Monday, August 22, 2011

An Actor in Search of a Character: Jane Guildford, Duchess of Northumberland

August 22, marks the anniversary of the execution of John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland.   This has led The Thespian to reflect on another of the historical ladies of King Henry VIII’s court that she has portrayed at the Maryland Renaissance Festival, his wife, Jane Guildford.

For the majority of actresses who portray female courtiers in the time of King Henry VIII, it can be difficult to find substantial source material to help you create a vibrant woman of the time period.   Unless you are a Queen or a Princess, your date of birth is rarely recorded.   Baptismal and wedding records are scant until the Reformation.  You are more likely to find information on your character’s husband than you are yourself.   And that was the challenge for The Thespian when she portrayed Jane Guildford, the wife of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland.

The difficulty with a woman, such as Jane Guildford, is that most of the extant material about her dates from the brief reign of Lady Jane Grey, her daughter-in-law, and its aftermath during which her husband and one of her sons was executed and her remaining sons held prisoner in the Tower of London.   The other main source material comes from a true rarity.  Jane Guildford hand wrote her will,  and in this will she leaves some tantalizing clues that help develop her personality.   Unfortunately, The Thespian was not portraying Jane during the time she was well known.   The year was 1543 as King Henry VIII was deciding to marry Kateryn Parr. Thus a true hunt for information on Jane Guildford’s life required a lot of sleuthing.

Jane was born in 1508.   The date of her birth can be determined by the age marked on her tomb which is located in Chelsea Old Church.    She died January 15 or 22, 1555, making her 47 years old at the time of her death.   She was the sole surviving child and heir of Edward Guildford and Eleanor West.   Edward Guildford was a close companion of King Henry VIII during his early years and an accomplished jouster.  His father, Richard Guildford was Master of the Armoury and appointed Warden of the Cinque Ports, both posts Edward would also hold.   Edward’s brother, Henry Guildford was Master of the Horse and in charge of organizing jousts and court entertainments.      More importantly for Jane, her father gained the wardship of John Dudley, following the young Master Dudley’s father’s execution.   For John Dudley’s father was the Edmund Dudley of the infamous Dudley and Empson, the “tax collectors” of Henry VII who were popularly executed in 1510 by King Henry VIII.

John Dudley was the eldest son of Edmund Dudley and was probably born in 1502.   His mother was Elizabeth Gray, who became the heiress of the Viscount Lisle title.   To show just how political the execution of Edmund Dudley was, the Act of Attainder that confiscated his lands and goods was reversed within months of his death.   Elizabeth Gray was married to the King’s illegitimate Uncle, Arthur Plantagenet.   However, the lucrative wardship of young John Dudley was not granted to his stepfather.   It was granted instead to Edward Guildford, who raised the boy with the plans to marry him to his daughter and heiress, Jane.

John Dudley and Jane Guildford grew up together, mainly at the family estate of High Halden and were likely immediately betrothed.   As Jane grew to womanhood we first glimpse her at court as she attended the Field of the Cloth of Gold as a Maid of Honor to Katherine of Aragon.    In 1523 or 1524, John and Jane were married.   Derek Wilson claims that Jane was tutored in Princess Mary’s household by Juan Luis Vives, and while there is evidence that Jane Guildford was highly educated, The Thespian is not sure that she would have been part of Princess Mary’s household given the age difference.    We do know that Jane Guildford was a patron of the famous astronomer and astrologist, Dr. John Dee and he dedicated two treatises to her, "The Philosophical and Poetical Occasions of the Configurations and the Names of the Heavenly Asterisms" and "The True Causes and Account (not Vulgar) of Floods and Tides."

Meanwhile John Dudley began his rise with a military career.   He was knighted in 1523 by Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk during the French campaign that year.   Another up and coming young courtier, whom John would rival in later years was also knighted at the same time…Edward Seymour.

John Dudley’s mother became Viscountess Lisle upon the death of her niece, another Elizabeth Gray in 1519.  The probate court took 4 years to settle the estates and the title and it was agreed that the Lisle title would be held by Arthur Plantagent and his wife for the remainder of her life and then pass to any heirs male they had.   Arthur and Elizabeth had no male children and she died in 1526.   At that time, the Lisle title should have come to her eldest son, John Dudley.    Arthur Plantagent took it to court and was granted the Viscount Lisle title for the remainder of his life.   John and Jane would not become Viscount and Viscountess Lisle until 1541.

In the meantime, Jane Guildford, Lady Dudley became renowned for her remarkable fertility.  John and Jane would have thirteen children and out of that thirteen eight would reach adulthood.    However, it is confusing as to the order of the children and even some of their names.   The Thespian found no fewer than three separate lists of the children.    After some deduction, this is how The Thespian believes they arrived:

Henry – born 1524/25, married Winifred Rich in 1543, died September 30, 1544 at the Siege of Bolougne.
Thomas – born 1526 died aged 2 in 1528
John – born 1530 became the 2nd Earl of Warwick, married Anne Seymour, died 1554
Ambrose – born 1531, 3rd Earl of Warwick, married Anne Whorwood, Elizabeth Tailboys and Anne Russell, died February 21, 1589
Mary – born 1532 – married Sir Henry Sidney, died 1586
Robert – born June 24, 1533 – Earl of Leicester, married Amye Robsart and Lettice Knollys (relationship/illegal marriage with Douglas Sheffield) died September 4, 1588
Guildford – born 1534 married Lady Jane Grey, executed February 12, 1554
Henry (yes another one and his brother is still alive at the time of his birth) born 1535  married Margaret Audley, died in the war with France in 1557
Jane – probably born 1536/1537 married Sir Henry Seymour.  Death year unknown but not alive by Elizabeth’s reign.
Charles – born 1537/1538 died 1542
Katherine – born 1541 married Henry Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon, died in 1620
Margaret – born 1543 died young
Temperance – born 1545 died young possibly in 1552

Some lists give a second Katherine instead of Margaret, name Charles as Carolus and put Katherine’s birth in 1545.  However as Katherine Dudley was the third bride in May 1553 at the wedding with Jane Grey marrying her brother, Guildford, and Katherine Grey marrying Lord Herbert, she was probably born in 1541 which would have made her twelve at the time of her wedding instead of eight.   

The marriage of Jane Grey and Guildford Dudley has been controversial.  The Victorians claimed Jane was beaten into accepting her marriage and did not want to consummate the marriage.   On the contrary, there is evidence that Jane Grey complained that her mother-in-law was preventing Guildford and Jane from having sex too often.  It was believed that young people having too much sex was dangerous to their health.

Jane Guildford served as a maid of honor and lady in waiting to all six of Henry VIII’s wives.   She was considered a close friend of Kateryn Parr and was also close to Anne Stanhope, the wife of Edward Seymour.   They were part of the group of ladies who patronized the reformed, more strictly Protestant religion and were targeted when Anne Askew was arrested and burned for heresy.

Following the death of Henry VIII, John Dudley was raised to the Earldom of Warwick.    When Edward Seymour, now Duke of Somerset, was removed from the position of Lord Protector, John Dudley became President of the Privy Council.    This has led historians to look at John Dudley as the ambitious “bad” Duke and Edward Seymour as the “good” Duke.   The truth is a lot grayer.  Edward Seymour was released from the Tower of London in 1550 and restored to the Privy Council.  Anne Stanhope and Jane Guildford arranged for Jane and John's eldest living son, John to marry Anne and Edward's daughter Anne to show reconciliation.  It wasn’t until the end of 1551 that Edward Seymour was arrested again.  John Dudley was not immediately raised within the peerage upon Edward Seymour's 1549 fall from power and did not become Duke of Northumberland until 1551.   There is a lot of evidence that John was preparing Edward VI for his eventual assumption of full ruling powers making certain that King Edward was regularly attending council sessions.  And then Edward VI became fatally ill in 1553 and the disaster of Edward’s device for the succession. 

