John Dudley at Kyra Cornelius Kramer

I am happy to say that I was invited by Kyra Cornelius Kramer, medical anthropologist and author of interesting books on Henry VIII and Edward VI, and their health issues, to write something about John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. I decided to think about why he is still so unpopular: Please go here …

Posted in John Dudley, religion

In Luctu Terminantur or To End in Grief

William Cecil, Principal Secretary to the queen, loved to write memoranda

William Cecil, Elizabeth I’s chief minister, had a habit of preparing memoranda for his own later use. He would make lists of things and arguments he found worth remembering. Two of these lists concern Robert Dudley and his role as a possible husband for Elizabeth. Though undated, they were apparently written in 1565. Cecil listed everything he could think of that spoke against such a marriage. Alongside he listed everything in favour of the Archduke Charles of Austria as a husband of the queen.

Thus, under “In likelihood to love his wife”, Cecil wrote “His father, Ferdinando, ut supra“, meaning that Charles’ father, the Emperor Ferdinand had loved his wife very much. (He could not write anything about the archduke himself, as Charles had never been married so far). Turning to Robert, Cecil noted, “Nuptiae carnales a laetitia incipiunt et in luctu terminantur. Hated of many. His wife’s death”.1

The damning sentence at the end of Cecil’s remark has been eagerly cited by all who believe that Robert Dudley killed his wife. We will however turn now to Cecil’s Latin phrase at the start: Nuptiae carnales translates to “carnal marriage”, and it is from these two words that we know that Robert’s and Amy’s marriage must have been a sort of love match, apart from circumstantial evidence.

Robert Dudley, a suitor for the queen’s hand and a widower

What Cecil wanted to remind himself of was that marriages of love were to be avoided at all cost. Robert’s marriage was just another example, having started in bliss or happiness (laetitia) and having ended in grief, sorrow, or mourning (luctu[s]). One scholar, Dr. Simon Adams, has translated luctu as “weeping”.

Unfortunately, Antonia Fraser in her classic biography of Mary Queen of Scots has given this phrase a sinister meaning. She translated the sentence as “Carnal marriages begin in happiness and end in strife“, placing it as a motto at the beginning of Chapter Thirteen. Mary Queen of Scots being an international bestseller, many people will have read this wrong and misleading translation and some have cited it in works of their own.

Unfortunately, though perhaps naturally, there has been a tendency in Mary’s biographers to show Elizabeth in as bad light as possible, including ill-suited comparisons between the death of Amy Robsart and the murder of Lord Darnley. The first, however, though a scandal, was likely an accident or a suicide, while the second was a political assassination never doubted even by its contemporaries.

1 Adams 2002 p. 150
2 Wilson 1981 p. 189

Adams, Simon (2002): Leicester and the Court: Essays in Elizabethan Politics. Manchester University Press.
Adams, Simon (2008): ‟Dudley, Robert, earl of Leicester (1532/3–1588)“. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online edition.
Fraser, Antonia (1970): Mary Queen of Scots. Panther.
Wilson, Derek (1981): Sweet Robin: A Biography of Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester 1533–1588. Hamish Hamilton.

Posted in Amy Robsart, Elizabeth I, errors & myths, Robert Dudley, sources & historians, strange facts from popular books | Tagged , | 3 Comments

John Dudley Interview No. 2

I am happy to say that I was interviewed by Carole P. Roman, bestselling author of children’s books, about John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland (and about writing on him) on her website:
Please go here …




Posted in John Dudley, my book

Books, Dudley-Related (3)

27309890In the spring of 1584 the English government (in the person of Sir Francis Walsingham) became aware of a new publication that had surfaced in France. Smuggled into England, The Copy of a Letter written by a Master of Arts of Cambridge quickly became a best-seller with underground booksellers. The next year it was translated into French. The authors are still unknown, but they were enemies of the Earl of Leicester, and also, apparently, of the queen. They were clearly Catholics in exile, probably former courtiers. In this book of some 300 pages Robert Dudley is engaged in a long-term conspiracy to snatch the crown from Elizabeth (guided by “seignor Machiavel, my lord’s counselor”). But the book is most famous nowadays for the spicy details of his supposed private life.

