A Grand Conspiracy in 1553? – Foreign Affairs

On 13 March 1553 the English privy council busied itself with granting a licence for the export of 200,000 pairs of old shoes.1 On 27 June 1553 the members of the same council swore themselves to secrecy about their forthcoming proceedings and banned the council clerks from their presence. The secret matter in hand was the succession of Lady Jane Grey to the crown of Edward VI,2 whose death was daily expected. The date of 27 June is noteworthy; it is a very late date compared to what is usually said about the Duke of Northumberland’s plotting. Traditionally, John Dudley and his colleagues on the council in the early months of 1553 did little else than thinking of how to avert the succession of Mary Tudor. However, as is hinted by their actions in March, this is far from the truth and it looks as if the decision to go through with their scheme came very late in the day.

John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland

John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland

Although England was a small country, English foreign policy under the Duke of Northumberland tried to stay clear from getting sucked up in the perennial rivalry between France and the Empire. Thus, when war once again broke out in September 1551, a policy of neutrality was pursued despite existing treaties of friendship with both powers.3 In December 1552 Northumberland decided to bring about a European peace by English mediation, which, if successful, would add to the prestige of Edward VI. He sent his brother (Sir Andrew Dudley) and his son-in-law (Sir Henry Sidney) on diplomatic missions to the emperor and the King of France, respectively.

On 11 February 1553 Dudley and Sir Richard Morrison, the English resident ambassador at the Habsburg court, had an audience with the emperor at Brussels. Charles V declared that he would gladly make peace, if only the French king could be trusted (which he could not). Then, as Andrew Dudley was taking his leave and offered to kiss the emperor’s hand, “the Emperor cast his arm about Dudley’s neck, with great show of accepting his coming [and] of liking his message.”4

Back in England, Andrew Dudley was received by Edward VI. In early April follow-up missions were sent to both Brussels and Paris. The Imperial ambassador, Jehan de Schefye, also had an audience, with the Duke of Northumberland, who opined that

if the King of France were inclined to make peace, his Imperial Majesty ought to forgive what had happened, without remembering past offences. I rejoined that his Majesty was bound to defend his territories and subjects, and by all appearances the King of France was not seeking peace, as he was making a brave show of warlike preparations. He answered, smiling, that the Emperor was also making great preparations, but he did not explain himself further.5

Henry Sidney had also returned to England, with promising signs from the King of France “that he would not refuse to entertain peace, particularly as the King of England, his well-beloved son and brother, had taken a hand in them; and he would do more for his sake than for that of any other prince.”6 However, all these hopeful nicecties were ended in the first week of June by the warring parties, the benefits from continued hostilities turning out more advantageous.7

Meanwhile, Northumberland had even brought the German Protestant states into the equation, and his active pursuit of a European peace had lasted from December 1552 until late May 1553. It seems significant that it was the Continental powers who ended these diplomatic initiatives. Was Northumberland planning to exclude Mary from the succesion all those months? Is it conceivable that he would have risked so much to offend the emperor, Mary’s great protector, and at the same time give him a free hand against England through a peace with France? While most historians seem to have ignored the question, at least two did not think so.8

More mundane business went on as well: During May 1553 the English government tried to get hold of a man known by the name of Black Will, “who of long time has been a notable murderer and one of the most wretched and vile persons that lives”. Will had reached Flanders – Habsburg territory – where English agents finally succeeded in hunting him down after more than two years. A flurry of diplomatic activity ensued, and ambassador Philip Hoby received instructions how to achieve Black Will’s extradition. Hoby reported success on 19 May, writing that “Black Will is to be delivered up, it being a pity so abominable a murderer should escape unpunished”, but in the end the regent did not quite comply with the English government’s wishes. However, Black Will did not escape punishment, for, after commiting several further murders, he was executed in Flanders.9

It was now common knowledge that King Edward was dying, and Jehan de Scheyfye had convinced himself that Northumberland was engaged in some “mighty plot” to settle the crown on his own head.10 However, as late as 12 June he knew nothing specific and had only recently reported that Northumberland would divorce his wife and marry the Lady Elizabeth.11

