Robert Dudley’s Health

Robert Dudley was a fit man – an excellent dancer and horseman of athletic built. Even his diet was (according to our standards) reasonably healthy: He abhorred the heavy drinking habits of his time and had a taste for salads and fruit. This preference, however, was somewhat unusual. Fruit was considered a health hazard, while salads were notoriously suspect: Leicester’s enemies were quick to point out that so and so had “suddenly died” after “eating salads” at the earl’s house.

Robert Dudley suffered from malaria

A fit young man, Robert Dudley nevertheless suffered from what may have been malaria

Few people were always in good health, though, and Robert Dudley’s first illness we know about occurred in late spring 1559, when he suffered from a “quartan ague” or “fit”. This may well have been malaria, an illness endemic in East Anglia. His wife Amy hailing from Norfolk, Robert may also have picked it up there. Alternatively, some epidemic may have been haunting the court, as his sister Katherine was suffering from the same disease at the same time. Whatever it was, Robert had fully recovered by June, having paid a surgeon 10s for “letting your lordship’s blodd.”1

Robert Dudley was not, like his father, a known melancholic and possible hypochondriac. He too was health-conscious, though, like most of his contemporaries, and he firmly believed in the healing powers of fresh air, especially outside London. Since these were the first decades of a phenomenon later called “smog”, the harmful combination of the London fog and the smoke from the town’s use of coal (shipped from Newcastle) as fuel, this is not a surprise. A particularly bad “cold” Leicester was suffering from in February 1573 may as likely have been an allergy to smog, as appears from his report to Elizabeth: “I have hitherto so well found myself after my travel as I trust I am clearly delivered of the shrewd cold that so hardly held me at my departing from you.”2

His concern about Elizabeth’s own health and her “over-long stay in that corrupt air about the city”3 never went away, and he repeatedly urged the queen to leave town and enjoy the countryside:

So good a medycyne I have alway found exersise with the open good ayre as yt hath ever byn my best remedye ageynst those dellycate deceases gotten about yor deynty cytty of London, which place but for necessyty Lord he knoweth how sorrey I am to se yor Majesty remayne … Yf when season shall serve yor good determynacion may hold to spend some tyme abroade to finde the difference about and furder of from London, hit shalbe wel begonne now, but I wold God hit had byn long before put in profe, God graunt now that yow may finde much good therof, as yet for yor tyme heareafter yow may reape the benefytt of good contynuance of yor desired health. You se swette Lady with howe weighty matters I trowble yow withal.4

Leicester was “a leading patron of fashionable doctors”,5 among them the Italian Giulio Borgaruccio – whom he allegedly retained to prepare his most subtle poisons – and Dr. Bailey of Oxford University. “Dr. Giulio” and Bailey also entered the queen’s service; Elizabeth apparently had less use for William Turner, who wrote Of the Nature and Properties of Baths and could count on Robert Dudley as a vocal supporter. The baths at Buxton in Derbyshire conveniently belonged to the property of the Earl and Countess of Shrewsbury (Bess of Hardwick); the couple was delighted to welcome their old friend the Earl of Leicester as one of their very first celebrity visitors. In June 1577 he came with his brother Ambrose, Earl of Warwick, and his nephew-by-marriage the Earl of Pembroke.6 He suggested that William Cecil, Lord Burghley, join the party, writing:

I wish your L. with all my heart had been here this goodly seasonable time, wherein our physicians bear us in hand, we shall do more good in a few of these days than a month of such weather as usually they say this country hath, but since our coming I never found it fairer or warmer than I have done here till this day being ye 20th which is a foul day and a stormy. My brother and I both have great cause to like and commend this water … We observe our physicians’ orders very diligently and obediently and to say truth there is no pains or penance in it but great pleasure both in drinking and bathing in the water. Me thinks it must be good for your L., but if you do as we hear you did ye last time it is not possible you should take good of it: you were every day taking great journeys abroad, ten, twelve miles a day and used liberal diet with company dinners and suppers.

