Lettice and Elizabeth

On 3 March 1600 Rowland White wrote from the court that “[y]esterday the Countess of Leicester sent the Queen a most curious gown.” He reported that “Her Majesty liked it well.” Alas, she “did not accept or refuse it[,] only answered that things standing as they did it was not fit for her to desire what she did.”

Lettice Knollys, Countess of Leicester, by Nicholas Hilliard, c.1595

This was to say that Elizabeth was not prepared to accept anything from Lettice, Countess of Leicester, the woman who had hurt her so deeply many years before. Lettice Devereux, Countess of Essex, née Knollys, had secretly wed Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, on 21 September 1578, and the queen had found out by by June 1579. From this point in time Lettice, the queen’s first cousin once removed (on her mother’s side), had lived in disgrace.

Twenty-one years on, there had not changed a lot; except that Robert Dudley had died in 1588, and Lettice was now the Dowager Countess of Leicester (although she had remarried in 1589). For the sake of her son’s, the great Earl of Essex’, career, Lettice would have tried to reconcile Elizabeth, but it turned out to be an impossible path.

She was even prepared to do “a winter journey” if Essex thought “it be to any purpose”. Lettice had moved out of Leicester House in 1593, the great residence on the Strand, and was living for the rest of her life at Drayton Bassett near Chartley in Staffordshire. She sometimes, especially in the winter season, travelled to London, staying again at what was now Essex House (Leicester House, which she had sold to her son despite Leicester having left it to his stepson Essex in his will).

Queen Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hilliard, 1590s

The only problem was to meet the queen, as Rowland White reported to Sir Robert Sidney on 1 March 1598:

I acquainted you with the care to bring Lady Leicester to the Queen’s presence; it was often granted, but the Queen found occasion not to come. Upon Shrove Monday, the Queen was persuaded to go to Mr Controller’s at the Tilt End, there was my Lady Leicester with a fair jewel of £300. A great dinner was prepared by my Lady Chandos, the Queen’s coach ready and all the world expecting Her Majesty’s own coming; when upon a sudden she resolved not to go and send so word. My Lord of Essex that had kept his chamber the day before, in his night gown went up to the Queen the privy way; but all would not prevail and as yet my Lady Leicester hath not seen the Queen.

However, it was all resolved very quickly, or so it seemed, for on the following day “My Lady Leicester was at Court” and kissed the queen’s hand, “and the Queen kissed her.” Very soon, Elizabeth changed her mind again, though. Elizabeth did not want to see Lettice another time.

It appears that really the only reason why Lettice cared to get again into Elizabeth’s graces was her son Essex. There is evidence that she personally did not care a lot for Elizabeth (who had been, after all, her great rival for the love of Robert Dudley). An inventory of 1596 shows that as Leicester’s widow Lettice retained a large number of the earl’s very impressive picture collection, and even added new ones, like the portrait of Robert Cecil – the coming power behind the throne.

It is intriguing to know that by the mid-1590s Lettice had removed all the queen’s portraits from her rooms.

Sylvia Freedman (1983): Poor Penelope: Penelope Rich. An Elizabethan Woman. The Kensal Press.

Linda Levy Peck (2005): Consuming Splendor: Society and Culture in Seventeenth-Century England. Cambridge University Press.

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Robert Dudley in Opera

It will come as no surprise that Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, appears in Romantic opera. He is usually the tenor. At least this is the case in the three Italian operas, one by Rossini and two by Donizetti, that I have found.

CD of Maria Stuarda by Donizetti with Janet Baker as Mary Queen of Scots in a 1970s version by The English National Opera

The best known of the three nowadays must be Maria Stuarda by Gaetano Donizetti (1835). Very loosely adapted from Friedrich Schiller’s play, Robert Dudley is here the principal male character, a sympathetic hero very much in love with two queens (who are each even more in love with him). Both queens, Mary and Elizabeth, frequently sing, shout, and sigh: “Roberto!”