An ever-increasing avalanche of religious and political pamphlets was let loose on 16th century readers, and The Copy of a Letter …, later known as Leicester’s Commonwealth, was only one of many, although one of the most remarkable, both in terms of influence and literary quality. Peter Lake’s recent book Bad Queen Bess?: Libels, Secret Histories, and the Politics of Publicity in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth I (2016) is a magisterial study of many of these pamphlets and the people behind them. William Cecil, Lord Burghley, Elizabeth’s chief minister, was apparently one of those, as was his son, Robert Cecil. They did not write up Leicester’s Commonwealth, of course, but Leicester’s Commonwealth has its very own chapter and pops up in many others. – Bad Queen Bess? is not an easy book to read, but utterly fascinating.


Posted in Elizabeth I, Robert Dudley, sources & historians | Tagged

Is this Amy Robsart?


I was delighted when almost eight years ago I read the suggestion that this young lady might be Amy Robsart. Eric Ives had just published his marvellous book on Lady Jane Grey and mentioned this idea in a footnote. The reason was that David Starkey had recently proposed that the c.1550 miniature was a portrait of Lady Jane Grey, painted during her imprisonment in the Tower. There were issues with the sitter’s age, though, which according to the inscription was 18 or in her 18th year, and Jane was definitively dead by then.

Furthermore, the sitter, according to Eric Ives, ‟wears a gold brooch mounted with a black classical head and behind it a bunch of acorns and a spray of yellow flowers”. The flowers were identified as, possibly, gillyflowers or cowslips, the former arguably pointing to Guildford. The acorns, however, could point to a connection with Robert Dudley. His name reminded educated people of robur, Latin for oak. And we know that Robert Dudley actually used the oak symbolism in his youth: One of the carvings in the Beauchamp Tower has an oak tree and the initials R D, and the more elaborate Dudley carving commissioned or carved by his brother, John, Earl of Warwick, also uses acorns and oak leaves.

The theory was that the miniature might be a portrait made to commemorate the wedding of Amy Robsart and Robert Dudley on 4 June 1550. Born on 7 June 1532, Amy was almost exactly 18 years at the time.

If this picture is really Amy Robsart, then isn’t it likely that Robert Dudley would have kept the picture after her death? Many inventories of Robert’s collections, of paintings and beautiful artefacts, survive, more than of any other Elizabethan, alas this miniature seems not to be among the items listed and described.

Many other theories as to who this lady may have been have been proposed: That she was Elizabeth I as princess, Katherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey, or even Mary I as princess. Only the Robsart theory, though, answers the question why she should wear acorns around her jewel.

After so much time, I’d still like to think it’s Amy, although I am not sure I really care any longer … One has to consider that the case rests only on a few acorns and oak leaves and the fact that the sitter is about 18 years old. How common were such pictures? How many people would have commissioned such things?

See also:
Elizabeth, Jane, Amy? The Riddle of the Yale Miniature

Posted in Amy Robsart, paintings, Robert Dudley, sources & historians | Tagged | 2 Comments

Books, Dudley-Related (2)

Goldring Robert Dudley Elizabethan ArtAmong the very best books ever published on Robert Dudley has to be Elizabeth Goldring’s 2014 Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and the World of Elizabethan Art: Painting and Patronage at the Court of Elizabeth I. Gorgeously illustrated, it demonstrates and proves what has always been suspected by his biographers, that Robert Dudley was the most outstanding Elizabethan art collector (by far). He was also the most often painted man of his time in England. About every two years he sat for a new portrait; this was a lot. Even Elizabeth’s innumerable portraits were derived from only a handful of standard images. One of the people regularly commissioning portraits of the queen was incidentally the Earl of Leicester; Goldring has found that Leicester was “reluctant to hang copies on his walls”, and so these were certainly novel prototypes.