Evidently, Burghley’s detox had turned into a retox; not so with Leicester:

We take another way, we dine two or three of us together now my L. of Pembroke is here and have but one dish or two at the most to eat of. We take the air a foot or horseback moderately and yet often times using exercises this way. And hereby we find great benefit already.7

One of the reasons for Leicester’s visits to Buxton was a swelling in his calf. In 1565 he had suffered a serious riding accident which confined him to his bed for weeks. In 1585 he again fell from his horse and could no longer get into his boots, his foot being too swollen. He even employed his own specialist, John Ezard, “your lordship’s bonesetter”, figuring among his staff.8

Robert Dudley was an athletic man with well-shaped legs. However, he once suffered from a swelling in his calf and also suffered bone fractures.

Robert Dudley was of athletic built with well-shaped legs. However, he was periodically molested by a swelling in his calf, and also suffered bone fractures.

Leicester and his colleagues also continued to be plagued by the flu, so much so that in February 1584 the functions of the privy council became seriously hampered by the absence of its principal working staff: Cecil was suffering from the gout, Walsingham and Leicester both lay down with an “ague”.9 In such cases, Robert Dudley could rest assured to be in the best hands. The queen never failed to send him medicines, and his letter of thanks of October 1583 (during another fever) surely testifies to their unique intimacy:

Thanks for your great grace and favour to your poor ôô by your oft and most comfortable messengers, which hath brought best help and remedy to your old patient, that always has from that holy hand been relieved. I have no more to offer again but that which is already my bond and duty – the body and life, to be as ready to yield sacrifice for your service as it has from you received all good things.10

Elizabeth had always been extremely concerned about Robert’s health. She was not even annoyed at instances of diplomatic illness; in fact, especially in those cases she was likely to rush to his bedside if she could make it happen. This was true in the 1560s as it was true after his marriage in the 1570s, or in the last years of his life, when he had fallen into disgrace while in the Netherlands. Elizabeth had been extremely angered by his acceptance of the general-governorship of the United Provinces, and one secure way to mollify her was to mention that his health was not the best. This was what one of Leicester’s emissaries to the queen was doing in March 1586, and it worked:

Uppon Frydaye last, as her majestye walked in the garden, I thowght to tast her affectyon unto your lordship by an nother meanes, and stepped unto her and sayd, that your lordship beynge in dowght of fallynge into a dyssese that Goodrowse dyd once cure you of, your lordship was now an humble sewtor unto her highnesse, that yt wold please her to spare Goodrowse, and to gyve hym leave to comme unto your lordship for soome tyme. I assure your lordship yt moved her much, and shee answered me, that with all her hart you shold have hym, and that shee was sorry that your lordship had that need of hym.11

Unfortunately, Leicester’s health did decline during his stay in the Low Countries. It was there that he first complained of “the stone”, which could mean practically anything from kidney stones to stomach or bowel problems, and which may have been a cause of his final illness in 1588. Malaria is again a possibility, since he suffered from a high fever in his very last days. He had evidently been unwell before his final breakdown at Cornbury, Oxfordshire, on 29 August, however. On his way to the Buxton baths, in the morning he had written what would turn out to be his last message to Elizabeth, again thanking her for her medicine, finding “it amend much better than with any other thing that hath been given me”. He also wrote suggestively of his “own poor case”. Death seems not have come as a total surprise to him.

1 Adams 1995 p. 69
2 Jenkins 2002 p. 172
3 Jenkins 2002 p. 175
4 Adams 2008
5 Adams 1996
6 Jenkins 2002 p. 221
7 Chamberlin 1939 pp. 206 – 207
8 Adams 1995 pp. 218, 469
9 Collinson 1967 p. 255
10 CSP Dom Addenda 1580 – 1626 p. 99
11 Leycester Correspondence p. 174

Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, of the Reign of Elizabeth, Addenda 1580-1626. (ed. M. A. E. Green, 1872)

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.

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

Adams, Simon (1996): “At Home and Away. The Earl of Leicester”. History Today. Vol. 46 No. 5.

