Did Edward VI Tear Apart His Falcon?

Edward VI, c.1551

Edward VI was a “cold-hearted prick” according to the eminent Tudor historian G. R. Elton, and often repeated proof of this fact is a story about the 13-year-old king told by Simon Renard, then the emperor’s ambassador in France. On 21 March 1551 Renard wrote to Charles V:

Incidentally I will add the account of an act which is said to have been committed by the King of England. He is said to have plucked a falcon, which he kept in his private chamber, and torn it into four pieces, saying as he did so to his governors that he likened himself to the falcon, whom every one plucked; but that he would pluck them too, thereafter, and tear them in four parts. I have heard the truth of the story certified by people whose testimony should place it beyond doubt; but nevertheless Ambassador Mason denies it, and accuses President Monluc of having excogitated it entirely himself.1

Stunningly, exactly the same story had been told by diplomats in 1514, 37 years earlier, with the young Archduke Charles, the later Emperor Charles V, as protagonist:

The 14-year-old Charles had been informed that his planned marriage to Henry VIII’s sister, Mary Tudor, was not going to happen, as Henry had just concluded a treaty with France to marry his sister to the French king, Louis XII. Charles replied (according to a Venetian report) “that his councillors had plucked him because he was young, ‘but bear in mind for the future I shall pluck you'”.2 Professor David Loades, in whose work on Mary Tudor I found this episode, adds: “This response was accompanied, apparently, by Charles plucking a young hawk alive, to the consternation of his councillors.” (Loades cites the 1970s work about Mary Tudor by W. C. Richardson).3

Jean de Monluc, who, according to the English ambassador, made up the story of the falcon

Although Renard himself mentions that the story was disputed it has been repeated by serious biographers, some writing as if Simon Renard was at that time the Imperial ambassador in England, which he became only in 1553. In March 1551 he stayed at Blois, with the French court. So any report of his about what was going on in the English court had to be second hand.

John Mason, in his turn, was at that time the English resident ambassador at the French court; President Monluc is probably Jean Monluc, younger brother of Blaise de Montesquiou-Lasseran-Massencôme, Seigneur de Monluc (Blaise was a writer on military matters and later also Marshal of France). Jean de Monluc became Bishop of Bordeaux in July 1551, but he had earlier served as a diplomat and homme politique. He travelled extensively in England and Scotland in his diplomatic capacity, and as recently as 1550 had he visited Scotland.

Interestingly, he had also been French ambassador in Venice from 1545, before his travels to other parts of Italy, Germany and the British Isles. So, in theory he might have picked up the story about Charles the future emperor in Venice. In other words, did this particular story circulate in the Republic?

The likelihood is that neither account is based on fact. It is – especially in the case of Edward VI – second hand diplomatic gossip. That this story occurs in relation to two different sovereigns who were at the time under tutelage because of their minority shows that a popular topos was at work here, rather than any report of fact. It might well rest on some mythological story Renaissance intellectuals loved to use for their narratives.

1 CSP Spain 21 March 1551
2 Loades pp. 72-73
3 Loades p. 226



Elton, G. R.: England under the Tudors. (1991).

Loades, David: Mary Rose: Tudor Princess, Queen of France. The Extraordinary Life of Henry VIII’s Sister. (2012).

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Some Portraits of Robert Dudley’s Siblings

While Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, was the second most painted person of Elizabethan England after the queen (and a corresponding number of portraits of him survive), we do not have very many portraits of his brother, Ambrose, and his sisters, Mary and Katherine (in fact, there seems not to have survived any portrait of Katherine, Countess of Huntingdon).

Mary Dudley, in 1551, married the courtier Henry Sidney, and it is possible that a full-length portrait of her by Hans Eworth was intended to commemorate this marriage. There is also a miniature of Mary Sidney, painted by Lavinia Teerlinc in about 1575.

Robert Dudley’s elder brother Ambrose, who received back the family title of Earl of Warwick in 1561, seems to have shown a certain resemblance to his father, John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland.

Mary Sidney in the early 1550s

Mary Sidney c.1575

Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick




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Robert Dudley in Quarantine

In August 1563, Robert Dudley found himself in quarantine. In theory this meant he had to stay away from court (and in his case, from home) for at least 40 days. The word “quarantine” originated in Venice, from the Italian quaranta for “forty”. The English army the queen had sent to France in October 1562 to help the French Protestants (the Huguenots) against the government of Catherine de Medici returned in late July 1563. The expedition had not been a success; it had ended in failure due to an outbreak of the plague, and they now brought the plague with them. Some 4,000 people died in England, one of the victims being Bishop Álvaro de la Quadra, the Spanish ambassador.

Robert Dudley c.1563

The commander of Elizabeth’s troops was none other than Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick, Robert Dudley’s elder brother. Robert and Ambrose were the only sons of the Duke of Northumberland still alive when Elizabeth came to the throne, and she had been very generous to them from the start. Originally, Robert wanted to lead the English contingent, but Elizabeth would not have that. Apart from the fact that this would have guaranteed failure from the start, the queen was most unwilling to part with her favourite. She was not even prepared to let him visit his estates, and she would certainly not allow him to risk his life in a military adventure.

Queen Elizabeth I in 1562

On 31 July 1563 Ambrose Dudley returned from Le Havre to Portsmouth, very ill from an injury he had suffered on his leg. Elizabeth sent Ambrose a letter for which he thanked her:

My most dear Queen and gracious Mistress. I have received your letter by which I, with the rest of us, have well perceived that great care your Majesty hath of us all, and that in respect of our lives and safeties, you do not regard the loss of this town [Le Havre].1

Ambrose also wrote to Robert, that he was happy “rather to end my life upon the breach than in any sickness. … Farewell my dear and loving brother, a thousand times”.2 Ambrose and Robert had always been close, and on hearing that his brother was in danger of his life, Robert immediately left court and travelled to see him at Mr. White’s house at Southwick, where Ambrose had been transferred.3

Soon, Robert also received a letter from the queen, written in her own hand. She complained that he was unnecessarily exposing himself to danger by visiting his brother. Robert on 7 August replied, at pains to explain why he had left the court so suddenly, without thinking that if he went to see his brother so soon he would also have to observe the quarantine. By 1 September, Ambrose Dudley had been cleared. On this day the Spanish ambassador’s secretary (de Quadra having died) witnessed his formal entry into London. Robert, at Mr. White’s house at Southwick, had to wait a little longer.

Ambrose Dudley in the pose of the military commander, though more than two decades after he was wounded in Le Havre

1 Elizabeth Jenkins, Elizabeth and Leicester, 1961, p. 96
2 Elizabeth Jenkins, Elizabeth and Leicester, 1961, p. 96
3 Derek Wilson, Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester 1533-1588, 1981, p. 137

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Did Robert Dudley Send Money to Princess Elizabeth?

Gregorio Leti was an Italian historian of the 17th century who wrote about many different topics. He wrote widely on the papacy, including a life of Pope Sixtus V, a contemporary of Elizabeth I (Vita di Sisto Quinto). Leti wrote also about the Emperor Charles V and Philip II of Spain, as well as a multi-volume history about Li segreti di stato de i prencipi dell’Europa, and a work on the Bourbon dynasty of France, and especially Louis XIV: Teatro gallico, o vero La monarchia della Real Casa di Borbone in Francia, sotto i regni di Henrico 4. Luigi 13. e Luigi 14. ma più in particolare, della vita, allevamento, progressi, … del regnante rè, detto Luigi il Grande.

Leti is interesting to Tudorphiles, though, through his work, Historia o vero vita di Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra, detta per sopranome la comediante politica, in two volumes. Though he describes her as “the political comedian” (in the sense of actress) in the title, the book is very sympathetic to both Elizabeth and her mother, Anne Boleyn. After all, Leti was a Protestant, and he had to leave Italy to avoid persecution. He visited England and the English archives in 1661, during the reign of Charles II, and later wrote also La Vie d’Olivier Cromwel, printed at Amsterdam in 1694. The Elizabeth book also appeared at Amsterdam, in 1693.

Leti did use authentic documents and letters he found in the archives of the English crown, yet he freely invented many more. It is not too difficult to see which letters are authentic and which are Leti’s invention, for he typically uses phrases and describes things which would not have been mentioned by the personages who supposedly wrote the letters.

Still, he often used well-known situations in the lives of his protagonists and embellished them according to the romantic leanings of his readers. Thus, a writer like Agnes Strickland in the mid-19th century was still very inclined to rely on Leti’s supposed letters: Though she realized this was problematic, she believed it was more a matter of Leti’s style and language than the actual contents.

In his biography of Elizabeth, Leti invented quite a lot of letters – a letter she supposedly wrote to her sister, Mary, and a letter she supposedly wrote to her de facto guardian and stepfather, Thomas Seymour. Leti also invented a supposed letter from Robert Dudley to Elizabeth when she was imprisoned as princess:


I cannot recall my own disgrace and that of my family without being filled with grief; but I can assure you that all this is as nought in comparison with the grief which your imprisonment causes me, and all the more as I find myself where I can be of no assistance to you. I have obtained my pardon by the help of King Philip at the peril of my life [Leti was aware that Robert and his surviving brothers had served with Philip in France, and that the youngest brother Henry had lost his life in battle], and my recall to this country on the recommendation of that Prince, with my rehabilitation in honours and dignities; but I would give all these with pleasure if they would exchange my liberty for your confinement.

The Queen, your sister, has received me favourably [here Leti alludes to the fact that Robert had personally brought the news that Philip was returning to England to the queen], at the end indicating that I must manage myself with prudence in all that has regard to you. …

I have but just escaped losing my life by the sentence of the judges, but I am able to assure you that I would really lose it with pleasure if that would serve you or procure your liberty. I am re-established in the possession of all the fortune of my family, but of what good is it all, if it is not permitted to me to use it in aiding you in the matter of money, of which I learn you are in need? I assure you, my dear Princess, that all I have is yours, money, life, service, and that I would consider myself the happiest man in the world if I could pour out my blood in your service. …

The Lady who will take this letter to you has two hundred pounds sterling in hand. I pray you to accept of them if you have need of them, and to see in the meantime what he who only hopes to obey you may do for you and show his zeal for you.1

It remains to be said that Robert Dudley was himself in financial difficulties in the years between his family’s downfall and Elizabeth’s accession to the crown, and it can be ruled out that he would have been able to send her a sum like £200 (which was a huge sum). He would certainly not have sent such an amount of money by “a lady”.

Still, Leti did not invent the basic theme of Robert Dudley helping the princess out with money. There exists a contemporary account, by the Burgundian statesman Hubert Languet, that mentions a similar story. Languet, who was then in the service of the Duke of Saxony, had heard in June 1561 at Antwerp that Elizabeth had replied to criticism of her intimacy with Robert Dudley that she did not intend to marry him, but that

she was more attached to him than to any of the others because when she was deserted by everybody in the reign of her sister not only did he never lessen in any degree his kindness and humble attention to her, but he even sold his possessions that he might assist her with money, and therefore she thought it just that she should make some return for his good faith and constancy.2

It is not very likely, however, that Gregorio Leti received the information about a gift of money from Robert Dudley to Elizabeth via Languet’s 1561 letter; this letter was only printed in 1699 and was not kept in an English archive. It seems therefore probable that Leti heard the story in England.

1 Frederick Chamberlin, Elizabeth and Leycester, 1939, pp. 91-92
2 Frederick Chamberlin, Elizabeth and Leycester, 1939, pp. 93-94

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The Portraits of Robert Dudley (5)

Robert Dudley in 1576, by Nicholas Hilliard

Another portrait miniature by Nicholas Hilliard of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, was acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in 1961.

Importantly, this miniature is inscribed with the words ‟Ano.Dni.1576 Aetatis Sue 44“, which clearly indicates that Leicester was 44 years old in 1576, which would establish his year of birth as 1532. (He was born on 24 June, as Leicester himself wrote in a letter to William Cecil; he didn’t mention his age, though).

