The Art of Diplomacy: Elisabeth de Valois and Edward VI

In July 1551 the French Maréchal St. André visited the English court, ostensibly to bestow the prestigious Order of St. Michael on Edward VI, but also for negotiations about a marriage between the young English king and the even younger French princess Elisabeth de Valois. Amid the specially erected ‟banqueting houses“ and pavilions in Hyde Park Edward had lots of fun playing host, making notes in his journal:

After, they dined with me, and talked after dinner, and saw some pastime, and so went home again. … The same night mons. le marechal St. Andrew supped with me; after supper saw a dozen courses [jousting] … The next morning he came to see mine arraying, and saw my bedchamber, and went a hunting with hounds, and saw me shoot, and saw all my guard shoot together. He dined with me, heard me play on the lute, ride, came to me in my study, supped with me, and so departed to Richmond.

In the course of the festivities a marriage settlement was indeed agreed upon (after much haggling over the dowry). Early the next year Edward sent his six-year-old bride a “fair diamond”, from the late Catherine Parr’s collection of jewels.1

The portrait of Edward VI sent to Elisabeth de Valois, which she kept in her bedroom.

The portrait of Edward VI sent to Elisabeth de Valois, which she kept in her room

The talks which had ended so satisfactorily in the summer of 1551 had initially been conducted underhand by the Florentine Antonio Guidotti. In March 1550 a peace treaty between England and France had been concluded and six months later the Emperor Charles V’s ambassador in France, Simon Renard, updated his suspicious master about the art of diplomacy at the court of Henry II and his consort Catherine de Medici:

Guidotti presented to the Queen a portrait of the King of England, recently brought over by a courier. The Queen made a return for the gift by sending Mme. Péronne, governess of the princesses, to the said Guidotti, with a portrait of her eldest daughter, drawn to the life by a young lady named Elizabeth, who is in the Queen’s service. Following upon these overtures, the conditions of the marriage are being discussed, and also the means of joining France and England in close confederation.2

The next update came again six months later, in March 1551:

I can certify to your Majesty that the proposed marriage of the King of England with the Princess of France is being definitely discussed, and that the Constable has spoken of it and held communications upon it. It is also a fact that the Princess, who has had a portrait of the King placed in her chamber, often stands before it, and says to her mother the Queen: “I have wished good-day to the King of England, my lord.”3

What kind of portraits were these? Since it is clear that little Elisabeth stood before her betrothed’s image in her room it must have been a panel painting, probably of life size and in full length; after all, Edward was a king. According to Leon Battista Alberti, the great Renaissance theorist, such a portrait made “the absent present”.4 On the other hand, the picture sent by the French to England, and executed by a female artist named Elizabeth, was almost certainly a portrait miniature. Fortunately, both paintings seem to have survived to this day: Edward’s in the Louvre, Elisabeth’s in the Royal Collection.

On 25 July 1551, six days after the French-English marriage agreement had been signed, Edward VI’s chief minister, John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, wrote to Edward’s Lord Chamberlain, Lord Thomas Darcy, who was also one of his “special friends”5 in the king’s privy chamber. In his letter, Dudley told Darcy the story of the miniature of Elisabeth de Valois, no less, and how he had hit upon it in his desk the other day.

The miniature of Elisabeth de Valois, Edward's bride, found by his minister John Dudley in his desk

The miniature of Elisabeth de Valois, Edward’s bride, found by his minister John Dudley in his desk

Thes may be to signyfy unto your Lordship that aboute halffe yere or more paste at soche tyme as Guydot gave unto the Kinges Majestie a gylt cupp he also presented unto his highnes a pycteur of the lady Yzabell the Frenche Kynges doughter with whom now the contract between the Kinges highnes and his majestie ys begon to be made and for asmoche as yt might be that the sayde Guydot in that be halffe was but an instrument to others as peradventure to the Frenche quene her own silffe, who as I understand ys the most desyerus woman of the world that her doughter mought be bestowed here to our master, yt wold not do amys therfor in my opinion to shewe the sayde pyctour to the marshall afore the takinge of his leve of the Kinge.

Yt be nether herre nor ther for the matter yet perhapps yt wolde motche satisfy the saide quene whos practys I thinke veryly yt was to send it, that the same sholde apere to her not to be rejectyd, wherfor I have thought good to send the saide pycture to you yf the Kinges plesser be so to do that the same sholde be in a redynes; for the laste day lookinge in a deske of myne I founde yt there and marvelinge a while whose yt shold be, yt cam to my remembraunce that at soche tyme as Guydot made the present of yt to his majestie, his highnes deliverde it to me and comandyd me to kepe yt, thinkinge yt my dutye to send yt to his highnes with the consideration before rehersed referringe thexecuting therof to his majesties owne apetyt.

Your lordship’s most assured frend, J. Warwyk.6

1 Loach 2002 p. 108
2 CSP Span 1 September 1550
3 CSP Span 21 March 1551
4 Bolland and Cooper 2014 pp. 81, 87
5 Hoak 1980 p. 44
6 HMC Bath II pp. 11 – 12

Calendar of State Papers, Spain.

Literary Remains of King Edward the Sixth. Volume II. (ed. G. J. Nichols, 1857). Roxburghe Club.

Manuscripts of The Marquess of Bath, Volume II. (Historical Manuscripts Commission, 1907).

Bolland, Charlotte and Cooper, Tarnya (2014): The Real Tudors: Kings and Queens Rediscovered. National Portrait Gallery.

Hoak, Dale (1980): ‟Rehabilitating the Duke of Northumberland: Politics and Political Control, 1549–53“ in: Jennifer Loach and Robert Tittler (eds.): The Mid-Tudor Polity c. 1540–1560. Macmillan.

Loach, Jennifer (2002): Edward VI. Yale University Press.

The Peace Portrait: The Significance of the Little Dog

One of the most beautiful portraits of Elizabeth I is the so-called Peace Portrait, and it has long been associated with the Earl of Leicester. The queen, symbolizing the goddess of peace, Pax, holds an olive branch and stands on top of the sword of justice. The noted antiquarian and topographer, David Lysons, wrote in his Environs of London (1796) that the buildings seen in the picture’s background were part of the gardens of the old Wanstead Hall, the Essex house bought by Leicester in 1577, but replaced by a Palladian monstrosity in the early 18th century.

The portrait is known by its signature and style to be the work of Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder, a Flemish Protestant master who sought temporary refuge in England, but was resident in Antwerp between 1577 and 1586. However, he was back in London by August 1586, when he stood godfather to a child of his wife’s uncle, the merchant-intellectual Emanuel van Meteren. By the costumes, the Peace portrait has been dated to around 1580–1585; but it could have been painted later.

The Peace portrait: Elizabeth I at Wanstead. The figures in the background may represent Robert Dudley with members of his family.

The Peace Portrait: Elizabeth I at Wanstead. The figures in the background may represent Robert Dudley with members of his family.

Elizabeth I sat for portraits only on rare occasions, and most of her images were based on existing prototypes. It is believed that she did not sit for the Peace Portrait, which if executed during Gheeraerts’ time in Antwerp, may have been commissioned by the Earl of Leicester: “Some portraits of the Queen were painted by accomplished artists abroad and imported back into England by specific courtiers.”1

Leicester was himself in the northern part of the Low Countries from December 1585 until December 1586, and again from June 1587 until December 1587. Antwerp was by then enemy territory, but of course as Governor-General of the United Provinces he had contacts to people from both sides of the divide. More intriguingly, he was an old acquaintance of Emanuel van Meteren, chairman of the Flemish merchants in London and a longtime resident in England. Like Leicester and many others of his circle, he was a convinced Protestant and, as mentioned, the uncle of Susanna de Critz, Marcus Gheeraerts’ second wife.

