Jane in the Court of at Least Three Queens

In writing my forthcoming novel about Jane Dudley, Duchess of Northumberland, and Frances Grey, Duchess of Suffolk, one of my biggest challenges with Jane Dudley (née Guildford) was to figure out which queens she served.  She can be linked with the last three of Henry’s queens: the first three are questionable.

In his 1973 biography of Katherine Parr, Anthony Martienssen claimed that in 1523, Catherine of Aragon set up a schoolroom for her daughter Mary, under the tuition of Juan Vives, and that the princess’s fellow pupils included Katherine Parr and Jane Guildford.   While Vives did produce a treatise, The Education of a Christian Woman, at Catherine of Aragon’s request, and he did offer guidance for Mary’s education, subsequent biographers of both Mary and of Katherine Parr have rejected the notion of Vives presiding over a royal schoolroom full of young ladies or of Katherine Parr sharing Mary’s lessons.  As for Jane Guildford, Martienssen is a most unreliable source. He mistakenly writes that she was the daughter of Jane, Lady Guildford (she was the daughter of Eleanor West), and he writes that she was about four years old in 1523 and did not join the “school” until two or three years later; in fact, Jane Guildford was born in 1509 and thus was about fourteen in 1523. At the time that Martienssen has her joining the so-called royal school, i.e., 1525 or so, Jane Guildford had married John Dudley and was bearing his children. The unsupported story that Jane Guildford was tutored by Vives, however, has made its way even into academic nonfiction.

Nothing that I have found indicates that Jane Dudley (then simply Lady Dudley; it would be many years before she became a duchess)  served as one of Catherine of Aragon’s ladies before or after Jane’s marriage. A post on another blog recently claimed that she was present at the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520 as one of Catherine of Aragon’s maids of honor, but I have found no evidence of this. Two Ladies Guildford, referred to as the elder and the younger, are listed as attending upon the queen, but one is listed as a baroness and the other as a knight’s wife; neither can be the eleven-year old Jane, the then-unmarried daughter of a knight.

This isn’t to say that Jane Dudley couldn’t have served Catherine of Aragon at some point; her father, Edward Guildford, was well-connected at court, as was his younger half-brother, Henry Guildford. (For those of you who have read The Queen of Last Hopes, Henry Guildford’s mother, Joan Vaux, was the daughter of Margaret of Anjou’s faithful lady-in-waiting, Katherine Vaux.) Through her father or her uncle, Jane might have obtained a position with Henry’s first queen, but we don’t know whether she did.

David Loades claims in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography that Jane Dudley was a member of Anne Boleyn’s privy chamber, although he does not make this statement in his biography of John Dudley. I have not found any evidence of this, other than Martiessen’s statement that Jane Dudley stayed at court after Henry VIII’s second marriage for lack of any better prospect: “No marriage arrangements were in the offing for any of the three girls [Jane, Anne Parr, and Joan Champernown], and the alternative to remaining at Court in the service of the new Queen would have been banishment to the dull backwoods of their country homes.” Since Jane Dudley had been married for some years when Anne Boleyn became queen and was a mother several times over by then, Martiessen’s statement is clearly nonsense where she is concerned.

There are, however, some signs that the Dudleys were friendly with the new queen. Nicholas Bourbon, a French poet, was engaged by Anne Boleyn in 1534 to teach her nephew Henry Carey and several other boys, including Sir John and Jane Dudley’s oldest son, Henry (died in 1544). Bourbon, an evangelical, urged John and Jane in one poem to “remain true to Christ”; in another, he remarked upon “the love and devotion with which you and your noble wife adorn the ties of sacred marriage.” This tie to a member of Anne Boleyn’s circle, of course, does not indicate that Jane served Anne Boleyn, but it does suggest she could have.

It does seem likely that Jane Dudley attended Jane Seymour. She received a gift of beads from that queen, and was one of the ladies on horseback following the second chariot at the short-lived queen’s funeral. When Anne Basset and her sister, whose stepfather, Arthur Plantagenet, had been married to John Dudley’s mother, were campaigning to be given positions among Jane Seymour’s ladies, Jane Dudley was one of those who “highly feasted” the young women.

With Anne of Cleves, we at last move to certainty, for Jane Dudley was one of those ladies appointed to meet Anne of Cleves at Dover.  Later, she was named as one of the ladies and gentlewomen attendant upon the queen.

When Henry took his fifth bride, Katherine Howard, Jane Dudley continued in royal service, again as one of the queen’s ladies. Fortunately for her, she does not seem to have been close enough to the queen to have become entangled in the events that led to Katherine Howard’s execution.

John Dudley became Lord Lisle in March 1542. When Henry married his sixth queen, Katherine Parr, in July 1543, the Viscountess Lisle was among the select group of guests in attendance. She was later one of the ladies of the queen’s household who lodged at court with their husbands.

Famously, Katherine Parr, an advocate of the new religion, and some of her ladies became the target of Bishop Gardiner and other religious conservatives in 1546. Was Viscountess Lisle one of them? Jane was not named as one of the ladies thought to associate with Anne Askew, burned at the stake that year, but Anne had been questioned about her connections with Katherine Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk and Anne Seymour, Countess of Hertford. It was these two ladies, along with Jane Dudley (referred to as “the Admiral’s wife” because of her husband’s position as Lord Admiral) that Eustace Chapuys mentioned on January 29, 1547, as influencing the queen in matters of religion: “If the King of England gives his countenance to his stirrers-up of heresy, the Earl of Hertford [Edward Seymour] and the Lord Admiral (which may be feared for the reasons mentioned by the ambassador, and because, according to report, the Queen, instigated thereto by the Duchess of Suffolk, the Countess of Hertford,  and the Admiral’s wife, is infected by the sect, which she would not be likely to favour, at least openly, unless she knew the King’s feeling) it would be quite useless to attempt to turn him from his fancy by words and exhortations, even if they were addressed to him in the name of the Emperor. ” It is also interesting to note that in November 1546, after the plot against Katherine Parr and her ladies had failed, John Dudley struck Bishop Gardiner at a council meeting. The reason is not recorded. Might Dudley have been angry, at least in part, about the fright that had been given to his wife?

Whatever the truth about Jane Dudley’s role in the events of 1546, when Chapuys wrote on January 29, Henry VIII was beyond caring about the religion of his queen’s ladies. He had died the day before. Soon, the heresy to which Chapuys had referred would be the law of the land, and John and Jane Dudley would be the Earl and Countess of Warwick.  When a Dudley woman next served a queen, it would be Jane Dudley’s daughters, Mary and Katherine, serving Elizabeth I as queen regnant.


Eric Ives, “A Frenchman at the Court of Anne Boleyn.” History Today, August 1998.

Susan James, Kateryn Parr: The Making of a Queen. Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999.

Letters and Papers of Henry VIII.

David Loades, John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, 1504–1553. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996.

David Loades, ‘Dudley, John, duke of Northumberland (1504–1553)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/8156, accessed 30 Aug 2011]

Judith Richards, Mary Tudor. Oxon and New York: Routledge, 2008.

4 thoughts on “Jane in the Court of at Least Three Queens”

  1. So I play a 24 year old Jane Dudley at the Renaissance Festival in my area (1533! Hooray for a fun year) and just wanted to let you know that your research has been amazingly helpful in trying to piece together Jane. As you are aware finding information about women from this time period can be…a headache. I thank you for all the interesting facts and tidbits you’ve found and look forward to your book this summer!

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