Friendship Broken and Renewed: Northampton and Leicester

The Marquess of Northampton was released towards the end of 1553, but he was back in the Tower of London a month later because of Wyatt’s Rebellion, the family of his second wife Elizabeth Brooke being involved in the uprising. He could see the battle outside London from the leads of the tower where he was imprisoned, and soon witnessed Guildford Dudley’s execution from the roof of another.

A condition for Northampton’s pardon after his support of Lady Jane Grey had been that he take back his adulterous former wife and give up his second one. His new and old wife also became one of Queen Mary’s favourite ladies, while he remained out in the cold, dispossessed of his titles and lands. So was his now former wife, Elizabeth Brooke. Jane Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland’s widow, remembered her in the will which she wrote shortly before her death in January 1555. Between bequests to her daughters and her brother-in-law Sir Andrew Dudley, the duchess left her a gown of black, furred velvet together with other clothes and “a chair, two cushions, and a new bed of black velvet.“1 That Elizabeth Brooke is listed among close family members indicates that despite all what had happened she was still a personal friend, apparently quite a close one. The bequest is also a generous one in comparison.

Queen Elizabeth’s accession in November 1558 dramatically changed the fortunes of both the Dudley family and William Parr, who was restored to his titles and once again switched his wives. All became close friends of the queen. Relations between Northampton and Robert Dudley were cordial enough: Among the presents exchanged were a nightingale and a crossbow for Lord Robert and a ring and money for the marquess.

The sudden death of Amy Dudley in September 1560 meant a serious crack in the friendship, however. The prospect of Lord Robert becoming King Robert was too much for William Cecil, Elizabeth’s Principal Secretary and his good friend Nicholas Throckmorton, English ambassador to France. Both men were prime movers in bringing to the queen’s attention the scandal which at the same time they helped to create. Throckmorton wrote especially frantic letters, to Cecil, to Lord Clinton, the Earl of Bedford, the Earl of Pembroke – and to Northampton: ‟My Lord, I wish I were either dead, or that I were hence, … and my ears glow to hear“ the scandalous gossip of Paris. Northampton was warned again and again of the dire consequences for the commonwealth if Dudley should marry the queen, and interestingly Throckmorton thought it necessary to remind the marquess not to engage in the matter, to ‟be only a looker on“, while yet his lordship would be wise if he could bring himself ‟to hinder it“.2 It is clear that Throckmorton regarded Northampton still as a friend of Dudley’s. He need not have worried so much.

Procession of the Knights of the Garter as depicted in 1576; in 1563 the Marquess of Northampton left the ceremonies because the knights had petitioned the queen to marry Robert Dudley

The Earl of Arundel, the Duke of Northumberland’s old enemy, was himself hoping to marry the queen, and was already rallying aristocratic support against Elizabeth’s favourite: The Earl of Pembroke, the Marquess of Northampton, the Duke of Norfolk. – A servant of Arundel’s believed Lord Robert’s existence to be the only cause why ‟my Lord my master might not marry the Queen’s highness. Wherefore I would he had been put to death with his father, or that some ruffian would have dispatched him … with some dagger or gun.“3– The same wishful thinking also appeared regularly in the correspondence of ambassadors eager to match Elizabeth with their respective country’s candidate.

Many of the courtiers opposed to Elizabeth marrying Lord Robert had been involved in the rise and fall of Lady Jane Grey; Arundel, Northampton, and Pembroke, as well as Cecil and Throckmorton had good reasons to be apprehensive. As Pope Pius IV explained to one of his cardinals:

The greater part of the nobility of that island take ill the marriage which the said queen designs to enter with the Lord Robert Dudley. His father was beheaded as a rebel and usurper of the crown, and they fear that if he becomes king, he will want to avenge the death of his father, and extirpate the nobility of that kingdom.4

Elizabeth majestically brushed such notions aside, answering upon ‟questions moved“ that Lord Robert ‟was of a very good disposition and nature, not given by any means to seek revenge of former matters past“.5

The queen’s love for Lord Robert showed no signs of abating, and rumours that the nobility would rise should she marry him were rampant: Arundel, Northampton, and Pembroke being the names most often mentioned in this context. Northampton was also one of Cecil’s ‟best pillors“ in thwarting any plans Dudley might have entertained to further his marriage with the help of King Philip II.6 Even so, a year later, in April 1562, there was talk that Lord Robert was ‟in great hope of the marriage“ and that he would soon be a duke. At the Feast of the Knights of the Garter on St. George’s Day no less a figure than the Duke of Norfolk – previously Dudley’s most formidable enemy – petitioned Elizabeth to marry, ‟at first generally, and at length of the Lord Robert“. Nearly all the knights ‟there present“ agreed, the only killjoys being the Earl of Arundel and the Marquess of Northampton, both of whom stormed out of the meeting.7

Towards the mid-1560s it became increasingly clear to Robert Dudley (as it did to King Philip) that Elizabeth had little inclination to marry at all; Dudley, now Earl of Leicester, was still hoping, however, and meanwhile had won over Throckmorton, Pembroke, and Northampton as friends. In 1566 parliament debated Elizabeth’s longtime plans to marry the Archduke Charles of Austria, and even the succession – Leicester and Northampton were among a group of peers who petitioned the queen to receive a delegation on the issue:

