A Favourite’s Wife: The Lifestyle of Amy Dudley, Part II

Cumnor Place, c.1800. Amy Dudley's chamber was behind the large top left-hand window.

The ruins of Cumnor Place, c.1800. Amy Dudley’s chamber was behind the large top left-hand window.

The house was the grandest place in Cumnor, right at the centre of the village which had grown around this former summer retreat of the Abbots of Abingdon. Built around 1330 as a large quadrangle around two courtyards, it had undergone considerable alterations in the 15th century and by the late 1550s boasted a long gallery, the fashionable architectural element allowing people to stroll (and exercise) regardless of the weather. Probably in December 1559 Amy Dudley moved into the best chamber of Cumnor Place, a sumptuously furnished upper story apartment connected to a separate entrance with a staircase leading up to it. The room was lit by a large window in the late gothic style and would have been well-heated in winter. Not far away from her chamber was the great hall with its impressive, beautifully ornamented timber roof, and here the bustle of life in the house would have centered.

The building was owned by William Owen, who had inherited it from his father, the court physician Dr. George Owen, and had rented it to Sir Anthony Forster. A former Sherriff of Berkshire and Oxfordshire, Forster was a man of some standing and an established member of the Dudley affinity. He had administered the Duke of Northumberland’s principal estates in the Midlands1 and had handled important business transactions for Robert Dudley, involving thousands of pounds. Sir Anthony was certainly one of the men most trusted by his young master and friend.

Forster was a cultured man and talented musician2 and may have been responsible for the terraced pleasure garden at the rear of the house, which led to a large pond and a deer park of 25 acres. If, perhaps, Amy Dudley’s health did not permit her to hunt, she may at least have enjoyed the garden.

The monument of Sir Anthony Forster and his wife in St. Michael's Church, Cumnor

The monument of Sir Anthony Forster and his wife in St. Michael’s Church, Cumnor

Apart from Sir Anthony Forster’s household and family, and Amy Dudley herself, two other ladies resided at Cumnor Place, the owner’s mother, Mrs. Anne Owen, and Mrs. Elizabeth Odingsells, a 41-year-old widow, who was related to the Owens by marriage. Like Amy with her own little entourage of some 10 persons, these two ladies would have employed their own servants, although probably less in number. Among Lady Dudley’s men were William Huggins, as well as three others “that wayteth upon my lady”, wearing a livery supplied by Lord Robert.3 Her maid was Mrs. Picto, who gave important testimony after Amy’s death; among other things it shows how devoted she was to her mistress.

As the wife of Lord Robert – the son of a duke (however disgraced) and the queen’s great favourite who socialized with visiting foreign princes – Lady Dudley was the person of the highest rank in the small world of Cumnor. She was doubtlessly of amiable character, but she was also a lady. A lady capable of lording (or ladying?) over other inhabitants of the house; on 8 September 1560 she famously insisted on having much of the house to herself:

she would not that day suffer one of her own sort to tarry at home, and was so earnest to have them gone to the fair, that with any of her own sort that made reason of tarrying at home she was very angry. And came to Mrs. Odingsells the widow, that lieth with Anthony Forster, who refused that day to go to the fair; and was very angry with her also. Because she said it was no day for gentlewomen to go in, but said the morrow was much better, and then she would go. Whereunto my Lady answered and said that she might choose and go at her pleasure: but all hers should go, and was very angry. They asked who should keep her company if all they went. She said Mrs. Owen should keep her company at dinner. The same tale doth Picto, who doth dearly love her, confirm.4

Although most members of the various households at Cumnor Place would presumably have taken their meals in the great hall, especially the servants, the ladies it seems dined much more comfortably in their chambers. From Mrs. Picto we know that Amy Dudley was a sincerely devout person who, at least towards the end of her life, prayed daily on her knees. She had grown up in and married into evangelical households and may have wished to attend services and sermons frequently. Cumnor Place had its own beautifully decorated chapel, though it is unlikely that it would still have been in use. Next door to Amy’s chamber was the Cumnor parish church of St. Michael’s, where she would have met other well-situated ladies and gentlemen. Of widows and spinsters there were, for example, Dorothy Buckner and Elizabeth Munlowe. The former’s lodgings were rich in carpets and cushions, and she was the proud owner of several gold rings.5

Lady Amy may, of course, have received visitors from further away than Cumnor and possibly would have made visits herself to friends residing not too far away; families like the Norris,6 who were to play an important part in the enquiries after her death and in her funeral. It is unlikely, however, that she embarked on more extensive travels while staying at Cumnor, as this would almost certainly have left some traces in her husband’s account books.

