Historian Leanda de Lisle has very kindly written this guest article about Guildford Dudley and Lady Jane. Leanda’s new book, ‘Tudor: The Family Story’ was published yesterday.
In Trevor Nunn’s 1986 romantic film, Lady Jane, Helena Bonham Carter as Lady Jane Grey finds true love with Cary Elwes’s, Guildford Dudley. But for the most part Guildford Dudley’s place in the myths concerning his teenage wife is a dark one. In some of the stories Guildford emerges as little better than a whining, spoilt, rapist. So what are the actual facts we have concerning Guildford’s relationship with Jane?
Guildford was the fourth son of Edward VI’s Lord President, John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. We don’t know his precise age, but he was certainly not a lot older than Jane, and, like her, may well have been only sixteen when he died.
The couple had an arranged marriage, as was the norm for children of the nobility, and at the usual age. There is no source written before Jane’s overthrow on 19 July 1553 to support the, oft repeated, Italian story that Jane resisted the marriage.
It was expected that Guildford would be granted the title of King, most likely in the September parliament (the next two subsequent consorts of reigning English Queens were both given the title). He was even sometimes referred to as such during her reign. But, again, there are no sources written before Jane’s overthrow that suggest she was under any pressure to pre-empt parliament’s decision on this matter. In the procession on the day Jane was proclaimed Queen, Guildford was no more than her consort. His name was not mentioned in the proclamation that declared Jane the Queen, and his signature does not appear alongside hers in the official documents she signed ‘Jane the Queen’.
Venetian reports, later written up by three different Italians include what may be a garbled account of a petition Jane made in the Tower in the expectation of a pardon after 19 July. These cast the blame for the attempt to keep Mary I from the throne in July 1553 on Northumberland’s supposed ambition to make his son King. In these reports ‘Jane’ describes bitter arguments with Guildford and his mother over his expectation that he will be King. Despite this supposed ill feeling the Italians also later relayed a story, describing how Guildford asked to see Jane on the final night of their lives, and embrace her one last time. She was said to have rebuffed him, saying it would be too distressing for them both, and that it was better to prepare for what was to come with prayer. It paints a very Italian picture of a passionate young man thinking of fleshly matters, while the pious Jane focuses on God.
It is impossible to know what stories, from these reports, originated with Jane and what did not, but it is worth comparing what we know with what we are told. We know on that on the last day of her reign Jane named her godson, Guildford. This suggests she respected him, at the very least. Such positive feelings are confirmed in later comments concerning Guildford, which are written and signed in her own hand, and therefore carry more weight that any reported speech. They describe him as a co-martyr. It is also notable that her last letters are signed using her married name, Lady Jane Dudley.
English contemporaries described Guildford as a ‘comely, virtuous and goodly gentleman’ who ‘most innocently was executed’. On balance the evidence suggests his wife shared these views of him.