So, wherever the portrait was painted, it may well have been commissioned by Leicester and the figures in the background may depict him and two female members of his family, resident at Wanstead. This would arguably have been his wife Lettice and one of her daughters. Lettice had to vanish from the scene whenever Elizabeth visited one of Leicester’s houses (which she did with more frequency since the earl’s remarriage), and he constantly tried to work his wife’s rehabilitation, though unsuccessfully. Leicester and his wife would have welcomed every opportunity to make things appear “normal”. A state portrait of the queen with himself and his new family in the background in his new garden would be just fine.

As for peace, from the start of his mission in the Netherlands Leicester suspected double-dealing behind his back, and indeed the week he sailed Elizabeth and Cecil started secret peace talks with Spain. Still, Leicester was always prepared to initiate peace talks between the Dutch and Spain if Elizabeth wished him to do so, as during his last months in Holland she did. He had been a great skeptic during his earlier stay (“I would creep upon the ground as far as my hands and knees would bear me, to have a good peace for her majesty, but my care is to have a peace indeed, and not a show of it”2); but he also knew Elizabeth and acknowledged her peaceful inclinations: The irony of the peace allegory in her portrait would not have been lost on Leicester.

Elizabeth I as sketched by Federico Zuccaro in 1574. Like in the Peace portrait a little dog is seen, on top of the column.

Elizabeth I as sketched by Federico Zuccaro in 1575. Like in the Peace Portrait a little dog is seen, on top of the column.

Next to the sword of justice a lap-dog is seen in the picture, an animal occuring very rarely in depictions of Elizabeth, Federico Zuccaro’s masterful drawing of the queen in 1575 being the only other coming to mind. This sketch is known to have been commissioned by Leicester, alongside a companion piece of his own figure in tilting armour. Both drawings, taken from life, were the basis for portraits in oil, now lost, but exhibited at the earl’s grand festivities at Kenilworth in 1575.

A little dog in a painting commissioned by Robert Dudley would certainly make sense. It might have alluded to an incident between the queen and Leicester, witnessed by the French ambassador de Foix in 1566: Catherine de Medici had heard that the English earl would like to make a voyage through France, and since she hoped for his support in thwarting a Habsburg match for Elizabeth she sent him a gracious invitation. De Foix delivered the letter in Elizabeth’s presence, assuming she knew about Leicester’s travelling wishes. Of course, Leicester had not dared to tell her, nor was Elizabeth thrilled at the prospect of having to forbear his company. Her reply to her favourite was sharp: “I cannot live without seeing you every day. You are like my little dog. As soon as he is seen anywhere, people know that I am coming, and when you are seen, they say I am not far off.”3

1 Bolland and Cooper 2014 pp. 149 – 151
2 Leycester Correspondence p. 253
3 Jenkins 2002 p. 129

Correspondence of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leycester, during his Government of the Low Countries, in the Years 1585 and 1586. (ed. John Bruce, 1844). Camden Society.

Bolland, Charlotte and Cooper, Tarnya (2014): The Real Tudors: Kings and Queens Rediscovered. National Portrait Gallery.

Haynes, Alan (1987): The White Bear: The Elizabethan Earl of Leicester. Peter Owen.

Hearn, Karen (ed.) (1995): Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England 1530–1630. Rizzoli.

Jenkins, Elizabeth (2002): Elizabeth and Leicester. The Phoenix Press.

Morris, R. K. (2010): Kenilworth Castle. English Heritage.

Strong, R. C. and van Dorsten, J. A. (1964): Leicester’s Triumph. Oxford University Press.

Wilson, Derek (1981): Sweet Robin: A Biography of Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester 1533–1588. Hamish Hamilton.

Dudley – A Name Hated?

It is a widespread cliché that the Dudleys were a very unpopular family and that, accordingly, Robert Dudley was an unpopular man. One can even read that the project of putting Lady Jane Grey on the English throne failed because she was married to a Dudley, and that Queen Elizabeth’s rule was endangered from the very beginning by her evident fondness for the family.

While it is true that the Duke of Northumberland was widely hated around the time of his downfall – “the great devil Dudley ruleth, Duke I should have said”1 – it is also true that in the last years of Henry VIII he had been one of the most popular English noblemen, much feted as a military hero after naval and diplomatic successes against France.2 The government of Jane Grey was helpless against the overwhelming popularity of Mary Tudor; the royal blood of her family was not enough and when the hated Northumberland was safely in his grave Jane’s father was unable to raise even a small army in his or his daughter’s cause. High rank and his royal wife could not compensate for the lack of a substantial landed following. As for Elizabeth risking public support in her early rule because of her association with the Dudleys, not only was there unmitigated joy at her coronation festivities, but it has also been argued that it was Robert and Ambrose Dudley who “provided the necessary muscle” to underpin her early regime – the Duke of Northumberland’s “military clientele remaining intact.”3

In fact, what has all too often been overlooked is that popularity or unpopularity did not depend on the supposed good or bad deeds of a person or family, but on the respective loyalties of the person or persons who voiced the opinion. Thus, there usually existed two opposite opinions, such as when the following speeches about Robert Dudley and his brother Ambrose, Earl of Warwick, were reported to the authorities in 1581. Geoffrey Clover of Colchester had said that,

My Lord of Warwick and my Lord of Leicester are traitors and come of traitor’s blood, and if they had right they had lost their heads so well as others for making away of King Edward.

To which Thomas Wixsted of Dedham had replied that

the Lord of Oxford … was not worthy to wipe my Lord of Warwick’s shoes, and the Earl of Oxford was confederate with the Duke of Norfolk and was well worthy to lose his head as he, meaning the duke.4

The often quoted reports by foreign ambassadors were also very much influenced by the interests of the powers they represented. In the earliest days of her reign, as long as Elizabeth could be expected to follow Habsburg advice, Philip II’s ambassador, de Feria, spoke of Robert Dudley simply as “Lord Robert, the son of the late duke of Northumberland, Master of the Horse”.5 A few weeks later, when it was clear that the new queen had her own head, de Feria fumed:

In short, what can be said here to your Majesty is only that this country after thirty years of a government such as your Majesty knows, has fallen into the hands of a woman who is a daughter of the devil and the greatest scoundrels and heretics in the land. She is losing the regard of the people and the nobles, and in future will lose it still more now that they have brought the question of religion to an end.6

Equally, when the love affair between Elizabeth and Lord Robert had been going on for several months and was perceived as the major cause of her failure to marry the Habsburg candidate, the Archduke Charles, the Imperial ambassador (who came only to England to promote the match) wished Robert Dudley literally to hell:

I really do believe that he will follow in the footsteps of his parents [i.e. be executed], and may the Devil be his companion, for he causes me and all who are active on behalf of his Princely Highness a world of trouble. He is so hated by the Knights and Commoners that it is a marvel that he has not been slain long ere this, for whenever they behold him they wish he might be hanged. An Englishman once asked if England was so poor that none could be found to stab him with a poniard. But I am certain he will one day meet with the reward he so richly merits.7

The "Wizard of England", William Cecil, Lord Burghley, 1590

“The Wizard of England”, William Cecil

Assessments that the Dudleys were universally unpopular rely on rants like this by an interested party whose knowledge of the English language was non-existent and whose experience of English affairs was very limited. Another widespread opinion is that Robert Dudley was not just unpopular, but the only unpopular man around Elizabeth. This notion originated early, in the 17th century, when a book like Leicester’s Commonwealth was widely used by historians from William Camden onwards, on the one hand, and a family like the Cecils had become a powerful dynasty, on the other. The principal reason why the Dudleys have retained their notoriety down to the present is probably that they did not survive as one of the great English families; Robert and Ambrose Dudley died without legitimate heirs – as was noted gleefully by some Warwickshire gentry.

