How Much Did Lettice Knollys Resemble Queen Elizabeth I?

It is often said that Lettice Knollys, Robert Dudley’s second wife, bore a remarkable resemblance to her first cousin once removed, Queen Elizabeth I. Because Robert Dudley risked his favoured position with Elizabeth when he married Lettice, biographers have sometimes assumed that he felt attracted to Lettice chiefly because she was a younger version of the queen.

The only contemporary description of Lettice, contained in a report by the Spanish ambassador, Diego Guzmán de Silva, says that she was “one of the best-looking ladies of the court and daughter of a first cousin to the Queen, with whom she is a favourite.”1 There is no word of her supposed resemblance to Elizabeth. The only way to ascertain how much Lettice looked like her royal cousin is to compare their portraits. We have only a few, perhaps only one, authentic portrait of Lettice, while Elizabeth’s portraits, ubiquitous in her time, are mostly copies made after a handful of original paintings. Still, a comparison leaves much doubt whether they looked like one another at all.

Queen Elizabeth, in the early years of her reign

Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hilliard, c.1576-1578

Elizabeth I by Quentin Massys, c.1583

Elizabeth I c.1585-90

Elizabeth I holding an olive branch, c.1585-90

Elizabeth I in parliament robes, c.1595

As cousins (Elizabeth was Anne Boleyn’s daughter, Lettice Anne Boleyn’s grandniece) they might well have shared a family resemblance, but judging from the portraits this seems not to have been overwhelming. It is also often claimed that both Lettice and Elizabeth were red-heads. In the case of the queen this seems to be true, and she would naturally have set the fashion for many other ladies of the court (her black teeth certainly did). It is therefore likely that the not very natural-looking red hair of Lettice’s principal portrait was the result of dyeing or even a wig. Elizabeth apparently wore a wig after loosing all her hair through smallpox in 1562.

Lettice, Countess of Leicester, by George Gower, c.1585

Possible portrait of Lettice Knollys by Nicholas Hilliard, c.1578, the year she married Robert Dudley

Assumed portrait of Lettice Knollys, by Nicholas Hilliard, 1590s


1 Calendar of … State Papers Relating to English Affairs … in … Simancas, 1558–1603. I p. 472

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, errors & myths, Lettice Knollys, paintings. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to How Much Did Lettice Knollys Resemble Queen Elizabeth I?

  1. Esther says:

    I’m wondering if the resemblance between Elizabeth and Lettice was in personality traits, not appearance.

  2. Deborah says:

    Lettice is my 13th Great Grandmother. I find it fascinating that my one daughter looks a lot like Lettice’s sister, Elizabeth.

  3. dalecrice says:

    Robert Dudley is my 2nd Maternal cousin via his mother Jane Guileford my great Aunt x 10 removed. His son married my maternal first cousin Alice Leigh, so the son is my 3rd cousin. Further: within the family Sir Robert Dudley is listed as our 9th great grandfather by unknown woman. His son John Perratt II born 1565 was given to Sir John Perrot to raise as his son between William and Sir Robert Perrot by his common law wife Sybile Johns Perrot. The DNA of Sir John Perrot has been traced to John Perrot jr. born 1590 who married Prunella Perrot and had two sons at least: Dr. Richard Perrot and Robert Perrot. My DNA matches them for the first 25 markers with variations but then spreads farther apart to become like a 6th cousin thereafter on markers 26-37. All of that points to fact the Sir John Perrot’s blood does not match John Perratt II 1565 which I have, so the family information seems to be correct. I match dudley’s 2 cousins: John Dudley 1850 23/25 match and Robert Sutton his known 6th cousin is a match at 59/67 markers from me. So where does this leave the search for the mother? We know his sisters in law were the sisters of Jane Grey queen for 9 days. His lust for power would indicate that he did have the complete access to Lettice Knolleys but their son reportedly died young.D. Charles Rice 1948 of the Nebraska Rice family 9th ggrson Robert Dudley 1533 the Queens favorite male.

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