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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Almost There … Amy Robsart Book!

I’m happy to announce that my book about Amy Dudley, née Robsart, Robert Dudley’s first wife, will be coming out on amazon and other online retailers very soon. Amy, of course, fell down the stairs and died (or at least that’s what the coroner’s report said), but her case sent shock waves through Elizabeth’s court at the time and has occupied the grey cells of historians and historical detectives ever since.

A number of older posts on this blog deal with what happened or may have happened to Amy Robsart, and they were extremely useful, however the book will be a fresh look at her life and all the available sources concerning her “murder” or otherwise. It took me a long time to complete it, but in the end it was really fascinating to revisit the materials of her case and fun to write about it.

Stay tuned for details. Thank you!


The book is now available at all amazon stores:

Kindle U.K.
Kindle U.S.

Thank you!

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18 August 1553: The Duke of Northumberland’s Trial

The trial for treason of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, took place on 18 August 1553 at Westminster Hall. The Spanish merchant Antonio de Guaras may have been an eyewitness. Guaras lived in London and “spoke good English” according to the so-called Spanish Chronicle written by an unknown mercenary soldier where Guaras makes an appearance. Guaras’ own “narration” of the accession of Queen Mary was finished within weeks of the events in the summer of 1553. He dedicated his account to the Duke of Albuquerque, his Spanish patron who had visited England in 1544, under Henry VIII.

Afterwards, on the eighteenth of this month of August, the Duke of Northumberland was brought to trial, and as your Lordship knows, these proceedings are here conducted with great dignity. A stage was erected in the great hall of Westminster, very majestic and richly tapestried, and in the midst of it a rich canopy, and under this a bench with rich cushions, and carpets at its foot: and the commissioners in the cause coming with their maces and officers took their seats as managers for the Queen. And first upon the said bench was seated the aforesaid Duke of Norfolk, who presided for that day for the Queen’s person, and he held in his hand a long white wand, being the ensign of the Lord High Marshal, which office from ancient times the sovereigns have reserved for themselves; and on either side of the bench were seated the peers of the realm, who were named to be judges between the Queen and the delinquent, according to the law. And these same judges, or the most of them, were those whom Northumberland had left in the Tower with Lady Jane. And immediately it was commanded that the prisoner should be produced, and so the Duke of Northumberland was brought forth, who, making three reverences down to the ground before coming to the place where he had to stand, came with a good and intrepid countenance, full of humility and gravity.

The said Duke of Norfolk, whom he had kept in confinement for so many years, and all the other nobles present at the trial, whom a few days ago he had commanded at his leisure, beheld him with a severe aspect, and the greatest courtesy shown him of any was a slight touch of the cap. And forthwith three accusations of treason were brought against him. The first, if it was true that on the eighteenth of July and afterwards he was found in the field with an armed levy against the Queen’s majesty, her Highness having been proclaimed Queen the same day in London and throughout the kingdom. The second, whether he had caused himself to be proclaimed Captain General of the Kingdom. The third, if in the field he had proclaimed Jane Queen and the Queen’s majesty a rebel and a bastard. And if he had denied it, there were present, as has been said, twelve peers empanelled, in conformity with the law of this realm, to judge him after he should have been convicted by the witnesses who should be summoned. To all which the said Northumberland answered that it was the truth, and that he confessed, and that he stood condemned by the law; and out of compassion at beholding him in the misery into which he had brought himself by the ambition of reigning, and all grieving for their own sakes for the stain they had contracted by the offence they had committed against the Queen by consenting to his treason, even though by constraint, as has been said, many of those present could not refrain from tears.

And as he acknowledged his offence, the verdict of the twelve peers was not delivered, according to the law. He implored all that they would beseech the Queen’s majesty not to think upon his iniquities, but upon her exceeding clemency, though saying that he knew his offence to be so grievous that he deserved no mercy. He requested that two or three of the Council would come to confer with him in prison upon important secrets, which greatly imported her Highness’s service. He besought her Highness to grant him four or five days for the things which concerned his soul, which was allowed. He was condemned according to the law to be drawn on a sledge and hanged, and before he was dead to be drawn and quartered, and his heart and entrails cast into the fire. The same day the Marquis of Northampton, and the Earl of Warwick, Northumberland’s son and heir, were condemned in like manner. And the next day Northumberland’s brother, and the Captain of the King’s Guard and Vice-Chamberlain, who was named Sir John Gates, and Sir Thomas Palmer, and Sir Harry Gates, brother of the Vice-Chamberlain, were brought to trial, all of whom confessed and were condemned like the others.

