The quarrel between the Earl of Leicester and Sir Thomas Heneage continued into 1566, though at some point it must have died down because 20 years later, when Elizabeth sent Heneage to rebuke Leicester in the Netherlands, he showed so much friendship and became so close to the earl that Elizabeth ended up rebuking himself. Leicester, for his part, mentioned Heneage in his will, calling him “my good old friend”.1 Now, in the spring of 1566, the queen was flirting with the Earl of Ormond, a good-looking Irishman; on 11 March 1566 Diego Guzmán de Silva informed Philip II:
They tell me that Lord Robert is much annoyed thereat. This Ormond is a great friend of Heneage, and they have been favourable in the Archduke’s business. Things change so, however, here, that nothing is certain from one hour to the other.2
A week later he knew that “the earl of Leicester has left here to visit a sister of his, the wife of the earl of Huntingdon, who is ill”.3 Leicester’s real intention had been to visit (for the first time) his estates in Warwickshire (including Kenilworth), which the queen had granted him in 1563. He did not get far, however, as he told Cecil:
since my coming into the country, I have not at all seen my house or anything I have thereabout … the only cause was my sister, with whom I tarried continually, because I would do her all the comfort I could for the time.4
Of course, the Spanish ambassador could not believe in so much innocence and thought Ormond and Heneage were the reason for the trip:
from what I hear, I believe his departure is owing to his annoyance that the Queen should favour those whom I mentioned in my last letter. He thinks that his absence may bring the Queen to her senses, and even may cause her to take steps regarding her marriage with him; although Leicester thinks that if she forgets to call him back, and treats him like she treats everything, he will retire to his house for a short time, and thus will not lose his place. If it be true that the Earl is going away offended, and it is not all a trick to deceive people, who wish that the queen should marry, and to prevent them from blaming him for the delay, we shall soon learn, but the general opinion is that he is really offended.5
It was Elizabeth, though, who was soon offended amid the rumours buzzing at court:
I wrote to your Majesty that the earl of Leicester had left. The Queen wrote calling him back, but he pleaded private business. She then sent a gentleman of her chamber, an adherent of Leicester to summon him, whereupon he wrote by one of his servants to the Queen begging for 15 days’ leave, which the Queen refused, and ordered him to return at once. He is expected to-night, or to-morrow. The Irish earl of Ormond still rises in the favour of the Queen.6
The queen’s ladies also warned Robert Dudley not to stay away much longer; Blanche Parry informed him of “Her Majesty’s unkindness taken with your long absence”, since “she had not heard from you since last Monday”.7 A few days later, in early April and having been away some three weeks, Leicester indeed returned, much welcomed by the queen. He was now even prepared to support Elizabeth’s marriage to some foreign prince – the Archduke Charles of Austria – in order to escape the blame for Elizabeth not marrying at all:
I found her with the earl of Leicester walking in the lower gallery of the garden. She praised the Earl very highly to me and said that when I arrived he was just persuading her to marry for the sake of the country and herself, and even on his account, as everyone thought that he was the cause of her remaining unmarried, which made him unpopular with all her subjects, and much more to the same effect (whereupon she said that if he were a King’s son she would marry him to-morrow), and if she did not do so he could not avoid retiring from court to escape the hatred of the people. All this and other things of the same sort were said very affectionately.8
Elizabeth was still not keen to bind herself, although she continued the negotiations. In August 1566, Leicester told the French ambassador a secret:
speaking less guardedly he told me that his true opinion was that she would never marry … he considered that he knew her Majesty as well as or better than anyone else of her close acquaintance, for they had first become friends before she was eight years old. Both then and later she said she never wished to do so. Thereafter he had not seen her waver in that decision. However, if by chance she should change her mind and also look within the kingdom, he was practically assured that she would choose no one else but him, as she had done him the honour of telling him quite openly on more than one occasion.9
Elizabeth would not marry herself, but neither would she tolerate her favourite’s interest in any other woman, let alone her beautiful cousin Lettice; the 1565 incident still rankled in 1567: Having absented himself to Norfolk, in early May 1567 Dudley had received a package with two letters, one from the queen and another from Sir Nicholas Throckmorton (who was keeping him abreast on court life and some delicate council business touching the case of his late wife Amy Robsart). His reply to Throckmorton showed his despondency:
I have received yours, and another enclosed from one whom it has always been my greatest comfort to hear from, but in such sort that I know not what to impute the difference to; if there is any years’ proof have made trial of unremovable fidelity enough, without notable offences, what shall I think of all that past favour which in such unspeakable sort remained towards me, thus to take my first oversight as it were an utter casting off of all that was before?
Well, I know with whom I have to do. I will always submit to their good will. I can justly confess much from them, and acknowledge very little of myself, but I will endeavour to my uttermost, whatsoever they do with me, to serve, honour, and obey them. No small grief it is to me to find them thus now, that so far otherwise have seen them not long ago; and my grief the greater because I see that remediless which I thought should never have needed help. Thus I will leave troubling you, knowing it is no pleasure to my friends to hear what is unpleasant to myself.
