Robert Dudley (June 24, 1532 - September 4, 1588) was an English nobleman and the favourite and close friend of Elizabeth I from her first year on the throne until his death.
Early Life & Education Edit
On June 24, 1532 John and Jane Dudley; the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland welcomed the 5th of their 13 children, a son they named Robert. The family was known for their happy life.
Robert and his siblings had several tutors including Roger Ascham who realized that at an early age, Robert had a rare talent for languages and writing. Robert also learned the craft of the courtier at the courts of Henry VIII, and later his son Edward VI.
Robert meets Amy Edit
In 1549 while participating in the crushing of Kett's Rebellion, Robert apparently met a young heiress named Amy Robsart who was the daughter of Sir John Robsart, of Syderstone Hall, and Lady Elizabeth Scott.
Robert & Amy's wedding Edit
On June 4, 1550 ten months after they first met, and 3 days before her 18th birthday; Robert Dudley wed Amy Robsart at the Palace of Placentia with King Edward VI was in attendance. The couple were an apparent love match, and would eventually come to rely on the gifts of their fathers' gifts; especially Robert's.
When Edward VI died on July 6, 1553 Robert's father John tried to put his daughter in law Lady Jane Dudley on the English throne. Lady Jane was married to Robert's brother Guildford Dudley, and Robert led a 300 man force into Norfolk where Queen Mary I was assembling. Only ten days later after Robert had secured several towns in Jane's name, her reign was over as the townsmen of King's Lynn seized Robert, his father and 4 brothers and imprisoned them in the Tower of London. Robert was condemned to die, and his stay in the Tower was the same as that of his childhood friend the future Elizabeth I who was being imprisoned under suspicion of being involved in Wyatt's Rebellion.
Robert's brother Guildford and their father both went to the scaffold, and he along with his remaining brothers were released after working for their freedom.
Robert is pardoned Edit
In December 1554, Ambrose and Robert Dudley took part in a tournament held to celebrate Anglo-Spanish friendship. Yet, the Dudley brothers were only welcome at court as long as King Philip was there, otherwise they were suspected of associating with people who conspired against Mary's regime. In January 1557 Robert and Amy Dudley were allowed to repossess some of their former lands, and in March of the same year Dudley was at Calais where he was chosen to deliver personally to Queen Mary the happy news of Philip's return to England. Ambrose, Robert, and Henry Dudley, the youngest brother, fought for Philip II at the Battle of St. Quentin in August 1557. Henry Dudley was killed in the following siege by a cannonball—according to Robert, before his own eyes. All surviving Dudley children—Ambrose and Robert with their sisters Mary and Katherine—were restored in blood by Mary I's next parliament in 1558.
The Queen's favorite Edit
Robert Dudley was counted among Elizabeth's special friends by Philip II's envoy a week before Queen Mary's death. On November 18, 1558, the morning after Elizabeth's accession, he witnessed the surrender of the Great Seal to her at Hatfield. He became Master of the Horse on the same day. This was an important court position entailing close attendance on the sovereign. It suited him, as he was an excellent horseman and showed great professional interest. Dudley was also entrusted with organizing and overseeing a large part of the Queen's coronation festivities.
In April 1559 Dudley was elected a Knight of the Garter in the good company of England's only duke and an earl, causing great wonder. It was widely thought that Elizabeth wanted Amy Dudley to die so that she could marry Robert, rumors actually spread that Robert and the Queen had children together. Though Princes were vying for the hand of the Queen of England, many thought that she was fooling them until Amy Dudley was dead.
A mysterious death Edit
By April of 1559, it had become obvious to many at court that Elizabeth was never going to let Robert Dudley leave her side; however the Queen's favor did not extend to his wife.
Lady Amy Dudley lived in various parts of the country since her ancestral home was uninhabitable, Robert visited his wife during Easter 1559 for 4 days and later during the Summer Amy spent a month around London. It was the last time he would see his bride alive; Robert was with the Queen at Windsor Castle and making plans to visit Amy when he received news that his wife had been found dead at her home Cumnor Place near Oxford on September 8, 1560. Amy was only 28
Robert retired to his home at Kew, away from court and the crime scene, and he ordered a full inquiry into the death of his wife. Amy's death was first declared an unfortunate accident: that she had fallen down a flight of stairs, sustained head injuries, and broken her neck with her headdress still upon her head.
Robert's scandal Edit
Following the death of his wife, Robert was accused of having been involved in her death, that he ordered her killed so that he could marry Elizabeth. This information played into the hands of the Nobles who tried everything to discourage the relationship; however some believed that Robert had nothing to do with this tragedy which affected the rest of his life.