Robert Dudley also had his son, Robert Lord Denbigh (1581-1584), painted from a very a young age. The baby lord was painted dressed and naked, and with his mother, Countess Lettice. The point was to drive home that the house of Dudley had finally an heir.

Robert Dudley's earliest portrait, c.1561-1562.

Robert Dudley’s earliest portrait, c.1561-1562, aged about 29 or 30

Robert originally wanted to emphasize his status as a suitor and (hopefully) would-be husband of the queen with his art patronage, but he also displayed genuine interest in art. Groups of art theorists, including his nephew Philip Sidney, met in his house; and he collected subjects highly unusual in England at the time. Not only portraits, but still lives and allegorical paintings. Italians, whether artists, spies, doctors, or merchants, were always among Leicester’s favourites, and he sent Philip Sidney to Venice to be painted by the great Veronese, a portrait that had pride of place at Leicester House.

Sadly, his collections were dispersed after his death and historians for a long time have overlooked his contribution to art collecting in England, believing it started only in the Jacobean era. This wonderful book will finally change that view.


Posted in Elizabeth I, paintings, Robert Dudley, sources & historians | Tagged , ,

Books, Dudley-Related (1)

Henry VII's new menI thought that I could mention a couple of recent books that are of particular interest when studying John and Robert Dudley. One such, and it is hot off the press, is Steven Gunn’s academic study about the “new men” at the court of Henry VII, titled appropriately Henry VII’s New Men and the Making of Tudor England. I wondered whether it would feature Edmund Dudley, the father of John Dudley and grandfather of Robert Dudley who grew rich under Henry VII and lost everything, his life included, under Henry VIII. And of course, it’s full of interesting glimpses of Edmund. This might give some tantalizing further insights into the world of John Dudley’s infancy, but it will also be useful in trying to build a picture of Robert’s view of his own family. Serving a “Lancastrian” king, Edmund Dudley used glass cups with red roses and portcullises, although he preferred to put the Dudley arms as well as those of his noble wife on his pots, cups, and tapestries. Little John Dudley would have sat on purple velvet cushions and seen his father wear doublets of velvet, including purple velvet. Steven Gunn writes even more about a colleague of Edmund’s, Sir Thomas Lovell. Now, Richard III’s best friend was called Francis Lovell and I’m wondering if they were somehow related …





Posted in Edmund Dudley, John Dudley, sources & historians

What Did Elizabeth and Essex Shout At Each Other?

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, was far to quick to put his hand to his sword

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, was too quick to put his hand to his sword

According to court gossip a famous scene occurred in 1598, when a handful of councillors met Queen Elizabeth I to discuss the appointment of a new Lord Deputy of Ireland. The Earl of Essex, the queen’s favourite and formerly the Earl of Leicester’s stepson, favoured another candidate than the rest, the queen included. Characteristically, Essex could not put up with this and suddenly turned his back on the queen. This amounted to an act of lèse-majesté, and Elizabeth boxed his ears and according to most biographers “bade him get him gone and be hanged”.

I was therefore surprised to read in one of the most successful biographies, Alison Weir’s Elizabeth the Queen (The Life of Elizabeth I in America), that Elizabeth shouted at the earl:

Go to the devil! Get you gone and be hanged!

The direct speech continues when Essex fumes while being dragged out of the room after having provocatively touched his sword in the queen’s presence:

I neither can nor will put up with so great an affront, nor would I have borne it from your father’s hands.1

The direct speech in the second person made me suspicious. Most of the other biographers I checked at random paraphrase the original source, citing Thomas Birch’ Memoirs Of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth, From the Year 1581 till her Death:

Upon this he put his hand to his sword, and when the admiral interposed, swore, that he neither could nor would bear such an indignity, nor would he have taken it even from King Henry VIII.2

Thomas Birch himself, who published his memoirs in 1754, quoted Elizabeth’s early biographer William Camden, who originally wrote in Latin and was later translated. That version also contains indirect speech in the third person, Essex apparently saying that “he neither could nor would put up [with] so great an affront and indignity, neither would he have taken it at King Henry the Eighth his hands.”3

1 Weir 2008 p. 434
2 Birch II p. 384
3 Guy 2016 p. 284

Birch, Thomas: Memoirs of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth. (1754).
Erickson, Carolly (1983): The First Elizabeth. Summit Books.
Guy, John (2016): Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years. Viking.
Neale, John (1992): Queen Elizabeth I. Academy Chicago Publishers.
Weir, Alison (2008): Elizabeth the Queen. Viking.



Posted in Elizabeth I, errors & myths, sources & historians, strange facts from popular books | Tagged

A New Blog and An Old Question

Were Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley lovers?

The big question: Were Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley lovers?

Just a quick update that I have finally set up my little art blog, El Jardín de los Deseos, where I post one of my favourite pictures every few days, just for fun …

I’m also very pleased to say that a few weeks ago I have been asked by the U.K.’s Yesterday TV channel to give my opinion on that perennial and fascinating question, “Where Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley lovers?” … A few of my thoughts are quoted here


Posted in Elizabeth I, Robert Dudley | 1 Comment

“My Lord of Leicester, Kneeling by Her Highness”

Loseley House, where Elizabeth I stayed with Robert Dudley in 1569. Photo by Andrew Mathewson CC BY-SA 2.0.

Loseley House, where Elizabeth and Robert Dudley stayed in 1569. Photo by Andrew Mathewson CC BY-SA 2.0.

In 1569, like almost every year, Queen Elizabeth went on summer progress. Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, reluctantly accompanied her. The reason was that he was planning his marriage to Mary Queen of Scots (who was in Elizabeth’s custody), and he did not want to attract negative attention through his absence. On 11 August the royal party stopped at the new house of Sir William More, Loseley, which had only been finished the year before. The next morning Norfolk went to see the queen in the room that served as her privy chamber. The scene he found there he described months later when he was in trouble over his plans with the Scottish queen: What he saw was a boy, one of Sir William’s sons seated before the queen, who was “playing upon a lute and singing, Her Majesty sitting upon the threshold of the door, my Lord of Leicester kneeling by Her Highness”.

On seeing the duke, Elizabeth commanded him to come to her. “Not long after my Lord of Leicester rises and came to me, leaving Her Highness hearing the child, and told me that as I was coming, he was dealing with Her Majesty in my behalf; to which I answered, if I had known so much I would not have come up”. Norfolk then inquired how the queen was disposed to him, to which Leicester replied, “indifferent well”, and that Elizabeth had promised to speak with Norfolk at the next stop on her progress, the Earl of Arundel’s house.

A somewhat greyed Earl of Leicester kneeling by Elizabeth's side. The Duke of Norfolk is entering through a curtain. W. F. Yeames' interpretation of a scene described by Norfolk in 1569.

A somewhat too old Earl of Leicester kneeling by Elizabeth’s side. The Duke of Norfolk is about to enter the room. W. F. Yeames’ interpretation of a scene described by Norfolk in 1569.

This beautiful scene is one of several that show us that Elizabeth was not always surrounded by her ladies, as is usually claimed, but that she did enjoy quiet moments without them. Robert Dudley is usually not far away. The scene piqued the interest of the prolific Victorian painter William Frederick Yeames, who painted it in 1865.

Quotations from:
Williams, Neville (1964): Thomas Howard, Fourth Duke of Norfolk. Barrie & Rockliff.

Posted in Elizabeth I, paintings, Robert Dudley, sources & historians | Tagged | 3 Comments