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

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

Collinson, Patrick (1967): The Elizabethan Puritan Movement. Jonathan Cape.

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

The Lovesick Earl, Part II

The quarrel between the Earl of Leicester and Sir Thomas Heneage continued into 1566, though at some point it must have died down because 20 years later, when Elizabeth sent Heneage to rebuke Leicester in the Netherlands, he showed so much friendship and became so close to the earl that Elizabeth ended up rebuking himself. Leicester, for his part, mentioned Heneage in his will, calling him “my good old friend”.1 Now, in the spring of 1566, the queen was flirting with the Earl of Ormond, a good-looking Irishman; on 11 March 1566 Diego Guzmán de Silva informed Philip II:

They tell me that Lord Robert is much annoyed thereat. This Ormond is a great friend of Heneage, and they have been favourable in the Archduke’s business. Things change so, however, here, that nothing is certain from one hour to the other.2

A week later he knew that “the earl of Leicester has left here to visit a sister of his, the wife of the earl of Huntingdon, who is ill”.3 Leicester’s real intention had been to visit (for the first time) his estates in Warwickshire (including Kenilworth), which the queen had granted him in 1563. He did not get far, however, as he told Cecil:

since my coming into the country, I have not at all seen my house or anything I have thereabout … the only cause was my sister, with whom I tarried continually, because I would do her all the comfort I could for the time.4

Sir Nicholas Throckmorton. In the later 1560s he busied himself as Robert Dudley's advisor in matters of love and politics.

Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, Robert Dudley’s advisor in matters of love and politics

Of course, the Spanish ambassador could not believe in so much innocence and thought Ormond and Heneage were the reason for the trip:

from what I hear, I believe his departure is owing to his annoyance that the Queen should favour those whom I mentioned in my last letter. He thinks that his absence may bring the Queen to her senses, and even may cause her to take steps regarding her marriage with him; although Leicester thinks that if she forgets to call him back, and treats him like she treats everything, he will retire to his house for a short time, and thus will not lose his place. If it be true that the Earl is going away offended, and it is not all a trick to deceive people, who wish that the queen should marry, and to prevent them from blaming him for the delay, we shall soon learn, but the general opinion is that he is really offended.5

It was Elizabeth, though, who was soon offended amid the rumours buzzing at court:

I wrote to your Majesty that the earl of Leicester had left. The Queen wrote calling him back, but he pleaded private business. She then sent a gentleman of her chamber, an adherent of Leicester to summon him, whereupon he wrote by one of his servants to the Queen begging for 15 days’ leave, which the Queen refused, and ordered him to return at once. He is expected to-night, or to-morrow. The Irish earl of Ormond still rises in the favour of the Queen.6

The queen’s ladies also warned Robert Dudley not to stay away much longer; Blanche Parry informed him of “Her Majesty’s unkindness taken with your long absence”, since “she had not heard from you since last Monday”.7 A few days later, in early April and having been away some three weeks, Leicester indeed returned, much welcomed by the queen. He was now even prepared to support Elizabeth’s marriage to some foreign prince – the Archduke Charles of Austria – in order to escape the blame for Elizabeth not marrying at all:

I found her with the earl of Leicester walking in the lower gallery of the garden. She praised the Earl very highly to me and said that when I arrived he was just persuading her to marry for the sake of the country and herself, and even on his account, as everyone thought that he was the cause of her remaining unmarried, which made him unpopular with all her subjects, and much more to the same effect (whereupon she said that if he were a King’s son she would marry him to-morrow), and if she did not do so he could not avoid retiring from court to escape the hatred of the people. All this and other things of the same sort were said very affectionately.8

Elizabeth was still not keen to bind herself, although she continued the negotiations. In August 1566, Leicester told the French ambassador a secret:

speaking less guardedly he told me that his true opinion was that she would never marry … he considered that he knew her Majesty as well as or better than anyone else of her close acquaintance, for they had first become friends before she was eight years old. Both then and later she said she never wished to do so. Thereafter he had not seen her waver in that decision. However, if by chance she should change her mind and also look within the kingdom, he was practically assured that she would choose no one else but him, as she had done him the honour of telling him quite openly on more than one occasion.9

