Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dudley, Edmund
DUDLEY, EDMUND (1462?–1510), statesman and lawyer, born about 1462, was the son of John Dudley, esq., of Atherington, Sussex, by Elizabeth, daughter and coheiress of Thomas or John Bramshot of Sussex. John Dudley was sheriff of Sussex in 1485. By his will, dated 1 Oct. 1500, he directs that he should be buried at Arundel in his ‘marbill tombe,’ and desires prayers for the souls of many relatives, among them ‘William, late bishop of Dunelme,’ i.e. Durham, and ‘my brother Oliver Dudley.’ Sir Reginald Bray is also mentioned as an intimate friend. Both William and Oliver Dudley were sons of John Sutton, baron Dudley [q. v.], while Sir Reginald Bray was one of the baron's executors. Hence there can be little doubt that John Dudley was another of the baron's sons. Edmund's descendants claimed direct descent from the baronial family, but the claim has been much disputed. His numerous enemies asserted that Edmund Dudley's father was a carpenter of Dudley, Worcestershire, who migrated to Lewes. Sampson Erdeswicke, the sixteenth-century historian of Staffordshire, accepted this story, and William Wyrley, another Elizabethan genealogist, suggested that Edmund's grandfather was a carpenter. But the discovery of his father's will disproves these stories, and practically establishes his pretensions to descent from the great baronial family of Sutton, alias Dudley.
Dudley was sent in 1478 to Oxford and afterwards studied law at Gray's Inn, where the arms of the barons of Dudley were emblazoned on one of the windows of the hall. According to Polydore Vergil, his legal knowledge attracted the attention of Henry VII on his accession (1485), and he was made a privy councillor at the early age of three-and-twenty. This promotion seems barely credible, but it cannot have been long delayed. Seven years later Dudley helped to negotiate the peace of Boulogne (signed 6 Nov. 1492 and renewed in 1499). His first wife, Anne, sister of Andrews, lord Windsor, and widow of Roger Corbet of Morton, Shropshire, died before 1494, when he obtained the wardship and marriage of Elizabeth, daughter of Edward Grey, viscount Lisle, and sister and coheiress of her brother John.
Stow asserts that Dudley became under-sheriff of London in 1497. It has been doubted whether a distinguished barrister and a privy councillor would be likely to accept so small an office. But it seems clear that at this period Dudley was fully in the king's confidence and had formulated a financial policy to check the lawlessness of the barons, whom the protracted wars of the Roses had thoroughly demoralised. In carrying out the policy Dudley associated Sir Richard Empson [q. v.] with himself. The great landowners were to enter into recognisances to keep the peace, and all taxes and feudal dues were to be collected with the utmost rigour. Although, like astute lawyers, Dudley and Empson had recourse to much petty chicanery in giving effect to their scheme, their policy was adapted to the times and was dictated by something more than the king's love of money. The small post of under-sheriff would prove useful in this connection, and the fact that both Dudley and Empson resided in St. Swithin's Lane confirms Dudley's alleged association with the city.
The official position of Dudley and Empson is difficult to define: they probably acted as a sub-committee of the privy council. Polydore Vergil calls them ‘fiscales judices,’ but they certainly were not judges of the exchequer nor of any other recognised court. Bacon asserts that they habitually indicted guiltless persons of crimes, and, when true bills were found, extorted great fines and ransoms as a condition of staying further proceedings. They are said to have occasionally summoned persons to their private houses and exacted fines without any pretence of legal procedure. Pardons for outlawry were invariably purchased from them, and juries were terrorised into paying fines when giving verdicts for defendants in crown prosecutions. These are the chief charges brought against them by contemporary historians. Bacon credits Dudley with much plausible eloquence.
In 1504 Dudley was chosen speaker in the House of Commons, and in the same year was released by a royal writ from the necessity of becoming a serjeant-at-law. In the parliament over which Dudley presided many small but useful reforms were made in legal procedure. In 1506 Dudley became steward of the rape of Hastings, Sussex. Grafton states that in the last year of Henry VII's reign Dudley and Empson were nominated, under some new patent, special commissioners for enforcing the penal laws. Whether this be so or no, their unpopularity greatly increased towards the end of the reign. On 21 April 1509 their master, Henry VII, died. Sir Robert Cotton (Discourse of Foreign War) quotes a book of receipts and payments kept between Henry VII and Dudley, whence it appears that the king amassed about four and a half million pounds in coin and bullion while Dudley directed his finances. The revenue Dudley secured by the sale of offices and extra-legal compositions was estimated at 120,000l. a year.