Whether or not Edward VI’s Device for the Succession was his idea alone or John Dudley’s is irrelevant.   It is pretty clear that Edward was concerned about his realm being inherited by his Catholic sister, Mary.  He could not remove Mary without also removing Elizabeth and he did so on the grounds that they were illegitimate.  While both of Edward's sisters were restored to the succession they were still declared illegitimate.

If you look at the Edward's device as originally drafted it is clear that Edward wanted his realm to go to a Protestant male child.   The original document states that both of his sisters are illegitimate and that the throne would go to first the heirs male of Frances Brandon Grey, then the heirs male of Jane Grey, Katherine Grey, Mary Grey and Margaret Clifford (the heiress of Frances sister, Eleanor).   This is why the triple marriage occurred in May 1553.   The hope was that Edward would survive until a male heir was born to one of the royal ladies.  Only when it became clear that he was rapidly declining was the change made to the Lady Jane AND her heirs male.   

This was disaster for the Dudley family.   As the famous tale goes, Edward VI died on July 6, 1553. Jane Grey was proclaimed Queen July 10.   During Jane’s brief reign we spot Jane Guildford again.  There was an attempt to have Guildford Dudley named King Consort.   Queen Jane refused.   It is stated that Guildford was upset and tried to get his mother to intervene.

Nine days later, Mary Tudor succeeded in overthrowing Jane Grey.   This led to John Dudley and his five living sons being arrested for treason.  Jane Guildford was briefly arrested and held in the Tower of London for about a week.  The entire family was placed under an Act of Attainder.  Jane wrote a poignant letter to her friend, Anne, Lady Paget, asking her to have Queen Mary's ladies Susan Clarencieux and Gertrude, Marchioness of Exeter plead for the lives of her husband and sons.   John Dudley, following a very public conversation to the Catholic faith was executed on August 22, 1553.   Their sons, John, Ambrose, Henry, Robert and Guildford were held in the Tower of London where elaborate graffiti carvings remain in the Beauchamp Tower to mark their captivity.   Jane Guildford worked tirelessly to have her sons released.  Unfortunately, due to the Wyatt Rebellion in 1554, Guildford was executed along with his wife, Jane Grey. When Jane Guildford wrote her will, she thanked several Spanish courtiers for their assistance, leaving gifts to them as well as several of Queen Mary's closest English courtiers in thanks.

In Jane Guildford's extant papers, it is very clear that she loved her husband deeply.  Unlike many of the powerful courtiers of the time period, there is nothing that suggests that John Dudley ever took a mistress.   In her will, she gives a clock to her daughter, Mary asking her to remember how much her father loved it.

Jane's Act of Attainder was reversed on May 2, 1554.   After she was released from the Tower of London she lived briefly with her daughter Mary Dudley Sidney at Penshurst. Jane Guildford was godmother to her daughter's famous son, Philip Sidney.  Queen Mary I later granted Jane Guildford the right to live in Jane's dower manor at Chelsea.   

Jane Guildford Dudley, Duchess of Northumberland died at Chelsea on January 15 (date in coroner's inquiry) or  January 22, 1555 (date on her tomb).   At the same time, the warrant for the release of her remaining sons was issued.   Jane Guildford was, above all else, a loyal and loving wife and mother.  It is very clear in her extant correspondence and her will how much she cherished her husband and fought for her children's very lives.   She witnessed many of the events of the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI.    Overall a fascinating Lady of the Tudor court and The Thespian was proud to portray her for two seasons at the Maryland Renaissance Festival.

A brief list of some of the sources used when The Thespian researched this character

Eric Ives.  Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery
Susan James. Kateryn Parr
Linda Porter. Kateryn the Queen
Derek Wilson. The Uncrowned Kings of England

1 comment:

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