other gentyllmen, praying them to praie for him; and without the bullwarke Offeley the sheryve receyved him and brought him to the scaffolde, where, after a small declaration, having no gostlye father with him, he kneeled downe and said his praiers; then holding upp his eyes and handes to God many tymes; and at last, after he had desyred the people to pray for him, he laide himselfe along, and his hedd upon the block, which was at one stroke of the axe taken from him.
Note, the lorde marques [of Northampton] stode upon the Devyl’s towre,and sawe the executyon. His carcas throwne into a carre, and his hed in a cloth, he was brought into the chappell within the Tower, wher the ladye Jane, whose lodging was in Partrige's house, dyd see his ded carcase taken out of the cart, aswell as she dyd see him before on lyve going to his deathe,—a sight to hir no lesse then death.
Guildford Dudley’s fate has been largely overshadowed by that of his wife, but his death should be viewed as a tragedy no less than hers. At least one observer, the chronicler Grafton, saw it that way: “And in like manner that comely, vertuous, and goodly gentleman the lorde Gylford Duddeley most innocently was executed, whom God had endowed with suche vertues, that even those that never before the tyme of his execution saw hym, dyd with lamentable teares bewayle his death."
Simon Adams, ‘Dudley, Robert, earl of Leicester (1532/3–1588)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2008
[http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/8160, accessed 23 Jan 2011]
Simon Adams, ‘Sidney , Mary, Lady Sidney (1530x35–1586)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/69749, accessed 23 Jan 2011]
Calendar of Patent Rolls
Giovanni Francesco Commendone, The Accession, Coronation, and Marriage of Mary Tudor, as related in four manuscripts of the Escorial. Translated by Cesare V. Malfatti.
John Roche Dasent, ed., Acts of the Privy Council of England
J. Stephan Edwards, Transcription of Lady Jane Grey’s prayerbook.
Eric Ives, Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery.
Leanda de Lisle, The Sisters Who Would Be Queen.
David Loades, John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, 1504–1553.
John Gough Nichols, ed., The Chronicle of Queen Jane and Two Years of Queen Mary.
Nicholas Harris Nicolas, ed., The Literary Remains of Jane Grey.
G. J. Richardson, ‘Dudley, Lord Guildford (c.1535–1554)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/8149, accessed 23 Jan 2011]
Joseph Stevenson, ed., Calendar of State Papers, Foreign Series, Elizabeth I, 1558-1559, Vol. I (Appendix to Preface, "Expenses of the Prisoners in the Tower").
Royall Tyler, ed., Calendar of State Papers, Spain.