Edward Sutton, 5th Baron Dudley

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Dudley Castle, now ruined, was Lord Dudley's seat and main home.

Edward Sutton, 5th Baron Dudley (1567–1643) was a major landowner, mainly in Staffordshire and Worcestershire, and briefly a Member of the House of Commons of England.[1] Through his intemperate behaviour he won widespread notoriety, completed the financial ruin of his family, and was the last of his name to bear the title.

Background and early life[edit]

Dudley's father was Edward Sutton, 4th Baron Dudley, a distinguished soldier who managed to regain the family estates after they were forfeit to John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland as a result of debt. His mother was the 4th Baron's second wife, Jane Stanley, daughter of Edward Stanley, 3rd Earl of Derby. He had a younger brother, John, and an elder half-sister, Agnes, by his father's first wife.

Dudley was baptised on 17 September 1567, so presumably born shortly before that date. In 1580, aged only 13, he was sent to Lincoln College, Oxford, and in the following year was married to Theodosia Harington of Exton, Rutland

Political career[edit]

Standing under the name Edward Sutton, Dudley was elected as one of the two knights of the shire for Staffordshire in 1584.[1] Still only 17 years old, he was returned ahead in order of precedence of Edward Legh. It is not clear how this was achieved. Legh was made High Sheriff of Staffordshire on the day of the election and had to be given leave of absence by Parliament. Sutton made no recorded contributions in the Commons. He succeeded his father in 1586 and so was unable to stand for election in that year. Despite his apparent anxiety to serve in the councils of his country, Dudley did not take his seat in the House of Lords until 1593.

Dudley's most important political intervention came through the Staffordshire election scandal of 1597.[2] Pursuing a property dispute with the Worcestershire Lytteltons, Dudley put up his brother John as a candidate, in an attempt to stop the election of Sir Edward Littleton of Pillaton Hall, a close ally of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex. Dudley ensured success by procuring a blank election return from Thomas Whorwood, the High Sheriff, who was John Sutton's father-in-law. Littleton, cheated of certain victory, filed bills against the Dudleys and Whorwood at the Star Chamber. Among his complaints against Lord Dudley was that he had personally voted for his brother in the voice vote at Stafford. As a peer, Dudley should have no part in elections to the Commons, Littleton maintained - apparently the first time this constitutional principle was expressed. The other candidate, Sir Christopher Blount, Essex's step-father, was also offended by being placed below Sutton on the election indenture. His wife, and Essex's mother, wrote to the Earl complaining about the outrage, and Dudley was summoned beore the Privy Council. However, the parliament was soon over, and it appears that Littleton chose to concentrate his efforts on the hapless Whorwood. Although his chicanery and bad manners had alienated some of the greatest in the land, the consequences for Dudley might have been worse.

Landowner[edit]

Dudley spent most of his life pressured by the authorities to meet debts that were beyond his ability to pay, partly inherited from his father, and partly the result of his own poor management of his resources.

Lord Dudley, like his immediate ancestors, owned substantial estates around Dudley Castle including the manors of Dudley, Sedgley and Kingswinford. He developed the mineral resources of these estates, building (probably) five blast furnaces on them. He obtained a licence to use the patent of John Robinson (or Rovenson) for making iron with pitcoal that is mineral coal in 1619, and in 1622 renewed this patent in his own name. He brought Dud Dudley home from Balliol College, Oxford to manage his ironworks, but this was not entirely successful. Ultimately he fell out with Dud and expelled Dud from the new coke-fired furnace that he had built at Hasco Bridge on the boundary between Gornal and Himley. Debts continued to grow and by 1593 the estate had been sequestrated.

The iron works were essential because the family's debts were already so large that his father's will had earmarked all the proceeds of his iron works for 21 years to pay creditors, who were given precedence over his widow and younger children.[1] Money issues soured relations with John, his younger brother. John had been compensated for his exclusion from a portion of his father's estate by the promise of an annuity from his brother, which Edward never paid. The electoral fraud of 1597 might have helped John establish new contacts and income streams for John, but the parliament lasted little more than three months and the scandal made any further parliamentary career impossible.

Always short of money, Dudley fought numerous battles to maintain his inheritance and income, many of them through violence. His most bitter feud was with Gilbert Lyttelton, centred on the farm of Prestwood, near Kinver, and reached its height in the 1590s.[1] Prestwood is at the confluence of the River Smestow and the Worcestershire Stour.[3] Dudley had Lyttelton ejected by force. He then claimed the right to seize outlaws' goods on other Lyttelton estates and raided them, driving off the sheep and cattle. Extending the dispute still further, he claimed one of Lyttelton's coal mines. He had the miners arrested, confiscated the stocks of coal and set the mine on fire. The Privy Council summoned Dudley and tried to reason with him, to no effect. Lyttelton complained to the Star Chamber, which found in his favour, fining Dudley heavily for rioting and cattle rustling.[1] It was this that led Dudley to attempt revenge by blocking Edward Littleton's election, as he was a distant kinsman of Gilbert Lyttelton.[2] Feelings were very bitter on both sides. The Privy Council had to write to the Worcestershire assizes in July 1598, demanding action against two of Gilbert Lyttelton's sons, Stephen and John, who had attacked John Sutton and his retainers, although the Dudleys had already lost the property dispute.

Marriage and family[edit]

Dudley was married at the age of 14 to Theodosia Harington. She was the daughter of James Harington of Exton, Rutland, a lawyer and long-serving MP.[4] The Haringtons were the most important landowners in Rutland and Theodosia's eldest brother, John, was created Baron Harington of Exton in 1603. Dudley and Theodosia had a son and four daughters:[5]

  • Ferdinando Sutton (1588-1621), who married Honora Seymour, a daughter of Edward Seymour, Viscount Beauchamp, who was considered by some a potential claimant to the throne on the death of Elizabeth I.
  • Margaret Sutton, who married Sir Miles Hobart of Halford, Buckinghamshire: they were without issue.
  • Theodosia Sutton.

Lord Dudley also had a longtime mistress Elizabeth Tomlinson, who bore him a large family of illegitimate children, at least 11 in number.[1] Lord Dudley provided for this second family. The eldest Robert Dudley otherwise Tomlinson was given a small estate at Netherton in Dudley. Another son Dud Dudley was given a lease of Chasepool Lodge in Swindon, Staffordshire. A daughter Jane was grandmother to ironmaster Abraham Darby I.

At the Star Chamber, Gilbert Lyttelton attempted to discredit Dudley by claiming that he had abandoned his wife in London without support in order to live with Elizabeth Tomlinson, "a lewd and infamous woman, a base collier’s daughter." The Privy Council ordered Dudley to pay his wife an allowance, which he failed to do. In August 1597 he was sent to the Fleet Prison. He was released after a few days, on condition that he pay maintenance of £100 annually for his wife, and £20 for each legitimate child. In less than 18 months he was back before the Privy Council, having got into arrears.

Dudley's legitimate son, Ferdinando, predeceased him, leaving a daughter Frances. Dudley married this granddaughter to Humble Ward, the son of a wealthy goldsmith, William Ward, who was one of his creditors.

Dudley died on 23 Jun 1643 and was buried in St Edmund's Church, Dudley. Frances Ward inherited the estates, with their debts, and became Baroness Dudley suo jure. Humble Ward paid the debts and redeemed the estates for the benefit of themselves and their descendants.

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

P. W. King, 'Dud Dudley's contribution to metallurgy' Hist. Metall. 22(1) (2002), 43-53.

Peerage of England
Preceded by
Edward Sutton
Baron Dudley
1586-1643
Succeeded by
Frances Ward