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The Portraits of Robert Dudley (4)

Robert Dudley c.1571/72 by Nicholas Hilliard

Nicholas Hilliard was a young goldsmith when in 1571 he produced a ‟booke of portraitures‟ for Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. 1571 was also the year of Hilliard’s first known work as a ‟limner“ or painter of portrait miniatures. Leicester was one of the earliest patrons of the young artist and may have introduced him to court.

Hilliard would paint Leicester many times, and the earliest surviving portrait miniature (now in the Victoria & Albert Museum) of the earl was painted sometime between 1571 and 1574, when Leicester would have been around 40. It seems likely that Leicester sent the picture as a gift to his sister, Mary, Lady Sidney.

Further reading:
Elizabeth Goldring, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and the World of Elizabethan Art: Painting and Patronage at the Court of Elizabeth I, 2014.
Alan Haynes, The White Bear: The Elizabethan Earl of Leicester, 1987.
Karen Hearn, Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England 1530–1630, 1995.

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The Portraits of Robert Dudley (3)

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, in red, and with a characteristic wart on his right cheek

The portrait of Robert Dudley in silver brocade, painted in c.1563 and with his dog by his side, seems to have been copied a lot. One particular set of copies shows Robert wearing red sleeves under a slashed leather jerkin, as well as a red trunk hose. The dog has vanished.

The headgear is the same as in the silver brocade portrait. It again shows the mythical Roman hero, Marcus Curtius, on horseback. Marcus was famed for saving his hometown (Rome) from the abyss by riding into a chasm that had opened in the Forum. It was a fitting allusion to the Master of the Horse, Robert Dudley’s chief office at Elizabeth’s court.

All these paintings have sometimes been attributed to the Flemish painter Steven van der Meulen or his workshop (Steven may be the same Steven as the artist called Steven van Herwijck).

Another version without the wart in the Yale Center for British Art

A version that was cut down to head and shoulders of the above portrait now in the National Gallery of Victoria (Australia). The wart is clearly visible.

Further reading:
Elizabeth Goldring, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and the World of Elizabethan Art: Painting and Patronage at the Court of Elizabeth I, 2014.

Karen Hearn (ed.), Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England 1530–1630, 1995.


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Did Lady Jane Grey Wear Chopines?

The following supposed eyewitness description of Lady Jane Grey is from a 1909 book, Lady Jane Grey, by Richard Davey: ‘”This Jane is very short and thin, but prettily shaped and graceful. … The new Queen was mounted on very high chopines [clogs] to make her look much taller, which were concealed by her robes, as she is very small and short.”‘ (Davey, Lady Jane Grey, 1909, p. 253)

As many of you will be aware, this alleged description by a certain Benedict Spinola has been shown to be a fake by the Jane scholars Leanda de Lisle and John Stephan Edwards. This Benedict Spinola seems not to have existed. I was therefore surprised to find the following in a book by Agnes Strickland:

‘In regard to the person of the Lady Jane, her features and her form were alike diminutive. Our Italian authority, Luca Cortile, who was in England during her lifetime, asserts: – “Jane was beautiful, but very small.” Her sister, Lady Mary, was a dwarf. Disraeli the elder, in one of his clever works, mentions gilt chopines, a sort of cork shoe, about four inches in height, worn by Lady Jane Grey to raise her to a more majestic altitude.’ (Strickland, Lives of the Tudor Princesses, 1868, p. 138)

Lady Jane Gray in the Tower, by William Frederick Yeames, c.1860

The elder Disraeli must be the father of the prime minister: Isaac D’Israeli (1766–1848), who wrote some historical works. Did he really mention the chopines? Strickland wrote some 40 years before Davey, and did Davey use her book for his Spinola ‘eyewitness report’?