Antonio de Guaras: The Accession of Queen Mary. (edited by Richard Garnett, 1892).

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20 July 1553: The Duke and Dr. Sands at Cambridge

On 20 July 1553 John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, arrived with an army at Cambridge, returning from the venture to capture Mary Tudor (who had proclaimed herself Queen of England). Cambridge had been a stop on the duke’s progress to East Anglia a few days before (welcoming him and Queen Jane’s army with splendour). An eyewitness to all this was the university’s vice-chancellor, Dr. Edwin Sandys, later Bishop of Worcester and of London, and finally Archbishop of York. Dr. Sandys (or Sands) was interviewed sometime in the early 1560s by John Foxe, the famous martyrologist, and this is what he had to say about the duke’s capture and his own narrow escape, as well as the political sea change in the university:

The duke that night retired to Cambridge, and sent for Dr. Sands to go with him to the market-place, to proclaim queen Mary. The duke cast up his cap with others, and so laughed, that the tears ran down his cheeks for grief. He told Dr. Sands, that queen Mary was a merciful woman, and that he doubted not thereof; declaring that he had sent unto her to know her pleasure, and looked for a general pardon. Dr. Sands answered, “My life is not dear unto me, neither have I done or said any thing that urgeth my conscience. For that which I spake of the state, hath instructions warranted by the subscription of sixteen counsellors; neither can speech be treason, neither yet have I spoken further than the word of God and the laws of the realm do warrant me, come of me what God will. But be you assured, you shall never escape death; for if she would save you, those that now shall rule, will kill you.”

That night the guard apprehended the duke, and certain grooms of the stable were as busy with Dr. Sands, as if they would take a prisoner. But sir John Gates, who lay then in Dr. Sands’ house, sharply rebuked them, and drave them away. Dr. Sands, by the advice of sir John Gates, walked in the fields. In the mean time the university, contrary to all order, had met together in consultation, and ordered that Dr. Mouse and Dr. Hatcher should repair to Dr. Sands’ lodging, and fetch away the statute-book of the university, the keys, and such other things that were in his keeping, and so they did: for Dr. Mouse, being an earnest protestant the day before, and one whom Dr. Sands had done much for, was now become a papist, and his great enemy.

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6-9 July 1553: King Edward VI Dies and Lady Jane Grey Becomes Queen

Here’s a little excerpt (bar the footnotes) from my book
John Dudley: The Life of Lady Jane Grey’s Father-in-Law:

Edward VI died in the evening of 6 July 1553, in the arms of his
favourite courtiers Henry Sidney and Thomas Wroth. In his last
moments he told Sidney that he had “elected” the Lady Jane “not
out of spleen unto his sister for her religion, but out of pure love to
his subjects, that he desired they might live and die in the Lord, as
he did.” For the king’s treatment in his last weeks Northumberland
had called in the services of his own physician, as well as a female
quack and an Oxford professor.

Hours after Edward’s death Antoine de Noailles turned up at
court (having heard rumours that the king was no more) and
presented another missive from Henry II. The ambassador
promised the French king’s support for the council’s moves, but he
had chiefly come to warn them against the emperor’s wicked plans:
“I could easily see in their faces the great satisfaction and joy … in
hearing such offers presented on behalf of such a great prince”. –
“They remained silent … because of the pleasure they had
received”. On leaving, Northumberland took Noailles’ hand and
“then suddenly” turned and asked if he could have anything in
writing of what the ambassador had read to them. Of course,
Noailles was far too intelligent for that, and “so I prayed him to
withdraw his request, saying that these offers and many larger ones
were addressed expressly to him and that I would discharge myself
of them whenever it should please him.” John was content with
this and left, “carrying the conversation no further”. After
consulting with the other lords he returned and thanked the King of
France “for all the honest, great, and generous offers”. – The
council’s ensuing letter to England’s ambassador in France was less