The other Donizetti opera is Elisabetta al castello di Kenilworth (1829). This opera was performed just eight years after the release of Walter Scott’s bestselling historical novel, Kenilworth, being based on two French plays, Victor Hugo’s Amy Robsart and Eugène Scribe’s Leicester (1828 and 1823, respectively). Walter Scott’s Kenilworth in 1821 had unleashed a flood of adaptations (and paintings) centered around Amy Robsart, Robert Dudley’s unfortunate first wife. It could be said that the novel very much created the popular story of the innocent, unhappy, and abandoned wife.

The plot of Scott’s novel, as well as the opera, merge two of Robert Dudley’s wives/girl friends into one person: Amelia, Countess of Leicester. Amelia is loosely based on the real life ladies Amy Robsart and Douglas Sheffield. The plot culminates in Elizabeth’s visit to the festival of Kenilworth Castle, where the real Earl of Leicester threw a 19-day-party in 1575.

Record cover of Elisabetta, Regina d’Inghilterra by Gioachino Rossini

About 20 years before Gaetano Donizetti’s operas, Gioachino Rossini also applied himself to bringing Elizabeth I onto the stage. His opera, Elisabetta, Regina d’Inghilterra, was first performed in 1815, based on a 1814 play, Il paggio di Leicester (Leicester’s page). This play by Carlo Federici was in turn based on an English historical novel, The Recess (1785), by Sophia Lee.

In this opera the Duke of Norfolk features prominently. He wants to engineer Leicester’s downfall and tells the queen that Leicester is secretly married (with Matilde, a Scotswoman, and a secret daughter of Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth’s great rival). Elizabeth throws both Matilde and Leicester into prison and demands that Matilde agrees to dissolve the marriage, so that she, the queen, can marry Leicester herself. Leicester vehemently rejects this possibility, preferring death over such a dishonourable solution.

Leicester is in prison, waiting for his execution as a traitor, when Elizabeth secretly visits him to help him escape. Norfolk also appears in order to liberate his supposed friend, with the help of the people. However, Leicester declines, once again deciding in favour of honour and death. On hearing this, Norfolk tries to kill Elizabeth, but is soon taken to another part of the prison. In the end, Elizabeth forgives everyone and resolves to banish love from her heart and devote herself to state business henceforward.

The plot of Elisabetta, Regina d’Inghilterra brings to mind certain scenes from Shekar Kapur’s 1998 film, Elizabeth.

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Banquet Massacres

On 7 October 1551, Sir Thomas Palmer came to visit the Earl of Warwick in his garden to deliver “a very fair” gold chain, a chain of office which went with the rank of duke. For only four days later John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, was to become the Duke of Northumberland. “Wherupon,” Palmer, “in my lord’s gardein he declared a conspiracye.” Part of this conspiracy was “a devise … to call th’erl of Warwike to a banket, with the marq[uess] of Northampton and divers other, and to cutte of there heades.”


The Historie of Italie by William Thomas was dedicated to John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, in 1549

This is how the 14-year-old King Edward VI described it in his journal. The banquet massacre was to take place in Lord Paget’s house. Although the Duke of Somerset (the king’s uncle and former Protector of England) did engage in quite a bit of plotting against his de facto successor in government, John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, there can be no doubt that either Palmer or possibly even Warwick himself invented the supposed banquet massacre. Certainly, before any banquet took place, Somerset was arrested and placed in the Tower of London, and beheaded a few months later.

There had occurred real banquet massacres in Italy, however. The author and literary critic John Addington Symonds wrote in his book Renaissance in Italy: “In 1446 the Canetoli, powerful nobles, who hated the popular dynasty, invited Annibale and all his clan to a christening feast, where they exterminated every member of the reigning house. Not one Bentivoglio was left alive.”

Symonds has more: “It is worthy of notice that very many tyrannicides took place in Church—for example, the murders of Francesco Vico dei Prefetti, of the Varani, the Chiavelli, Giuliano de’ Medici, and Galeazzo Maria Sforza. The choice of public service, as the best occasion for the commission of these crimes, points to the guarded watchfulness maintained by tyrants in their palaces and on the streets. Banquets and festivities offered another kind of opportunity; and it was on such occasions that domestic tragedies, like Oliverotto [da Fermo]’s murder of his uncle and Grifonetto Baglioni’s treason, were accomplished.”

