The day of Elizabeth’s accession changed Amy Dudley’s life, whether she knew it or not. On 17 November 1558 she was most probably staying at Throcking, Hertfordshire, at the house of Mr. Hyde, where she (and possibly her husband) had mostly lived for well over a year. Elizabeth’s takeover of the realm changed Lord Robert’s life even more than Amy’s, in so far as he once again got a post at court after five years of disgrace; and what a post – the Master of the Horse was one of the most important household servants with very close personal contact to the monarch. The court was his natural element and, quite apart from this, his family, not least his country-loving elder brother, expected him to make a career there for the benefit of them all.
As Robert Dudley took up preparations for important events in the new reign, such as the coronation, his wife decided to visit relatives up in Lincolnshire, whence she returned to Mr. Hyde’s house sometime before Christmas. It was not before Easter that she saw her husband again, for a few days, when he visited her at Throcking during a parliamentary recess: He passed away the time playing cards or dice with Mr. Hyde! In May and June Amy stayed in London for about a month, a visit that ended with Robert moving to Greenwich with the court. At this point she seems to have made a visit to Suffolk, it is unknown why. In London she had not stayed at court, but in her mother’s family home, Camberwell, and in a residence used by Robert Dudley, Christchurch. We do not know whether she stayed at her husband’s house at Kew, a stately property given to Robert by the queen only weeks after her accession.
By September Amy Dudley was to be found in Warwickshire, in Compton Verney, at Sir Richard Verney’s house, and by December 1559 she had moved to Cumnor in what was then Berkshire, to live in the large house rented by Sir Anthony Forster. Like Hyde and Verney, Forster was an old member of the Dudley affinity; he had faithfully assisted Robert financially in difficult circumstances and now acted as his de facto treasurer; he may also have been his wife’s relative.
So, why did Amy Dudley move to Cumnor rather than live with her husband, at or near the court? A hostile observer who recorded London gossip wrote after her death that
the people say she was killed by reason he forsook her company without cause and left her first at Hyde’s house in Hertfordshire, where she said she was poisoned, and for that cause he desired, she might no longer tarry in his house. From thence she was removed to Varney’s house in Warwickshire, and so at length to Foster’s house.1
During 1559 three different diplomats reported that Amy Dudley was suffering from serious health problems, possibly entailing some kind of eating disorder, however caused, which would explain her fear of poison – imagined poisonings, as opposed to real ones, being extremely common at the time. The last of those reports, from June 1559, said that her health had improved somewhat but that she was still very careful of what she ate. Although not a few other sources also imply that she suffered from some illness – and the fact that she no longer travelled in 1560 may add to this impression – the principal reason why Amy did not reside anywhere near the court seems to have been less her health than the queen’s jealousy.
The anonymous writer quoted above recorded that “P. used to say that when the L. Rob. went to his wife he went all in black and was commanded to say that he did nothing with her, when he came to her, as seldom he did.”2 From Amy’s movements and Robert’s visits (or lack thereof) it appears that Elizabeth did not really allow her favourite a wife. Although of course she could not display, and perhaps did not feel, any hostility towards her, she was certainly emotionally affected by Amy’s existence. She was keenly aware that Lord Robert was married, as her much later remarks to an Imperial ambassador, in 1565, make clear.3 And only a few months into her reign people had observed that Elizabeth “is in love with Lord Robert and never lets him leave her”.4
When Amy died in September 1560 she had not seen her husband for 15 months. He had planned to visit her in July during the royal summer progress, but sadly, the progress of 1560 had to be cancelled for political reasons. Robert Dudley tried to make it good with presents. He also allowed Amy, and this was generous behaviour at the time, to independently use the proceeds from her parents’ inheritance for her own little household. She maintained some 10 servants and lived in some style, which was only appropriate for the wife of one of the country’s most prominent figures.
“When my lady came from Mr. Hyde’s to London” in May 1559, she did so with 12 horses (hired and paid for by her husband). While shopping at the capital, she may not have seen much of Robert, who in June rode to Windsor to be installed as a Knight of the Garter. Wherever they stayed, between husband and wife messengers were sent back and forth with money, provisions (such as spices), and letters. None of these letters has survived, though, nearly all of the Dudley family’s private correspondence having been lost. This circumstance has contributed to the unjustified notion that Amy led an abandoned, lonely existence, that she was hidden away. Among the servants her husband sent to her were one Gower, one Langham, one John Forrest, and one “John Jones and his fellows”, while one Huggins was “her man”, and there was also “my ladies boye”.5 Some items featuring in Robert Dudley’s account books were:
For a trunk saddle with ye appurtenances for carrying of my lady’s apparel 20s
To Thomas Jones to buy a hood for my lady 35s
To Gilbert ye goldsmith for 6 dozen gold buttons of ye Spanish pattern, and for a little chain delivered to Mr. Forrest for my lady’s use £30
Two ells of fine Holland for to make my lady ruffs 12s
To Smyth the mercer for 6 yards of velvet at 43s a yard: and 4 yards to the Spanish tailor for your Lordship’s doublet: and 2 yards for guarding my lady’s cloak 112s 6d
11 pistols [a Spanish coin] delivered to Huggins to put into her Ladyship’s purse £26 13s 4d
Thomas Blount, his own steward, was another man Robert Dudley entrusted with errands to his wife; he was also the man who heard of Amy Dudley’s unexpected death when on his way to her in September 1560. We hear of “Mr. Blunt’s horse-hire when he rode to my lady in the Christmas” of 1559, but also of “blue sewing silk sent to my lady by Mr. Forster”, together with a looking glass.6 In June 1560 Robert sent “a velvet hat embroidered with gold for my lady”, worth £3, and a supply of 10 pairs of velvet shoes7 (this particular kind of footwear needing frequent replacement).
1 Adams, Archer, Bernard 2003 p. 66
2 Adams, Archer, Bernard 2003 p. 66
3 CSP Span I p. 437
4 CSP Span I p. 63
5 Jackson 1878 pp. 84 – 85; Skidmore 2010 p. 147
6 Jackson 1878 p. 85; Adams 1995 p. 106
7 Skidmore 2010 p. 194
Calendar of … State Papers Relating to English Affairs … in … Simancas, 1558–1603. Volume I. (ed. by Martin Hume, 1892–1899). 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 (2011): ‟Dudley, Amy, Lady Dudley (1532–1560)“. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online edition.
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.
Jackson, J. E. (1878): “Amye Robsart”. The Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine. Volume XVII.
Skidmore, Chris (2010): Death and the Virgin: Elizabeth, Dudley and the Mysterious Fate of Amy Robsart. Weidenfeld & Nicolson.