A few decades earlier things were not so simple. Lord Burghley (William Cecil) was very annoyed when he heard about a Regnum Cecilianum – especially as there was also talk of a Respublica Leicestriae. Both terms signified that Elizabethan England was a dictatorship, run, respectively, by a tyrannical favourite or one evil minister and his son. While a handful of pamphlets attacked the Earl of Leicester there were also a number written against William Cecil (A Treatise of Treasons, 1572, being the best known). By the early 1590s, a few years after Leicester’s death, there was a feeling that times had changed and even politically interested Scotsmen referred to the earlier years of the reign as “in the Earl of Leicester’s time”.8 In some circles there was even nostalgia, as appeared from the questioning of a somewhat disgruntled individual:

He said that Mr. Davison [Elizabeth's former secretary who had been blamed by her for Mary Stuart's execution], being prisoner in the Tower, reconciled him with the Earl of Leicester, by whose means he was delivered from the Tower, on bail of the Earls of Warwick and Ormond. He spoke of the weakness of the state since Leicester’s death, and said the Lord Treasurer [Lord Burghley] was the wizard of England, a worldling to fill his own purse, and good for nobody, and so hated that he would not live long, if anything happened the Queen. … He called the Lord Chamberlain [Christopher Hatton] a testy fool and a hairbrain, and said, in an affair about a servant, that he would take no ill words from him, for he was as good a gentleman as any, and had beaten the old Earl of Arundel into his gates.9

Of course one could also avail oneself of the services of writers. One Thomas Trollope offered Robert Dudley to write a defence of his father, the Duke of Northumberland, as well as of his grandfather, Edmund Dudley. The suggested piece was to be revised by Robert himself and then dedicated to the queen. Such “articles”, “spread abroad”, would win the hearts of the whole people for Dudley.10

Though Robert Dudley declined said offer, he nevertheless became known as “the great lord” and “the great earl”, during his lifetime and beyond.11 When his faithful secretary Arthur Atye was buried in 1604, it was noted in the church records that he had served the “Earl of Essex”, and before that “the great earl”.

1 Alford 2002 p. 7
2 Wilson 1981 p. 22
3 Haigh 2001 p. 13
4 Nelson 2003 pp. 189 – 190
5 CSP Span I p. 2
6 CSP Span I p. 67
7 Skidmore 2010 pp. 167 – 168
8 CSP Scottish XI p. 485
9 CSP Dom 1591-1594 p. 18
10 HMC Bath V p. 168
11 Wilson 1981 pp. 309, 247; Adams 2008

Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, of the Reign of Elizabeth, 1591-1594 (ed. by M. A. E. Green, 1867).

Calendar of … State Papers Relating to English Affairs … in … Simancas, 1558–1603. (ed. by Martin Hume, 1892–1899).

Calendar of State Papers, Scotland, 1547-1603. Volume XI: 1593-1595 (1936)

Manuscripts of The Marquess of Bath, Volume V: Talbot, Dudley and Devereux Papers 1533–1659. (Historical Manuscripts Commission, 1980).

Adams, Simon (2002): Leicester and the Court: Essays in Elizabethan Politics. Manchester University Press.

Adams, Simon (2008): ‟Dudley, Robert, earl of Leicester (1532/3–1588)“. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.

Alford, Stephen (2002): Kingship and Politics in the Reign of Edward VI. Cambridge University Press.

Burgoyne, F. J. (ed.) (1904): History of Queen Elizabeth, Amy Robsart and the Earl of Leicester, being a Reprint of “Leycesters Commonwealth” 1641. Longman.

Haigh, Christopher (2001): Elizabeth I. Longman.

Handover, P. M. (1959): The Second Cecil: The Rise to Power, 1563-1604, of Sir Robert Cecil, Later First Earl of Salisbury. Eyre & Spottiswoode.

Nelson, Alan (2003): Monstrous Adversary: The Life of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. Liverpool University Press.

Skidmore, Chris (2010): Death and the Virgin: Elizabeth, Dudley and the Mysterious Fate of Amy Robsart. Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Wilson, Derek (1981): Sweet Robin: A Biography of Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester 1533–1588. Hamish Hamilton.

The Earl of Leicester Goes Fishing

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, liked salads, artichokes (from his own garden), and fish. Unlike King Philip II, who loved to go fishing,1 but did not eat fish. (He secured a papal dispensation to eat meat on Fridays). For Robert Dudley the only option to escape court or social life for a few hours was to go fishing. This is mirrored in his account books. The earl usually did not carry cash money on his own person; he only received it from his treasurer to go fishing, on rare occasions.

Delivered to your lordship the same day to put in your lordship’s pocket when your lordship went a fishing to Benington    ix s.

Further entries confirm that a sum of about ten shillings was the suitable amount for an aristocrat to pass a day on his own. For his fishing outfit Leicester wore a woollen cap, a “thrum hat”.2 He passed this 28 April 1585 at Benington, a country house in Hertfordshire that belonged to his wife Lettice’s jointure from her first marriage. Since the day before Leicester had been with the court, at Croydon (where he returned the next day), we can be sure that he was not accompanied by his wife. Benington, apparently, was excellent for fishing, as the account book records that Leicester “fed fishe” there and also had trouts delivered from there to Croydon.3

The Zuiderzee by  Abraham Ortelius, c.1570

The Zuiderzee on a map by Abraham Ortelius, c.1570

But Robert Dudley did not just plunder his own fish ponds. In July 1569, the Duke of Norfolk found him fishing in the Thames, near his house at Kew.4 It had been given to Robert in 1558 by Queen Elizabeth, shortly after her accession. By the summer of 1569, the earl and England’s only duke were friends, plotting Norfolk’s marriage to Mary Queen of Scots. Previously they had been almost hereditary enemies, which however did not deter them from playing tennis. One match before the queen was said to have ended when Leicester wiped himself with Elizabeth’s napkin and the scandalized duke swore “that he would lay his racket upon his face”.

Even the Thames was not the biggest water Leicester tried for fishing, though. In March 1586 he chilled out on the Zuiderzee,5 Holland’s historic inland sea. Amid Elizabeth’s displeasure and nerve-racking political intrigue this outing must have been particularly refreshing.

1 Kamen 1998 pp. 184, 197
2 Jenkins 2002 p. 284
3 Adams 1995 pp. 246, 247, 26
4 Williams 1964 p. 156
5 Strong and van Dorsten 1964 p. 67

Adams, Simon (1995): Household Accounts and Disbursement Books of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, 1558–1561, 1584–1586. Cambridge University Press.

Gristwood, Sarah (2007): Elizabeth and Leicester: Power, Passion, Politics. Viking.

Jenkins, Elizabeth (2002): Elizabeth and Leicester. The Phoenix Press.

Kamen, Henry (1998): Philip of Spain. Yale University Press.

Pfandl, Ludwig (1938): Philipp II. von Spanien. Gemälde eines Lebens und einer Zeit. Callwey.

Strong, R. C. and van Dorsten, J. A. (1964): Leicester’s Triumph. Oxford University Press.

Williams, Neville (1964): Thomas Howard, Fourth Duke of Norfolk. Barrie & Rockliff.

Leicester as Stepfather

Robert Dudley was fond of children.1 As a young uncle he had taken a fancy to his five-year-old nephew Philip Sidney, an affection which lasted for a lifetime; when he visited William of Orange in 1582 the prince’s wife was impressed by the kindness Leicester showed to her five-year-old daughter Louise Juliana. He deeply regretted that as long as he could not re-marry (fearing Elizabeth’s wrath) he would not leave legitimate heirs to his house, but in his words there is also a natural longing for offspring of his own. Finally in 1578 marry he did, for love, but he also acquired a family of stepchildren by his marriage to Lettice Devereux, an aspect that may have made his choice even more attractive.

By her first husband, Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex, Countess Lettice had four surviving children: Penelope, Dorothy, Robert, and Walter. In September 1578, when she married the Earl of Leicester, they were aged 15, 14, 12, and 9 respectively. Leicester took a close interest in his stepchildren, though at no point was he their official guardian. The young Earl of Essex’ guardian became William Cecil, Lord Burghley. For a few years Robert Devereux lived in Burghley’s London household, which functioned as a boarding school for his aristocratic wards. Dancing took twice as much room in the curriculum as Latin – still, to break up the routine, young Essex (being also his godson) regularly received visits from the Earl of Leicester.2

Penelope and Dorothy Devereux as teenagers. A double portrait like this hung in Leicester House.

