In the week following his wife’s deadly fall from a flight of stairs Robert Dudley wrote many letters. He had left the court at Windsor for his house in Kew, “whither the lordes resorted to him to comforte him.”1 He also received his tailor’s man, Jennings, who came “to take measure of your lordship”.2 The mourning widower would wear “his blackes till Easter following”,3 that is for about six months.
One of the first visitors at Kew after 10 September 1560, the day Robert probably arrived there, must have been Sir William Cecil, the queen’s chief minister and Principal Secretary. Dudley was exceedingly grateful and hoped that Cecil, as promised, would plead with Elizabeth for his return:
Sir, I thank you very much for your being here, and the great friendship you have shown towards me I shall not forget. I am very loath to wish you here again but I would be very glad to be with you there. I pray you let me hear from you, what you think best for me to do. If you doubt, I pray you ask the question for the sooner you can advise me [to come] thither, the more I shall thank you. I am sorry so sudden a chance should breed me so great a change, for methinks I am here all the while as it were in a dream, and too far too far from the place I am bound to be, where, methinks also, this long, idle time cannot excuse me for the duty I have to discharge elsewhere. I pray you help him that sues to be at liberty out of so great a bondage. Forget me not, though you see me not and I will remember you and fail you not, and so wish you well to do. In haste this morning.
I beseech you, Sir, forget me not to offer up the humble sacrifice you promised me.
Your very assured,
As his manuscript shows, Robert Dudley was agitated when he penned this message: Instead of preparing a draft and writing out a “fair copy” afterwards, he sent his letter with all his corrections, “with mistakes scribbled through it”, the writing looking rushed.5 His state of shock is apparent: “for methinks I am here all the while as it were in a dream”. This psychological fact cannot be faked; this is not the state of mind of a cold-blooded wife murderer. His single-minded preoccupation with getting back to court – his natural habitat – has been criticized ever since, but again it shows his genuine reaction. It did not occur to Robert to dissemble feelings which might have appeared more appropriate.
Was he visited by a dissembler? William Cecil certainly had quickly capitalized on the tragedy which affected the man he may have seen as a rival for power.6 He had thrown oil into the flames of scandal by talking to the Spanish ambassador, the gossipy de Quadra, a few hours after the news of Amy Dudley’s death had signalled to him that the queen might indeed marry her favourite and that his career might come to an end (so he feared). But he had not just told de Quadra that Lady Dudley was about to be murdered, and taking great care not to be poisoned; significantly, he had added that “Lord Robert would be better in paradise than here.”
Cecil reckoned he could afford some sympathy, and correctly; the events brought his return to unquestionable favour and within weeks he had secured the position of Master of the Queen’s Wards, a post that dealt with huge sums of money and must have been most welcome to an ambitious builder of great ancestral homes.
It was not Cecil’s intention to destroy Lord Robert completely. With his colleague Nicholas Throckmorton he worked hard to intrigue against another royal Dudley marriage,7 both men having been heavily implicated in a previous one. They had escaped unscathed, while Robert and his family had not, which was a principal reason they did not want him as consort. But they had known Robert Dudley for many years, seen him grow into a man, and both had a good opinion of his person. Throckmorton to Cecil: ‟I do like him for some respects well, and esteem him for many good parts and gifts of nature that be in him.“8 – Cecil to Throckmorton: “I will never desire towards him but well.”9
1 Adams; Archer; Bernard 2003 p. 66
2 Adams 1995 p. 159
3 Adams; Archer; Bernard 2003 p. 67
4 Skidmore 2010 p. 237
5 Skidmore 2010 p. 238
6 Skidmore 2010 p. 239; Gristwood 2007 pp. 108 – 109
7 Skidmore 2010 pp. 243, 249, 255 – 256
8 Gristwood 2007 p. 112
9 Skidmore 2010 pp. 357 – 358
Adams, Simon (ed.) (1995): Household Accounts and Disbursement Books of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, 1558–1561, 1584–1586. Cambridge University Press.
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.
Gristwood, Sarah (2007): Elizabeth and Leicester: Power, Passion, Politics. Viking.
Skidmore, Chris (2010): Death and the Virgin: Elizabeth, Dudley and the Mysterious Fate of Amy Robsart. Weidenfeld & Nicolson.