To France, meanwhile, the notion of the emperor’s cousin Mary sitting on the English throne seemed disagreeable; the new ambassador, Antoine de Noailles, had several talks with Northumberland and the council, indicating support for any schemes removing her from the succession. It was also suggested to Northumberland that he take the throne himself.12 On 15 June Henri II personally wrote a letter “à mon cousin le duc de Northomberland”, whose contents however consisted chiefly of a demand to extradite a French nobleman and his wife, who, accused of crimes against the state, had escaped from prison and found refuge in England.13 Henri had also sent a special delegation to England, which was received at the court on 28 May 1553. It was almost a month later, though, on 26 June, that the Duke of Northumberland had himself rowed up the Thames to pay a secret visit to the French ambassador’s home.14

to be continued

continued from
A Grand Conspiracy in 1553? – Parliament

1 Hoak 1976 p. 220
2 Hoak 1976 pp. 10, 277
3 Loades 1996 pp. 203 – 206; 241 – 242
4 CSP Foreign 12 February 1553
5 CSP Span 17 March 1553
6 CSP Span 31 March 1553
7 Loades 1996 p. 244
8 Jordan 1970 p. 177; Loades 1996 pp. 241 – 244
9 Bellamy 2005 p. 124; CSP Foreign 19 May 1553
10 Ives 2009 p. 151
11 Loades 1996 p. 239; Loades 2003 p. 79
12 Loades 1996 p. 255; Skidmore 2007 pp. 255 – 256
13 Vertot II pp. 36, 30
14 Loach 2002 p. 166

Ambassades de Messieurs de Noailles en Angleterre. Volume II. (ed. by Abbé Vertot, 1763)

Calendar of State Papers, Spain. http://www.british-history.ac.uk/search/series/cal-state-papers–spain

Calendar of State Papers, Foreign. http://www.british-history.ac.uk/search/series/cal-state-papers–foreign

Bellamy, John (2005): Strange, Inhuman Deaths: Murder in Tudor England. Sutton.

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

Ives, Eric (2009): Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery. Wiley-Blackwell.

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

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

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

Loades, David (2003): Elizabeth I. Hambledon Continuum.

Skidmore, Chris (2007): Edward VI: The Lost King of England. Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

A Grand Conspiracy in 1553? – Parliament

Historians have disagreed considerably on deciding when exactly the Duke of Northumberland’s plot to plant his son Guildford on the English throne – by marrying him to Lady Jane Grey – came into being. Traditionally this happened quite early, sometime in 1552, so as to give the duke enough time for his nefarious enterprise. It has been observed that he did not have enough time,1 however, so that in recent decades (i.e. from 1970 onwards) the date has wandered to early 1553, or to the spring, or even to the early summer of that fateful year. In parallel it has also been debated whether there was even a plot at all, or whether the attempted change in the succession was rather instituted according to the wishes of the adolescent king. Most historians now believe that Edward VI and his chief minister plotted together.

Many differing scenarios of the events can be found in history books, and some are more plausible than others, while it is probably impossible to arrive at the exact truth. There can only be interpretations of what may have happened, and there is plenty of evidence to consider.

Edward VI, in the pose of a King in Parliament

Edward VI, in the pose of a King in Parliament

Tradition has it that Edward was a sickly child and suffered from a weak constitution, but his health seems to have been normally robust. However, at Christmas 1552 he caught a cold, and in early February 1553 he was suffering from a high fever which alarmed the authorities enough to summon the Lady Mary, his half-sister, to London. On arrival she was obsequiously honoured in recognition of the fact that she was the heir apparent.2 Edward never fully recovered his health, but it was not at all clear from the outset of his illness that he would die within a few months. There were intermittent signs of hope until in late May his condition worsened dramatically.

Henry VIII had buttressed his changes to the succession of the crown by Acts of Parliament, and apparently this set a precedent that any further changes would also need to be sanctioned by parliament to be lawful. Aware of this, Edward VI on 19 June 1553 personally stipulated that his will should be ratified by that body. The next day the writs were sent out for the assembly to meet on 18 September.

Tantalizingly, Edward VI had opened a parliament on 1 March 1553, only to close it on 31 March. Oddly enough, the government had dissolved the parliament instead of simply proroguing it, which would have dispensed with the need of new elections for the next session of parliament; this indicates that on 31 March Northumberland had no idea that he would be in need of one in the foreseeable future. As it came, the parliament called in June for September really came together in October 1553, to inaugurate the reign of Queen Mary.

Is it conceivable that Northumberland would have disbanded the one institution that could have sanctioned his alleged plans for the crown, the business unfinished? It has been argued that he would not have dared to broach the subject of the succession in parliament;3 however this seems unconvincing in the light of his bold later doings, and he had already decided to call parliament in the first place in spite of misgivings over asking them for a subsidy. While, as was usual, the subsidy was the chief purpose there were also other tough questions handled with great efficiency,4 and any mid-Tudor parliament could not seriously have denied its sovereign anything if demanded by him in person (as Edward, though in bad health, could certainly have done).

It is likely therefore that in March 1553 the government – or Northumberland and his cronies – were not yet aware of Edward’s plans for the succession or even his hopeless case.5 It is sometimes said that the Venetian ambassador had an audience with the king in March, in which he found him to be clearly dying.6 However, in the relazione or diplomatic report out of which this detail seems to have been evoked there is no mention of any audience or of a moribund Edward;7 and anyway the ambassador writing on 17 March that Edward was – possibly – mortally ill was the Imperial rather than the Venetian. In the case of the Habsburg ambassador, however, wishful thinking played as big a part as actual information.8

continued at
A Grand Conspiracy in 1553? – Foreign Affairs

1 Loades 2008a
2 Hoak 2008; Loach 2002 p. 159; Ives 2009 p. 84
3 de Lisle 2008 p. 87
4 Loades 1996 pp. 231 – 232, 236 – 237
5 Loades 2004 p. 69
6 Chapman 1958 p. 269; Hoak 2008; de Lisle 2008 p. 87
7 CSP Venetian 18 August 1554
8 Loades 2004 pp. 120 – 121; CPS Span 17 March 1553

Calendar of State Papers Spain: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/spain/vol11

Calendar of State Papers Venice: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/venice/vol5

Chapman, Hester (1958): The Last Tudor King: A Study of Edward VI. Jonathan Cape.

de Lisle, Leanda (2008): The Sisters Who Would Be Queen: Mary, Katherine, and Lady Jane Grey. A Tudor Tragedy. Ballantine Books.

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

Ives, Eric (2009): Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery. Wiley-Blackwell.

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

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

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

Loades, David (2004): Intrigue and Treason: The Tudor Court, 1547–1558. Pearson/Longman.

Loades, David (2008a): ‟Dudley, John, duke of Northumberland (1504–1553)“. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online edition.

Loades, David (2008b): The Life and Career of William Paulet (c.1475 – 1575): Lord Treasurer and First Marquess of Winchester. Ashgate.

Tytler, P. F. (1839): England under the Reigns of Edward VI. and Mary. Volume II. Richard Bentley.

Melancholy Knights, by Hilliard and Oliver

Essex in armour HilliardIn 1569 the unmarried courtier, Sir Henry Lee, had the idea that Elizabeth I’s accession day on 17 November (1558) should be specially celebrated at the court with great jousting or tilting. By the 1580s these Accession Day tilts had become an important occasion for the queen’s young knights to show their prowess and their skills with arms. Nicholas Hilliard painted his patron the Earl of Essex full-length in tilting armour, in a miniature. It shows him at the Accession Day of 1595, his armour showing diamonds within a circle, a personal emblem of Essex.