The teenagers Dorothy and Penelope Devereux. A double portrait like this was at Leicester House.

Lettice’s daughters Penelope and Dorothy moved into a more austere boarding school, the household of the Earl and Countess of Huntingdon in Leicestershire. The Earl of Huntingdon was the girls’ guardian and a relative of their father, while the countess happened to be Leicester’s sister. She took a personal interest in giving young gentlewomen a Puritan upbringing. However, in the case of the Devereux girls her efforts were all in vain: Their love lives became even more interesting than their mother’s.

In Leicester House, Robert Dudley’s grand residence on the Strand, Penelope and her brother Robert had their own rooms: My Lord of Essex’ Chamber, my Lady Rich’s Chamber.3 There were also the portraits of young Essex and his sisters, as well as a double portrait: “two ladyes in one picktwer, my La. Rych and my La. Doryt”.4 The Catholic hate pamphlet, Leicester’s Commonwealth, naturally claimed that the earl’s relationship with his stepdaughters was of a most sinister nature, Leicester’s alleged appetite for women being such that “the keeping of the mother with two or three of her daughters at once or successively is no more with him than the eating of an hen and her chicken together.”

There is, of course, no reason to read anything dark into his concern and affection for Penelope and Dorothy. Penelope, Philip Sidney’s Stella, in 1581 was forced to marry the rich Lord Rich against her clearly expressed wishes. Leicester, like everyone else, believed it was a good match, but the matter did give him some thought, and by the next year he had learnt something: He had heard “some talk of marriage between my well beloved nephew Philip Sidney and the Lady Dorothy Devereux”, and now “my hearty and earnest wish was and is that it be so, for the great good will and liking I have to each party … I do most heartily desire that such love and liking might be between them as might bring a marriage”. He offered the couple an annual income and for Dorothy a dowry of £2,000, added to her father’s bequest.5 But Dorothy had other plans.

In 1583 she secretly married Thomas Perrot, the son of Leicester’s good friend Sir John Perrot, and the two eloped to escape the consequences. Especially the queen’s wrath. Other than Elizabeth, her family forgave Dorothy soon enough, and in October 1584 she received £20 from Leicester as a gift.6 Her brother Robert received the same amount from Leicester in September 1585; apparently the young Earl of Essex, now nearly 20, needed some pocket money to spend at court. He could do with some spoiling, his mother having chided him for his laziness and “undutifulness as a son”. The two earls had just arrived from the country, where Essex had been extremely lucky: “He fell into a ditche & was almost drownd in going a hunting in September.”7

In recent years Leicester and his stepson had frequently toured the country together. They had visited Kenilworth and various towns, like Shrewsbury, Denbigh, and Chester, and Leicester had also been welcomed at Chartley, Essex’ family seat.8 In 1584, while travelling through Oxfordshire to see his illegitimate son (also Robert), Robert Dudley received the honours of his 15-year-old stepson, Walter, who attended Oxford university. Walter Devereux and his fellow student Thomas Clinton stayed four nights with the Earl of Leicester at Woodstock.9

The Earl of Essex in 1588. By William Segar, a painter regularly employed by the Earl of Leicester.

The Earl of Essex in 1588. By William Segar, a painter frequently employed by the Earl of Leicester.

We next hear of Walter during the Armada campaign, where “your son Mr Devereux” won the praises of Lord Howard of Effingham, the Lord Admiral. Walter was to die in battle only a few years later, in France. Other than his younger brother, who was at sea, the Earl of Essex played a prominent part at Tilbury, Leicester’s moment of glory when he received Queen Elizabeth for the famous review of her troops. Since about 1587 Essex had been the queen’s young favourite, the star of the court. He had returned from the Low Countries, where he had served with his stepfather and watched with him at the death bed of Sir Philip Sidney, whose role as Leicester’s political heir he inherited.

During Leicester’s second stay in the Netherlands Essex remained at court, dutifully letting his stepfather know of the latest intrigues. While the queen and her ministers were discussing the recent loss of the important town of Sluys, Essex was waiting in the next room: “What is decreed I know not … I desired her … if they laid any matter to your charge, that she would suspend judgment till she heard yourself speak. I will watch with the best diligence I can, that your enemies may not take advantage of your absence … Your son, most ready to do you service, Essex”.10 Back from the Netherlands at the end of 1587, Leicester was finally prepared to give up, after 29 years, his position of Master of the Horse – to Essex, his stepson. He also managed to procure him the Garter in the spring of 1588.

The Earl of Leicester in 1586, by Hendrik Goltzius

The Earl of Leicester in 1586, by Hendrik Goltzius

Robert Devereux was also the occasion of Robert Dudley’s last official appearance. After Leicester’s death a spy reported to King Philip: “The last time I saw him was at the earl of Essex’s review [of troops], at the window with the Queen”. Among the last matters the earl had on his mind in his life was a request by his stepdaughter Penelope, who was keen on the wardship of a young gentleman. Leicester wrote to Burghley, Master of the Wards: “There was yesterday a great-bellied lady to have solicited the same but she was not able to tarry it out, your L. being with her Majesty in my chamber. She hath required her uncle your true servant to solicit this matter”.

Leicester left London to go to the baths at Buxton, but he got only to Cornbury near Oxford when he fell seriously ill. He had been suffering for a while and, who knows, Elizabeth perhaps sensed that he would never come back. She unexpectedly ordered Essex to move into Leicester’s court apartments; perplexed, the younger earl wrote to Leicester to ask for his opinion. Leicester most probably never saw the letter. He had successfully installed his stepson as his political heir. Perhaps too successfully. He would have been dismayed to know that within months of his death Penelope and Essex would enter into a dangerous correspondence with James VI of Scotland – helped on by his now jobless political secretary, Jean Hotman.11 Whith Leicester alive, such reckless behaviour would not have been tolerated.

1 Gristwood 2007 p. 298
2 Nelson 2003 p. 201
3 Jenkins 2002 p. 253
4 HMC Bath V p. 224
5 Freedman 1983 pp. 57 – 58
6 Adams 1995 p. 181
7 Hammer 1999 pp. 14, 15
8 Hammer 1999 pp. 34 – 35
9 Adams 1995 p. 190
10 Jenkins 2002 pp. 341 – 342
11 Freedman 1983 pp. 81 – 83

Calendar of … State Papers Relating to English Affairs … in … Simancas, 1558–1603. (ed. by Martin Hume, 1892–1899).

Leicester’s Commonwealth. (ed. D. C. Peck, 1985).

Manuscripts of The Marquess of Bath, Volume V: Talbot, Dudley and Devereux Papers 1533–1659. (Historical Manuscripts Commission, 1980).

Adams, Simon (1995): Household Accounts and Disbursement Books of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, 1558–1561, 1584–1586. Cambridge University Press.

Chamberlin, Frederick (1939): Elizabeth and Leycester. Dodd, Mead & Co.

Freedman, Sylvia (1983): Poor Penelope: Lady Penelope Rich. An Elizabethan Woman. The Kensal Press.

Gristwood, Sarah (2007): Elizabeth and Leicester: Power, Passion, Politics. Viking.

Hammer, P. E. J. (1999): The Polarisation of Elizabethan Politics: The Political Career of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, 1585–1597. Cambridge University Press.

Jenkins, Elizabeth (2002): Elizabeth and Leicester. The Phoenix Press.

Lacey, Robert (1971): Robert, Earl of Essex: An Elizabethan Icarus. Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Nelson, Alan (2003): Monstrous Adversary: The Life of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. Liverpool University Press.

Read, Conyers (1936): “A Letter from Robert, Earl of Leicester, to a Lady”. The Huntington Library Bulletin. No. 9. April 1936.

William Cecil and Amy Robsart: Was He Behind Her Death?