John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, in 1549 had been the dedicatee of William Thomas’ The Historie of Italie. While this book was a rather dry account, Thomas had travelled in Italy himself, staying there for five years, and it is likely that he would have used earlier accounts by Italian historians (such as the chronicles of Giovanni and Matteo Villani, as well as Bernardino Corio) for his own work. (William Thomas also wrote a book on Henry VIII after the king’s death in which he praised all his acts.) It is possible that John Dudley’s circle, to which belonged not just Thomas Palmer, a soldier with an axe to grind with Somerset, but also William Thomas, was well versed in the history of Italy’s courts and tyrannies. At least they would have formed a clichéd opinion of what was typically Italian, like the use of poison, and banquet massacres.

Then there was the Black Dinner of 1440 at Edinburgh Castle: The young Earl of Douglas and his even younger brother (a child) were invited to the court of James II (who was 10) and beheaded after dinner. Perhaps this story was well-known in England, too. Sir Thomas Palmer had served in Somerset’s Scottish wars (where he incidentally made friendship with Master John, an Italian expert on fortifications).

Robert Dudley, in later life, was also very fond of everything Italian; he spoke Italian fluently, and he had close contacts to both members of the London Italian community and visiting Italian adventurers and artists.

Literary Remains of King Edward the Sixth (1857)
Christine Hartweg, John Dudley: The Life of Lady Jane Grey’s Father-in-Law (2016)
John Addington Symonds, Renaissance in Italy: The Age of the Despots (1888)
William Thomas, The History of Italy (1549) (1963)

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Mary Stuart’s M Necklaces

Mary Stuart with M necklace, by Nicholas Hilliard, 1570s

In 1578 a state portrait was made (by Nicholas Hilliard or his workshop) of Mary Queen of Scots holding a rosary and wearing a chain with a crucifix on her breast. An inscription tells us that the portrait was painted to mark the exiled queen’s 10 years of imprisonment by her cousin, Queen Elizabeth of England. Several versions and copies of this painting are in existence, and there are also a few miniatures, one of which may have served as the original from which the original of the larger versions was painted.

Mary Stuart with another M necklace, detail from a full-length portrait by Nicholas Hilliard, 1578

In the miniatures Mary is wearing a necklace with a centrally suspended M. In some of the larger full-length portraits she is wearing a similar necklace, only that this one is made of slightly smaller suspended Ms alternating with another type of pendant.

Mary Queen of Scots after ten years of captivity, in 1578, by Nicholas Hilliard

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Mary Stuart’s Open Ruff

Mary Stuart by Nicholas Hilliard, 1570s

When Mary Queen of Scots was in English captivity she was allowed the lifestyle of a queen in exile, for example she kept a small household with servants and ladies-in-waiting and regularly took seat below a royal canopy. She also had herself painted by Nicholas Hilliard at least once, in 1578. There survive several versions of this portrait. Such pictures were acquired by noble and gentry households for portrait collections of famous people; also, Mary Stuart, for as long as she lived, was de facto Queen Elizabeth I’s heir presumtive and some of Elizabeth’s subjects would have liked to demonstrate their loyalty to the possible future Queen of England.

Mary Stuart in 1578

Nicholas Hilliard would have painted Mary from life and he and his workshop would then have produced other versions on commission. Mary herself would have ordered miniature portraits of her to distribute among adherents and friends.

One of Hilliard’s miniatures shows her wearing a necklace with the letter M, as well as a crucifix pendant on her breast, underlining her adherence to the Catholic faith. There is a full length version where she is wearing a similar crucifix and with a Latin inscription saying that it was done when she had been a prisoner for ten years (which would have been in 1578).

Mary Stuart in another version of the Hilliard portrait type, 1570s

Another very similar version has a big, square jewel of dark red colour instead of the crucifix pendant. All these portraits of c.1578 by the Hilliard workshop stand out by Mary wearing her ruff or collar open, instead of closed or tied up. I don’t remember to have seen this in any other Elizabethan portrait. It almost looks like Mary is wearing two different types of ruffs at the same time.

