Lord Robert Dudley, 'chief patron and defender' of the Inner Temple

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Lord Robert Dudley, 'chief patron and defender' of the Inner Temple

by Clare Rider, IT Archivist 1998-2009

In the second half of the sixteenth century the Inner Temple had good reason to be grateful to Lord Robert Dudley, knight of the most noble Order of the Garter and Master of the Queen's Majesty's Horse. As a result of his personal intervention with Queen Elizabeth I the Inner Temple retained its sovereignty over Lyon's Inn, one of its three associated inns of chancery.

Lyon's Inn has long been forgotten, demolished in 1863 and buried under the modern day Aldwych, but the favour afforded to the Inner Temple by its 'chief patron and defender', Lord Robert Dudley, should not. Indeed, the sixteenth century Benchers endeavoured to perpetuate the memory of his 'great good will towards this House':

... and to the end the same may hereafter remain for a perpetual memory to our successors…as a token and knowledge of our good wills and thankful remembrances, [we] have thought good to enact... that no person or persons whatsoever now being or which at any time hereafter shall be of the fellowship or company of this our House of the Inner Temple, shall in any wise or by any manner of means, be retained of counsel or otherwise give any counsel, help or aid in any matter or cause against the said right honourable Lord Robert Duddeley or against any of his heirs...and that the arms of the said right honourable Lord Robert Duddeley shall be set up and placed in some seemly and convenient place in the hall of this our House of the Inner Temple as a continual monument of his lordship's said goodness and great good will towards this House.

The arms of Lord Robert Dudley, who was created Earl of Leicester in 1564, are set in stained glass at the west end of the current hall in continuing fulfilment of that promise and it will be argued that it was the Earl of Leceister's involvement in the Inner Temple revels in 1561 that led to the adoption of the pegasus as the Inner Temple's emblem. So what was the nature of Robert Dudley's association with the Inner Temple ?

From inns of court to royal court

Robert Dudley's family had been associated with the inns of court for two generations. His grandfather, Edmund Dudley, was a member of Gray's Inn and, according to the historian Polydore Vergil, it was his legal expertise that brought him to the attention of Henry VII. The son of a Sussex farmer, Edmund Dudley was made a privy councillor and became one of Henry VII's closest advisors. However, the success of Dudley and his colleague, Sir Richard Empson, in extracting money from the people to furnish the royal coffers made them extremely unpopular and, on the succession of the youthful Henry VIII, Empson and Dudley were attainted for treason. In the crowd watching their execution on Tower Hill on 18th August 1510 was Edmund Dudley's eldest son, John. Fatherless, and with his inheritance forfeit to the Crown, the future must have looked bleak to the young John Dudley. However, he was welcomed into the house of his father's friend, Sir Edward Guildford, whose daughter he was to marry after his father's estates had been restored to him. It may have been Sir Edward Guildford who advised him to follow his father's example by joining one of the inns of court. In any event, John Dudley was admitted to the Inner Temple on 9th February 1511, at the age of about nine.

With the Act of Attainder against his father still in force, his political prospects must have seemed slight. However, at a time when the inns of court not only offered professional training for lawyers but also acted as finishing schools for gentlemen, his membership of the Inner Temple provided a good opportunity for Dudley to cultivate advantageous connections. His return to royal favour was gradual but spectacular. In 1513, at the age of eleven, he was restored in blood by Act of Parliament and his father's attainder was repealed. He was knighted in 1523, after serving with the Duke of Suffolk in France, and in 1533 was made Master of the Tower Armoury. He was raised to the peerage, as Viscount Lisle, in 1542 and appointed Great Admiral for life. Called to the Privy Council in 1543, he was named as one of fifteen executors in Henry VIII's will. He was created Earl of Warwick in 1547 and Duke of Northumberland in 1551 and, in that year, he ousted the Duke of Somerset as Lord Protector of the realm. On Somerset's execution the following year and with the boy king, Edward VI, almost exclusively under his control, Northumberland's ascendancy was complete. It was presumably at this time that his entry in the Inner Temple admissions register was annotated with the marginal note 'Dux Northumb'. However, on the death of the King in 1553, after an abortive attempt to place Lady Jane Grey and his son, Guildford Dudley, on the throne, Northumberland was defeated by Mary Tudor's army and was executed on Tower Hill. His son, Guildford, was to follow his fate in 1554, together with his young wife, Lady Jane Grey.

Robert Dudley was fortunate to escape execution. He was imprisoned in the Tower in 1553 with his four brothers, and with them was attainted and sentenced to death for high treason. However, he was released and pardoned in October 1554 and restored in blood by Act of Parliament in March 1558, after distinguishing himself in battle in France. There he won favour with Mary's husband, King Philip II of Spain. Later that year came his opportunity to return to the royal court, on the accession of Elizabeth I. He had known Princess Elizabeth as a child, when they had shared lessons together at the court of Edward VI, and they had been imprisoned at the same time in the Tower of London, although it is not certain whether they were in communication at that time. There is no doubt that Elizabeth I was much attracted to the young and handsome courtier. Appointing him her Master of the Horse in January 1559 and as a Privy Councillor, she made no secret of her infatuation with him.

In April 1559 the Spanish Ambassador, De Feria, wrote to his master, Philip II, that it was pointless trying to discuss with the Queen her proposed marriage with Archduke Charles, as King Philip had instructed, seeing that Elizabeth and Dudley were lovers. His successor as Spanish Ambassador, De Quadra, went as far as calling Dudley 'the king that is to be' in his dispatches in 1560 and, in August that year, Anne Dowe of Brentford was the first of many offenders to be imprisoned for declaring that the Queen was carrying Dudley's child. It seemed to many that Lord Robert Dudley would surpass the ambitions of his father and grandfather by becoming King. However, his marriage to Amy Robsart, the daughter of Sir John Robsart of Siderstern, Norfolk, ten years earlier, in 1550, meant that he was not a free man.