Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Question from Nasim - Calais, John Dudley and Jane Grey

In regards to Calais – I was recently reading Judith M. Richards's work on Mary Tudor and came across the claim that in 1553 John Dudley, duke of Northumberland offered the French the return of Calais if they supported Jane Grey as queen. I was wondering whether anyone had more information regarding this. Richards does note that there is just a ‘suggestion’ that this occurred but she also claims that ‘there are circumstantial grounds for suspecting Northumberland did so’ (p.204). She cites Harbison’s “Rival Ambassadors at the Court of Queen Mary”, pp. 50-53, however I am unable to access the book to read about the matter further. Did Northumberland definitely do this or is the answer more complex?


Anonymous said...

The answer is more complex. Yes, Dudley was in negotiation for French support of Jane as Queen of England. He needed a major continental ally in case the Spanish declared war on England in support of Mary's claim.

And John Dudley did despatch some of his male relatives to Calais during the nine-day reign of Queen Jane. The precise brief they were given is unknown, however.

Is it possible that Dudley was prepared to offer Calais to the French in return for some kind of concrete French support for Jane, perhaps in the form of a diversionary French attack on Spanish interests on the continent? Perhaps.

Is there any documentation that demonstrates clearly that this was his plan? I have found none, despite many years of research on the subject.

Too many of the documents from July 1553 were destroyed by the participants in the events in order to prevent those documents being used as evidence against them. The evidence just is not there any more, so we cannot know for sure what Dudley had up his sleeve regarding Calais.

But I am inclined to think, in light of Dudley's generally pro-French foreign policy, that if the success of his daughter-in-law's reign hinged solely on Calais, he would have surrendered it to France without a second thought.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your in-depth answer!!

I’m not really a fan of ‘what if’ history (so I will try not to focus on it too much!). However would it not have been likely that, had Northumberland succeeded, the surrender of Calais would have promoted ill feeling in the country which would not have done his, and Jane’s, cause much good? The loss of Calais has traditionally been regarded as one of, if not the worst moment of Mary’s reign, with historians traditionally placing emphasis on the resentment it fuelled amongst the populace. To lose it in combat was bad enough – but would not handing it over freely to the French been regarded as equally humiliating, or even worse? I understand that this is all mere speculation, but if Northumberland did propose such a thing (and I agree with your conclusion that it is very possible), would he not have faced much opposition and did he not realise the effects it could cause? Or perhaps the significance of Calais to the English has been overdone by historians?

(Apologises for all these questions!)

Anonymous said...

I think you are correct, Nasim. Handing Calais over to the French would undoubtedly had created strong resentment, especially among the nobility and gentry that had fought for so many decades to keep Calais. Dudley was not as adept at sensing the public mood as he should have been, however. He totally failed, for example, to anticipate the extent of popular support that Mary would receive in her claim to the throne.

Foose said...

I have Harbison's book and pp. 50-53 state:

"On July 13 [1553], unknown to his opponents in the Council, [Northumberland] dispatched a personal representative to France to ask Henry II for the troops which [French ambassador Noailles] had led him to believe would be forthcoming ... The agent chosen for the purpose was his distant cousin, Sir Henry Dudley, an adventurer ..."

Henry Dudley was arrested in Calais on July 26 (after he saw Henry II) by Lord William Howard (the Governor). "He confessed ... that 'the Duke had promised to hand over to the French Calais, Guisnes and Hammes ... and Ireland.'"

Harbison goes on to say that "Whether Northumberland was actually so desperate as to offer such a bribe to the King of France, no one will ever be sure." She notes that "The government had obvious motives for spreading such tales after the Duke's downfall, and they rest entirely upon Imperial sources. But there was unquestionably some truth in them."

Further, "The assumption seems to be proved by the fact that when [Henry] Dudley went to Calais on his return trip, he carried a letter from [French Constable] Montmorency to Lord Howard offering to introduce a friendly force of French soldiers into Calais in order to prevent 'any but Englishmen' from setting foot in England and establishing a 'foreign king" there in the existing confusion." Hence Howard arrested him.

(Dudley later led his own rebellion against Queen Mary.)

However, the more recent "Calais: An English Town in France, 1347-1558," by Susan Rose, refers to the letter as "the fatal offer (probably somewhat tongue in cheek) of Anne de Montmorency, Constable of France, to come to the help of Calais if attacked by the Emperor." So clearly scholars have reinterpreted the evidence since Harbison's book was published (1940), but I don't know what the intervening study was that somewhat minimizes Northumberland's alleged treason (or at least the alleged treason of his kinsman). "Tongue in cheek" -- I really would like to know how this characterization was made. There is a 2008 book, "Calais: War and Military Service in England 1436-1558" by David Grummitt, which might be helpful.