The morning after the king’s death John sent his son, Robert,
into Hertfordshire with 300 men to capture Mary. Apparently, he
did this reluctantly and John Gates had to remind him: “But, sir,
will you suffer the Lady Mary escape, and not secure her person?”
– On 8 July the London magistrate was sworn to Queen Jane, and
on 9 July John’s daughter Mary Sidney brought her sister-in-law
Jane to Syon House, now another residence of the Duke of
Northumberland. The two young women arrived by boat. After a
while, Northumberland and Northampton, as well as the earls of
Huntingdon, Arundel, and Pembroke appeared. First Huntingdon
and Pembroke knelt and spoke to Jane, saying, as she remembered,
unwonted flatteries; then Northumberland explained to her that the
king had died and that she was now queen, Edward having left her
the kingdom. Jane was at first reluctant to accept, but the duke’s
detailed oration, held kneeling, seems to have changed her mind,
even if some doubts remained. Finally, Jane also gave a speech in
which she asked of the Lord “such grace as to enable me to govern
… to his glory.” A banquet ensued to celebrate the accession of
Queen Jane.

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John Dudley at Kyra Cornelius Kramer

I am happy to say that I was invited by Kyra Cornelius Kramer, medical anthropologist and author of interesting books on Henry VIII and Edward VI, and their health issues, to write something about John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. I decided to think about why he is still so unpopular: Please go here …

Posted in John Dudley, religion

In Luctu Terminantur or To End in Grief

William Cecil, Principal Secretary to the queen, loved to write memoranda

William Cecil, Elizabeth I’s chief minister, had a habit of preparing memoranda for his own later use. He would make lists of things and arguments he found worth remembering. Two of these lists concern Robert Dudley and his role as a possible husband for Elizabeth. Though undated, they were apparently written in 1565. Cecil listed everything he could think of that spoke against such a marriage. Alongside he listed everything in favour of the Archduke Charles of Austria as a husband of the queen.

Thus, under “In likelihood to love his wife”, Cecil wrote “His father, Ferdinando, ut supra“, meaning that Charles’ father, the Emperor Ferdinand had loved his wife very much. (He could not write anything about the archduke himself, as Charles had never been married so far). Turning to Robert, Cecil noted, “Nuptiae carnales a laetitia incipiunt et in luctu terminantur. Hated of many. His wife’s death”.1

The damning sentence at the end of Cecil’s remark has been eagerly cited by all who believe that Robert Dudley killed his wife. We will however turn now to Cecil’s Latin phrase at the start: Nuptiae carnales translates to “carnal marriage”, and it is from these two words that we know that Robert’s and Amy’s marriage must have been a sort of love match, apart from circumstantial evidence.

Robert Dudley, a suitor for the queen’s hand and a widower

What Cecil wanted to remind himself of was that marriages of love were to be avoided at all cost. Robert’s marriage was just another example, having started in bliss or happiness (laetitia) and having ended in grief, sorrow, or mourning (luctu[s]). One scholar, Dr. Simon Adams, has translated luctu as “weeping”.

Unfortunately, Antonia Fraser in her classic biography of Mary Queen of Scots has given this phrase a sinister meaning. She translated the sentence as “Carnal marriages begin in happiness and end in strife“, placing it as a motto at the beginning of Chapter Thirteen. Mary Queen of Scots being an international bestseller, many people will have read this wrong and misleading translation and some have cited it in works of their own.

Unfortunately, though perhaps naturally, there has been a tendency in Mary’s biographers to show Elizabeth in as bad light as possible, including ill-suited comparisons between the death of Amy Robsart and the murder of Lord Darnley. The first, however, though a scandal, was likely an accident or a suicide, while the second was a political assassination never doubted even by its contemporaries.

