The Tudor Society

22 August – The end of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland

On this day in Tudor history, 22nd August 1553, John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, was beheaded on Tower Hill for his part in putting his daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey, on the throne. Northumberland's friends and supporters, Sir John Gates and Sir Thomas Palmer, were also executed.

Northumberland was actually scheduled to die the previous day and the crowd turned up to see, the scaffold was prepared and even the executioner was ready... but, instead, the duke was taken to church.


Find out why and also hear a contemporary account of the duke's execution in today's talk.

Also on this day in Tudor history, 22nd August 1485, the Battle of Bosworth took place. King Richard III was killed and Henry Tudor became King Henry VII, starting the Tudor dynasty on the throne of England. Find out what happened on that day in rural Leicestershire, and how Henry was victorious even though Richard came into battle with a huge advantage, in last year’s video:

Also on this day in history:

  • 1532 – Death of William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury and administrator to Henry VIII, in Hackington, Kent. Warham served Henry VIII as Keeper of the Great Seal, and Lord Chancellor. Warham was buried in Canterbury Cathedral, having left instructions to be buried near the spot where Thomas Becket was killed.
  • 1545 – Death of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, magnate, courtier, soldier and close friend of Henry VIII, at Guildford, while making preparations to lead an army to Boulogne. He was laid to rest in St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle.
  • 1552 – Edward VI visited Christchurch on his royal progress.
  • 1572 – Execution of Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland, in the Pavement at York. He was executed for treason after leading the Rising of the North against Elizabeth I. His body was buried in St Crux Church, York.
  • 1583 – Death of Sir Henry Bedingfeld of Oxburgh Hall, administrator. He was buried at Oxborough parish church in Norfolk. Bedingfeld's career included him serving Edward VI and Mary I as a Privy Councillor, and Mary I as Lieutenant of the Tower of London, Captain of the Guard and Vice-Chamberlain of the Household. He was Constable of the Tower of London during the imprisonment of Mary I's half-sister, Elizabeth (the future Elizabeth I).


On this day in Tudor history, 22nd August 1553, John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, was beheaded on Tower Hill for his part in putting his daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey, on the throne. Northumberland's friends, Sir John Gates and Sir Thomas Palmer, were also executed on this day in 1553 for supporting Northumberland.

In his excellent book on the Dudley family, “The Uncrowned Kings of England: The Black Legend of the Dudleys”, historian Derek Wilson writes of how John Dudley became a scapegoat and that “he and he alone was to be branded as guilty, not only for the Jane Grey plot, but for all the ills that had beset the realm since 1549” and that “Gardiner, Bonner, Howard and other religious conservatives concocted the official story that Northumberland had seduced the boy king into heresy”. Apparently, Edward VI had had no mind of his own and everything was down to Northumberland. But then, Edward had been Mary I’s half-brother and it suited Mary to blame the duke instead.

As you will know from my 18th August talk, Northumberland had been found guilty of treason in a trial at Westminster Hall on 18th August 1553 and condemned to die on 21st August at 8am. Diarist and merchant Henry Machyn records that the scaffold was made ready but the execution was suddenly cancelled:

“The 21st of August was, by 8 of the cloke in the morning, on the Tower Hill about 991 men and women for to have [seen] the execution of the duke of Northumberland, for the scaffold was made ready, and sand and straw was brought, and all the men that belong to the Tower, as Hogston, Shordyche, Bow, Ratclyff, Lymhouse, Sant Kateryns, and the waiters of the Tower, and the guard, and sheriff’s officers, and every man stand in order with their halberds, and lanes made, and the hangman was there, and suddenly they were commanded to depart.

And the same time after was sent for my lord mayor and the aldermen and chiefest of the crafts in London, and diverse of the council, and there was said mass afore the Duke and the rest of the prisoners.”

So instead of the scheduled execution on Tower Hill, the Duke and others were taken to the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, in the Tower grounds for mass. At this service, Northumberland, who was a Protestant, took Catholic communion and addressed the congregation, saying:

“Truly, I profess here before you all that I have received the sacrament according to the true Catholic faith; and the plagues that is upon the realm and upon us now is that we have erred from the bottom of my heart.”

Northumberland was recanting his Protestant faith, something which has often been seen as weakness and evidence of his fickle faith, but it is more likely to have been an appeal for mercy and an attempt to save his family from retribution. Derek Wilson points out that “if Dudley is to be accused of cynicism and cowardice for changing his coat others must stand in the dock with him”, citing the examples of William Cecil, Thomas Cranmer, the Marquess of Northampton and even Princess Elizabeth, the future Elizabeth I.

The following morning, the 22nd August, Northumberland was led out of the Tower of London and up on to Tower Hill. There is an account of the executions of Northumberland, Gates and Palmer in “The chronicle of Queen Jane”, here is the part about Northumberland:

“And when he came upon the scaffold, first, he put off his gown of crane-colored damask, and then he leaned upon the rail towarde the east, and said to the people, almost in every point as he had said in the chapel, a saving that when he came to the confession of his belief he said, ‘I trust, my lord the bishop here will bear me witnes hereof.’ At the last, he put off his jerkin and doublet, and then said his prayers; after which time the hangman reached to him a kerchief, which he did knit himself about his eyes, and then laid him down, and so was beheaded.”

The life of the man who had once ruled England, albeit as head of Edward VI’s government rather than king, was over. He was buried in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula and is thought to lie under the Chancel floor next to Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, and between Queens Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. In 1876, during renovation work on the Chapel, the Victorian workers unearthed his remains which Dr Mouat described as belonging “to a large man, about six feet in height; and aged about 50 years.”
That was the end of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland.

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22 August – The end of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland