The Portraits of Robert Dudley (1)

Robert Dudley, c.1560

Apart from the queen herself, the most portrayed person of Elizabethan England was none other than Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. As the most often painted Englishman of his time, Leicester sat for a new portrait about every two years, which was really a lot. He started in about 1560, when the first known portrait can be dated (it is unlikely that he had ever have himself painted before).

The painting, which forms now part of the Wallace Collection, London, consists of a panel of wood with an inscription on its back, “AETATIS 28 156-“. The inscription, if correct, would mean that the portrait was executed when Robert Dudley was 28, which in turn would indicate a date between 24 June 1560 and 23 June 1561. His birth date has been a subject of speculation, due to William Camden’s claim that Elizabeth and Robert Dudley were born under the same star; but Robert himself makes clear in a letter that he was born on 24 June, although he regrettably forgot to mention the year. However, another likeness of his, a 1576 miniature by Nicholas Hilliard, gives his age as 44, so 1532 is likely the year of his birth.

In the portrait, Robert Dudley proudly displays his Garter chain with his “George” (he had recieved the order in 1559), and his hand rests on his helmet, indicating his military achievements (he had served as Master of the Ordnance in King Philip’s expedition to France in 1557).

Further reading:
Elizabeth Goldring, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and the World of Elizabethan Art: Painting and Patronage at the Court of Elizabeth I, 2014.

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
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