Cumberland in tilting armour HilliardThe seafaring knight, George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland, was also portrayed in tilting armour by Hilliard, although his looks more like fancy dress. However, this effect is caused by the elaborate tabard or surcoat he wears over it; his armour proper would have been the most beautiful at court as Clifford acted as Queen’s Champion during the 1590s. The Hilliard miniature shows him with the queen’s glove – her “favour” – pinned to his hat.

Hilliard Henry PercyEssex’ intellectual brother-in-law, Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland, became known as “the Wizard Earl”. Whether his melancholy was aggravated by his unhappy marriage to Dorothy Devereux or not, he found solace in scientific experiments, and another miniature by Nicholas Hilliard depicts him in a pose which seems to hint at exactly these two themes – science and melancholy. The earl managed to keep clear of the Essex conspiracy, only to be entangled (by association) in the Gun Powder Plot; he spent 17 years in the Tower, where he had plenty of time for his scholarly pursuits.

Hilliard’s pupil Isaac Oliver became ever more successful in the late 1590s and under James I gained royal patronage. The melancholy youth was still en vogue, as shown by his Young Man Seated Under A Tree. The Oxford scholar, Robert Burton, even combined melancholy with science in his 1621 book, Anatomy of Melancholy.

Isaac Oliver Young man sitting under a tree

continued from
Essex, by Hilliard and Oliver

Aston, Margaret (1996): The Panorama of the Renaissance. Thames & Hudson.




Essex, by Hilliard and Oliver

Hilliard Young man amongst roses V&AOn his death, the Earl of Leicester’s mantle fell on the shoulders of his stepson, the Earl of Essex. He did not inherit a penny, but he nevertheless was his political heir and was expected to take over his court faction. Leicester’s nephew, Sir Robert Sidney, demanded as much in a letter to Essex, for the young earl was already the great favourite of Elizabeth’s later years.

Essex c.1588 by Hilliard croppedHowever, Robert Devereux was also Robert Dudley’s heir in the realm of artistic patronage. Leicester had been the friend and most important patron of Nicholas Hilliard, and Essex also became his friend and patron. In 1595 he even gave him money, the incredible sum of £140 (the cash was needed for house repairs). In 1588, the year of the Armada (and Leicester’s death), Hilliard made what is believed to be a portrait miniature of Essex, who was then about 23.

Essex also employed other artists to paint his likeness, most importantly Isaac Oliver among miniaturists. After his return as a hero from the Cadiz expedition he grew a beard.

Essex Isaac Oliver drawing

Essex by Oliver

Essex miniatureWithout his beard, Robert Devereux had been exceptionally handsome and embodied the late Elizabethan ideal of the melancholic youth. (Unfortunately, a strong streak of melancholy proved his undoing). A full-length oval miniature by Hilliard depicts a young man among roses, almost certainly the 21-year-old Earl of Essex as a courtier, who “wears the Queen’s colours, black and white, and is surrounded by the eglantine rose, a symbol of the Queen.”

continued at
Melancholy Knights, by Hilliard and Oliver

Goldring, Elizabeth (2014): Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and the World of Elizabethan Art. Yale University Press.


Parrots for Ladies

A lady with her green parrot, 1540s.

A lady with her green parrot, 1540s, by Maarten van Heemskerck

On her death bed, Jane Dudley, the widowed Duchess of Northumberland and mother of Robert Dudley, remembered her recently acquired friends from Spain who had helped secure the freedom of her sons. Among the Spanish grandees mentioned in her will, the only woman was to have a rare bird: “I give to the duchess of Alva my green parrot; I have nothing worthy for her else”.

Psittacula krameri, or the green rose-ringed parakeet from India, while an exotic enough animal, was regularly found in European households as a status symbol. The sister of King Francis I of France, Marguerite of Navarre, had herself portrayed by Jean Clouet holding a green parrot. And as she was not only a princess and queen, but a writer as well, the bird was a fitting allusion. Parrots were seen as symbolizing eloquence; after all they could talk.