And who was Luca Cortile, the man Strickland quoted as speaking of Jane as ‘very small’? Eric Ives mentioned him as Luca Contile, and he apparently wrote or edited a version of an Italian text otherwise known as being written by Giulio Raviglio Rosso. Rosso, however, apparently only plagiarized a report by the papal envoy to England during the summer of 1553, Giovanni Francesco Commendone. Since Rosso was a Ferrarese diplomat and there were also Ferrarese diplomats called Cortile in the later 16th century, Luca’s surname may indeed have been Cortile.

Further reading:
Eric Ives: Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery (2009)
Leanda de Lisle: The Sisters Who Would Be Queen (2009)
John Stephan Edwards: somegreymatter.com

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The Portraits of Robert Dudley (2)

Robert Dudley, c.1563

The portrait of Robert Dudley dressed in silver brocade now at Waddesdon Manor (Buckinghamshire) is believed to have been painted c.1563. The Flemish painter Steven van der Meulen is sometimes believed to be the artist, and he died in 1563 or early 1564. Other than in the other surviving portraits of Robert Dudley, he has a dog at his side, although this portrait was not the only one with a dog, originally: In the early 1580s Robert commissioned a likeness of himself in “full proportion [full-length] … with Boy his dog by him”, as well as “my lady’s whole proportion … and my young lord standing by her”.

In the earlier portrait with his dog Robert Dudley is wearing a jewel in his hat depicting the mythical heroic Roman Marcus Curtius on horseback. According to legend, Marcus literally saved Rome from the abyss by riding into a chasm that had opened in the Forum. The allusion was particularly fitting for the queen’s Master of the Horse (an office Robert had held from the second day of the reign, 18 November 1558).

The portrait also has a pair of Ionic columns in the background; they were possibly intended to symbolize the Pillars of Hercules, the emblem of the Emperor Charles V. Robert Dudley’s left arm rests on a chair upholstered in red velvet, and he is holding a pair of gloves in his left hand. Both the pillars and the dog looking up to his master, perhaps even the red chair, art connoisseurs could associate with the iconography of Charles V, as the Imperial portraits were well-known at the time (through copies, but mostly through woodcuts and prints).

Robert Dudley was raised to be Earl of Leicester on 29 September 1564 and on this occasion a coronet was added to the coat of arms representing his membership in the Order of the Garter, on the right. The other coat of arms, on the left, was only added later, in 1566, after Robert Dudley had also become a member of the prestigious French Order of St. Michael. The Order of St. Michael had been founded in 1469 as a French counterpart to the Burgundian Order of the Golden Fleece and the English Order of the Garter.

Further reading:
Elizabeth Goldring, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and the World of Elizabethan Art: Painting and Patronage at the Court of Elizabeth I, 2014.

Karen Hearn (ed.), Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England 1530–1630, 1995.

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The Portraits of Robert Dudley (1)

Robert Dudley, c.1560

Apart from the queen herself, the most portrayed person of Elizabethan England was none other than Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. As the most often painted Englishman of his time, Leicester sat for a new portrait about every two years, which was really a lot. He started in about 1560, when the first known portrait can be dated (it is unlikely that he had ever have himself painted before).

The painting, which forms now part of the Wallace Collection, London, consists of a panel of wood with an inscription on its back, “AETATIS 28 156-“. The inscription, if correct, would mean that the portrait was executed when Robert Dudley was 28, which in turn would indicate a date between 24 June 1560 and 23 June 1561. His birth date has been a subject of speculation, due to William Camden’s claim that Elizabeth and Robert Dudley were born under the same star; but Robert himself makes clear in a letter that he was born on 24 June, although he regrettably forgot to mention the year. However, another likeness of his, a 1576 miniature by Nicholas Hilliard, gives his age as 44, so 1532 is likely the year of his birth.

In the portrait, Robert Dudley proudly displays his Garter chain with his “George” (he had recieved the order in 1559), and his hand rests on his helmet, indicating his military achievements (he had served as Master of the Ordnance in King Philip’s expedition to France in 1557).

Further reading:
Elizabeth Goldring, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and the World of Elizabethan Art: Painting and Patronage at the Court of Elizabeth I, 2014.

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