Dudley, Edmund

, a celebrated lawyer and statesman, in the reign of Henry VII. was born in 1462. Some have said, that he was the son of a mechanic: but this notion probably took its rise from prejudices conceived against him for his mal-administrations in power; for he was of the ancient family of the Dudleys, and his father was sir John Dudley, second son of John Dudley, baron of Dudley, and knight of the garter. About the age of sixteen he was sent to Oxford, where he spent some time | and afterwards removed to Gray’s-inn in London, in order to prosecute the study of the law. This he did with great diligence, and came at length to be considered as so able a person in his profession, as to induce Henry VII. to take him very early into his service. It is said that fur his singular prudence and fidelity he was sworn of the king’s privy-council in his 23d year, which some think too early a period: it is, however, asserted by Polydore Vergil, who was then in England. In 1492 we find him one of those great men in the king’s army near Boiogne, who were chiefly instrumental in making a peace with France; and that two years after he obtained the wardship and marriage of Elizabeth, daughter of Edward Grey, viscount L‘lsle, sister and coheiress of John viscount L’lsle, her brother. In 1499 he was one of those who signed the ratification of the peace just mentioned, by the authority of parliament; which shows that he was, if not in great credit with his country, at least in high favour with his prince, whom he particularly served in helping to fill his coffers, under the colour of law, though with very little regard to equity and justice. All our general histories have handled this matter so in the gross, that it is very difficult to learn from them wherein the crimes of Empson and Dudley consisted: but Bacon, who understood it well, relates every circumstance freely and fully in the following manner: “As kings do more easily find instruments for their will and humour, than for their service and honour, he had gotten for his purpose, or beyond his purpose, two instruments, Empson and Dudley, bold men, and careless of fame, and that took toll for their master’s grist. Dudley was of a good family, eloquent, and one that could put hateful business into good language; but Empson, that was the son of a sievemaker, triumphed always in the deed done, putting off all other respects whatsoever. These two persons, being lawyers in science, and privy-counsellors in authority, turned law and justice into wormwood and rapine. For, first, their manner was to cause divers subjects to be indicted for sundry crimes, and so far forth to proceed in form of law; but, when the bills were found, then presently to commit them: and, nevertheless, not to produce them in any reasonable time to their answer, but to suffer them to languish long in prison, and, by sundry artificial devices and terrors, to extort from them great fines and ransoms, which they termed compositions and mitigations. | Neither did they, towards the end, observe so much as the half face of justice in proceeding by indictment, but sent forth their precepts to attach men, and convent them before themselves and some others, at their private houses, in a court of commission; and there used to shuffle up a summary proceeding by examination, without trial of jury, assuming to themselves there, to deal both in pleas of the crown and controversies civil. Then did they also use to enthral and charge the subjects’ lands with tenures in capite, by finding false offices, and thereby to work upon them by wardships, liveries, premier seisins, and alienations, being the fruits of those tenures, refusing, upon divers pretexts and delays, to admit men to traverse those false offices according to the law. Nay, the king’s wards, after they had accomplished their full age, could not be suffered to have livery of their lands, without paying excessive fines, far exceeding all reasonable rates. They did also vex men with informations of intrusion, upon scarce colourable titles. When men were outlawed in personal actions, they would not permit them to purchase their charters of pardon, except they paid great and intolerable sums, standing upon the strict point of law, which, upon outlawries, giveth forfeiture of goods: nay, contrary to all law and colour, they maintained the king ought to have the half of men’s lands and rents, during the space of full two years, for a pain, in case of outlawry. They would also ruffle with jurors, and enforce them to find as they would direct and, if they did not, convent them, imprison them, and fine them.

In the parliament held in 1504, Dudley was speaker of the house of commons; and in consideration, as it may be presumed, of his great services to his master in this high station, we find that two years after he obtained a grant of the stewardship of the rape of Hastings, in the county of Sussex. This was one of the last favours he received from his master who, at the close of his life, is said to have been so much troubled at the oppressions and extortions of these ministers, that he was desirous to make restitution to such as had been injured, and directed the same by his will. Some writers have taken occasion from hence to free that monarch from blame, throwing it all upon Empson and Dudley: but others, and Bacon among them, have very plainly proved, that they did not lead or deceive him in this affair, but only acted under him as instruments. The | king died at Richmond the 2 1st of April, 1509, and was scarcely in his grave, when Dudley was sent to the Tower; the clamour of the people being so great, that this step was absolutely necessary to quiet them though Stow seems to think that both he and Empson were decoyed into the Tower, or they had not been so easily taken. At the same time, numbers of their subordinate instruments were seized, imprisoned, tried, and punished. J-;ly the same year, Dudley was arraigned, and found guilty of high treason before commissioners assembled in Guildhall. The king, taking a journey afterwards into the country, found himself so much incommoded by the general outcry of his people, that he caused Empson to be carried into Northamptonshire where, October following, he was also tried and convicted, and then remanded back to the Tower. In the parliament of January 1510, Dudley and Empson were both attainted of high treason; but the king was unwilling to execute them; and Stow informs us, that a rumour prevailed, that queen Catharine had interposed, and procured Dudley’s pardon. The clamours of the people continually increasing, being rather heightened than softened by seeing numbers of mean fellows, whom they had employed as informers and witnesses, convicted and punished, while themselves were spared, the king was at last obliged k> order them for execution and accordingly they both lost their heads upon Tower-hill, Aug. 18, 1510.

Dudley, to give some employment to his thoughts during his tedious imprisonment in the Tower, and perhaps with a view of extricating himself from his misfortunes, composed a very extraordinary piece, which he addressed to the king, entitled “The Tree of the Commonwealth, by Edmund Dudley, esq. late counsellor to king Henry VII. the same Edmund being, at the compiling thereof, prisoner in the Tower, in 1 Hen. VIII.” The contents of this treatise are, in the author’s osvn words, as follow: “The effect of this treatise,” says he, “consisteth in three especial points. First, remembrance of God, and the faithful of his holy church, in the which every Christian prince had need to begin. Secondly, of some conditions and demeanors necessary in every prince, both for his honour and assurety of his continuance. Thirdly, of the Tree of the Commonwealth, which toucheth people of every degree, of the conditions and demeanors they should be of.” This book never reached the king’s hands, and so could | not contribute to save the head of its author; nor, though seen and perused by many, and thence made often the subject of conversation, was it ever published. Several copies of it are still extant in ms. 1

1 Biog. Brit.