Marguerite d'Angouleme, Queen of Navarre, with parrot

Marguerite d’Angoulême, Queen of Navarre, with parrot

In November 1539, Lady Lisle, the wife of the king’s Lord Deputy at Calais and another woman owner of parrots, received yet another bird from a French gentleman:

Madame, I send you a parrot … beseeching you to be willing to accept it in as good part as I right heartily offer it to you. It grieveth me that it is no better and more worthy of your honour, in which I hold it well employed.

Madame, it cannot yet talk, but this is because it hath yet learnt nothing and it is young. As you have one that doth speak it will learn with yours.

See also:
The Green Parrot

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

St. Clare Byrne, Muriel (ed.) (1983): The Lisle Letters: An Abridgement. Secker & Warburg.

Walker-Meikle, Kathleen (2012): Medieval Pets. Boydell Press.

Smith and Stevenson or Dining With The Jurors

On 8 September 1560,

the aforesaid Lady Amy … being alone in a certain chamber within the home of a certain Anthony Forster, in the aforesaid Cumnor, and intending to descend the aforesaid chamber by way of certain steps (in English called “steyres”) … there and then accidentally fell precipitously down the aforesaid steps to the very bottom of the same steps, through which the same Lady Amy there and then sustained not only two injuries to her head … but truly also … there and then broke her own neck, on account of which fracture of the neck the same Lady Amy then and there died instantly; … and thus the jurors say on their oath that the aforesaid Lady Amy in the manner and form aforesaid by misfortune came to her death and not otherwise1

Robert Dudley received a letter from Mr. Smith, the jury's foreman

Robert Dudley, c.1560. He wrote that he received a letter from the jury’s foreman, Mr. Smith.

So far the conclusion of the coroner’s inquest that investigated the death of Amy Dudley, née Robsart, the first wife of Lord Robert Dudley. Not impressed, several historians have cast doubt on the propriety of the inquest’s proceedings. They suspect that the jury of 15 men of Cumnor (near Abingdon in Berkshire now Oxfordshire) might have been rigged, by the agency of Lord Robert.

The jury’s foreman seems to have been a former servant of Elizabeth I, ‟one Smith … who was the Queen’s man being Lady Eliz.“ This was probably Richard Smythe, a “burgess of Abingdon”.2 A few days into the inquest at Cumnor (which had started almost immediately after Amy was found), Robert Dudley was informed by him about the likely outcome:

I have received a letter from one Smythe, one that seemeth to be the foreman of the jury. I perceive by his letters that he and the rest have and do travail very diligently and circumspectly for the trial of that matter which they have charge of, and for any thing that he or they by any search or examination can make in the world hitherto it doth plainly appear, he saith, a very misfortune; which for mine own part … doth much satisfy and quiet me.3

Corresponding with jury members has been criticized as irregular behaviour, of course, but one may ask what harm could come from reading Mr. Smith’s letter. The harbinger of welcome news, Mr. Smith without doubt wanted to make sure he acquired a thankful patron, and he may well have succeeded.

Even more suspiciously, in May 1566 Robert Dudley, by then Earl of Leicester, gave ‟four ells of black taffeta for a short gown and three yards of black velvet to guard the same … to Mr. Smith the Queen’s man“.4 It has been claimed that this Smith was the same man as Smith the foreman – and that the black taffeta and black velvet was a sort of belated bribe for services at the jury six years earlier.5 However, it has also been admitted that Smith is a very common name,6 and there was probably more than one Smith in Elizabeth’s service. The Smith of the jury, by 1566, was no longer in her service; but the previous year he had served as mayor of Abingdon.7 1566 was also the year that Leicester invited the queen to Oxford University, where he was chancellor. The former mayor of Abingdon would have been the sort of person invited to grace the assembly with their presence, and of course he would have needed the right outfit for the occasion. A gift of valuable stuffs was a fairly common occurrence, anyway, and it seems rather far-fetched to read a sinister meaning into it.