It has always been a popular notion that Lord Robert Dudley’s wife, Amy, was murdered. The theory that this was done on behalf of Sir William Cecil, the queen’s Principal Secretary, is much more recent, but only slightly less popular for that. Cecil was first suggested as a suspect by the best-selling author Alison Weir in 1998:

One man did profit from the death of Amy Dudley, and that was William Cecil. … He was a perceptive man, and he could foresee that if she died in suspicious circumstances, as many people expected her to do, then the finger of suspicion would point inexorably to her husband – as indeed it did. Cecil also knew that Elizabeth … would be unlikely to risk her popularity and her crown to marry a man whose reputation was so tainted.

In September 1560, Cecil had seen Dudley in the ascendant and his own future in ruins; he feared not only for his position, … but also for the future of England and the Anglican Settlement.1

If Amy Dudley was murdered, and there is a big if here, Cecil is an excellent candidate according to the Ciceronian principle of Cui bono? But did he have motive and opportunity? The founder of the Elizabethan secret service, Cecil would have been rightly placed to arrange the crime and to manipulate the Coroner’s jury afterwards. What about his motive? As long as Amy Dudley lived her husband could not marry the queen, but what if she suffered from a serious illness? The evidence for this is inconclusive; yet unlike we, William Cecil would have known the truth. In his speech to the Spanish ambassador (which was utterly disingenuous and occurred around the time of Amy’s death) he claimed that it was “given out” that Lady Dudley was ill, but that this was not so and that she would take great care not be poisoned. One can only wonder why he broached the subject of her malady at all if she was not ill. As reported by de Quadra, his words almost amount to a proof that she was. If she was dying, however, Cecil would have had a strong motive indeed.

Equally important, though, William Cecil was arguably the only person who was in a position to cover up the deed and obfuscate the facts in the long term. The long term consequences, a key aspect, are strangely overlooked by the proponents of any murder theory. In 1567 a panel of the Privy Council questioned John Appleyard, Amy Dudley’s half-brother, as well as several of Leicester’s servants. After years of having no problem with the jury’s verdict of 1560 (that Amy had died through misfortune, i.e. an accident), Appleyard, who had been present at the proceedings at Cumnor, had decided that his sister had been murdered. Claiming her husband was innocent of the crime, he maintained he knew the culprit and would reveal his identity to the council. Four noblemen – the Earl of Arundel, the Marquess of Northampton, Lord Admiral Clinton, and the Earl of Pembroke – examined him under the nose of William Cecil, who led the whole inquiry. We do not know whether Cecil became nervous when Appleyard opened his mouth; but in a letter to Leicester he informed him of what he thought of Appleyard and his ilk: ‟If William Huggyns be with your Lordship, I pray you let him come with your Lordship that he may be spoken withal upon the sudden, concerning Appleyard, for amongst them they will fall out in their own colours.“2

Appleyard retracted his statements once he was given a copy of the coroner’s verdict (which he had requested) and had opportunity to read it carefully in his cell in the Fleet prison. Since this was not an agreeable place it could be argued that Appleyard was put under pressure in order to silence him, but this does not account for the interesting fact that he was left in peace henceforth. He was even rescued from execution three years later in the aftermath of his own little Norfolk rebellion. Some 800 rebels were executed all over England in early 1570; not so John Appleyard, which undoubtedly had to do with his connections to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.3 Now, if Appleyard really had known the killer of Amy Robsart by name (as he had claimed) it beggars belief that Cecil would not have found means to dispatch this dangerous man once and for all; and the same goes for the Earl of Leicester if he had been the guilty party or involved in his wife’s death.

If Amy Dudley was murdered, why did there never come anything to light during the thirty or forty years after her death? The most likely answer is that there was no murder. The Earl of Leicester had high profile enemies, and people like the 19th Earl of Arundel or the 17th Earl of Oxford were only too happy to compromise him, alas their efforts were all in vain. William Cecil also had his enemies, and some have counted Leicester among them. Would he, could he have lived for decades knowing what Cecil had done to his wife – and his reputation? On one occasion, in September 1578, Dudley wrote to Cecil, complaining about some misunderstandings concerning the Mint and even hinting at some obscure wrong done to him in the past. Murder, though, is clearly far from his mind while there is hopefulness of a friendship renewed:

We began our service with our sovereign together and have long continued hitherto together. And touching your fortune I am sure yourself cannot have a thought that ever I was enemy to it. … What opinion you have indeed of me, I have … somewhat in doubt, though I promise you I know no cause in the world in myself that I have given you other than good. You may suppose this to be a strange humour in me to write thus and in this sort to you, having never done the like before, although I must confess I have had more cause of unkindness (as I have thought) than by this trifling occasion.

Your Lordship is more acquainted by years with the world than I am. And yet, by reason we live in a worse world where more cunning and less fidelity is used, may judge of bad and good dealing as well as an elder man, and the one being so common and the other so scant must make the proof of the better the more precious whenever it is found. And surely, my Lord, where I profess, I will be found both a faithful and a just, honest friend.

See also:
The Death of Amy Robsart: The Improbability of Murder
Was Amy Dudley Ill? The Evidence
William Cecil and Amy Robsart: Talking to de Quadra
William Cecil and Amy Robsart: Visiting Lord Robert

1 Weir 2008 p. 108
2 HMC Pepys p. 119
3 Wilson 1981 p. 183

The National Archives: State Papers.

Report on the Pepys Manuscripts Preserved at Magdalen College, Cambridge. (1911) Historical Manuscripts Commission. HMSO.

Nelson, Alan (2003): Monstrous Adversary: The Life of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. Liverpool University Press.

Weir, Alison (2008): Elizabeth the Queen. Vintage.

Wilson, Derek (1981): Sweet Robin: A Biography of Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester 1533–1588. Hamish Hamilton.

William Cecil and Amy Robsart: Visiting Lord Robert

In the week following his wife’s deadly fall from a flight of stairs Robert Dudley wrote many letters. He had left the court at Windsor for his house in Kew, “whither the lordes resorted to him to comforte him.”1 He also received his tailor’s man, Jennings, who came “to take measure of your lordship”.2 The mourning widower would wear “his blackes till Easter following”,3 that is for about six months.

Lord Robert Dudley, c.1560

Lord Robert Dudley, c.1560

One of the first visitors at Kew after 10 September 1560, the day Robert probably arrived there, must have been Sir William Cecil, the queen’s chief minister and Principal Secretary. Dudley was exceedingly grateful and hoped that Cecil, as promised, would plead with Elizabeth for his return:

Sir, I thank you very much for your being here, and the great friendship you have shown towards me I shall not forget. I am very loath to wish you here again but I would be very glad to be with you there. I pray you let me hear from you, what you think best for me to do. If you doubt, I pray you ask the question for the sooner you can advise me [to come] thither, the more I shall thank you. I am sorry so sudden a chance should breed me so great a change, for methinks I am here all the while as it were in a dream, and too far too far from the place I am bound to be, where, methinks also, this long, idle time cannot excuse me for the duty I have to discharge elsewhere. I pray you help him that sues to be at liberty out of so great a bondage. Forget me not, though you see me not and I will remember you and fail you not, and so wish you well to do. In haste this morning.

I beseech you, Sir, forget me not to offer up the humble sacrifice you promised me.

Your very assured,

R. Dudley4

As his manuscript shows, Robert Dudley was agitated when he penned this message: Instead of preparing a draft and writing out a “fair copy” afterwards, he sent his letter with all his corrections, “with mistakes scribbled through it”, the writing looking rushed.5 His state of shock is apparent: “for methinks I am here all the while as it were in a dream”. This psychological fact cannot be faked; this is not the state of mind of a cold-blooded wife murderer.

His single-minded preoccupation with getting back to court – his natural habitat – has been criticized ever since, but again it shows his genuine reaction. It did not occur to Robert to dissemble feelings which might have appeared more appropriate.

