Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester left his country house at Wanstead on 5 December 1585 and spent the next two nights at Ingatestone, killing time,1 until he received the letter which finally confirmed that Her Majesty had signed “the assurance” for his appointment as lieutenant-general of her forces in the Netherlands. His reply he concluded with the words, “haste towards Harwich”, and there he landed by boat the next day at “aboute 11 of the clock in the forenoone” as the eyewitness Stephen Burroughs, Admiral of the Fleet, tells us.2
Before they could sail a problem arose in that the navy had expected a crossing to Flushing while Leicester had been instructed by the Dutch estates to come to the Brill,3 much further north: A “purpose I never recevid any advertisemente till then”, as the admiral pointed out. He had made sure to have a pilot who had the skill to go to the port at the Brill in case they were driven there by a storm. One man was not enough, though, to land the whole fleet securely,
whereat his lordship seemed to be greatly offended with me, and saide it was my dutie, being admyrall, to have seene that there had bene sufficient pilottes provided for all the fleete, for any place it shoulde please his lordship to apointe to goe unto. Heerupon the best pilottes that could be called to mynd in Ipswiche and other places theraboutes, as well Inglishe as straingers, were sent for with all spede, and apointed to be at the shipps the nexte daye in the fornoone.
notwithstandinge the wante of pilottes, and the unreadines of that shipp, and those whoies [a type of ship] and horses, which my lord wolde have to goe over in company with himself, yet his lordship, betwene 2 and 3 of the clock in the afternoone, tooke boate, and wente aboorde the Amytie, which roade in the rolling grounde, where his lordship remayned all nighte, with diverse knightes and gentlemen of worshipp, but most of the noblemen and gentlemen lodged that night at spare in Harwiche.
my lord contynued all that night a resolute mynde to goe for the Brill … in the morninge, those pilotes which were sent for came aborde the Amytie unto my lord, who delivered the opynion that the Brill was not a fitt harboroughe or place to carry soche a fleete unto. Notwithstandinge, my lord tolde them he wolde goe thether. They answered they wolde doe theire best to observe the will of his lordship, albeyt theire myndes and stomackes were against the going thether.
This expert opinion did make some impression on Leicester, for “before noone, his lordship chainged his mynde, and determyned then to goe for Flushing, wherof all partys of every sorte were veary glad”. And thus, “at 2 of the clocke I went aborde to my lord, and showed my lord the instructions that I had made for the fleet, wherof his lordship seemed to have good leekinge, and willed me to procede acordinglie in all thinges.”4
Robert Dudley wrote – and would continue to write – almost daily to his colleagues from the privy council, especially to “Mr. Secretary”, Sir Francis Walsingham, but occasionally also to William Cecil, Lord Burghley. He had hoped to say farewell to Burghley in person before leaving London, but the Lord Treasurer had been taken ill with gout and so received a written farewell from Wanstead on 5 December 1585.5 Three days later, on board the Amity (or Ametyst, as Leicester called the ship) he wrote again to Burghley. Having put his entire fortune at disposal by scratching up £25,000 for the venture he called “God’s cause and Her Majesty’s”, the earl once again reminded his colleague to be steadfast in procuring support from an unconvinced and tight-fisted monarch:
I do thank you most heartily for your letter, which doth give me no small comfort to find your Lordship so earnestly bent for the good supply and maintenance of us poor men sent in her Majesty’s service and our country. Good my Lord, take it to the heart as you say you will, and I believe you will, as well because you do so assure me as for our good cause sake you do like well. And albeit my meaning was to trouble your Lordship as often as occasion should serve for the service of her Majesty and my charge, yet must I now the more often and the rather for that I find [by] Mr. Secretary’s letters he is utterly discouraged to deal any more in any these causes that come from me. I pray God your Lordship be not so too, for then all will to the ground on my poor side specially. But by the grace of God I mean not to trouble you with any thing but for the true and needful service of her Majesty and for discharge of my duty in this charge committed to me and therein, good my Lord, be not weary neither of my often nor plain writing. … In the meantime I beseech you to remember our money.6
After a swift crossing of less than 24 hours, the fleet anchored at Flushing. “My lord was landed betwene one and 2 of the clocke; we shot of all our ordinance at his lordships landing, and the towne shot of all the ordinance they had at the recevinge of his lordship at shore”. This was not yet enough noise, for “aboute 5 of the clocke at nighte, the towne of Flushinge shot of all or the most parte of the ordinance that were planted at the walls, in honor of my lord, and the same nighte made score of bonfiers and fierworkes.”
