Edward Sutton, 5th Baron Dudley

Edward Sutton, 5th Baron Dudley (17 September 1567 – 23 June 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.

Portrait of Edward Sutton, 17th century, Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels, Belgium

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

Background and early lifeEdit

Sutton'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.

Edward Sutton is believed to have been born in September 1567 as he was baptised on 17 September 1567. In 1580, at the aged of 13, he was sent to Lincoln College, Oxford, and the following year, when only 14 years old, was married to Theodosia Harington of Exton, Rutland who was about 5 years older.

Lord Dudley's playersEdit

Sutton was the patron of group of actors, known as Lord Dudley's players, and a performing bear.[2] In 1595 he drew up a warrant for his company led by Francis Coffyn and Laurence Bradshaw to travel and perform. Sutton revoked this license and patronised a different group of actors, but some actors tried unsuccessfully to use the cancelled 1595 warrant in Chester in November 1602.[3]

Lord Dudley's players were in Newcastle in March 1600.[4] In 1615 the leader of the company was called Dishley.[5]

Political careerEdit

Edward Sutton 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, Sutton did not take his seat in the House of Lords until 1593.

Sutton's most important political intervention came through the Staffordshire election scandal of 1597.[6] Pursuing a property dispute with the Worcestershire Lytteltons, Sutton 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. Sutton 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 Suttons and Whorwood in 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, Sutton 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 stepfather, was also offended at having been placed below Sutton on the election indenture. His wife, Essex's mother, wrote to the Earl complaining about the outrage, and Sutton was summoned before 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 Sutton might have been worse.

Landowner and industrialistEdit

Edward Sutton 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. Sutton was said to be an innovator who set up an early reverberatory furnace using coal and a glassworks directed by Paul Tissac, or Tyzack, where coal rather than wood was first used as fuel. These projects brought him no profit.[7]

Edward Sutton brought his illegitimate son Dud Dudley home from Balliol College, Oxford to manage his ironworks, but this strategy was not entirely successful. Ultimately Edward Sutton fell out with Dud and expelled Dud from the new coke-fired blast furnace that Edward 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 ironworks were essential because the family's debts were already so large that Lord Edward's father's will had earmarked all the proceeds of his ironworks for 21 years to pay creditors, who were given precedence over his widow and younger children.[1] Money issues soured relations with John, Edward Sutton's 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, but the parliament lasted little more than three months and the scandal made any further parliamentary career impossible for him.

Always short of money, Edward Sutton 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.[8] Sutton 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 Lord Dudley and tried to reason with him, to no effect. Lyttelton complained to the Star Chamber, which found in his favour, fining Sutton heavily for rioting and cattle rustling.[1] It was this that led Sutton to attempt revenge by blocking Edward Littleton's election, as he was a distant kinsman of Gilbert Lyttelton.[6] 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 Suttons had already lost the property dispute.

Marriage and familyEdit

Dudley was married at the age of 14 to Theodosia Harington (d. 1649). She was the daughter of James Harington of Exton, Rutland, a lawyer and long-serving MP.[9] 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:[10]

  • Margaret Sutton (1597-1674), who married Sir Miles Hobart of Fleet Street and Plumstead in 1627, a son of Henry Hobart of Plumstead and Willoughby Hopton, a daughter of Arthur Hopton of Blythburgh and Witham.[11] They had sons Edward, Miles, Tom, John and James, and a daughter Willoughby. She was buried at St Margaret's, Westminster.[12]
  • Theodosia Sutton (1599-1615).

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 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 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.[13]

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 June 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.


  1. ^ a b c d e f History of Parliament Online: 1558–1603 Members – DUDLEY, alias SUTTON, Edward (Author: J.E.M.)
  2. ^ Lord Dudley's players, REED database
  3. ^ Elizabeth Baldwin, Lawrence Clopper, David Mills, Records of Early English Drama: Cheshire Including Chester, Volume 1 (Manchester, 2007), p. 293.
  4. ^ J. J. Anderson, Records of Early English Drama: Newcastle Upon Tyne, Volume 5 (Manchester, 1982), p. 133, 141.
  5. ^ William Kelly, Notices Illustrative of the Drama, and Other Popular Amusements, from Manuscripts of the Borough of Leicester (London, 1865), p. 294.
  6. ^ a b The History of Parliament: Constituencies 1558–1603 – Staffordshire
  7. ^ Lawrence Stone, Crisis of the Aristocracy (Oxford, 1965), pp. 352-3: John Wiedhofft Gough, The Rise of the Entrepreneur (London, 1969), p. 217.
  8. ^ History of Parliament Online: 1558–1603 Members – LYTTELTON, Gilbert (Author: S. M. Thorpe)
  9. ^ History of Parliament Online: 1558–1603 Members – HARINGTON, James I (Author: Roger Virgoe)
  10. ^ Baron Dudley at Cracroft's Peerage Archived 29 May 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ Visitation of Norfolk, vol. 2 (Norwich, 1895), pp. 74-75: An incorrect genealogy was suggested in Henry Sydney Grazebrook, 'An Account of the Barons of Dudley', Collections for a History of Staffordshire, vol. 9 (1880), p. 113
  12. ^ The History and Antiquities of the County of Norfolk: Blofield, Brothercross, and Clacklose (Norwich, 1781), p. 36.
  13. ^ Henry Sydney Grazebrook, 'An Account of the Barons of Dudley', Collections for a History of Staffordshire, vol. 9 (1880), p. 112.

Further reading and external linksEdit

Peerage of England
Preceded by Baron Dudley
Succeeded by