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The Duke of Northumberland's Army Reconsidered

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 July 2014

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In the preceding article, Dr. William Tighe has drawn attention once again to a central mystery surrounding those ill-understood weeks between the death of Edward VI and Queen Mary's triumphal entry into London which I initially commented upon in this journal in 1974. The problem involves the rapidity with which Northumberland's army collapsed. The traditional interpretation has long been that the duke's forces consisted only of unreliable mercenaries and that he lacked support from the ruling elements which could have given him the means to carry out his coup. In my article I suggested that this was not the case. Gentlemen had been willing to risk their lives in his cause, and although it was impossible to know the relative strengths of the two sides with precision, I found no evidence that contemporaries found them to be unequal. Nor did I find support for Professor Jordan's contention that Northumberland was a reluctant conspirator who really wanted to surrender power and retire to his estates. Examination of accounts in the files of the great wardrobe also led me to conclude that so far as the gentlemen pensioners were concerned, military men had supported the coup while politicians had taken the side of legitimacy. Admittedly the definitions were not precise, but in the absence of other records, it seemed to enhance understanding of the deliberations taken in those fatal days.

Since the publication of my article, other scholars have also pointed to the vigor and quality of Northumberland's leadership. Dale Hoak has recently extended the “rehabilitation” of the Duke of Northumberland begun by Barrett Beer. Hoak showed that Northumberland was far from reluctant to use force and political guile to achieve his purposes. He took control of the royal household in order to control access to the king. He also created a special household bodyguard, known as the gendarmes, to secure his coup and overawe potential troublemakers. To complete the picture of a man determined to hold on to power, Hoak showed how Northumberland had managed to manipulate the young king by planting suggestions which the boy then incorporated into his desires. Thus the alteration of the succession should be seen as Northumberland's own scheme to retain power, and not the dying king's. Although the gendarmes had proved too costly to maintain and had to be disbanded, Northumberland's plan was clear: maintain control of power by using the king's household in both its military and political aspects.

Research Article
Albion , Volume 19 , Issue 1 , Spring 1987 , pp. 13 - 17
Copyright © North American Conference on British Studies 1987

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1 Braddock, Robert C., “The Character and Composition of the Duke of Northumberland's Army,” Albion 6 (1974): 342356CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 Jordan, W.K., Edward VI: The Threshold of Power (Cambridge, Mass., 1970), pp. 520–32Google Scholar.

3 Beer, Barrett L., Northumberland: The Political Career of John Dudley, Earl of Warwick and Duke of Northumberland (Kent, Ohio, 1973)Google Scholar; idem., “Northumberland: The Myth of the Wicked Duke and the Historical John Dudley,” Albion 11 (1979): 1–14; Hoak, Dale, “Rehabilitating the Duke of Northumberland: Politics and Political Control, 1549–53,” in The Mid-Tudor Polity, c. 1540–1560, ed. Tittler, Robert and Loach, Jennifer (Totowa, N.J.: 1980), pp. 2951CrossRefGoogle Scholar; idem., “The King's Privy Chamber, 1547–1553,” in Tudor Rule and Revolution: Essays for G.R. Elton from his American Friends, ed. Delloyd J. Guth and John W. McKenna (Cambridge, 1982), pp. 87–108.

4 Tittler, Robert and Battley, Susan L., “The Local Community and the Crown in 1553: The Accession of Mary Tudor Revisited,” Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research 57 (1984): 131–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 The Vita Mariae Angliae Reginae of Robert Wingfield of Brantham,” ed. and trans. by MacCulloch, Diarmaid, Camden Miscellany XXVIII (Camden 4th series, 29, London, 1984): 181301Google Scholar.

6 Ibid., pp. 242–3; 259–63.

7 Braddock, , “Duke of Northumberland's Army,” pp. 345n, 356nGoogle Scholar.

8 Nichols, J.G., ed., Narratives of the Days of the Reformation …, Camden Society, old series, 77 (1859): 147–8, 168–9Google Scholar.

9 Nichols, J.G., ed., The Diary of Henry Machyn …, Camden Society, old series, 42 (1848): 35–6Google Scholar.

10Vita Mariae,” passim; see also Hoak, Dale, “Two Revolutions in Tudor Government: The Formation and Organization of Mary I's Privy Council,” in Revolution Reassessed: Revisions in the History of Tudor Government and Administration, ed. Coleman, Christopher and Starkey, David (Oxford, 1986), pp. 87115Google Scholar.

11 The pertinent memoranda are in Public Record Office, E.101/427/6; E.101/427/4; E.101/427/5. The final list for Edward's funeral is in PRO, LC 2/4(1).

12 Tighe, William J., “The Gentlemen Pensioners, The Duke of Northumberland, and the Attempted Coup of July 1553,” Albion 19 (Spring, 1987): 111CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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