Some information about her spending on clothes can be gleaned from these – but it is important to keep in mind that she would have engaged in other activities as well, like needlework, playing games, and reading. She dressed well and from her tailor, William Edney, ordered many pieces of apparel needing things like “freeze and buckram for the ruffs and collars” and “silk to set on the lace”:

a round kirtle of russet wrought velvet with a fringe …

a loose gown of damask, laced all thick over the guard …

a cloth and an apron …; thin lace with pearls on each side [of] the edge …; silk to set it on …; pointing ribbon to the same …; lace to the top of the apron …; sarcenet to face it …

a petticoat of scarlet, with a broad guard of velvet, stitched with eight stitches …

a Spanish gown of russet damask …

a round kirtle of black velvet, cut all over and fringed …

a round kirtle, the forepart of velvet with a fringe of black silk and gold …

a Spanish gown of velvet, with a fringe of black silk and gold

The letter Lady Amy Dudley wrote to her London tailor on 24 August 1560, 15 days before her death

The letter Amy Dudley wrote to her London tailor on 24 August 1560, 15 days before her death

To her tailor she also addressed the second of her two surviving letters. It was found still in situ, pinned to Edney’s bill addressed “to my Lorde Robarte Dudles wyffe” which he sent to Lord Robert after Amy’s death. She wanted Edney to make some adjustments to a dress she had recently purchased from him:

Edney, with my hearty commendations this shall be to desire you to take the pains for me as to make this gown of velvet which I send you with such a collar as you made my russet taffeta gown you sent me last, & I will see you discharged for all. I pray you let it be done with as much speed as you can & sent by this bearer Frewen the carrier of Oxford, & thus I bid you most heartily farewell from Cumnor this 24th of August.

Your assured friend,
Amye Duddley7

continued from
A Favourite’s Wife: The Lifestyle of Amy Dudley, Part I

See also:
Before Elizabeth: Amy and Robert Dudley, 1532 – 1558

Notes
1 Wilson 2005 p. 247
2 Wilson 1981 p. 118
3 Skidmore 2010 p. 172
4 Skidmore 2010 pp. 381 – 382
5 Skidmore 2010 pp. 172 – 173
6 Wilson 1981 p. 118
7 Skidmore 2010 p. 192

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

Girouard, Mark (1979): Life in the English Country House: A Social and Architectural History. BCA.

Jackson, J. E. (1878): “Amye Robsart”. The Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine. Volume XVII.

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

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.

Wilson, Derek (2005): The Uncrowned Kings of England: The Black History of the Dudleys and the Tudor Throne. Carroll & Graf.

The Death of Amy Robsart: Accident? Or Suicide?

Lady Amy Dudley née Robsart is best known for falling down the stairs. The question has always been: did she fall, did she jump, was she pushed, or was her body arranged at the foot of the staircase after the deed was done? Amy Robsart was born on 7 June 1532 as the only legitimate child of the substantial Norfolk gentleman-farmer Sir John Robsart and grew up in a household of firmly Protestant leanings. In 1549, aged 17, she probably first met Sir Robert Dudley, who was exactly 17 days younger than she. The young people fell in love and married ten months later, on 4 June 1550. Amy’s father-in-law was the Earl of Warwick, later the Duke of Northumberland, the man in charge of the government of the young King Edward VI. Robert Dudley went to the Tower with the rest of his family after his father’s ill-fated attempt to place Lady Jane Grey on the Throne of England. Lady Amy was allowed to visit her husband in prison ‟and there to tarry with“ him as long as the Lieutenant thought it good.

The sitter of this miniature being unknown, her age of 18 and the acorns around her jewel suggest this might be Amy Robsart at the time of her wedding

After Robert Dudley’s release from the Tower the couple were in financial difficulties, but they always managed to live in some style with the help of relatives and by accruing large debts. Lady Amy’s ancestral manor house of Syderstone was uninhabitable, though, and the couple lived in other places in and around London. By the summer of 1558 they were looking to purchase a suitable residence of their own in order to settle in Norfolk. Such plans came to nothing when Queen Mary died and Elizabeth I ascended the throne in November 1558. Robert Dudley had known her since he was nine years old and – according to Philip II’s envoy – belonged to her ‟special friends“. He was appointed Master of the Horse, an important state office which implied constant attendance on the sovereign. His wife did not follow him to court but visited her relatives in Lincolnshire and continued to live in Hertfordshire, Warwickshire, and finally Berkshire. She maintained her own household of some ten servants, receiving the income from her parents’ inheritance directly into her hands, which guaranteed her relative independence.1 The reason for the couple’s de facto separation was that Elizabeth had fallen in love with her Master of the Horse after a few months on the throne. From April 1559 there was talk that his wife was suffering from an illness, and that Elizabeth would perhaps marry her favourite should Lady Amy die. It was also observed that the Queen did never allow Lord Robert to leave her side.2 Indeed, his last recorded visit to his wife occurred over Easter 1559; Amy in her turn came to London in May and June 1559 and stayed for about a month, but after that the couple seems never to have met again.3 Meanwhile, from the autumn of 1559 very scandalous tales about the Queen and her favourite were reported by irritated ambassadors as Elizabeth remained single against all expectations that she would choose one of her princely foreign suitors.