Elizabeth would not marry herself, but neither would she tolerate her favourite’s interest in any other woman, let alone her beautiful cousin Lettice; the 1565 incident still rankled in 1567: Having absented himself to Norfolk, in early May 1567 Dudley had received a package with two letters, one from the queen and another from Sir Nicholas Throckmorton (who was keeping him abreast on court life and some delicate council business touching the case of his late wife Amy Robsart). His reply to Throckmorton showed his despondency:

I have received yours, and another enclosed from one whom it has always been my greatest comfort to hear from, but in such sort that I know not what to impute the difference to; if there is any years’ proof have made trial of unremovable fidelity enough, without notable offences, what shall I think of all that past favour which in such unspeakable sort remained towards me, thus to take my first oversight as it were an utter casting off of all that was before?

Well, I know with whom I have to do. I will always submit to their good will. I can justly confess much from them, and acknowledge very little of myself, but I will endeavour to my uttermost, whatsoever they do with me, to serve, honour, and obey them. No small grief it is to me to find them thus now, that so far otherwise have seen them not long ago; and my grief the greater because I see that remediless which I thought should never have needed help. Thus I will leave troubling you, knowing it is no pleasure to my friends to hear what is unpleasant to myself.

It would have been great comfort to me, as in times past, to answer what you sent enclosed; so is the case so changed as I dare scarce now think what I have been told before to say and write. I entreat you to give humble thanks for the pain taken with their own hands, although I could wish it had been of any others’ report or writings; then I might yet have remained in some hope of mistaking. It makes me another man, but towards them ever most faithful and best wishing, whilst my life shall last.

P.S. I see I shall not need to make so great haste home, when so good opinion is conceived of me; either a cave in a corner of oblivion, or a sepulchre for perpetual rest, were the best homes I could wish to return to.10

This letter was penned on 4 May, and was calendared under 1567 in the 19th century; more recently, it has often been dated to 1566.11 However, on 11 May 1566 de Silva reported that “the Queen still shows her usual favour to Lord Robert, although he is rather more distant. The Irishman Ormond is in higher favour every day.”12 This sounds very much as if Leicester was at court, and is at odds with his letter from his Norfolk sulking corner. Moreover, two replies from Throckmorton to Dudley, of 9 and 10 May 1567, tie in perfectly with the latter’s letter from Norwich, the second making a direct reference to Leicester’s “sepulchre”. Thus, the original dating seems to be the correct one:

You shall understand what the Queen wishes you to hear from her through your brother [Ambrose] who was in charge in my absence. Lady Stafford [one of Elizabeth’s most trusted ladies] sees no cause in matters within her reach why you should hasten hither. The storms which were up here lately are now so appeased that it seems there was no rough sea. Retain your adamant sepulchre until you have the condition better annexed and more surely verified than I see as yet occasion to hope.13

The day before, 9 May, Throckmorton had already described his encounter with Elizabeth and her reaction to Leicester’s letters; the earl had managed to write one to the queen, drawing a black heart as the symbol of his unhappiness:

Mr. Colsill arrived from your L. the 8th of this month, in the morning. He delivered your token, and I presented your writing [at] what time no person was present, but my Lady Knolles [Catherine Carey, another of Elizabeth’s favourite ladies]. Her Majesty read your letter over thrice together, and said you did mistake the cameleon’s property, who doth change into all colours according to the object, save white, which is innocency! At your cypher, the black heart, she shewed sundry affections, some merry, some sorrowful, some betwixt both. She did much commend the manner of your writing.

Then she willed me to show her what your Lordship had written to me. She read my letter twice, and put it in her pocket. Then I demanded of her whether she would write to your Lordship. She plucked forth my letter and said, “I am glad at the length he hath confessed a fault in himself, for he asketh pardon.” I said, “Madam, do you mean in your letter or in mine?” “In yours”, she answered. I said, “That which you mean is but a conditional supposed proposition.” Then she read again my letter, and said, “Here is enough to suffice me.” “Yes”, said I, “and to accuse your Majesty also” “Whereof?” said she. “Of extreme rigor”, said I. Then she smiled and put up my letter.