Henry VIII had no sooner ascended the throne than he yielded to the outcry against Dudley and Empson and committed both to the Tower. The recognisances which had been entered into with them were cancelled on the ground that they had been ‘made without any cause reasonable or lawful’ by ‘ certain of the learned council of our late father, contrary to law, reason, and good conscience.’ On 16 July 1509 Dudley was arraigned before a special commission on a charge of constructive treason. The indictment made no mention of his financial exactions, but stated that while in the preceding March Henry VII lay sick Dudley summoned his friends to attend him under arms in London in the event of the king's death. This very natural precaution, taken by a man who was loathed by the baronial leaders and their numerous retainers, and was in danger of losing his powerful protector, was construed into a plan for attempting the new king's life. Conviction followed. Empson was sent to Northampton to be tried separately on a like charge in October. In the parliament which met 21 Jan. 1509–10 both were attainted. Henry VIII deferred giving orders for their execution, but popular feeling was not satisfied. Dudley made an abortive attempt to escape from the Tower with the aid of his brother Peter, his kinsman, James Beaumont, and others. On 18 Aug. 1510 both he and Empson were beheaded on Tower Hill. Dudley was buried in the church of Blackfriars the same night. With a view to obtaining the king's pardon Dudley employed himself while in the Tower in writing a long political treatise entitled ‘The Tree of Commonwealth,’ an argument in favour of absolute monarchy. This work never reached the hands of Henry VIII. Stow gave a copy to Dudley's grandson, Ambrose Dudley [q. v.], earl of Warwick, after whose death it came into the possession of Sir Simonds D'Ewes. Several copies are now known; one is in the Chetham Library, Manchester, another in the British Museum (Harleian MS. 2204), and a third belongs to Lord Calthorpe (Hist. MSS. Comm. 2nd Rep. 40). It was privately printed at Manchester for the first time in 1859 by the brotherhood of the Rosy Cross. A copy of Dudley's will, dated on the day of his death, is extant in the Record Office. He left his great landed estates in Sussex, Dorsetshire, and Lincolnshire to his wife with remainder to his children. His brother Peter is mentioned, and the son Jerome was placed under four guardians, Bishop FitzJames, Dean Colet, Sir Andrews Windsor, and Dr. Yonge, till he reached the age of twenty-two. Certain lands were to be applied to the maintenance of poor scholars at Oxford. Dudley also expresses a wish to be buried in Westminster Abbey.
By his first wife Dudley had a daughter Elizabeth, married to William, sixth lord Stourton. By his second wife he had three sons: John [q. v.], afterwards duke of Northumberland, Andrew, and Jerome. Sir Andrew Dudley was appointed admiral of the northern seas 27 Feb. 1546–7. He was knighted by Somerset 18 Sept. 1547, when ordered to occupy Broughty Craig at the mouth of the river Tay together with Lord Clinton. This operation was accomplished 21 Sept. In 1549 Sir Andrew became one of the four knights in attendance on the young king, and keeper of his wardrobe. A year later he was appointed keeper of the palace of Westminster, and soon afterwards captain of Guisnes. A small pension was granted him 17 May 1551. Early in 1552 he quarrelled with Lord Willoughby, deputy of Calais, as to his jurisdiction at Guisnes. On 6 Oct. 1552 the dispute led to the recall of both officers. On 20 May 1552 Sir Andrew was directed to survey Portsmouth, and on 17 March 1552–3 was created K.G. A marriage between him and Margaret Clifford, daughter of the Earl of Cumberland, was arranged to take place soon afterwards, but the death of Edward VI led to his ruin (Nichols, Lit. Remains of Edward VI, in Roxburghe Club; Calendar of Hatfield MSS. i. 127–132). Sir Andrew was implicated with his brother John in the attempt to place Lady Jane Grey on the throne, but after imprisonment, trial, and conviction was set at liberty on 18 Jan. 1554–5. His will, dated 1556, is printed in the ‘Sydney Papers’ (p. 30). He died without issue in 1559. Edmund Dudley's widow married, about 1515, Sir Arthur Plantagenet [q. v.], Edward IV's natural son, by Lady Elizabeth Lucy. Sir Arthur was created Viscount Lisle, in right of his wife, in 1523, and was for many years governor of Calais. By him Dudley's widow had three daughters, Bridget, Frances, and Elizabeth.
[Wood's Athenæ, ed. Bliss, i. 12–14; Sydney Papers, ed. Collins, i. 16–18; Holinshed's Chronicle; Bacon's Henry VII; State Trials, i. 28–38; Herbert's Henry VIII; Brewer's Henry VIII, i. 69–70; Henry VIII State Papers, i. 179; Dugdale's Baronage, ii. 214; Biog. Brit. (Kippis); Polydore Vergil's Henry VIII. For the genealogy see the authorities under Dudley, John Sutton de. For the indictment see Second Report of Deputy-Keeper of Records, app. 3.]