The Earl of Leicester’s Fool

Elizabeth I, 1560s. Unlike their Spanish counterparts, English court jesters were not usually included in royal portraits.

Elizabeth I, 1560s. Unlike their Spanish counterparts, English court jesters were not usually included in royal portraits.

It is well known that Elizabeth I did not suffer fools gladly. Indeed, while she enjoyed to be entertained by the likes of Richard Tarlton, that is outright clowns, her sense of humour had its limits when it came to the more satirical remarks of court jesters. John Pace, an Eton-educated “bitter fool”, ended up being banned from the queen’s presence.1

Robert Dudley had his own fool. He appears in a report by King Philip’s ambassador, Guzmán de Silva, in June 1565. De Silva’s Imperial colleague, Zwetkowitsch, had recently arrived to (once again) deal in the marriage of the Archduke Charles to Elizabeth. On Whit Sunday the queen invited Zwetkowitsch to dinner, saying first that she was looking forward to the archduke’s visit and that “if they liked one another the matter could soon be settled”. – She then inquired, however, if Zwetkowitsch had heard whether the Earl of Leicester was perhaps opposing the match in any way, implying that he first needed to obtain Leicester’s consent. When the envoy assured her that Dudley himself had written to the emperor in support of the project and that the archduke remained the only suitable foreign candidate for her hand, Elizabeth suddenly reminded him: “But I have never said yet that I would not marry the Earl of Leicester.”2

Philip II's daughter Isabel Clara Eugenia with her favourite dwarf, Margarita Ruiz

Philip II’s daughter Isabel Clara Eugenia with her favourite dwarf

Indeed, Philip II had known it all the time: “and, after all, she will either not marry or else marry Robert, to whom she has always been so much attached … the Queen is in love with Robert.”3 – Now, his ambassador, de Silva, could allow himself to come to the same conclusion: “I keep Leicester in hand in the best way I can, as I am still firm in my idea, that if any marriage at all is to result from all this it will be his.”4

Being entertained daily by Leicester with suppers and dinners, de Silva and Zwetkowitsch were also taken on a morning tour around the royal park at Windsor. Elizabeth, who was “not a morning person”, had not yet appeared: “We came round by the footpath leading to the riverside through the wood to where the Queen lodges, and when we came to her apartments Leicester’s fool made so much noise calling her that she came undressed to the window.” One and a half hours later she came down, fully dressed, “and walked for a long while talking with the Emperor’s man and me about many different things.”5 There is no sign that this time she was angry at the fool, or at the Earl of Leicester.

1 Loades 2003 p. 316; Southworth 2003 pp. 142 – 143
2 Hume 1904 p. 92
3 Hume 1904 p. 100
4 CSP Span I p. 466
5 CSP Span I p. 465

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

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

Loades, David (2003): Elizabeth I. Hambledon Continuum.

Southworth, John (2003): Fools and Jesters at the English Court. The History Press.

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

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, family & marriage, Robert Dudley and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Earl of Leicester’s Fool

  1. mrsfiennes says:

    I am absolutely fascinated by your site and your subject of Robert Dudley.How interesting to know that Robert had a fool.I find it reassuring somehow that Elizabeth didn’t like bitter humor but still had a sense of fun.

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