I asked again whether Her Majesty would write to your Lordship. She said, “I will bethink myself all this day.” I do judge by Sir H[enry] Lee she meaneth to send your Lordship a token and some message.14

continued from:
The Lovesick Earl, Part I

1 Wilson 1981 p. 179
2 CSP Span I p. 529
3 CSP Span I p. 529
4 Adams 2002 p. 359
5 CSP Span I pp. 529 – 530
6 CSP Span I p. 538
7 Whitelock 2013 p. 108
8 CSP Span I p. 523
9 Adams 2002 p. 139
10 CSP Dom Addenda 1566 – 1579 pp. 28 – 29
11 Apparently first suggested by Wilson 1981 pp. 181, 324
12 CSP Span I p. 549
13 HMC Pepys pp. 102 – 103
14 CSP Dom Addenda 1566 – 1579 pp. XIV – XVI

Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, of the Reign of Elizabeth, Addenda 1566-1579. (ed. M. A. E. Green, 1871)

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

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

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

Whitelock, Anna (2013): Elizabeth’s Bedfellows: An Intimate History of the Queen’s Court. Bloomsbury.

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

The Lovesick Earl, Part I

By 1565, Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, ambassador first to France and then to Scotland, had become Leicester’s “political brain”.1 As will appear, he had also become the chief advisor of the earl’s love life. – For the first time since falling seriously in love with Robert Dudley six years earlier, Queen Elizabeth had paid attention to another man. Sir Thomas Heneage was (as was Throckmorton) an old member of the Dudley affinity and he and Robert had been so far good friends. Diego Guzmán de Silva, Philip II’s ambassador reported:

The real ground for the dispute between Lord Robert and Heneage, I am assured by a person of confidence, who received it from Throgmorton, is the following. This Throgmorton, who rules Lord Robert, advised him to devise some means to find out whether the Queen was really as much attached to him as she appeared to be, as his case [of marrying her] was in danger. If she was, Throgmorton advised him to try to carry his business through quickly, and if not to espouse the cause of the Archduke [Charles], so that in this way he would remain in high position in any case, whereas if neither his own business nor that of the Archduke was carried through all the principal people in the country and particularly his opponents would lay the blame on him, and he would find himself in an awkward fix if he failed in his own suit and yet was accused of hindering the Queen’s marriage to anyone else.

He advised him to do two things, the first pretending to fall in love himself with one of the ladies in the palace and watch how the Queen took it, and the other to ask her leave to go to his own place to stay as other noblemen do. The Earl took his advice and showed attention to the Viscountess of Hereford, who is one of the best-looking ladies of the court and daughter of a first cousin to the Queen, with whom she is a favourite.

This being the state of things the dispute with Heneage took place and Leicester seized this opportunity to ask leave to go. The Queen was in a great temper and upbraided him with what had taken place with Heneage and his flirting with the Viscountess in very bitter words. He went down to his apartments and stayed there for three or four days until the Queen sent for him, the earl of Sussex and Cecil having tried to smooth the business over, although they are no friends of Lord Robert in their hearts. The result of the tiff was that both the Queen and Robert shed tears, and he has returned to his former favour.2

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. In 1565 his relationship with Elizabeth I went through a crisis.

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. In 1565, his emotional relationship with Elizabeth I became engulfed in crisis.