What happened?

The house at Cumnor (near Abingdon, Berkshire, now Oxfordshire), where Amy Dudley lived from late 1559 until her death, was a former monastic complex built in the 14th century and significantly altered in the 15th. The large quadrangular house was built around a courtyard and on its rear side were located a terrace garden, a pond, and a deer park.4 It was rented by a friend of the Dudleys and possible relative of Amy’s, Sir Anthony Forster.5 He lived there with his wife and Mrs. Odingsells and Mrs. Owen, relations of the house’s owner. Lady Dudley’s chamber was the best in the house, a large, sumptuous upper story apartment with a separate entrance and stair case leading up to it. She regularly ordered dresses and finery, and her husband often sent her presents from London: ‟a hood for my Lady“, ‟6 doz. Gold buttons of ye Spanish pattern“, ‟a little chain for my Lady’s use“, ‟sewing silk“, ‟a looking glass“, ‟ten pairs of velvet shoes“, ‟a velvet hat embroidered with gold“, etc.6

On Monday, 9 September 1560 Lord Robert, who was with the Queen at Windsor Castle, wrote an urgent letter to his steward and cousin, Sir Thomas Blount, who had by coincidence set out for Cumnor Place hours before:

Immediately upon your departing from me there came to me Bowes, by whom I do understand that my wife is dead, and, as he saith, by a fall from a pair of stairs. Little other understanding can I have of him. The greatness and the suddenness of the misfortune doth so perplex me, until I do hear from you how the matter standeth, or how this evil should light upon me, considering what the malicious world will bruit, as I can take no rest. And, because I have no way to purge myself of the malicious talk that I know the wicked world will use, but one which is the very plain truth to be known, I do pray you, as you have loved me, and do tender me and my quietness, and as now my special trust is in you, that [you] will use all the … means you can possible for the learning of the truth; wherein have no respect to any living person. And, as by your own travail and diligence, so likewise by order of law, I mean by calling of the Coroner, and charging him to the uttermost from me to have good regard to make choice of no light or slight persons, but the discreetest and [most] substantial men, for the juries, such as for their knowledge may be able to search thoroughly and duly, by all manner of examinations, the bottom of the matter, and for their uprightness will earnestly and sincerely deal therein without respect; and that the body be viewed and searched accordingly by them; and in every respect to proceed by order and law. In the mean time, Cousin Blount, let me be advertised from you by this bearer with all speed how the matter doth stand. For, as the cause and the manner thereof doth marvellously trouble me, considering my case, many ways, so shall I not be at rest till I may be ascertained thereof; praying you, even as my trust is in you, and as I have ever loved you, do not dissemble with me, neither let anything be hid from me, but send me your true conceit and opinion of the matter, whether it happened by evil chance or by villany. And fail not to let me hear continually from you. And thus fare you well, in much haste from Windsor this ixth of September in the evening. Your loving friend and kinsman, much perplexed, R. D.

I have sent for my brother Appleyard, because he is her brother, and other of her friends also to be there, that they may be privy and see how all things do proceed.7

The coroner’s inquest had already started when Blount arrived at Cumnor. He promised to give a full report to his master:

