Arundel and Leicester

Henry Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel, in Habsburg style armchair

Henry Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel, in Habsburg style pose and armchair

The queen was 25 years old and unmarried. Henry Fitzalan, twice a widower, fancied himself in the role of consort; of ancient nobility, he certainly possessed the right house to accommodate Elizabeth and her court. Nonsuch Palace, built by Henry VIII, had been given to him, the 12th Earl of Arundel, by Queen Mary. Arundel was serious: Rumour had it that he had spent £600 on jewels to be given to the queen’s ladies, so that they would speak for his cause. He also had himself painted in the pose of an emperor, sitting in the same kind of armchair as Charles V had when portrayed by Titian. Alas, Elizabeth was not keen on marriage, especially not to a man 20 years her senior and not particularly good-looking. Philip II’s ambassador observed how “she does not get on with him” and judged him to be “a flighty man of small ability”. The emperor’s ambassador (who had his own candidate in the running) neither believed in Arundel’s chances to become king: “he and he alone entertains this hope, for he is somewhat advanced in years and also rather silly and loutish, is not well-favoured, nor has a handsome figure”.1

Elizabeth was however interested in two other men, Sir William Pickering and Lord Robert Dudley. Arundel was very annoyed at Pickering, a mere knight, who, he maintained, lacked the social standing to be seen in the queen’s chambers! A duel seemed in order, Pickering choosing Robert Dudley as his second; but then he decided that Arundel was too old and infirm for any such exercise.2

Arundel was also irritated by Elizabeth’s fondness for the Lord Robert (the son of the Duke of Northumberland, whom Arundel had betrayed in 1553). He was not alone in his dismay, though, and soon sinister rumours made the rounds:

The Queen is much alarmed at a plot which they have told her of against her and Robert, the object of which was to kill him at a banquet given recently to the Queen by the earl of Arundel, where also the Queen was to be poisoned.3

It surely can be ruled out that Arundel was behind this crude plan, but neither is there any evidence that it was just a propaganda exercise on Elizabeth’s and Dudley’s part (as has been recently claimed). Dudley during these months was sufficiently afraid of being assassinated to wear a “privy coat”, a light coat of mail, under his clothes,4 and his social relations with the Earl of Arundel were friendly enough. His account books record visits and the exchange of presents in 1559 and 1560:

Item to my Lord of Arundel’s servant rowing your lordship from Arundel Place 6s 4d

To my Lord Arundel’s man presenting a red dear 12s 4d

Arundel and Dudley also exchanged letters about state events and the practicalities of court life.5 In July 1560 Arundel complained: “They that shall attend the Queen’s Majesty in the progress shall swear from the highest to the lowest to find soft ways, how hard soever they find their lodging and fare”.6

Robert Dudley, c.1560. Arundel had betrayed Dudley's father and saw him as a rival for the queen's hand

Robert Dudley, c.1560. Arundel saw him as his rival for the queen’s hand.

On 8 September 1560 Lord Robert’s wife, Amy, was found dead at the foot of a flight of stairs in her house. It now became a possibility that Elizabeth would marry her favourite, a prospect that greatly alarmed Arundel and his aristocratic friends. Arthur Guntor, one of Arundel’s retainers, warned: “It may fortune that there will rise trouble among the noblemen, which God forbid”. He also made clear that Robert Dudley was “the cause that 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 by the way he had gone, with some dagger or gun.“7

Not long after the inquest into Amy Dudley’s death was concluded and the verdict published at the yearly assizes in 1561, the Spanish ambassador de Quadra heard that

great suspicions are entertained of the earl of Arundel with whom Lord Robert has had such words that the Earl went home and he and others are drawing up copies of the testimony given in the inquiry respecting the death of Lord Robert’s wife. Robert is now doing his best to repair matters as it appears that more is being discovered in that affair than he wished.

It is important to note, though, that Arundel did not find anything suspicious in the documents, his eagerness notwithstanding. The true reason why men like he and the Earl of Pembroke or the Marquess of Northampton did not like a Dudley consort was hinted at by Pope Pius IV (who had also heard the news from England):

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.

By April 1562, however, the Knights of the Garter were more worried at the queen’s continued spinsterhood. The Duke of Norfolk, normally known as Dudley’s most formidable enemy, petitioned Elizabeth to marry: ‟at first generally, and at length of the Lord Robert“. All knights present agreed, except the Earl of Arundel and the Marquess of Northampton; they stormed out of the meeting to make their point.8

Ironically, while both Arundel and Robert Dudley (now the Earl of Leicester) were unsuccessful in their respective bids for Elizabeth’s hand, both were suggested as marriage candidates for Mary Stuart by the English government; in 1565, anything would do to avert Lord Darnley becoming King of Scots. Neither “suitor” was keen on the position, however, and both hoped that Darnley would succeed.

Meanwhile, the Earl of Sussex, his ally the Duke of Norfolk, and the latter’s father-in-law, the Earl of Arundel, blamed Elizabeth’s failure to marry the Archduke Charles of Austria on Leicester. The French ambassador reported how Arundel and Norfolk took Dudley to task about his behaviour towards her Majesty early in the morning in her bedchamber, where he “took upon himself the office of her lady-in-waiting, by handing to her a garment which ought never to have been seen in the hands of her Master of the Horse.” The two also criticized Dudley for “kissing her Majesty, when he was not invited thereto”.9

Norfolk, speaking as he claimed on behalf of “the whole nation”, went so far as to threaten Dudley that “evil could not fail to befall him” if he did not support the Habsburg match.10 When Leicester’s followers started to wear blue and Norfolk’s yellow, Arundel however thought the matter went out of hand and tried to talk some sense into the parties. Convinced that the project of a Habsburg marriage was as good as dead, he even told the Spanish ambassador that Norfolk was only clinging to it “out of enmity to the Earl of Leicester.”11

The Earl of Arundel then left for a journey up the Rhine and to Italy, where he hoped to be cured from his gout. From the peninsula Arundel brought back manuscript books of music containing settings of popular dances, like the pavana, passamezzo, and saltarello. These melodies were probably not entirely new to an English audience, as they had been in circulation in Europe since the 1520s; still, it is tempting to believe that Elizabeth’s court might have danced to some of the pieces in Arundel’s collection (now in the British Library).

Returned from Italy in 1567, Arundel soon found himself on an investigation panel of the privy council, alongside three other nobles and William Cecil, Elizabeth’s Principal Secretary. John Appleyard, Amy Dudley’s half-brother, had been approached by some mysterious figures who offered him £1,000 in cash for evidence against Leicester concerning his wife’s death. Appleyard was under the impression that the agents acted on behalf of the Duke of Norfolk and the Earl of Sussex (who were still hoping that Elizabeth would marry the Archduke Charles). While insisting on Leicester’s innocence in his wife’s “murder”, Appleyard suddenly claimed that he could reveal the true culprit. The council questioned him and many of Leicester’s servants, but Appleyard changed his opinion again after seeing the coroner’s report, and nothing new about the case emerged. In the end, Arundel only had the satisfaction to witness Appleyard’s formal apology to Norfolk and Sussex, the ‟noble gentlemen against whom he has trespassed”.

Arundel's influence waned in later years as he was caught up in plots against Elizabeth I. Leicester was pleased to help.

Arundel’s influence waned in later years as he was caught up in plots against Elizabeth I. Leicester was happy to help.

The next year, 1568, Elizabeth finally turned down her Habsburg suitor, but immediately a fresh problem appeared in the shape of Mary Queen of Scots, who chose England as her refuge that summer. The Duke of Norfolk, recently widowed for the third time, saw his chance for greatness: If Mary would wed him, an English Protestant, she could be re-instated as Scottish queen without danger for Elizabeth. By spring 1569 Norfolk had convinced both Arundel and Leicester, as well as Nicholas Throckmorton12 – an expert on Scottish affairs and known as Dudley’s “political brain”. The scheme attracted wide support among the nobility, but not Elizabeth’s who would have none of it. With good reason she suspected Arundel and Norfolk of treasonable dealings with the Catholic Northern earls, Northumberland and Westmorland. Norfolk went to the Tower, Arundel was placed under house arrest. In March 1570 Robert Dudley was instrumental in the earl’s release, and he also achieved the duke’s release from the Tower in August.13 He also helped Arundel to recover financially.14

Unfortunately, Norfolk entangled himself in the shady machinations of the Florentine banker Roberto Ridolfi, whom he even allowed to use his house. Under the duke’s nose Ridolfi became central in a conspiracy to replace Queen Elizabeth with Mary Queen of Scots, and since Norfolk still entertained plans to marry her his involvement seemed undeniable. In September 1571 he was back in the Tower. Arundel once again set his hopes on Leicester:

I most heartily thank your Lordship for your letter, and I am sorry to perceive thereby that Her Majesty is so fully persuaded of my Lord of Norfolk’s undutiful dealings towards her Highness. I pray God that his truth may be laid open to the full satisfaction of her Majesty and to the benefit of himself (if he have not deserved the contrary). It appeareth your Lordship knoweth not his case and for my part I am utterly ignorant thereof: wherefore till I shall see his untruth apparent I cannot but hope that God left him not so naked of his grace to deserve so evil as that he is not to receive her Majesty’s grace and favour again. And in the meantime I will pray for her Majesty’s quiet and happiness in all her causes, and to your Lordship’s good health and as well to do as any friend may wish to another.15

As the duke’s father-in-law Arundel also fell under suspicion, almost by default. He was to spent over a year in the Tower, but there could be no reprieve for the Duke of Norfolk. Parliament clamoured for his head and Elizabeth finally gave way in June 1572. The next year, the Earl of Arundel returned once more to the privy council. He died in 1580. Arundel’s last recorded activity was to advise the queen against a match with the French Duke of Anjou, a stance that would have pleased the Earl of Leicester.

When Elizabeth had been confronted with fears that Robert Dudley might seek revenge for his father’s death, she replied that Lord Robert ‟was of a very good disposition and nature, not given by any means to seek revenge of former matters past“. And she was right. Robert Dudley had no time for old grudges, indeed he wrote: “I have never been willing to make quarrels in this court nor to breed any. Mine own honour and poor credit alway saved, I neither have nor will be a peace breaker but a peace maker”.16 His relations with the Earl of Arundel are proof that he meant what he said.

See also:
Arundel and Northumberland

1 Lock 2004
2 Lock 2004; Adams 1995 p. 46
3 CSP Span I p. 95
4 Adams 1995 p. 151
5 Adams 1995 pp. 84, 141, 154
6 HMC Bath V p. 158
7 Skidmore 2010 p. 247
8 Skidmore 2010 p. 273
9 Whitelock 2013 p. 98; Jenkins 2002 p. 150
10 Whitelock 2013 p. 98
11 Williams 1964 pp. 95, 98
12 Whitelock 2013 p. 128
13 Wilson 2005 pp. 305 – 306
14 Lock 2004
15 HMC Bath V pp. 183 – 184
16 Adams 2002 p. 35

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

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

Manuscripts of The Marquess of Bath Volume V: Talbot, Dudley and Devereux Papers 1533–1659. (1980) 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.

Hume, Martin (1904): The Courtships of Queen Elizabeth. Eveleigh Nash & Grayson.

Jenkins, Elizabeth (2002): Elizabeth and Leicester. The Phoenix Press.

Lock, Julian (2004): “Fitzalan, Henry, twelfth earl of Arundel (1512–1580)”. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.

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

Whitelock, Anna (2013): Elizabeth’s Bedfellows: An Intimate History of the Queen’s Court. Bloomsbury.

Williams, Neville (1964): Thomas Howard, Fourth Duke of Norfolk. Barrie & Rockliff.

Wilson, Derek (2005): The Uncrowned Kings of England: The Black History of the Dudleys and the Tudor Throne. Carroll & Graf.

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 Amy Robsart, Elizabeth I, friends & foes, Robert Dudley and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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