1 Adams 2002 p. 150
2 Wilson 1981 p. 189

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. Online edition.
Fraser, Antonia (1970): Mary Queen of Scots. Panther.
Wilson, Derek (1981): Sweet Robin: A Biography of Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester 1533–1588. Hamish Hamilton.

Posted in Amy Robsart, Elizabeth I, errors & myths, Robert Dudley, sources & historians, strange facts from popular books | Tagged , | 3 Comments

John Dudley Interview No. 2

I am happy to say that I was interviewed by Carole P. Roman, bestselling author of children’s books, about John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland (and about writing on him) on her website:
Please go here …




Posted in John Dudley, my book

Books, Dudley-Related (3)

27309890In the spring of 1584 the English government (in the person of Sir Francis Walsingham) became aware of a new publication that had surfaced in France. Smuggled into England, The Copy of a Letter written by a Master of Arts of Cambridge quickly became a best-seller with underground booksellers. The next year it was translated into French. The authors are still unknown, but they were enemies of the Earl of Leicester, and also, apparently, of the queen. They were clearly Catholics in exile, probably former courtiers. In this book of some 300 pages Robert Dudley is engaged in a long-term conspiracy to snatch the crown from Elizabeth (guided by “seignor Machiavel, my lord’s counselor”). But the book is most famous nowadays for the spicy details of his supposed private life.

An ever-increasing avalanche of religious and political pamphlets was let loose on 16th century readers, and The Copy of a Letter …, later known as Leicester’s Commonwealth, was only one of many, although one of the most remarkable, both in terms of influence and literary quality. Peter Lake’s recent book Bad Queen Bess?: Libels, Secret Histories, and the Politics of Publicity in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth I (2016) is a magisterial study of many of these pamphlets and the people behind them. William Cecil, Lord Burghley, Elizabeth’s chief minister, was apparently one of those, as was his son, Robert Cecil. They did not write up Leicester’s Commonwealth, of course, but Leicester’s Commonwealth has its very own chapter and pops up in many others. – Bad Queen Bess? is not an easy book to read, but utterly fascinating.


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Is this Amy Robsart?


I was delighted when almost eight years ago I read the suggestion that this young lady might be Amy Robsart. Eric Ives had just published his marvellous book on Lady Jane Grey and mentioned this idea in a footnote. The reason was that David Starkey had recently proposed that the c.1550 miniature was a portrait of Lady Jane Grey, painted during her imprisonment in the Tower. There were issues with the sitter’s age, though, which according to the inscription was 18 or in her 18th year, and Jane was definitively dead by then.

Furthermore, the sitter, according to Eric Ives, ‟wears a gold brooch mounted with a black classical head and behind it a bunch of acorns and a spray of yellow flowers”. The flowers were identified as, possibly, gillyflowers or cowslips, the former arguably pointing to Guildford. The acorns, however, could point to a connection with Robert Dudley. His name reminded educated people of robur, Latin for oak. And we know that Robert Dudley actually used the oak symbolism in his youth: One of the carvings in the Beauchamp Tower has an oak tree and the initials R D, and the more elaborate Dudley carving commissioned or carved by his brother, John, Earl of Warwick, also uses acorns and oak leaves.

The theory was that the miniature might be a portrait made to commemorate the wedding of Amy Robsart and Robert Dudley on 4 June 1550. Born on 7 June 1532, Amy was almost exactly 18 years at the time.

If this picture is really Amy Robsart, then isn’t it likely that Robert Dudley would have kept the picture after her death? Many inventories of Robert’s collections, of paintings and beautiful artefacts, survive, more than of any other Elizabethan, alas this miniature seems not to be among the items listed and described.

Many other theories as to who this lady may have been have been proposed: That she was Elizabeth I as princess, Katherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey, or even Mary I as princess. Only the Robsart theory, though, answers the question why she should wear acorns around her jewel.

After so much time, I’d still like to think it’s Amy, although I am not sure I really care any longer … One has to consider that the case rests only on a few acorns and oak leaves and the fact that the sitter is about 18 years old. How common were such pictures? How many people would have commissioned such things?

See also:
Elizabeth, Jane, Amy? The Riddle of the Yale Miniature

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