Was he visited by a dissembler? William Cecil certainly had quickly capitalized on the tragedy which affected the man he may have seen as a rival for power.6 He had thrown oil into the flames of scandal by talking to the Spanish ambassador, the gossipy de Quadra, a few hours after the news of Amy Dudley’s death had signalled to him that the queen might indeed marry her favourite and that his career might come to an end (so he feared). But he had not just told de Quadra that Lady Dudley was about to be murdered, and taking great care not to be poisoned, significantly, he had added that “Lord Robert would be better in paradise than here.”

Cecil reckoned he could afford some sympathy, and correctly; the events brought his return to unquestionable favour and within weeks he had secured the position of Master of the Queen’s Wards, a post that dealt with huge sums of money and must have been most welcome to an ambitious builder of great ancestral homes.

It was not Cecil’s intention to destroy Lord Robert completely. With his colleague Nicholas Throckmorton he worked hard to intrigue against another royal Dudley marriage,7 both men having been heavily implicated in a previous one. They had escaped unscathed, while Robert and his family had not, which was a principal reason they did not want him as consort. But they had known Robert Dudley for many years, seen him grow into a man, and both had a good opinion of his person. Throckmorton to Cecil: ‟I do like him for some respects well, and esteem him for many good parts and gifts of nature that be in him.“8 – Cecil to Throckmorton: “I will never desire towards him but well.”9

See also:
William Cecil and Amy Robsart: Talking to de Quadra

1 Adams; Archer; Bernard 2003 p. 66
2 Adams 1995 p. 159
3 Adams; Archer; Bernard 2003 p. 67
4 Skidmore 2010 p. 237
5 Skidmore 2010 p. 238
6 Skidmore 2010 p. 239; Gristwood 2007 pp. 108 – 109
7 Skidmore 2010 pp. 243, 249, 255 – 256
8 Gristwood 2007 p. 112
9 Skidmore 2010 pp. 357 – 358

Adams, Simon (ed.) (1995): Household Accounts and Disbursement Books of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, 1558–1561, 1584–1586. Cambridge University Press.

Adams, Simon; Archer, Ian; Bernard, G. W. (eds.) (2003): ‟A ‘Journall’ of Matters of State happened from time to time as well within and without the Realme from and before the Death of King Edw. the 6th untill the Yere 1562“ in: Ian Archer (ed.): Religion, Politics, and Society in Sixteenth-Century England. Cambridge University Press.

Gristwood, Sarah (2007): Elizabeth and Leicester: Power, Passion, Politics. Viking.

Skidmore, Chris (2010): Death and the Virgin: Elizabeth, Dudley and the Mysterious Fate of Amy Robsart. Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

William Cecil and Amy Robsart: Talking to de Quadra

On a day in September 1560 Sir William Cecil, Principal Secretary to the Queen, had a talk with Bishop de la Quadra, the Spanish ambassador. Cecil had recently returned from Scotland, where he had concluded the Treaty of Edinburgh, a triumph of diplomacy which guaranteed not only continued English influence in Scottish affairs, but also Elizabeth I’s right to her own throne. Cecil was frustrated. He felt that his achievement went underappreciated while the queen was preoccupied with Lord Robert. Back in Scotland rumours had come to his ears, detailing how Elizabeth spent whole days with the favourite, “without coming abroad”.1 Now, some six month later, de Quadra reported once again the same thing:

The queen's Principal Secretary, Sir William Cecil, had an interesting conversation with the Spanish ambassador in September 1560: Did he believe what he said?

The queen’s Principal Secretary, Sir William Cecil, had an interesting conversation with the Spanish ambassador in September 1560: Did he believe his own words?

I met the Secretary Cecil, whom I know to be in disgrace. Lord Robert, I was aware, was endeavouring to deprive him of his place. With little difficulty I led him to the subject, and after my many protestations and entreaties that I would keep secret what he was about to tell me, he said that the Queen was going on so strangely that he was about to withdraw from her service. It was a bad sailor, he said, who did not make for port when he saw a storm coming, and for himself he perceived the most manifest ruin impending over the Queen through her intimacy with Lord Robert. The Lord Robert had made himself master of the business of the state and of the person of the Queen, to the extreme injury of the realm, with the intention of marrying her, and she herself was shutting herself up in the palace to the peril of her health and life. That the realm would tolerate the marriage, he said he did not believe. He was, therefore, determined to retire into the country although he supposed they would send him to the Tower before they would let him go. He implored me for the love of God to remonstrate with the Queen, to persuade her not utterly to throw herself away as she was doing, and to remember what she owed to herself and her subjects. Of Lord Robert he said twice that he would be better in paradise than here. …

Last of all, he said that they were thinking of destroying Lord Robert’s wife. They had given out that she was ill, but she was not ill at all; she was very well and taking care not to be poisoned. God, he trusted, would never permit such a crime to be accomplished or so wretched a conspiracy to prosper.2

If Cecil wanted to baffle de Quadra, he has certainly startled a number of historians. Especially the Victorians; the translator of the materials in the Spanish calendar, Martin Hume, was so shocked that he falsified the text. Instead of the original grammatical construction, “pensavan hazer morir a su muger”,3 which can only be translated as “they were thinking of killing his wife”, Hume wrote “Robert was thinking of killing his wife”.4 The question, of course, is who were “they”; the traditional interpretation is Robert and Elizabeth, and that is also the reason for Hume taking liberties – clearly the queen had to be edited out. Not so with James Anthony Froude, who had made his own transcriptions at Simancas and remained faithful to what he saw there. It has recently been suggested that “they” stood for Robert Dudley’s henchmen.5 The unabridged Spanish original, however, remains vague as to who is referred to by “they” – and thus who, in Cecil’s view, was planning Amy Dudley’s death.

This may well have been intentional on Cecil’s part, though it is as likely a result of de Quadra’s somewhat confusing composition. Did William Cecil really believe what he was saying? And, crucially, when did he speak to Philip II’s agent? Many, especially older, books claim he met de Quadra on 6 September or certainly before Amy’s death, on the 8th of the month. This is not because de Quadra’s report would reveal a precise date, but because most Victorian and 20th century scholars could not imagine that Cecil was speaking anything but the truth. De Quadra was a much more likely suspect; Alfred Leslie Pollard made out his “deft economy of dates” and that he “was in the pay of the Guises”6 (the anti-English, anti-Spanish faction at the French court).

Indeed, all that can be established from de Quadra’s text is that it reports events occurring a few days before 11 September 1560. Amy Dudley died on 8 September and the first news of her death reached her husband on 9 September, perhaps still in the morning.

After describing his meeting with Cecil, de Quadra wrote yet more explosive news, in the eyes of Victorian historians at least:

The next day the Queen told me as she returned from hunting that Robert’s wife was dead or nearly so, and asked me not to say anything about it.

And he finally added:

Since writing the above I hear the Queen has published the death of Robert’s wife, and said in Italian, “She broke her neck.” She must have fallen down a staircase. – London, 11 September 1560.7

From de Quadra’s own words it is clear that Queen Elizabeth spoke to him the day after his conversation with Cecil. He finished his letter on 11 September with a postscript, after having heard the official news of Amy Dudley’s death as given out by Elizabeth. It seems reasonable to assume that the official pronouncement would have followed hard on the queen’s casual announcement to the ambassador, perhaps on the next day. Thus, a very plausible date for Cecil’s talk would be 9 September, the day the news reached the court’s inner circle.

"You shall show it to myself only": Elizabeth I expected to be told important secrets by her Principal Secretary.

“You shall show it to myself only”: Elizabeth I expected to be let into important secrets by her Principal Secretary.

It is not likely that Cecil had prophetic gifts; it is much more plausible that he spoke to the ambassador after having gained knowledge of Amy’s death before it was made public. No matter whether he felt as frustrated about Elizabeth and her favourite as he claimed, it was in his interest to encourage the scandal. Cecil did not want Robert Dudley as consort, not in 1560 and not later; in months and years ahead he would ruthlessly intrigue to hinder Robert’s suit, at home and abroad – by the way of confidential letters and, perhaps, talks.8

Lady Dudley alive and well suited him best. Her death, on the other hand, would make her widower free to marry the queen, at least in theory. Once Amy was no more, Cecil’s best option was to add fuel to the fire of the incipient scandal. In his view, and he was probably right, only a huge scandal could deter the queen from marrying the man she loved. Choosing de Quadra was the obvious thing to do – the Habsburg ambassadors had been the only ones who all along had suspected Robert and Elizabeth of intended foul play.

