Gambling with the Greys

In February 1534, when the seventeen-year-old Henry Grey, then the Marquis of Dorset ,was newly arrived at court, his mother, the dowager marchioness, took it upon herself to write to Thomas Cromwell, “And when you shall happen to see in my son marquis either any large playing, or great usual swearing, or any other demeanour unmeet for him to use, which I fear me shall be very often, that it may then please you, good master Cromwell, for my late lord his good father’s sake, whose soul God pardon, in some friendly fashion to rebuke him thereof, whereby you shall bind him at his farther years of knowledge and discretion, if he then have any virtue or grace, to consider and remember your goodness now shewed unto him, to do you such pleasure as shall lie in his little power for the same. And for a small part of recompense of your manifold goodness and pains taken for me, I do send you at this time, by my son Medley this bearer, a little gilt pot.”

Whether Thomas Cromwell, encouraged by the gilt pot, found it necessary to give Henry Grey friendly rebukes is unknown, but years later, after Henry Grey had become the Duke of Suffolk, he found his habits once again under scrutiny, this time by his chaplain, James Haddon.

In August 1552, James Haddon wrote to Heinrich Bullinger, a pillar of the Protestant Reformation. Having updated Bullinger, who lived in Zurich, about the progress of the reform movement in England, Haddon got down to business: “the regulations of the duke’s household.” His specific target: the duke and duchess’s enjoyment of playing cards or dice for money. As Haddon put it, “The duke has forbidden all his domestics to risk any money upon amusements of this sort; but yet he himself and his most honourable lady with their friends, not only claim permission to play in their private apartment, but also to play for money.”

It’s important to remember that the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk were by no means alone in their enjoyment of cards and dice. Mary Tudor, the duchess’s first cousin, was fond of gambling for stakes; at one point in the 1530’s, according to Linda Porter, she was spending nearly a third of her income on the pastime. Both the duchess’s maternal grandparents, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York,  enjoyed gambling for stakes, as their expenses show. Whatever youthful folly or overindulgence might have concerned Henry Grey’s mother back in 1534, nothing suggests that the adult Henry Grey and his wife gambled more than others of their social class or that they risked insolvency as a result.

But Haddon believed that any gambling for money was impermissible. “I am of opinion that I can nowise admit it to be allowable for a Christian so to risk his money at any game whatsoever, as to leave off as a winner, with some pecuniary advantage, or else as a loser, to his pecuniary loss.”

Haddon’s strict anti-gambling stance had already caused some friction between him and his employers. At first, he wrote, he had reproved the duke and duchess in private, after which “they left off for a time: upon which I was very glad, and began to entertain great hopes.” Soon, however, the Suffolks began to backslide, and Haddon determined to denounce the vice of gambling from the pulpit over the Christmas of 1551–it being a season, as he put it, where people “amuse themselves by indulging in mummeries and wickedness of every kind; and rejoice together with the wicked, and are especially serving the devil, in imitation, as it seems, of the ancient Saturnalia.” Haddon hastened to add, “I am not now speaking of the family in which I reside, for the case is not so with them.”  Accordingly, Haddon gave a sermon in which he reproved “in common and general terms, [those] who played for money.” The Suffolks gave the sermon a chilly reception: “But since the duke himself and his lady have secretly played with their friends in their private apartment, they thought it was my duty merely to have admonished them in private.”

Poor Haddon, therefore, was in a quandary when he wrote to Bullinger in August 1552: “And so far I put up with and allow the practice; that I do not reprove it publicly and in my sermons. . . . I bear with it of compulsion, that I may gain them over in other things of greater importance; I bear with it, just as a man who is holding a wolf by the ears.  But I perceive some good arising from this concession, which in fact is no concession at all, but in some measure a remission of duty, or rather of strictness in the performance of it; because I do not find fault in public, although individually and in conversation I always reprove in the same way as heretofore. But because they see that I in some measure yield to them, even against my own opinion, and consider that I deal tenderly with this infirmity of theirs, they are willing to hear and attend to me more readily in other respects.” What, Haddon asked in conclusion, did Bullinger think? “[G]ive me your advice as to how far you think I may concede in matters of this sort, and to what extent I may connive at them. But do this at your leisure.”

Bullinger’s reply, sadly, is lost to us, but Haddon was well satisfied. About two months later, he reported that Bullinger’s letter was “exceedingly gratifying to me, not only because you seem entirely to agree with me.”

Haddon’s anti-gambling mission soon ended, however, in a way that was no doubt satisfactory to both parties: Haddon was appointed as a canon of Westminster on August 29, 1552, a post he never took up because he was named dean of Exeter in October. He added, “But it has pleased God to render his grace [i.e., the Duke of Suffolk] so much attached to me, and me too in my turn so devoted and attached to his grace, that I cannot entirely separate from him, but must occasionally visit him.”

Unfortunately, whether to play cards for  money soon became the least of Suffolk’s concerns. In July 1553, slightly less than a year after Haddon wrote to Bullinger, Mary I sat upon the throne and Suffolk’s daughter Jane was a prisoner in the Tower. In November 1553, Haddon wrote, “The duke himself holds to the true God, and I hope by God’s help will fully retain his opinions about true religion, in opposition to the devil, whose agents are striving with all their might to lead his lordship astray.” Three months later, following Suffolk’s ill-advised participation in what is known as Wyatt’s rebellion, both Suffolk and his daughter Jane were beheaded. It had been the duke’s last, and fatal, gamble.

To escape Marian persecution, Haddon fled abroad to Strasbourgh. His last extant letter was written at Frankfurt on March 1, 1556. It is thought that he died soon afterward.


C. S. Knighton, ‘Haddon, James (b. c.1520, d. in or after 1556)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 8 Aug 2011].

Hastings Robinson, Original Letters Relative to the English Reformation, Vol. 1. Cambirdge: Cambridge University Press, 1846.

Mary Anne Everett Wood, Letters of Royal and Illustrious Ladies of Great Britain, Vol. 2. London: Henry Colburn, 1846.

7 thoughts on “Gambling with the Greys”

    1. Eek! Typo fixed. I had Henry VI on the brain from something else I was writing. Thanks for pointing it out!

  1. Great post!
    Poor man, I simply can’t find a reasonable explanation why Henry Grey rebelled in 1554; it must have been terrible for him to see everything in ruins, I am sure he did love his daughter Jane.
    I think all aristocrats gambled, King Edward also enjoyed losing money this way, although not on the scale of his sister! Chapman et al claim John Dudley didn’t gamble, but I don’t quite believe that — he may well have been one of those friends the Suffolks did it with (unless he was too stingy).

  2. I have read somewhere that John Dudley used to play cards with King Henry VIII. Also seen the contradictory comment that he was a non gambler. Difficult to know which to believe. Certainly King Henry was quite a gambler by all accounts.

  3. Thanks, Christine! Carol, I remember reading about him playing cards with Henry VIII too, when Henry VIII was ill.

    I personally think Henry Grey became involved in the rebellion because he couldn’t stomach the religious changes that Mary’s government was making and believed that the Spanish marriage would make things even worse (from his point of view). Mary’s government accused him of rebelling in order to restore Jane to the throne, but David Loades and other historians have viewed that claim with skepticism.

    It does seem enormously foolhardy for him to have joined the rebellion with his daughter under a death sentence, since I believe he genuinely did love Jane and must have been horrified when he realized he had sealed her fate. Perhaps he had convinced himself that in rebelling, he was carrying out his daughter’s wishes.

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