Mary Stuart with her son, King James VI of Scotland, 1583. This double portrait would have served propaganda purposes and was again inspired by the Hilliard 1578 portrait type.

The Hilliard version of the portrait (the one with the jewel) was also used for a double portrait of Mary and her son James, King of Scots, in 1583. (James had been crowned king as a baby in 1567 after Mary had been forced to abdicate.) This would have been made for propaganda purposes.

A copy of the effigy of Mary Queen of Scots, Westminster Abbey, in the National Museum of Scotland. Even in death, Mary is wearing an open ruff. Photo by Kim Traynor CC BY-SA 3.0

It is fascinating that Mary even in death was shown with an open ruff. Her effigy in Westminster Abbey shows us better than the paintings how a collar that was left open actually looked like. It is interesting to compare the effigy of Frances Grey, Duchess of Suffolk, also in Westminster Abbey, with Mary Stuart’s. Frances’ collar is closed in the middle.

Effigy of Frances Grey, Duchess of Suffolk, Westminster Abbey. Frances’ ruff is tied up.

See also:


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Smelling Wives?

Landgraf Philipp von Hessen, c.1534, a few years before he decided his wife didn’t please him

Landgraf Philipp von Hessen (Landgrave Philip of Hesse in English usage) was one of the most important political leaders of the German Reformation and a great supporter of Martin Luther. He was also Germany’s most famous bigamist. In 1524, at the age of 19, he married Christina von Sachsen (Saxony), who was 18. Sixteen years later, Philipp married his wife’s lady-in-waiting, Margarethe von der Saale (who was 17). The problem was that he never divorced his first wife, who would live for another nine years.

Philipp never sought a divorce; he did not want to live in sin with his mistress, so he had to marry her, yet he thought bigamy was preferable to divorce and less sinful. Martin Luther and his colleague Melanchthon did not dare to object. Luther even agreed with the landgrave’s argument and the noted theologian and professor of Greek Melanchthon attended the wedding. However, Philipp’s fellow princes disapproved publicly. Bigamy was punishable by death according to Imperial law, and it goes without saying that it went also against the ordinary moral code of the Church, whether reformed or otherwise.

Philipp had to explain what exactly drove him to take another wife. He had produced seven children with his first wife, of whom six were still alive, and even after his second and bigamous marriage, he would continue to have three more children with his old wife. In parallel, he would have nine children with his new wife. (The offspring from his second marriage, while legitimate, would arguably have no succession rights in Philipp’s lands, though, and Margarethe was never seen at court.)

Philipp von Hessen and his supposedly unattractive first wife, Christina. Posthumous portrait commissioned in 1585 by Philipp’s heirs, after contemporary originals.

To another reformer, Martin Bucer, Philipp explained why he had never liked his old wife: When he married her he was still under 17, he claimed, which was before he became a real man, and he had never desired or loved her (“wie ich sie genomen, da ich noch kein Natur hat, auch keine VII. jarr aldt war; nota, das ich nihe liebe oder brunstlichkeit zu irr gehabt”).

Anne of Cleves, fourth wife of Henry VIII. Henry divorced her on the grounds that he found her unattractive.

In another document, also from 1539 (the year he was planning his bigamous marriage) he wrote the same, namely that from the start he had never desired her; however, he now added that he also disliked her complexion, her moods, and her smell, as well as her periodic overindulgence in drink – (“das ich von anbeginn, do ich sie gnomen, nie lust oder begirte zu ir gehapt, wie sie auch von Complexion, fruntlichkeit und geruch, auch wi si sich unter Zeiten mit uberigem drincken hiltet”). Philipp then crossed out the part about her smell and her drinking, and instead added in the margin that she was suffering from the stone – “und sonderlich das sie den Stein hardt hatt”. (This might refer to kidney or bladder stones, even to intestinal or stomach ailments).

Now, as is well known, Henry VIII only months later, in early 1540, claimed that his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, was smelling. He also told his chief minister Cromwell that he found Anne so unattractive that he could not fulfil his marital duties with her. Henry was in similar circumstances to Philipp, except that he desperately wanted a divorce. Did he know about the contents of Philipp’s excuses to take another wife? Philipp von Hessen was one of the leaders of the Schmalkaldic League, the military alliance of Protestant princes of the Holy Roman Empire, and Henry VIII had close diplomatic contacts with this group. Perhaps some details and some gossip about Philipp’s marriage affairs had reached him.