So far, so good. Retha M. Warnicke has argued that this tale by de Silva was “almost certainly a baseless rumour”, communicated to the ambassador by Leicester himself as one of his “little jokes” on the Spaniard.3 The reason for her view is that the Viscountess Hereford – who was none other than Lettice Devereux, née Knollys – was about seven months pregnant on 3 September 1565, the day de Silva wrote his dispatch. She thinks it unlikely that Lettice would have been at the court at that stage of her pregnancy and equally unlikely that Robert Dudley would have flirted with a pregnant woman. Of course it may have been unlikely, but Lettice and her husband had known Robert Dudley for a long time, for almost a lifetime in the case of Lettice, and had met with Leicester and the queen at the earl’s house in July 1565.4 Perhaps any flirting had taken place on that occasion and taken some time to reach the ambassador’s ears. Whatever the exact dates, what is unlikely is that the whole episode was made up: Why should Leicester have invented stories that made a fool out of him, and why do other letters confirm at least part of the story?

Thus, on 16 October 1565 Cecil informed Sir Thomas Smith

that Mr. Hennadg should be in very good favour with her Majestie, and so mislyked by my Lord of Leicester, with such infinite toyes … Sir Nicholas Throkmorton is also much noted by speche to be a director of my Lord of Leicester, but I thynk my Lord well able to judg what is mete or unmete, and doth use Mr. Throgmorton frendly because he doth shew himself carefull and devote to his Lordship.5

So the quarrel went on, Elizabeth even refusing to make Sir Nicholas Throckmorton a privy councillor on Leicester’s recommendation. His brother-in-law, Sir Henry Sidney, who was in Wales where he acted as Lord President, by November had at last heard “of a great reconcilement made with you” and was trusting to be “remembered in the contract.”6 He was remembered and was promoted to Deputy of Ireland.7

The lovers’ wounds were still not healed; this became clear on Twelfth Night, when Sir Thomas Heneage was the gentleman in charge for the court’s entertainment:8

It being the custom in England on the day of the Epiphany to name a King; a gentleman was chosen who had lately found favour with Queen Elizabeth, and a game of questions and answers being proposed, as usual amongst merry-makers, he commanded Lord Robert to ask the Queen, who was present, which was the most difficult to erase from the mind, an evil opinion created by a wicked informer, or jealousy? And Lord Robert, being unable to refuse, obeyed. The Queen replied courteously that both things were difficult to get rid of, but that, in her opinion, it was much more difficult to remove jealousy.

The game being ended, Lord Robert, angry with that gentleman for having put this question to the Queen, and assigning perhaps a sense to this proceeding other than jest, sent to threaten him, through the medium of a friend, that he would castigate him with a stick. The gentleman replied that this was not punishment for equals, and that if Lord Robert came to insult him, he would find whether his sword cut and thrust, and that if Lord Robert had no quarrel with him Lord Robert was to let him know where he was to be found, because he would then go to Lord Robert quite alone; but the only answer Lord Robert gave was that this gentleman was not his equal, and that he would postpone chastising him till he thought it time to do so.

Shortly afterwards the gentleman went to the Queen, and let her know the whole circumstance. Her Majesty was very angry with Lord Robert, and said that if by her favour he had become insolent he should soon reform, and that she would lower him just as she had at first raised him; and she banished from the Court the gentleman who had taken his message. Lord Robert was quite confused by the Queen’s anger, and, placing himself in one of the rooms of the palace in deep melancholy, remained there four consecutive days, and showing by his despair that he could no longer live; so the Queen, moved to pity, restored him again to her favour; yet, as the Ambassador told me, his good fortune, if perhaps not impeded, will at least have been delayed a little, for it had been said that she would shortly proclaim him Duke and marry him.9

continued at:
The Lovesick Earl, Part II

1 Adams 2002 p. 152
2 CSP Span I p. 472
3 Warnicke 2012 pp. 111 – 112
4 Warnicke 2012 p. 111
5 Wright I p. 209
6 Wilson 1981 p. 178
7 MacCaffrey 2008
8 Wilson 1981 p. 178
9 CSP Venetian 19 February 1566

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

Calendar of State Papers Relating to English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, Volume 7 – 1558–1580

Queen Elizabeth and Her Times. (ed. Thomas Wright, 1838)

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

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

Warnicke, R. M. (2012): Wicked Women of Tudor England: Queens, Aristocrats, Commoners. Palgrave.

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

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 to 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.