Some might, of course, believe that William Cecil really had knowledge in advance of a crime in the making and that, via de Quadra, he honestly wished to warn Elizabeth of her impending ruin. This was the view taken by de Quadra himself, who in the same letter prides himself on how the political players in England “would all confide in me if I mixed myself up in their affairs”. Most probably Cecil exploited the bishop’s vanity here, though. If he would have had sensitive information touching Elizabeth he would surely have remembered her words to him on his appointment as Principal Secretary: “if yow shall knowe any thinge necessarye to bee declared to me of secresye yow shall show it to my self only and assure your self I will not fayle to keepe taciturnitye therin.”9 – He would never have shared it with de Quadra, the representative of a potentially hostile power.

See also:
William Cecil and Amy Robsart: Visiting Lord Robert
Was Amy Dudley Ill? The Evidence

1 Williams 1964 p. 60
2 Wilson 1981 pp. 115 – 116. Translation by J. A. Froude.
3 Lettenhove II p. 531
4 CSP Span I p. 175
5 Skidmore 2010 p. 357 – 358
6 Chamberlin 1939 p. 40
7 CSP Span I pp. 175 – 176
8 Skidmore 2010 pp. 243, 249, 255 – 256; Laoutaris 2014 pp. 79 – 80
9 Doran 2013 p. 5

Calendar of … State Papers Relating to English Affairs … in … Simancas, 1558–1603. (ed. by Martin Hume, 1892–1899). HMSO.

Relations politiques de Pays-Bas et de l’Angleterre sous règne de Philippe II. (ed. Kervyn de Lettenhove, 1882 – 1900)

Chamberlin, Frederick (1939): Elizabeth and Leycester. Dodd, Mead & Co.

Doran, Susan (2013): “Queen Elizabeth I of England: Monarchical Leadership in Action”. In: Peter Ivar Kaufmann: Leadership and Elizabethan Culture. Palgrave Macmillan.

Gristwood, Sarah (2007): Elizabeth and Leicester: Power, Passion, Politics. Viking.

Laoutaris, Chris (2014): Shakespeare and the Countess: The Battle that Gave Birth to the Globe. Fig Tree.

Skidmore, Chris (2010): Death and the Virgin: Elizabeth, Dudley and the Mysterious Fate of Amy Robsart. Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Williams, Neville (1964): Thomas Howard, Fourth Duke of Norfolk. Barrie & Rockliff.

Wilson, Derek (1981): Sweet Robin: A Biography of Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester 1533–1588. Hamish Hamilton.

Andrew Dudley Meets the Emperor

Edward VI, seated

The peacemaker: Edward VI, seated

On 28 December 1552 the Duke of Northumberland imparted his latest thoughts on English diplomacy to his right hand man, Sir William Cecil. King Edward had just okayed the council’s suggestion “to employ ministers abroad for the public weal of Christendom”, that is to send envoys to Europe to offer English assistance in negotiating a peace between the Empire and France. Cecil was to tell Edward that he was to “be better served if those sent have grace and wit to note what they see and hear”. Those appointed by the council were Sir Andrew Dudley (“my brother”) and Sir Henry Sidney (“my son”), and it had not yet been decided who was to go to the emperor and who to the King of France; however, Northumberland thought that his son-in-law Sidney had “more means to express his mind in the Italian tongue than in the French” and so perhaps he should be the one to meet Charles V (whose first language, incidentally, was French).1

Ignoring the duke’s suggestion, the council sent Sidney to France and Dudley to the Low Countries – where the emperor was staying. For the last few years John Dudley had balanced successfully on a tightrope between the two great powers, and when both requested English assistance for their wars against each other, their demands were politely rejected and England remained neutral. Under these circumstances a general peace was welcome,2 especially as the negotiations would augment Edward’s prestige.

On 1 January 1553 Sir Andrew Dudley called on Jehan de Schefye, Charles V’s ambassador in London, to pay his respects and announce his mission:

He declared to me of his own accord that his charge was a very important one, but did not make himself more plain; he thanked me … and, after some more conversation, departed.3

Sidney and Dudley were chosen for their known personal closeness to the king rather than for any particular skills;4 the more convincingly they could represent the peace initiative as Edward’s personal suggestion. The sending of these “totally inexperienced” men has been criticized,5 yet Northumberland himself suggested that in due course they could be joined by “more experienced” diplomats and that the journey could also serve for their “learning and education”.6 Furthermore, Andrew Dudley was not wholly inexperienced. In 1546 Henry VIII had sent him with presents to Brussels, to Mary of Hungary, Charles V’s sister and Regent of the Netherlands: Dudley, in his role as Equerry of the Stable, brought horses, greyhounds, and running dogs.7

In 1553 Andrew Dudley again first travelled to Brussels, where he was received by Mary of Hungary on 8 January. One of the letters carried by him may have been an address from the emperor’s cousin, the Lady Mary, whom Northumberland had asked to emphasize England’s goodwill towards the Empire.8 Impatient to see the emperor himself, Dudley tried to intercept him on his way to Flanders. Sir Richard Morrison, the English resident ambassador with Charles, knew nothing of this until he met Dudley at Trier, on the Moselle. The ailing ruler was averse to be molested by diplomats while journeying; Morrison nevertheless managed to arrange an interview at Luxembourg in which Charles referred them to a later occasion.9

Morrison and Dudley went back to Brussels, where during February they were busy hosting their Imperial colleagues (including Diego de Mendoza, godfather to Guildford, Andrew Dudley’s nephew):

On the 9th Morysine invited Mons. de Rie to dine with Dudley at his lodgings, where he should meet Don Diego di Mendoza … and others. … After dinner De Rie accepted an invitation from Dudley to dine with him on the following day, and to bring his guest with him as he had done to Morysine. The same evening Mons. de Courriers came to town, and he also gladly came to dine at Dudley’s.

The Emperor Charles V, seated

Not disinclined to peace, in principle: Charles V, seated

Finally, Charles V was ready to meet the English envoys,

for on Friday the 10th instant he sent a gentleman of his chamber to Dudley to tell him that the Emperor would speak with him on the morrow, as accordingly at three o’clock of the Saturday he did. The Court was very well furnished with noblemen, all of them very glad to embrace the Ambassadors, and glad to talk well of England. The Emperor came forth without staff or any to lead him, his chair being set on the farther end of the chamber that they might see he could go so far without any stay. In the conversation which ensued between his Majesty and Dudley, the former said that until particularities were known from his enemy how could he will the King of England to work in the matter of peace? What answer could he give? All the world knew he began not the wars; they knew France took his subjects’ ships and goods, had invaded the empire, hired men to rebellion, taken from the empire things belonging to it, and from himself part of his inheritance. For himself, he always loved peace and wished the quietness of Christendom, and if he might have such a peace … his will was good, and he would be glad to have a peace … But he knew, if peace were made, the French King would no longer keep it with him than he thought it his best.

What the Emperor accounts reasonable they cannot tell, but it seems if reason be offered he is like enough to consent to peace. He bent all his talk to make them understand that he would not refuse any reasonable accord; and it would appear he could be well content that others were judges what should be thought reasonable, and not he himself to be judge. When about to take leave, and offering to kiss his hand, the Emperor cast his arm about Dudley’s neck, with great show of accepting his coming, of liking his message, and of allowing his behaviour in the doing thereof.

Dudley and Morrison noted that the chamber had been hung with tapestries depicting the emperor’s victories.

De Rie and others accompanied them home … They had scarcely arrived at home when Don Diego, who had called during their absence, returned to desire Dudley not to fail him to-morrow at dinner. De Rie promised by the way, that he would not leave Dudley so long as he could enjoy him, and when he could no more, his trust was they should meet one day again.