The next day, Saturday 11 December 1585 according to the English calendar and 21 December according to the Dutch, “ymediatlie after dinner, my lord of Leycester imbarked himselfe at Flushinge …, in a whoy, to passe to Midlebrough; my lord of Essex imbarked in the pinnasse Signet, and the pynnes of the Amytie and some other whoie of the towne likewise toke in diverse gentlemen of my lords traine.” The town of Flushing (“which shot of at his departure all the ordinance of the towne”) and the castle-fortress of Ramekens were left behind and Leicester’s vessel was
saluted as he passed-by bothe of the Zelanders, our shipps, the saide castle, … &c. and landed at the steyars by the sluceheade, a litle withoute the este gate of Midleboroughe, aboute 3 of the clocke in the afternoone, where divers of the states, and majestrates of the towne recevid him. And so, very honorably accompanied and guarded, with trompetes soundinge bothe before and behinde, his lordship entred the towne of Midleboroughe, and passed in the same unto his lodginge prepared at the friars, the same place where Mounsieur at his cominge over was lodged.
“Monsieur”, the French king’s brother, the Duke of Anjou, future Duke of Brabant, and suitor of Queen Elizabeth, had entered the town about four years earlier; the Earl of Leicester had escorted him from England. Like Leicester now, Anjou had been sent to assist the Netherlands on behalf of Elizabeth and like the French duke then, the Dutch expected the English earl to rule over them.
As my lord passed, the burgers of the towne, very well armed and furnished, showed themselves in the best manner they could, and dischardged their vollis of shott in veary good order. This night were made many bonfiers in the towne, and greate store of fyerworkes were showed in the courte of the abby, &c. like as when Monsieur cam in.
In the times of the Duke of Anjou the Dutch still had had their own figurehead in the person of the Prince of Orange – he had been assassinated in July 1584 by an agent of Philip II. The prince’s sons, however, were intent on carrying on his work but the United Provinces were everything else than a hereditary monarchy; his widow was a daughter of the famed French Huguenot leader, Admiral Coligny. – On Sunday, 22 December,
my lord in the forenoone was at a sermon in the Englishe churche nere the said abby. … This daie the lord of Leycester and noblemen, &c. were invitedd by the states and burgers of the towne to dyne at their towne-house on Tewsdaie followinge.
Monday, my lord reposed himself in his lodginge for the dispatche of diverse affaiers …
Tewsdaie, my lord wente to the towne-house accompanied with duke Morice, the prince of Orainge his sonn, our noblemen, gentlemen, and the cheefest of the states of Zealand, &c. where met him also the widow of the prince of Orenge, and diverse ladies and gentlewomen that accompanied her. The place they dyned in was not that greate roome where Monsieur was bancqueted, but a place somwhat lesse, wherein were placed but 2 tables; one of those tables, which conteyned the whole lengthe of the house, and mighte holde 80 or 100 persons, was apointed for the lord of Leycester, lord governor-generall, and those nobles and gentills that accompanied his lordship; thother table, beinge not half so longe, was apointed for some of the states of the contrey and chief majestrates of the towne. At which seconde table my lords gentlemen at theire firste cominge-in had set themselves, before my lord himself was set, and in placinge themselfes there was soche leapinge over table, strivinge, and disorder, that diverse glasses were broken, &c. whereof my lord was informed, and thereupon gave order, that all his gentlemen shoulde goe oute of the howse, which was observed, and after that, all thinges passed in reasonable quiett order, but the roome coulde not contain half the nomber of gentlemen that cam thither to dyne. …
The fare was greate, but cheafelie the bakte meates, and after that the banckquet of sugar-workes and devises unto the highe table were most brave and sompteouse. My lordes settinge continewed from 12 till it was past 3 halfe an hower, for with the water that was brought for them to washe, came in candles. After all was finished my lord generall and the nobles and gentlemen retyred to theire lodginges. This dinner and banckquett, for the quantytie of it, was as sumpteous in all pointes as that was when Monsieur was banckqueted by them. …
Wednsdaie, by the inhabitantes of the contrey was helde for Christmas daie. This daie the winde was westerlie with raine and fowle weather. … God blisse and prosper his lordships proceedinges with good and most happie successe.
The Lieutenant-General’s progress passed through many towns and cities, where he was fêted “like a second Charles V”,7 until he arrived in The Hague, on 6 January 1586 in the Gregorian calendar. The English party continued to use the old Julian calendar, however, and so it was in the morning of 1 January 1586 that Robert Dudley was visited by a high-ranking Dutch delegation. The outcome of this, on the earl’s part, unexpected meeting was to change his life.
1 Adams 1995 p. 394
2 Leycester Correspondence p. 461
3 Adams 1995 pp. 394 – 395
4 Leycester Correspondence pp. 461 – 462
5 Adams 1995 p. 394
6 CSP Foreign 9 December 1585
7 Strong and van Dorsten 1964 p. 53
Calendar of State Papers, Foreign, Elizabeth, Volume 20. http://www.british-history.ac.uk/source.aspx?pubid=828
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 (1995): Household Accounts and Disbursement Books of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, 1558–1561, 1584–1586. Cambridge University Press.
Gristwood, Sarah (2007): Elizabeth and Leicester: Power, Passion, Politics. Viking.
Strong, R. C. and van Dorsten, J. A. (1964): Leicester’s Triumph. Oxford University Press.