Rockwell, Willam Walker (1904): Die Doppelehe des Landgrafen Philipp von Hessen. N. G. Elwert’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung.

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Did Henry FitzRoy and Edward VI Die of the Same Illness? Guest article by Sylvia Barbara Soberton

Today, I am very happy to host Sylvia Barbara Soberton on her blog tour for her new book, Medical Downfall of the Tudors: Sex, Reproduction & Succession, which I had the pleasure to read beforehand. Sylvia also wrote several books featuring women of the Renaissance, among them Jane Dudley, Duchess of Northumberland, Robert Dudley’s mother. Over to Sylvia:

Edward VI died on 6 July 1553, just three months shy of his sixteenth birthday. The verdict of his physicians was that the young King died of consumption, as tuberculosis was then known. However, Edward’s symptoms puzzled his doctors, and rumours soon spread that the King was murdered.

We know of Edward’s symptoms through the reports of the Imperial ambassador Jehan Sheyfe, who recorded them on a daily basis from April to July 1553. According to the ambassador, Edward experienced a wide range of symptoms, some of which (swelling of the limbs, failing pulse and discoloration of the skin) weren’t typical signs of tuberculosis, and so rumours spread that Edward was “gradually carried off by some slow poison administered long before [his death]”.1 John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, employed a wise woman to help cure the King, and when she failed to do so, he was accused of attempting to poison the dying Edward.

At the end of his short life, Edward was a sorry sight. Bedridden and weak, he was bald, covered with ulcers, his feet were swollen, his skin discoloured with bluish-purple tint, his weak body shaking from violent fits of coughing.

Interestingly, over the course of Edward’s illness it was said that the same disease had carried Henry FitzRoy to his early grave in 1536. FitzRoy, Edward’s half brother, was said to have had “rapid consumption” in July 1536.2 No other symptoms were reported, but after FitzRoy’s death rumours spread that he had been poisoned by Anne Boleyn and her brother because “he pined inwardly in his body long before he died”.3 Henry VIII ordered FitzRoy’s secret and subdued funeral, which strengthens the notion that he died of a quick and possibly infectious disease that disfigured his body. Edward’s burial on 8 August 1553 was also not grand, with the Imperial ambassadors attesting that they saw “the body of the late King carried to his grave with small ceremony”.4

Is it possible that the same disease killed Henry FitzRoy and Edward VI? They both died rapidly, their symptoms developing with astonishing speed. They were both believed to have died of tuberculosis, but the quick wasting of their young bodies led many to assume foul play was involved in both cases. While it is impossible to say what exactly killed FitzRoy, medical experts believe that the key to understanding the cause of Edward VI’s death is to read carefully through his journal entries. In April 1552, Edward contracted measles and then smallpox but “perfectly recovered” from both.5 Although Edward recovered well, it’s been suggested that measles suppressed his immunity to tuberculosis. Modern research proves that symptoms such as failing pulse and swelling are indicative of tuberculous pericarditis, another possible cause of Edward’s death. In 2001, Doctors Grace Holmes, Frederick Holmes and Julia McMorrough suggested that Edward died of “rapidly progressive tuberculosis that developed after he had measles”.6 It is a plausible theory, and it is likely that FitzRoy died of the same disease in 1536.

You can purchase Medical Downfall of the Tudors here:
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1 Pietro Martire Vermigli, Historical Narration of Certain Events, p. 71.
2 Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 5 Part 2, n. 71.
3 Wriothesley’s Chronicle, Volume 1, pp. 53-4.
4 Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 11, 8 August 1553.
5 Sir John Hayward, The Life and Raigne of King Edward the Sixth, p. 168.
6 Grace Holmes, Frederick Holmes, and Julia McMorrough, “The Death of Young King Edward VI”, New England Journal of Medicine, 345: 1 (2001): 60-62.

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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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