The same night I came from Windsor I lay at Abingdon all that night; and, because I was desirous to hear what news went abroad in the country, at my supper I called for mine host, and asked him what news was thereabout … He said, there was fallen a great misfortune within three or four miles of the town; he said, my Lord Robert Dudley’s wife was dead; and I asked how; and he said, by a misfortune, as he heard, by a fall from a pair of stairs; I asked him by what chance; he said, he knew not: I asked him what was his judgment, and the judgment of the people; he said, some were disposed to say well, and some evil. What is your judgment? said I. By my troth, said he, I judge it a misfortune because it chanced in that honest gentleman’s house; his great honesty, said he, doth much curb the evil thoughts of the people. Methinks, said I, that some of her people that waited upon her should somewhat say to this. No sir, said he, but little; for it was said that they were all here at the fair, and none left with her. How might that chance? said I. Then said he, It is said how that she rose that day very early, and commanded all her sort to go [to] the fair, and would suffer none to tarry at home; and thereof is much judged. And truly, my Lord, I did first learn of Bowes, as I met with him coming towards your lordship, of his own being that day and of all the rest of their being, who affirmed that she would not that day suffer one of her own sort to tarry at home, and was so earnest to have them gone to the fair, that with any of her own sort that made reason of tarrying at home she was very angry, and came to Mrs. Odingsells, the widow that liveth with Anthony Forster, who refused that day to go to the fair, and was very angry with her also, because she [Mrs. Odingsells] said it was no day for gentlewomen to go in, but said the morrow was much better, and then she would go. Whereunto my Lady answered and said that she might choose and go at her pleasure, but all hers should go; and was very angry. They asked who should keep her company if all they went. She said Mrs. Owen should keep her company at dinner. The same tale doth Picto [her maid], who doth dearly love her, confirm. Certainly, my Lord, as little while as I have been here, I have heard divers tales of her that maketh me to judge her to be a strange woman of mind. In asking of Picto what she might think of this matter, either chance or villany, she said by her faith she doth judge very chance, and neither done by man nor by herself. For herself, she said, she was a good virtuous gentlewoman, and daily would pray upon her knees; and divers times she saith that she hath heard her pray to God to deliver her from desperation. Then, said I, she might have an evil toy in her mind. No, good Mr. Blount, said Picto, do not judge so of my words; if you should so gather, I am sorry I said so much.

My Lord, it is most strange that this chance should fall upon you. It passeth the judgment of any man to say how it is; but truly the tales I do hear of her maketh me to think she had a strange mind in her; as I will tell you at my coming.8

The coroner and the 15 jurors were local gentlemen and yeomen of substance:9

But to the inquest you would have so very circumspectly chosen by the Coroner for the understanding of the truth, your Lordship needeth not to doubt of their well choosing. … If I be able to judge of men and of their ableness, I judge them, and specially some of them, to be as wise and as able men to be chosen upon such a matter as any men, being but countrymen, as ever I saw, and as well able to answer to their doing before whosoever they shall be called. And for their true search, without respect of person, I have done your message unto them. I have good hope they will conceal no fault, if any be; for, as they are wise, so are they, as I hear part of them, very enemies to Anthony Forster. God give them, with their wisdom, indifferency, and then be they well chosen men. More advertisement, at this time, I cannot give your Lordship; but as I can learn so will I advertise, wishing your Lordship to put away sorrow, and rejoice, whatsoever fall out, of your own innocency; by the which in time, doubt not but that malicious reports shall turn upon their backs …

Your Lordship hath done very well in sending for Mr. Appleyard.10

On 12 September, having had time to ponder all possibilities, Robert Dudley sent another impatient letter to Blount:

Cousin Blount, until I hear from you again how the matter falleth out in very truth, I cannot be in quiet; and yet you do well to satisfy me with the discreet jury you say are chosen already: unto whom I pray you say from me, that I require them, as ever as I shall think good of them, that they will, according to their duties, earnestly, carefully, and truly deal in this matter, and find it as they shall see it fall out; and, if it fall out a chance or misfortune, then so to say; and, if it appear a villany (as God forbid so mischievous or wicked a body should live), then to find it so. And, God willing, I have never fear [of] the due prosecution accordingly, what person soever it may appear any way to touch; as well for the just punishment of the act as for mine own true justification; for, as I would be sorry in my heart any such evil should be committed, so shall it well appear to the world my innocency by my dealing in the matter, if it shall so fall out. And therefore, Cousin Blount, I seek chiefly truth in this case, which I pray you still to have regard unto, without any favour to be showed either one way or other.11

Blount was able to reassure his master the very next day:

I have done your Lordship’s message unto the jury. You need not to bid them to be careful: whether equity of the cause or malice to Forster do forbid it, I know not, they take great pains to learn the truth. To-morrow I will wait upon your Lordship; and, as I come, I will break my fast at Abingdon; and there I shall meet with one or two of the jury; and what I can I will bring. They be very secret; and yet do I hear a whispering that they can find no presumptions of evil. And if I may say to your Lordship my conscience, I think some of them may be sorry for it, God forgive me. And, if I judge aright, mine own opinion is much quieted; the more I search of it, the more free it doth appear unto me. I have almost nothing that can make me so much to think that any man should be the doer thereof as, when I think your Lordship’s wife before all other women should have such a chance, the circumstances and as many things as I can learn doth persuade me that only misfortune hath done it, and nothing else. Myself will wait upon your Lordship to-morrow, and say what I know.12