It would have been great comfort to me, as in times past, to answer what you sent enclosed; so is the case so changed as I dare scarce now think what I have been told before to say and write. I entreat you to give humble thanks for the pain taken with their own hands, although I could wish it had been of any others’ report or writings; then I might yet have remained in some hope of mistaking. It makes me another man, but towards them ever most faithful and best wishing, whilst my life shall last.
P.S. I see I shall not need to make so great haste home, when so good opinion is conceived of me; either a cave in a corner of oblivion, or a sepulchre for perpetual rest, were the best homes I could wish to return to.10
This letter was penned on 4 May, and was calendared under 1567 in the 19th century; more recently, it has often been dated to 1566.11 However, on 11 May 1566 de Silva reported that “the Queen still shows her usual favour to Lord Robert, although he is rather more distant. The Irishman Ormond is in higher favour every day.”12 This sounds very much as if Leicester was at court, and is at odds with his letter from his Norfolk sulking corner. Moreover, two replies from Throckmorton to Dudley, of 9 and 10 May 1567, tie in perfectly with the latter’s letter from Norwich, the second making a direct reference to Leicester’s “sepulchre”. Thus, the original dating seems to be the correct one:
You shall understand what the Queen wishes you to hear from her through your brother [Ambrose] who was in charge in my absence. Lady Stafford [one of Elizabeth’s most trusted ladies] sees no cause in matters within her reach why you should hasten hither. The storms which were up here lately are now so appeased that it seems there was no rough sea. Retain your adamant sepulchre until you have the condition better annexed and more surely verified than I see as yet occasion to hope.13
The day before, 9 May, Throckmorton had already described his encounter with Elizabeth and her reaction to Leicester’s letters; the earl had managed to write one to the queen, drawing a black heart as the symbol of his unhappiness:
Mr. Colsill arrived from your L. the 8th of this month, in the morning. He delivered your token, and I presented your writing [at] what time no person was present, but my Lady Knolles [Catherine Carey, another of Elizabeth’s favourite ladies]. Her Majesty read your letter over thrice together, and said you did mistake the cameleon’s property, who doth change into all colours according to the object, save white, which is innocency! At your cypher, the black heart, she shewed sundry affections, some merry, some sorrowful, some betwixt both. She did much commend the manner of your writing.
Then she willed me to show her what your Lordship had written to me. She read my letter twice, and put it in her pocket. Then I demanded of her whether she would write to your Lordship. She plucked forth my letter and said, “I am glad at the length he hath confessed a fault in himself, for he asketh pardon.” I said, “Madam, do you mean in your letter or in mine?” “In yours”, she answered. I said, “That which you mean is but a conditional supposed proposition.” Then she read again my letter, and said, “Here is enough to suffice me.” “Yes”, said I, “and to accuse your Majesty also” “Whereof?” said she. “Of extreme rigor”, said I. Then she smiled and put up my letter.
I asked again whether Her Majesty would write to your Lordship. She said, “I will bethink myself all this day.” I do judge by Sir H[enry] Lee she meaneth to send your Lordship a token and some message.14
The Lovesick Earl, Part I
1 Wilson 1981 p. 179
2 CSP Span I p. 529
3 CSP Span I p. 529
4 Adams 2002 p. 359
5 CSP Span I pp. 529 – 530
6 CSP Span I p. 538
7 Whitelock 2013 p. 108
8 CSP Span I p. 523
9 Adams 2002 p. 139
10 CSP Dom Addenda 1566 – 1579 pp. 28 – 29
11 Apparently first suggested by Wilson 1981 pp. 181, 324
12 CSP Span I p. 549
13 HMC Pepys pp. 102 – 103
14 CSP Dom Addenda 1566 – 1579 pp. XIV – XVI
Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, of the Reign of Elizabeth, Addenda 1566-1579. (ed. M. A. E. Green, 1871)
Calendar of … State Papers Relating to English Affairs … in … Simancas, 1558–1603. (ed. by Martin Hume, 1892–1899). HMSO.
Report on the Pepys Manuscripts Preserved at Magdalen College, Cambridge. (1911) Historical Manuscripts Commission. HMSO.
Adams, Simon (2002): Leicester and the Court: Essays in Elizabethan Politics. Manchester University Press.
Whitelock, Anna (2013): Elizabeth’s Bedfellows: An Intimate History of the Queen’s Court. Bloomsbury.
Wilson, Derek (1981): Sweet Robin: A Biography of Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester 1533–1588. Hamish Hamilton.
Per usual, extremely interesting. However, I would like to hear more about Lettice Knollys.
Thank you! There are very few mentions of Lettice before the mid-1570s. You might find these articles interesting: A Great Love: Lettice and Robert Dudley Countess Lettice At Home Leicester as Stepfather