If Robert Dudley came to know Mr. Smith by letter, it has been criticized that he “knew another juror personally”.8 The name of this supposed acquaintance is John Stevenson.9 John Stevenson, from Southwell near Cumnor, had possessions worth £9, according to the tax authorities. Importantly, his brother, Edward Stevenson, also served as juror (and, also from Southwell, was assessed with the equal amount).10 John Stevenson is also alleged to have been in Robert Dudley’s service, listed as a “ferrier” in a 1559 wages list, between grooms of the stable and riders. His yearly salary was £4 and he lived in Dudley’s household, which cost Dudley an extra £16 10s p. a. (and he also received a cap from Dudley’s haberdasher on one occasion).11 I believe there were two John Stevensons.

On hearing of his wife’s demise, Robert Dudley had sent his steward and kinsman, Thomas Blount, to Cumnor. The next day he had also sent him instructions, to be imparted to the assembled jury. Though these were harmless exhortations to do their duty with “no respect to any living person”,12 this message to the jury has been catalogued as another attempt at influencing them. And Blount and Dudley were not done yet: Blount is said to have dined with two jury members on his way home; allegedly before the verdict was reached.13 Below is what Blount wrote to his master before he left Cumnor, in his last letter from the scene; it will be noted that he planned “to meet with one or two of the jury”, that we do not know for certain that he did so, and that we do not know the exact number of possible dinner guests.

It has to be added that the letters between Dudley and Blount survive only as copies, though Elizabethan ones. Presumably Robert Dudley himself commissioned them in 1567, to be presented to the privy council during another investigation into the case. Historians might suspect that the text has been tampered with on this occasion, although none seems to have done so in earnest; perhaps because the set of letters constitutes the principal source for the circumstances of Amy Dudley’s death. Another reason to take them at face value is that many potentially incriminating details (like hints at suicide or even dinners with jurors) are mentioned and that the tone appears genuine. If the letters had been edited for consumption by a hostile audience in the privy council, a passage like the this would not have survived:

I have done your lordship’s message unto the jury. You need not to bid them to be careful, whether equity of the cause or malice to Forster do forbid it, I know not. They take great pains to learn a truth, to-morrow I will wait upon your L. and as I come I will break my fast at Abingdon; and there I shall meet with one or two of the jury. And what I can I will bring; they be very secret, and yet do I hear a whispering that they can find no presumptions of evil. And if I may say to your Lordship my conscience, I think some of them may be sorry for it, God forgive me. And, if I judge amiss [sic], mine own opinion is much quieted, the more I search of it, the more free it doth appear unto me. I have almost nothing that can make me so much to think that any man should be the doer thereof as when I think your L.’s wife before all other women should have such a chance. The circumstances and as many things as I can learn doth persuade me that only misfortune hath done it, and nothing else. Myself will wait upon your Lordship to-morrow, and say what I know.14

1 Skidmore 2010 p. 378
2 Adams, Archer, Bernard 2003 p. 66; Skidmore 2010 p. 210
3 Skidmore 2010 pp.384 – 385
4 Skidmore 2010 p. 369
5 Skidmore 2010 pp. 369 – 370; Bernard 2000 pp. 170 – 171
6 Doran 1996 p. 228; Bernard 2000 p. 171
7 Adams, Archer, Bernard 2003 p. 66
8 Guy 2013 p. 189; Doran 2015 p. 124
9 Skidmore 2010 p. 369
10 Skidmore 2010 p. 210
11 Adams 1995 pp. 414, 422
12 Skidmore 2010 p. 379
13 Guy 2013 p. 189; Doran 2015 p. 124
14 Skidmore 2010 p. 384

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.

Bernard, G. W. (2000): Power and Politics in Tudor England. Ashgate.

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

Doran, Susan (2015): Elizabeth I and Her Circle. Oxford University Press.

Guy, John (2013): The Children of Henry VIII. Oxford University Press.

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

See also:
The Death of Amy Robsart: Accident? Or Suicide?
The Death of Amy Robsart: The Improbability of Murder
Believe the Coroner!

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 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/source.aspx?pubid=1006

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. http://www.british-history.ac.uk/catalogue.aspx?gid=136&type=3

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.