Meanwhile Robert Dudley had received an interesting message:

I have received a letter from one Smith, one that seemeth to be the foreman of the jury. I perceive by his letters that he and the rest have and do travail very diligently and circumspectly for the trial of the matter which they have charge of, and for anything that he or they by any search or examination can make in the world hitherto, it doth plainly appear, he saith, a very misfortune; which, for mine own part, Cousin Blount, doth much satisfy and quiet me. Nevertheless, because of my thorough quietness and all others’ hereafter, my desire is that they may continue in their inquiry and examination to the uttermost, as long as they lawfully may; yea, and when these have given their verdict, though it be never so plainly found, assuredly I do wish that another substantial company of honest men might try again for the more knowledge of truth.

To this end he had sent one Sir Richard Blount, ‟who is a perfect honest gentleman“, and a Mr. Norris, ‟to help to the furtherance thereof.“ Mr. Norris was most probably the Queen’s friend, Henry Norris of Rycote, who was prominent in the counties of Berkshire and Oxfordshire. Amy Dudley’s half-brothers John Appleyard and Arthur Robsart were already at Cumnor, and ‟if any more of her friends had been to be had, I would also have caused them to have seen and been privy to all the dealing there.“ His final commentary on this unnerving episode of events was:

Well, Cousin, God’s will be done; and I wish he had made me the poorest that creepeth on the ground, so this mischance had not happened to me. But, good Cousin, according to my trust have care about all things, that there be plain, sincere, and direct dealing for the full trial of this matter. Touching Smith and the rest, I mean no more to deal with them, but let them proceed in the name of God accordingly: and I am right glad they be all strangers to me. Thus fare you well, in much haste; from Windsor. Your loving friend and kinsman, R. D.13

Though at that point the inquest proper seems more or less to have ended, the day of the verdict’s pronouncement was ‟adjourned from the aforesaid ninth day [of September 1560] onwards day by day very often“ at the 15 jurors’ request, until they appeared before the coroner at the local Assizes on 1 August 1561.14 The original Latin coroner’s report has only been rediscovered recently at the National Archives at Kew:

Lady Dudley … being alone in a certain chamber … and intending to descend the aforesaid chamber by way of certain steps (in English called ‘steyres’) of the aforesaid chamber there and then accidentally fell precipitously down the aforesaid steps to the very bottom of the same steps, through which the same Lady Amy there and then sustained not only two injuries at her head (in English called ‘dyntes’) – one of which was a quarter of a thumb deep and the other two thumbs deep – but truly also, by reason of the accidental injury or of that fall and of Lady Amy’s own body weight falling down the aforesaid stairs, the same Lady Amy there and then broke her own neck, on account of which certain fracture of the neck the same Lady Amy then and there died instantly; and the aforesaid Lady Amy was found then and there without any other mark or wound on her body; and thus the jurors say on their oath that the aforesaid Lady Amy in the manner and form aforesaid by misfortune came to her death and not otherwise, as they are able to agree at present.15

Amy Dudley was buried with full pomp at the University Church of St Mary the Virgin at Oxford. The ceremonies cost Robert Dudley some £2,000. As was within custom, he did not attend the funeral; the chief mourner being always of the same sex as the deceased in this case was Margery Norris, the Queen’s good friend and her ‟own dear crow“. Lady Amy’s half-brothers and neighbours, as well as the city and county elite featured prominently. The court went into mourning for over a month, and Lord Robert – who wore mourning for half a year – received many mourning guests at his house at Kew.16

Accident? Or suicide?

For centuries the most suspicious feature of Amy Dudley’s death was a perceived lack of violence in the form of injuries, an impression derived from a famous remark in the satirical libel Leicester’s Commonwealth (1584), namely that her neck was broken and yet her hood was still standing undisturbed ‟upon her head“. In stark contrast, after the recent re-discovery of the coroner’s report her two head injuries have sensationally been presented as the prime indication or even proof of murder in the media. This total reversal of perspective reveals a widespread desire to view the case in a sinister light, whatever the evidence may be. In keeping with this is the paradoxical rejection of the jury’s verdict of accident, citing the very same jury’s findings as unimpeachable evidence.

Though the report must ultimately remain inconclusive, the wounds it describes are compatible with both an accident (or suicide) and a crime. According to 21st century comparative forensic pathological studies it is very difficult to distinguish between head injuries received from a fall and from blows, which means that they are often of comparable severity. In all these studies, which comprised many dozens of cases, stair falls figured as a typical death cause.17 Statistically, head wounds are the single most common injuries in stair falls generally, ‟comprising 36% of all injuries.“ It is furthermore not at all unusual in falls downstairs that no other wounds on the body are sustained.18 The location, length, and number of lacerations are the most important parameters in the comparative forensic studies.19

The coroner’s report gives no indication where the head injuries were located;20 they are described as a quarter of a thumb and two thumbs deep, respectively. This translates to circa 0.5 cm and 5 cm, respectively,21 reckoning the breadth of a thumb as an inch.22 Most probably a measuring rod would have been used, forcing it into the deeper wound with whatever influence on results. If the figures of the report were taken at face value, a wound ‟0.5 cm deep“ would have constituted a fairly common flesh wound without damage to the skull bone. It would probably have looked quite serious because of the high effusion of blood in head wounds, and would have been gaping in case the galea aponeurotica (the lowest layer of the scalp) would have been cut through, the serious risk coming from the danger of infection afterwards.23 This leaves the ‟5 cm deep“ wound, which could mean several forms of skull fracture – most likely compound (open), but also depressed (closed).24 It must always be kept in mind that the coroner’s report is a 16th century piece of paper, not a skull or skeleton, let alone a body: with the obvious exception of the broken neck it is impossible to translate its details into any precise data, and then make definitive forensic statements based on them.

According to a collection of court and street gossip the jury had found ‟that she was the cause of her own death, falling down a pair of stairs, which by report was but eight steps.“25 Indeed, statistical studies have shown that the most dangerous stairs are short ones with under ten steps,26 so the widespread notion that Amy Dudley could not have had a deadly accident because she may have fallen down a short flight of stairs is erroneous. Another question is whether Cumnor Place had adequate stairs to commit suicide. The appearance of the house has recently been reconstrued and it has been possible to give an idea of one of the stairs in the complex. Historian Chris Skidmore asserts that this is the flight of stairs at whose foot Amy Dudley was found.27 However, these stairs led down from the house’s Long Gallery, while the coroner’s report clearly speaks of stairs which led down from a ‟chamber [camera]“ in which she was alone. As it happens, the only other stairs in the house were those leading down from Lady Dudley’s apartment.28 It is doubtful that the gallery would have been completely abandoned even with her servants out of the house. So, whether she would have liked to be for herself or even would have awaited a private visitor, it is most likely she would have stayed in her own, stately, apartment. Since the only thing known of the adjoining staircase is that it was of stone and led down to a separate entrance with a doorway, nothing can be said about its shape and it cannot be ruled out that Amy would have been able to jump from on high to the ground. Throwing herself down the stairs is still a possibility, though, as she would have liked to avoid any impression that she had killed herself.29

It seems not unlikely that suicide crossed Robert Dudley’s mind as he wrote his first letter to Cousin Blount: ‟praying you, even as my trust is in you, and as I have ever loved you, do not dissemble with me, neither let anything be hid from me, but send me your true conceit and opinion of the matter“. Once Blount had acquainted himself with the situation at Cumnor he at least had the suspicion and talked to Amy Dudley’s maid Picto about it. Although a few days later Blount had convinced himself that ‟only misfortune hath done it“, Picto’s answer speaks for itself: ‟No, good Mr. Blount … do not judge so of my words; if you should so gather, I am sorry I said so much.“ Suicide would also explain that Amy had suddenly decided to send away all her servants to the fair at Abingdon and was ‟very angry“ when Mrs. Odingsells insisted on staying at the house. It is important to note that the report only says that she was alone in a chamber (most probably her separate apartment), not alone in the entire house, as is often stated. That would be anyway unlikely, since Mrs. Odingsells was still there and the complex also housed Anthony Forster with his family and their servants, as well as the old Mrs. Owen. Furthermore, she obviously had no problem with Mrs. Owen staying in the house and having dinner with her, which additionally speaks against the idea that she wanted to have the entire house empty.

Sarah Gristwood, in a book about the relationship of Elizabeth and Robert Dudley, cites a modern coroner who sees Amy Robsart’s death as a case of parasuicide, the unconscious wish to kill oneself, or as George Adlard put it in 1870, ‟an involuntary act of self-destruction“. The same coroner also thinks that ‟the ‘ideation’ of Amy’s death, right down to the reaction of friends and relatives, fits the pattern of suicide precisely.“30

Lord Robert, c. 1560

Though no external causes are necessary for such an act, the separation from her husband – whom she evidently loved – combined with the rumours about his relationship with the Queen might have supplied a motive for suicide. She was certainly a victim of Elizabeth’s jealousy, as court gossip suggests: ‟And P. used to say that when the L. Rob. went to his wife he went all in black and was commanded to say that he did nothing with her, when he came to her, as seldom he did.“31 The same account reports that ‟the people say she was killed by reason he forsook her company without cause and left her first at Hyde’s house where she said she was poisoned, and for that cause he desired she might no longer tarry in his house.“32 These observations, if freed from the prejudiced perspective from which they were written,33 may point as well to hysterical behaviour on Lady Amy’s part, to the ‟strangeness of mind“ observed much later by Blount. She might also have been really unwell, the episode at Hyde’s house occurring about the time her ill-health was a constant theme in court circles. Philip II’s ambassador, de Feria, advised his master in April 1559:

Lord Robert has come so much into favour that he does whatever he likes with affairs and it is even said that her majesty visits him in his chamber day and night. People talk of this so freely that they go so far as to say that his wife has a malady in one of her breasts [‟she is very ill in one breast“ (‟está muy mala de un pecho“34)] and the Queen is only waiting for her to die to marry Lord Robert. I can assure your Majesty that matters have reached such a pass that I have been brought to consider whether it would not be well to approach Lord Robert on your Majesty’s behalf, promising him your help and favour, and coming to terms with him.35

From this it is clear that the notion of Amy’s illness was not perceived as just an inconsequential rumour but that it was earnestly believed by some that Robert would soon be free to remarry. A Venetian diplomat was perhaps more realistic, but equally clear: ‟Robert Dudley … is a very handsome young man towards whom in various ways the Queen evinces such affection and inclination that many persons believe that if his wife, who has been ailing for some time, were perchance to die, the Queen might easily take him for her husband.“36

The new Spanish ambassador, Bishop de Quadra, reported on 6 June 1559 that Amy Dudley’s health had improved, and that she had been ‟advised not to eat anything that is not very safe“.37 This has been taken as proof that she was no longer ill but was instead being poisoned;38 however, a temporary improvement does not preclude a later relapse or some new illness at a later date. It is clear that she led a rather sedentary life at Cumnor from late 1559 until her death ten months later. This need not be due to illness, yet there are further indications that she was apparently in poor health. The hostile account already quoted relates that: ‟Many times before [her death] it was bruited by the L. Rob. his men that she was dead.“39 This can only mean that Lord Robert’s servants were expecting her to die (unless one believes that Amy’s prospective killers were going about telling everyone of their planned deed). In March 1560 the gossipy de Quadra picked up that Lord Robert had ‟told somebody, who has not kept silence, that if he live another year he will be in a very different position from now. … They say that he thinks of divorcing his wife.“ This is the only mention of divorce in the entire drama, yet it could as well refer to Dudley’s knowledge about some severe illness. His pious and independent brother-in-law, the Earl of Huntingdon, was unsurprised and seems to have seen her death as a release.40 The calm and provincial nature of his postscript (to an inconsequential letter dealing with venison pie) is a healthy contrast to the heated talk of scandal prevalent in court circles. The latter had made Sir Thomas Parry, one of the most influential men at court, ‟half ashamed“ of Lord Robert, whose prospects to marry the Queen he had welcomed before the tragedy at Cumnor.41 This can only mean that he had been expecting Lady Dudley’s death from natural causes. The diplomat Nicholas Throckmorton, whose family had long-standing connections with the Dudleys, instantly believed Amy had ‟broken her neck herself“ before he corrected his sentence, becoming aware he was writing dangerous things.42

Not long before her death, Amy Dudley may or may not have received medical treatment from Dr. Walter Bayley, an Oxford scholar who had been admitted to medical practice in February 1559 and in the year after Amy’s demise became Regius Professor of medicine at Oxford. Bayley was Robert Dudley’s trusted doctor for decades and from 1578 he also acted as a personal physician to the Queen. In 1584 the libel Leicester’s Commonwealth claimed that Lord Robert had approached Bayley with the intent to use him to poison his wife, which the upright doctor had of course suspected and declined – an extremely unlikely scenario, since he happily entered Dudley’s service afterwards. Typically for that book, the authors tried to circumvent this problem by the absurd contention that the good Professor Bayley of Oxford was another ‟man than he who now liveth about my Lord of the same name“. From his nephew Philip Sidney’s reply to Leicester’s Commonwealth and the explicit if far-fetched denials of Amy’s illness in the libel it certainly appears that Dudley had asked Bayley to help his wife.43

There remain the curious statements by William Cecil, the Queen’s Secretary of State, to ambassador de Quadra, made very shortly after Amy Dudley’s death. He told de Quadra, who was as yet unaware of events, that Elizabeth and her favourite 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.“44 It is clear that Cecil, who felt himself threatened by a possible Dudley consort, tried to capitalize on the tragedy as best he could45 – and it is most interesting that he thought it necessary to explicitly deny that Lady Dudley had been ill.

continued at:
The Death of Amy Robsart: The Improbability of Murder

Notes
1 Adams 1995 pp. 383 – 384
2 CSP Span I p. 63
3 Adams 1995 p. 383
4 Adams 1995 p. 382; Skidmore 2010 p. 171
5 Adams 2004
6 Wilson 1981 p. 93; Skidmore 2010 p. 194
7 Adlard 1870 pp. 32 – 33
8 Adlard 1870 pp. 35 – 37
9 Skidmore 2010 pp. 210, 378
10 Adlard 1870 p. 37
11 Adlard 1870 pp. 38 – 39
12 Adlard 1870 p. 40
13 Adlard 1870 p. 41
14 Skidmore 2010 p. 378
15 Skidmore 2010 pp. 378, 377, 232
16 Doran 1996 p. 45; Wilson 1981 pp. 122 – 123; Adams 1995 p. 132; Adams, Archer, Bernard 2003 pp. 66 – 67
17 See four studies available at pubmed.gov listed in ‟Sources“
18 Skidmore 2010 pp. 232 – 233
19 See four studies available at pubmed.gov listed in ‟Sources“
20 Skidmore 2010 p. 232
21 Skidmore 2010 p. 232
22 Wikipedia: Finger (unit)
23 Frick, Leonhardt, Starck 1987 p. 662; Wikipedia: Scalp; Wikipedia: Kopfschwarte
24 Medscape Reference: ‟Imaging in Skull Fractures“; Wikipedia: Skull fracture
25 Adams, Archer, Bernard 2003 p. 66
26 Skidmore 2010 p. 222
27 Skidmore 2010 pp. 219 – 221
28 Skidmore 2010 p. 171
29 Doran 1996 p. 44
30 Gristwood 2007 p. 122
31 Adams 2004; Adams, Archer, Bernard 2003 p. 66
32 Adams, Archer, Bernard 2003 p. 66
33 Adams, Archer, Bernard 2003 p. 41
34 Adams 1995 p. 63
35 CSP Span I pp. 57 – 58
36 Wilson 1981 p. 95
37 Skidmore 2010 p. 146; Adams 1995 p. 68
38 Skidmore 2010 p. 357
39 Adams, Archer, Bernard 2003 p. 66
40 Wilson 1981 p. 124
41 Skidmore 2010 p. 260
42 Skidmore 2010 pp. 223 – 224
43 Blakewell 2004; Skidmore 2010 pp. 386 – 387; Jenkins 2002 pp. 230, 295
44 Wilson 1981 p. 116
45 Skidmore 2010 pp. 239, 357; Gristwood 2007 pp. 108 – 109; Wilson 1981 p. 125

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

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

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

Adams, Simon (2004): ‟Dudley, Amy, Lady Dudley (1532–1560)“. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford 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.

Adlard, George (1870): Amye Robsart and the Earl of Leycester.
John Russell Smith.

Bakewell, Sarah (2004): ‟Bayley, Walter (1529–1593)“. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.

Doran, Susan (1996): Monarchy and Matrimony: The Courtships of Elizabeth I. Routledge.

Frick, H.; Leonhardt, H.; Starck, D. (1987): Allgemeine Anatomie/Spezielle Anatomie I. Thieme.

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

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

‟Discrimination of falls and blows in blunt head trauma: systematic study of the hat brim line rule in relation to skull fractures“. Journal of Forensic Sciences. 2008. May. 53(3):716-9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18471221

‟Discrimination of falls and blows in blunt head trauma: a multi-criteria approach“. Journal of Forensic Sciences. 2010. Mar 1. 55(2):423-7. Epub 2010 Feb 5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20141554

‟External injury marks (wounds) on the head in different types of blunt trauma in an autopsy series“. Medicine and Law. 2002. 21(4):773-82. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15796004

‟Site, number and depth of wounds of the scalp in falls and blows – a contribution to the validity of the so-called hat brim rule“. Archiv für Kriminologie. 2000. Mar-Apr. 205(3-4):82-91. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10829237

Medscape Reference: ‟Imaging in Skull Fractures“. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/343764-overview

Wikipedia: Finger (unit). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finger_%28unit%29

Wikipedia: Kopfschwarte. http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kopfschwarte

Wikipedia: Scalp. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scalp

Wikipedia: Skull fracture. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skull_fracture
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First published on 15 April 2011 at thehistoryfiles.com