On taking his leave, Dudley alongside his resident colleagues, Morrison and Chamberlain, received “very gentle entertainment” from the Regent; Morrison was as sorry to stay as Dudley was “glad to be gone”.10 Back in England he delivered a gracious letter to King Edward from the emperor and elicited the close interest of the Imperial ambassador, de Schefye, who in his turn informed Charles V:

Sire: I received your Majesty’s letters of the 13th through Dudley, who arrived in this town on the 18th of the month and had audience of the King and my lords of the Council the following day, and came to see me the same afternoon. I congratulated him on his return, and he told me how he had left your Majesty at Brussels in good health, and that the King, his master, had rejoiced to hear it because of the singular affection he bore you. He declared that your Majesty had done him great honour, and bestowed a present on him. … He declared that he had perceived most clearly that your Majesty indeed loved the King, his master. I assured him such was the truth, and that your Majesty had always held him as his son, and proved it in the past, in contrast to the course adopted by certain others.

As we had entertained one another at some length with these professions of mutual love, … and never a word had he said about the letter from your Majesty to the King, or his negotiation, I made bold at last to question him if he had accomplished his mission to your Majesty. He replied that he had made his report to the King and my lords of the Council on what your Majesty had declared to him, and did not enlarge beyond this, which he did, in my opinion, rather to safeguard his reputation than for any other reason. Therefore I thought it well to say no more at the time and let the matter drop there. …

I can assure your Majesty that the Court and the town are full of the honours and welcome given to the said Dudley, and that all seem pleased about it, especially at the good understanding between their Majesties; and some go so far as to say that under colour of the said embassy a closer alliance may be about to be negotiated. The matter has given some umbrage to the French ambassador. To sum up, Sire, and reverting to the question of friendships, Dudley said to me that the friendship with France would never prove to be a real one, that the English had never thought much of the French, and he believed that if your Majesty wished to employ Englishmen, you would get a good number together. I replied that they had proved their zeal in your Majesty’s service, and after a few more words of no importance, Sire, he took his leave.11

See also:
Edward VI – The Wills of a King
1553: The Emperor and the Vanquished Duke of Northumberland

1 Knighton 1992 p. 283; Beer 1973 p. 139
2 Loades 1996 pp. 241 – 242
3 CSP Span 4 January 1553
4 Loades 1996 p. 242
5 Jordan 1970 pp. 174 – 175
6 Knighton 1992 p. 284
7 L&P XXI No. 444
8 Beer 1973 p. 140
9 Jordan 1970 p. 175
10 CSP Foreign 12 February 1553
11 CSP Span 21 February 1553

Calendar of State Papers, Spain. Volume 11 – 1553 (ed. Royall Tyler, 1916)

Calendar of State Papers, Foreign

Letters and Papers of Henry VIII.

Beer, B. L. (1973): Northumberland: The Political Career of John Dudley, Earl of Warwick and Duke of Northumberland. The Kent State University Press.

Jordan, W. K. (1970): Edward VI: The Threshold of Power. The Dominance of the Duke of Northumberland. George Allen & Unwin.

Knighton, C. S. (1992) (ed.): Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, of the Reign of Edward VI, 1547–1553. Revised Edition. HMSO.

Loades, David (1996): John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland 1504–1553. Clarendon Press.

The Marriage of Mary Dudley

On 29 March 1551 Lady Mary Dudley married Henry Sidney, in private; on 17 May 1551 she married him once again, this time in public, at her parents’ house, Ely Place, London. Henry Sidney was 22 in 1551, and he is perhaps best known today as a close companion of Edward VI, who was eight years his junior and who died in his arms. The usual assumption is that the match between Mary and Henry Sidney was arranged by her father, John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, in order to strengthen his influence over the young king. However, this reading is all too simple and in some measure confuses cause and effect.

Mary Dudley in the early 1550s, perhaps around the time of her marriage

Mary Dudley in the early 1550s, perhaps around the time of her marriage

It is true that Henry Sidney’s father, Sir William, became chamberlain of Prince Edward’s household in 1538, and in 1544 advanced to the position of his steward;1 during these years Henry met the prince and, it is assumed, then and later shared lessons with him. On Edward’s accession in 1547, however, a new household was assembled, with no posts reserved for the Sidneys. It was not before John Dudley took over the government in early 1550 that Henry Sidney was appointed a gentleman of the privy chamber. And it was not before several months into his marriage with Dudley’s daughter that he became one of the “principal gentlemen” of King Edward (July 1551). As such he was one of six men charged with “the singular care” of the royal person, and at every hour three of them at a time were to be on duty in the king’s apartments.2

On 11 October 1551, Edward VI made Henry Sidney a knight; it was on the same day that his father-in-law was created a duke. Obviously it is following his marriage that Henry Sidney’s career really took off: his premier position in the privy chamber; his knighthood; the grant in 1552 of the Kentish manor of Penshurst to his father; his diplomatic mission to the French court in early 1553. His role as the Duke of Northumberland’s son-in-law also made him the close friend of this statesman (“I pray you keep this from my wife”, the duke was to instruct him on a harmless enough matter3).

So, how did Henry Sidney, son and heir of a courtier-gentleman and Knight of the Garter, gain the hand of the eldest daughter of England’s most powerful man? As the eldest daughter, Mary should have been a considerable marriage prize. We do not know how old she was in 1551, whether she was born before or after her brother, Robert, who was born in 1532 (or possibly 1533). It has been suggested that she was born between 1531 and 1535,4 but perhaps she was even the same age as her husband, born in 1529. Since her brother, John, was almost certainly born in late 1530, she may well have come before him, as the third child of her parents. Of course, one might wonder why, at twenty or over, she was not yet married or at least engaged. Whatever her age, there is some evidence that by the spring of 1551 she felt she should take matters into her own hands. It is quite possible that the marriage of Mary Dudley and Henry Sidney was a love match.5

In a 15th century psalter she used as a calendar for important family dates, like the birth dates of her seven children, Mary made an intriguing note:

The marriage of Sir Henry Sidney knight with the Lady Mary Dudley daughter of John, then Earl of Warwick and afterward Duke of Northumberland, was first at Asser the nine-and twenty day of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand, five hundred fifty, and one: and afterward most publicly and honourably solemnized in Ely Place, in Holborne.6

It was certainly not the norm to have two marriage ceremonies, the first of them at Esher, a stately enough place, but none that was related to her or her husband’s family. On the other hand, the description of the second ceremony as “most publicly and honourably solemnized” speaks for itself, and Ely Place in Holborn was then the principal London residence of the Dudleys. It would thus appear that after a secret marriage in March 1551 the young couple may have talked their elders into accepting the fact, which would have been made a lot easier for Sir William Sidney by his daughter-in-law’s high status and for the Earl of Warwick by his son-in-law’s friendship with King Edward.

1 MacCaffrey 2008
2 Jordan 1970 p. 20; Hoak 1976 p. 124; Alford 2002 p. 156
3 Beer 1973 p. 135
4 Adams 2008
5 Adams 2008
6 Brennan 2006 p. 22

Adams, Simon (2008): ‟Sidney, Mary, Lady Sidney (1530×35–1586)“. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online edition.

Alford, Stephen (2002): Kingship and Politics in the Reign of Edward VI. Cambridge University Press.

Beer, B. L. (1973): Northumberland: The Political Career of John Dudley, Earl of Warwick and Duke of Northumberland. The Kent State University Press.

Brennan, Michael (2006): The Sidneys of Penshurst and the Monarchy, 1500-1700. Ashgate.

Hoak, Dale (1976): The King’s Council in the Reign of Edward VI. Cambridge University Press.

Hoak, Dale (2008): “Edward VI (1537–1553)”. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online edition.

Jordan, W. K. (1970): Edward VI: The Threshold of Power. The Dominance of the Duke of Northumberland. George Allen & Unwin.

MacCaffrey, Wallace (2008): “Sidney, Sir Henry (1529–1586)”. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online edition.