The Tudor Society

18 August – The trial of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland

On this day in Tudor history, 18th August 1553, less than a month after his daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey or Queen Jane, had been overthrown by Queen Mary I, John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, was tried for treason at Westminster Hall in London.

During his trial, Northumberland pointed out that it couldn't be treason to be acting by royal warrant and that some of those judging him had acted under the same warrant, but it did him no good.

Find out what happened at his trial, what his reaction was to his sentence, and what happened to William Parr, Marquess of Northampton, and John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, who were tried with him, in today's talk.

Northumberland’s arrest:

Also on this day in Tudor history, 18th August 1587, the first child born to English settlers in the New World was born in the Roanoke Colony. Her name was Virginia Dare. This colony has become known as the lost colony because all 115 colonists disappeared. Find out more in last year’s video:

Also on this day in history:

  • 1536 – Baptism of William Borough, explorer and naval officer, at St Mary's in Northam, Devon. Borough served Elizabeth I as Comptroller of the Queen's Ships.
  • 1562 – Death of John Mordaunt, 1st Baron Mordaunt of Turvey, politician, peer and member of Henry VIII's council. He died at his home at Turvey, in Bedfordshire, and was buried in the church there.
  • 1572 – Marriage of Henry III, King of Navarre (future Henry IV of France), and Margaret of Valois at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The aim of the marriage was to unite the Bourbon and Valois families, and also to bring peace between the Catholics and Huguenots. The St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of the Huguenots took place just six days after the wedding.


On this day in Tudor history, 18th August 1553, less than a month after his daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey or Queen Jane, had been overthrown by Queen Mary I, John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, was tried for treason at Westminster Hall in London.
As I explained in my talk from 21st July, Northumberland had been arrested in Cambridge on 21st July 1553 after Mary had been officially proclaimed the rightful queen in London. Queen Jane had ruled for just thirteen days and while Northumberland had been travelling with a force to apprehend Mary, Jane’s remaining council had betrayed her and proclaimed for Mary.

Northumberland had been taken to the Tower of London on 25th July 1553 to await trial. On this day in 1553, Northumberland was taken to Westminster for his trial. Merchant-tailor and diarist Henry Machyn recorded:

“The 18 day of August was arraigned at Westminster hall the Marquess of Northampton, and the duke, and the Earl of Warwick, and so they were condemned to be had to the place that they came from, and from thence to be drawn through London unto Tyburn, and there to be hanged, and then to be cut down, and their bowels to be burnt, and their heads to be set on London bridge and other places.”

Another contemporary source, The Chronicle of Queen Jane, gives the following record of Northumberland’s trial:

“The 18. of August, John Dudley, duke of Northumberland, William Parre, marquesse of Northampton, and John earle of Warwicke, sonne and heire to the duke, were arraigned at Westminster-hall, before Thomas duke of Norfolke, high steward of England, where the duke of Northumberland, with great reverence towards the judges, protested his faith and alleageance to the queene, whom hee confessed grievously to have offended, and said that he meant not anything in defence of his fact, but requested to understand the opinion of the court in two poynts : first, whether a man doing any act by authority of the prince's councell, and by warrant of the great seale of England, and doing nothing without the same, might be charged with treason for any thing which hee might doe by warrant thereof? Secondly, whether any such persons as were equally culpable in that crime, and those by whose letters and commaundements hee was directed in all his doinges, might be his judges, or passe upon his tryall as his peeres ?
Whereunto was answered, that as concerning the first, the great seale (which hee layd for his warrant) was not the seale of the lawfull queene of the realme, nor passed by authority, but the seale of an usurper, and therefore could be no warrant to him. As to the second, it was alleged, that if any were as deepely to be touched in the case as himselfe, yet so long as no attainder were of record against them, they were neverthelesse persons able in law to passe upon any tryall, and not to be chalenged therefor, but at the prince's pleasure." After which answer, the duke used few words, but confessed the indictment; by whose example the other prisoners arraigned with him did the like, and thereupon had judgement.

And when the judgement was geven, it is saide the duke shoulde saie, " I beseche you, my lordes all, to be humble suters to the quenes majestie, to graunt me iiij. requestes, which are theis : firste, that I may have that deathe which noblemen have had in tymes past, and not the other; secondarylie, that her majestie wilbe gratyous to my chillder, which may hereafter do hir grace gode service, concydering that they went by my commaundement who am their father, and not of their owne free willes ; thirdely, that I may have appoynted to me some learned man for the instruction and quieting of my concyence ; and iiij th , that she will sende ij. of the counsayle to comon with me, to whom I will declare suche mattyers as shalbe expedyent for hir and the comonwealthe. And thus I beseche you all to pray for me."

So, during his trial, Northumberland was pointing out that it could not be treason to act in accordance with his king’s wishes and under Queen Janes’ warrant and seal, and that he was being judged by those who also originally acted as he did, in accordance with Edward VI’s wishes. Of course, this didn’t get him anywhere and he was still found guilty and condemned to death.
The sentence of a full traitor’s death was commuted to beheading though, so thankfully he did get a more merciful end. Northumberland was beheaded on 22nd August 1553.

As for those tried with him on this day in 1553, the Marquess of Northampton and John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, Northumberland’s eldest surviving son, were later released. However, John died shortly after his release in October 1554.

There are 2 comments Go To Comment

  1. R

    It was treason because the entire thing was his idea. He acted on the orders of the Queen Jane, yes, but he had persuaded King Edward to exclude his two sisters, thus side stepping the lawful and natural order of succession and to make Jane Queen in the first place. Mary was the lawful Queen because the Letters Patent were never approved by Parliament because Edward died too soon. Not that his argument held much water in any event. Mary was now Queen. She had declared those who prevented her succession in the first place as traitors just as the Warrant of Jane called her a traitor. Henry Tudor had backdated his reign so all who fought for Richard were called traitors. Richard had him declared a traitor. The famous Irish orator and political leader and martyr, Wolfe Tone said: “Treason! Treason is merely a matter of dates”. I think treason was also a matter of who was in charge. A good effort, but really not a very strong argument since he had sent armies to stop Mary and his declaration for her was merely to save his own skin.

    He was also converted to the Catholic Faith before he died.

    Just to cause more confusion, another one to call his son by the same name. At least Ambrose and Guildford are original.

    1. C - Post Author

      There isn’t any evidence that Northumberland manipulated or persuaded Edward in any way. Edward may have been young, but, like his sisters, he knew his own mind and was stubborn. He loved them, but he didn’t seem them as legitimate heirs. Obviously it suited Northumberland for his daughter-in-law to be queen. Northumberland made a valid point that others that had supported Jane were released, and there’s no way, as Mary, that I would have trusted those councillors who had betrayed Jane.

Leave a Reply

18 August – The trial of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland