Dudley News

On 2 and 3 September 2018 there will be another online Tudor Summit, and I’m happy to say that Heather Teysko of englandcast.com invited me to participate. I am delighted, of course, and I have contributed a talk on Robert Dudley and the Ladies. So, if you would like to watch me speak about Robert Dudley, as well as hear many other great speakers, please register now! It’s all free, and you may access these talks for another 14 days after the Summit!

I am also very happy to tell you that Claire Ridgway of the Tudor Society has asked me to contribute an article about the life of Amy Robsart for the September edition of the magazine Tudor Life. It’s a special edition about the Dudleys, and you can have a look at the magazine and the Society here.

UPDATE September 2018:
You can now watch my talk on Robert Dudley here (please scroll down the page). Thank you!

Amy Robsart and Leicester at Cumnor Hall by Edward Matthew Ward, 1866

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Did William Paget Talk About Elizabeth and Robert Dudley?

William Paget, a good friend of Robert Dudley

In 1978, a manuscript was found in the British Library which contained materials for a history of the early years of Elizabeth I’s reign. The Journal of Matters of State or BL Additional MS 48023, as the manuscript is usually titled, was written in about 1562-1563, but never completed. It was first published in 2003, in the Camden series of original texts. We don’t know the author, although several editors believe he was Sir John Hales, MP, a militant Protestant who had previously worked as an advisor for the Duke of Somerset.

As appears from his text, if indeed he wrote it, Hales held a deep grudge against Robert Dudley, and he believed him to have consented to the killing of Amy, Robert’s wife. (It is only fair to add that he didn’t know Robert Dudley personally). The writer of the Journal also held a grudge against William Paget, 1st Lord Paget of Beaudesert, one of Mary I’s two de facto chief ministers and previously the Duke of Somerset’s principal advisor and self-appointed Cassandra.

William Paget did not continue in office under Elizabeth I; but he continued his amicable relations with Robert Dudley. Although Robert’s father, the Duke of Northumberland, had imprisoned Willliam Paget for more than a year, the Pagets had continued friends with the Dudleys.

The Journal reported many rumours, many sentences starting like: “At this time yt was bruted that …”

The Journal also reports that

P. vsed to saie that when the Lorde Rob. went to his wief he wentt all in blacke, and howe he was commaunded to saye that he did nothing with her, when he came to her, as seldome he did.

The editors write that “the identity of P. is unknown”; however, a few pages later the Journal again speaks of “P.” and this time it seems clear that “P.” is William Paget, or “Pagett” as he is called in the next line.

Since the Journal is only a draft, there are many abbreviations, e.g. King Philip II of Spain is K.P. and Lord Robert sometimes is simply L.R. It appears therefore likely that P. is Paget throughout the text, and that it was he who said that Elizabeth had commanded Lord Robert to do nothing with his wife on his rare visits. It is also clear from other occurences that William Paget was rather close to Robert Dudley.


Simon Adams; Ian Archer; G. W. Bernard (eds.): “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 2003, pp. 66, 73.

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Did Robert Dudley Have a Spy in Margaret Douglas’ Household?

Robert Dudley, c.1561

Did Robert Dudley employ a spy in Margaret Douglas’ household at Temple Newsam in Yorkshire in the early 1560s? According to a number of Margaret’s and her son Darnley’s biographers, yes. The claim seems to rest on a single document. It was written by Sir William Cecil, Queen Elizabeth’s Principal Secretary on 9 May 1562, recording the deposition of one William Forbes, the supposed spy and a servant in the household of Margaret Douglas. Margaret was the daughter of the Scottish queen, Margaret Tudor, and her second husband, Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus. She was a Catholic and had a good claim to the English throne. Any suspect activities, like corresponding with foreign ambassadors, was thus likely to be scrutinized by Elizabeth’s government.

It is therefore likely that Margaret more or less unwittingly employed some spies in her household. The often-repeated claim that Robert Dudley employed William Forbes, though, does not hold water. The biographer of Lord Darnley, Caroline Bingham, believed that Dudley was both very ambitious and extremely unpopular, and that therefore he “attempted to protect himself against his enemies by employing spies in influential households.” She then goes on to list the items of Forbes’ deposition in chronological order as if reported directly to Robert Dudley when they occurred, although we only know about these events and supposed speeches of Margaret’s due to Cecil’s report after Forbes (and several other of Margaret’s servants) had been arrested in the spring of 1562. This does not preclude Robert Dudley employing other spies in other households at other times, but there is zero evidence that he ever employed William Forbes.

Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox, a possible claimant to the English throne

Although the Forbes the spy story has gained wide acceptance, the real Forbes was just a man under arrest who talked about what Margaret had allegedly been doing and saying over the last few years:

That he has heard in all the house that the Countess [i.e. Margaret] is next the crown; that he has heard her say that Queen Elizabeth was a bastard, and that God would send her [Margaret] her right one day. …

That she suffered a fool to rail on the Queen and my Lord Robert, and that he [Forbes] has “heard her rail upon my Lord Robert and his blood, calling them traitor’s birds, and that he caused kill his wife, with mo[re] odious words nor I will rehearse; and said to Hew [Hugh] Allen she was informed from a man of good worship that he was lying sick in the pokkes.” …

That she gave thanks for the preservation of the Scottish Queen [Mary Stuart] from Queen Elizabeth. “And finally, I know she loveth neither God nor the Queen, nor yet your Honour.”1

1 Calendar of State Papers Foreign: Elizabeth, Volume 5, no. 34

Books saying William Forbes was a spy:
Caroline Bingham: Darnley: A Life of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, Consort of Mary Queen of Scots. Constable, 1995.
Mary McGrigor: The Other Tudor Princess: Margaret Douglas, Henry VIII’s Niece. The History Press, 2015.
Alison Weir: The Lost Tudor Princess: A Life of Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox. Jonathan Cape, 2015.

Books that don’t say Forbes was a spy:
Leanda de Lisle: Tudor: The Family Story. Chatto & Windus, 2013.
Morgan Ring: So High a Blood: The Life of Margaret, Countess of Lennox. Bloomsbury, 2017.

Posted in Elizabeth I, errors & myths, Robert Dudley, sources & historians, strange facts from popular books | Tagged , ,

Robert Dudley’s Noble Ancestors

According to the book Leicester’s Commonwealth (written in about 1584 by angry Catholic exiles), Robert Dudley had “but two ancestors”. Those being his father, John Dudley, and his grandfather, Edmund Dudley. John Dudley in turn became Viscount Lisle, Earl of Warwick, and Duke of Northumberland, while Edmund Dudley functioned among other things as Speaker of the House of Commons and tax collector of Henry VII. So far, so good, but Robert Dudley’s great-grandfather was supposed to have been a mere carpenter, according to the same book.

John Dudley of Atherington, father of Edmund, was not a carpenter but a country gentleman. He was a younger son of the major baron, John Dudley, or Sutton, of Dudley castle, the first Lord Dudley to be summoned to parliament as a peer of England in 1440. The Suttons of Dudley castle were a family of magnates going back at least four generations before they were summoned to parliament, and, fittingly, John Sutton the first baron was also the first to call himself Dudley instead of Sutton. Born on Christmas Day 1400 and living to the ripe age of 87, he served a handful of monarchs during the Hundred Years War and the Wars of the Roses, finding himself always on the winning side. He also served as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland between 1428 and 1430.

The ruins of Dudley Castle, ancient seat of the Suttons or Dudleys. Photo by Trevmann99

One of the four sons of John Sutton alias Dudley was William Dudley, Bishop of Durham from 1476–1483. The first baron was succeeded by his grandson, Edmund, second Lord Dudley and son of Sir Edmund Dudley. John Dudley of Atherington (the supposed carpenter) was thus the uncle of the new baron, while his son Edmund was the latter’s first cousin. Edmund was to be Robert Dudley’s grandfather.

Robert’s most illustrious ancestors, however, derived from his paternal grandmother, Edmund’s second wife, Elizabeth Grey. She was the daughter of Edward Grey, 1st Viscount Lisle, who had been created a viscount because of his wife, Elizabeth Talbot. Elizabeth Talbot was the daughter and eventual heiress of John Talbot, 1st Viscount Lisle (1423–1453), the first son of the famous John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, by his second wife, Margaret Beauchamp. Margaret happened to be heiress to the Lisle barony via her great-great-grandfather Gerard de Lisle (d.1360). She was also directly descended from King Edward I. Thus, Robert Dudley was among the many courtiers of the Tudor court who could count this king among their ancestors.

Margaret Beauchamp was above all the eldest daughter of Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick, and his first wife, Elizabeth de Berkely (daughter of Thomas, 5th Lord Berkely). Robert Dudley, when Earl of Leicester, was to pick a seemingly endless quarrel with his relatives the barons of Berkely about disputed landholdings. In the end he prevailed, but only because Queen Elizabeth decided in his favour.

Margaret Beauchamp’s father, the 13th Earl of Warwick, is chiefly known as governor of the young person of King Henry VI and, of course, for his beautiful funeral monument in the Beauchamp Chapel of St. Mary’s Church, Warwick. This chapel was also to become the final resting place of Robert Dudley, his little son Lord Denbigh, his wife Lettice (née Knollys), and his brother Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick. According to his will, Robert wished to be buried “where sundry of my ancestors do lie”.

Robert Dudley’s reconstructed gardens at Kenilworth Castle: The bear and ragged staff, the heraldic symbols of the ancient earls of Warwick which Robert also adopted. Photo by Richard Croft CC BY-SA 2.0.

The ancient earldom of Warwick obviously mattered a lot. John Dudley received it in 1547 and took as his arms the bear and ragged staff. His sons, Ambrose and Robert, continued to use these heraldic symbols under Elizabeth I, having been created earls of Warwick and Leicester, respectively.

On 12 March 1542, King Henry VIII created Robert’s father, John Dudley, Viscount Lisle – “in right of his mother”. The previous holder of the title, the king’s illegitimate half-uncle Arthur Plantagenet, had died nine days before. Arthur Plantagenet had become Viscount Lisle in recognition of his marriage to John Dudley’s mother (Elizabeth Grey), who herself had become Baroness Lisle in her own right after the deaths of her brother (John Grey, 2nd Viscount Lisle, 1481–1504) and her niece (another Elizabeth Grey, Baroness Lisle and temporary fiancée and ward of Charles Brandon, later Duke of Suffolk).

Robert Dudley also had noble ancestors through his mother, Jane Guildford. Her mother was Eleanor West, daughter of Thomas West, 8th Lord De La Warre and 5th Lord West. The barons West and De La Warre went back to the 13th century, being first summoned to parliament in the early 14th century. A descendant of the 8th Lord (Robert Dudley’s great-grandfather) was Thomas West, 12th Lord De La Warre, who married Anne Knollys, Lettice Knollys’ sister, and acted as governor of Virginia from 1610–1618. He gave his name to the U.S. State of Delaware.

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How Much Did Lettice Knollys Resemble Queen Elizabeth I?

It is often said that Lettice Knollys, Robert Dudley’s second wife, bore a remarkable resemblance to her first cousin once removed, Queen Elizabeth I. Because Robert Dudley risked his favoured position with Elizabeth when he married Lettice, biographers have sometimes assumed that he felt attracted to Lettice chiefly because she was a younger version of the queen.

The only contemporary description of Lettice, contained in a report by the Spanish ambassador, Diego Guzmán de Silva, says that she was “one of the best-looking ladies of the court and daughter of a first cousin to the Queen, with whom she is a favourite.”1 There is no word of her supposed resemblance to Elizabeth. The only way to ascertain how much Lettice looked like her royal cousin is to compare their portraits. We have only a few, perhaps only one, authentic portrait of Lettice, while Elizabeth’s portraits, ubiquitous in her time, are mostly copies made after a handful of original paintings. Still, a comparison leaves much doubt whether they looked like one another at all.

Queen Elizabeth, in the early years of her reign

Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hilliard, c.1576-1578

Elizabeth I by Quentin Massys, c.1583

Elizabeth I c.1585-90

Elizabeth I holding an olive branch, c.1585-90

Elizabeth I in parliament robes, c.1595

As cousins (Elizabeth was Anne Boleyn’s daughter, Lettice Anne Boleyn’s grandniece) they might well have shared a family resemblance, but judging from the portraits this seems not to have been overwhelming. It is also often claimed that both Lettice and Elizabeth were red-heads. In the case of the queen this seems to be true, and she would naturally have set the fashion for many other ladies of the court (her black teeth certainly did). It is therefore likely that the not very natural-looking red hair of Lettice’s principal portrait was the result of dyeing or even a wig. Elizabeth apparently wore a wig after loosing all her hair through smallpox in 1562.