The Queen was so angry, that she addressed hard words to the duke of Norfolk, whom she called traitor or conspirator, or other words of similar flavour. … The earls of Leicester and Pembroke, the marquis of Northampton, and the Lord Chamberlain, spoke to her on the matter, and Pembroke remarked to her that it was not right to treat the Duke badly, since he and the others were only doing what was fitting for the good of the country, and advising her what was best for her, and if she did not think fit to adopt the advice, it was still their duty to offer it. She told him he talked like a swaggering soldier, and said to Leicester that she had thought if all the world abandoned her he would not have done so, to which he answered that he would die at her feet, and she said that that had nothing to do with the matter. She said that Northampton was of no account, and he had better talk about the arguments used to enable him to get married again, when he had a wife living, instead of mincing words with her. With this she left them, and had resolved to order them to be considered under arrest in their houses. This she has not done, but she has commanded them not to appear before her.8

The ghost of Amy Robsart was raised once again in the spring of 1567, when her half-brother John Appleyard was approached on behalf of mysterious high-ranking persons in order to incriminate Dudley in his wife’s death – the reward should be £1,000 upwards in cash. When the earl heard about this plot against him he sent his trusted steward Thomas Blount to summon Appleyard, who did not appear as promised, however:

Hearing no more, after some days the Earl sent to Blount from Greenwich, where the Court lay, to bring Appleyard to him, which he did. My Lord Marquis was then with Leicester. (The Marquis said that he remembered this.) Within a few words the Earl became so angry with Appleyard that it seemed that, if they had been alone, he would have drawn his sword upon him. He bade him depart and to Blount said that he was a very villain.9

Much has been made of this outburst of temper, most recently by omitting the important detail that Northampton watched the scene, thus implying that Dudley was alone with Blount (a mere servant) and Appleyard (the would-be victim).10 Leicester’s fury is understandable, though, for Appleyard had witnessed the inquest’s proceedings after Lady Amy’s death and had been content with the coroner’s verdict of accident for several years. From Elizabeth’s accession onwards he had profited nicely from his brother-in-law’s court patronage; but in recent years he had developed the opinion that the case had never been closed and that his sister had been murdered (and that he knew the killer, who was not the earl, interestingly). Summoned before a commission of the privy council – consisting of Cecil, Arundel, Northampton, and Pembroke – Appleyard disclosed nothing, however, and in 1570 he led his own little Norfolk rebellion. Leicester’s connections rescued him from the death penalty and worked his release from prison four years later, when Appleyard’s health was failing.

On 27 and 28 September 1570 the Marquess of Northampton visited Ambrose and Robert Dudley at their castles of Warwick and Kenilworth. A year later Leicester, as a member of the most prestigious French order of chivalry, celebrated the feast of St. Michael at Warwick. William Parr assisted at this grand ceremony, which saw Robert Dudley apparelled all in white velvet. Still in town, the marquess died only a month later and was buried in the chancel of St. Mary’s Church, Warwick; in 1588 the Earl of Leicester was buried in the adjacent Beauchamp Chapel.

continued from
Close Allies – Northampton and Northumberland

1 Collins 1746 p. 34; Higginbotham 2010
2 Skidmore 2010 pp. 243, 249, 255 – 256
3 Skidmore 2010 p. 247
4 Adams 2002 p. 165
5 Adams 2002 p. 165
6 Doran 1996 pp. 45, 48 – 51
7 Skidmore 2010 p. 273
8 CSP Span I pp. 591 – 592
9 HMC Pepys p. 112
10 Skidmore 2010 pp. 302 – 303

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

Calendar of the Manuscripts of … The Marquess of Salisbury … Preserved at Hatfield House, Hertfordshire. Volume I (1883). Historical Manuscripts Commission. HMSO.

The Chronicle of Queen Jane. (ed. J. G. Nichols, 1850)

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

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

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

Collins, Arthur (ed.) (1746): Letters and Memorials of State. Volume I. T. Osborne.

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

Higginbotham, Susan (2010): “The Last Will of Jane Dudley, Duchess of Northumberland”.

Nelson, Alan (2003): Monstrous Adversary: The Life of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. Liverpool University Press.

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

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

About Christine Hartweg

Hi, I'm the author of "Amy Robsart: A Life and Its End" and "John Dudley: The Life of Lady Jane Grey's Father-in-Law". I blog at
This entry was posted in Elizabeth I, errors & myths, friends & foes, Jane Dudley, Robert Dudley and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Friendship Broken and Renewed: Northampton and Leicester

  1. Another excellent article Christine. It shows that Robert had a forgiving nature and did not hold a grudge. It is nice that Robert and William Parr settled their differences before the end of their lives..

    • Thank you, Carol! Yes, Robert didn’t hold grudges, that’s clear from his relations with a number of other people as well, and it’s even been perceived by some historians: Queen Elizabeth was right!

  2. Tokyo Joe says:

    Another great article! But I don’t really understand why Northampton was so much against Robert – Elizabeth marriage, if he was on good terms with the Dudleys at the outset of Elizabeth’s reign. I’m sure Arundel was scared of the prospect of King Robert as someone who was most responsible for the failure of Queen Jane’s cause. I even think that if Amy Dudley’s death was a murder, he was the most likely suspect.

    • Hi, Joe, thank you! Well, I think surviving letters show that Northampton was much “lobbied” by Throckmorton & Cecil, and he seems to have come somewhat under Cecil’s influence. Perhaps Northampton was also keen to range among the “ancient nobility”.

      • Tokyo Joe says:

        Thank you. Robert was incredible that he could live with all those who were constantly trying to undermine him.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.