Lettice, Countess of Leicester, by George Gower, c.1585

Possible portrait of Lettice Knollys by Nicholas Hilliard, c.1578, the year she married Robert Dudley

Assumed portrait of Lettice Knollys, by Nicholas Hilliard, 1590s


1 Calendar of … State Papers Relating to English Affairs … in … Simancas, 1558–1603. I p. 472

Posted in Elizabeth I, errors & myths, Lettice Knollys, paintings | 4 Comments

Lady Jane Grey TV Series

England’s Forgotten Queen: The Life and Death of Lady Jane Grey, a new TV documentary in three parts, will air on 9, 10, and 11 January on BBC Four. The programme is presented by historian Helen Castor, and a handful or so of other experts will appear on the programme, too: I hear that John Guy, Leanda de Lisle, J. Stephan Edwards, James Sharpe, and Anna Whitelock will be there. I will be thrilled to watch this at some point as I was also consulted during the production process, concerning John Dudley. It will be great to see whether any of this went into the story. As I can’t watch BBC Four, I may have to wait for the DVD …

Official website “England’s Forgotten Queen”

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Interview (No. 3)

I am happy to say that I was invited by the wonderful Diana Milne to be her guest at The Review Blog.
Please go here …

Posted in Elizabeth I, my book

Amy Robsart at The Tudor Society

I am happy to say that I have been invited to write a little blogpost on Amy Robsart for The Tudor Society: Please go here!

Posted in Amy Robsart, my book

Amy Robsart in 19th Century Paintings

Amy Robsart, Robert Dudley’s first wife, was found dead on 8 September 1560 at her lodgings in Cumnor, Berkshire, at the foot of some stairs. Almost 261 years later, in January 1821, Sir Walter Scott published his 13th historical novel: Amy Robsart secretly marries the Earl of Leicester; through an intrigue she is killed by Leicester’s selfish servant Varney, who arranges her fall downstairs at her house; the story unravels during a great festival at the castle of Kenilworth, in the presence of Queen Elizabeth.

Kenilworth was an immediate bestseller. Victor Hugo wrote a play and Donizetti an opera, and throughout the 19th century many paintings were created illustrating scenes from the novel in the style of historicism …

Amy Robsart and the Earl of Leicester, by Richard Parkes Bonington, 1828

Amy Robsart, by Charles Robert Leslie, 1833

Amy Robsart, by Thomas Francis Dicksee (d.1895)

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester’s visit to his wife, Amy Robsart at Cumnor Hall, by Henri Jean-Baptiste Victoire Fradelle (d.1865)

Leicester and Amy Robsart at Cumnor Hall, by Edward Matthew Ward, 1866

Amy Robsart, by William Frederick Yeames, 1870

The death of Amy Robsart, by William Frederick Yeames, 1877

Amy Robsart looking at Leicester’s portrait, by Edward Charles Barnes (d.1890)

Amy Robsart, by William Quiller Orchardson (d.1910)






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Amy Robsart Book

BookCover Amy RobsartI am happy to say that my biography of Robert Dudley’s first wife, Amy, is now available, in paperback, Kindle worldwide, and Kindle Unlimited. Here are a few links:



Thank you!

Amy Robsart, the wife of Queen Elizabeth’s favourite Robert Dudley, was found dead at the foot of some stairs at Cumnor, Oxfordshire, on 8 September 1560. Did she fall and break her neck, as the coroner’s jury concluded? Was she ill? Did she jump? Was she pushed? Was she murdered, as many people suspected – at the time and since – and who were the killers? This vivid biography recounts her life and death in the shadow of the Tudor court, using all available documents, some for the first time. There will also for the first time be an in-depth look at the people around her, like her half-brothers, her host, or her supposed killer. The possible causes of her death, accident, suicide, murder, even illness, are discussed in context of the surviving evidence, modern statistics, and Renaissance culture. While there will never be a definite answer to the mystery of Amy’s death, her life can be rescued from the myths that have grown around her over the centuries.




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