Finding a new bride Edit
Queen Elizabeth remained close with Robert as he continued to pursue her hand in the game of diplomacy. In October of 1562, when Elizabeth fell ill with smallpox; she had Robert appointed Lord Protector of the Realm, gave him a title, and 20,000 pounds a year; however when the Queen recovered much to the delight of the people, she made Robert a member of the Privy Council.
In 1563 Elizabeth suggested Robert to take the recently widowed Mary, Queen of Scotland as his bride in order to strengthen ties with England and Scotland and diminish the influence of foreign powers. The Queen's plans was for everyone to live at English Court, so that she would not have to forego her favorite's company; however Queen Mary wanted to know if Elizabeth was serious and what her chances were of inheriting the English throne, but her cousin was only willing to name Mary as heir if and only if she married Robert.
Elizabeth made Robert Earl of Leicester to make him more acceptable to Mary; however when Mary accepted the proposal, Robert flatly refused to go through with it since he apparently made it clear that he was not a candidate for Mary's hand and as such he behaved with passive resistance. Robert also had a hand in Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley becoming Mary's second husband.
By 1564 Dudley had realized that his chances of becoming Elizabeth's consort were small. Elizabeth was confronted with other marriage projects, and continued to say that she still would very much like to marry him. Dudley was seen as a serious candidate until the mid-1560's in order to remove this threat to Habsburg and Valois suitors. Between 1565 and 1578, four German and French princesses were mooted as brides for Leicester, as a consolation for giving up Elizabeth and his resistance to her foreign marriage projects. These he had and would continue to sabotage. In 1566 Dudley formed the opinion that Elizabeth would never marry, recalling that she had always said so since she was eight years old; but he still was hopeful—she had also assured him he would be her choice in case she changed her mind.
Life at English Court Edit
As "a male favorite to a virgin queen", Robert Dudley found himself in an unprecedented situation. His apartments at court were next to hers, and—perceived as knowing "the Queen and her nature best of any man" very few could match his influence. Another side of such privileges was Elizabeth's possessiveness and jealousy. His company was essential for her well-being and for many years he was hardly allowed to leave. Sir Christopher Hatton reported a growing emergency when the Earl was away for a few weeks in 1578: "This court wanteth your presence. Her majesty is unaccompanied and, I assure you, the chambers are almost empty."
On ceremonial occasions Dudley often acted as an unofficial consort, sometimes in the Queen's stead. Robert largely assumed charge of court ceremonial and organised hundreds of small and large festivities. From 1587 he was Lord Steward, being responsible for the royal household's supply with food and other commodities. He displayed a strong sense for economizing and reform in this function, which he had de facto occupied long before his official appointment. The sanitary situation in the palaces was a perennial problem, and a talk with Leicester about these issues inspired John Harrington to construct a water closet. Leicester was a lifelong sportsman, hunting and jousting in the tiltyard, and an indefatigable tennis-player. He was also the Queen's regular dancing partner.
Love affair & a son Edit
In 1569 Robert began an affair with Douglass Sheffield, a young widow and member of the Howard family; the relationship grew serious though Robert told her that he could not marry her without risking his utter overthrow. Despite this, their affair continued and on August 7, 1574 a son named for Robert was born.
Robert meets Lettice Edit
In 1573 Robert met Lettice Knollys, Countess of Essex who was the wife of George Devereux, Earl of Essex. Lettice was a cousin of Elizabeth through her mother Anne Boleyn whose sister Mary Cary was Lettice's mother. Robert soon began flirting with the attractive Noble woman in the Spring of 1565 which raised intense anger and jealously in Queen Elizabeth, and in 1573 when Lord Essex went to Ireland the two became lovers. Later in July of 1576 Lord Essex returned to Ireland where he died from dysentery.
Secret wedding and a baby Edit
On September 21, 1578, at his country house in Wanstead, Robert and Lettice were married in a secret ceremony with only a handful of relatives and friends present.
Robert dared not tell Elizabeth about his marriage; however nine months later Robert's enemies at court informed the Queen of the marriage, and this caused an explosive reaction from Elizabeth though she was aware of the couple's plans to marry.
In February 1580 Lettice discovered that she was pregnant, and in June 1581 she gave birth to a son also named for Robert; sadly on July 19, 1584 the young Robert died suddenly at the age of only 3. Robert and Lettice were inconsolable.
Despite Elizabeth's disapproval of Robert & Lettice's marriage which hurt her deeply, and was something she never really accepted; Robert remained a devoted husband to Lettice.
Political Influence Edit
For the first 30 years of Elizabeth's reign, until Leicester's death, he and Lord Burghley were the most powerful and important political figures, working intimately with the Queen. Robert Dudley was a conscientious privy Councillor, and one of the most frequently attending.
Robert Dudley's relationship with William Cecil, Lord Burghley, was complicated. Traditionally they have been seen as enemies, and Cecil behind the scenes sabotaged Dudley's endeavors to obtain the Queen's hand. On the other hand they were on friendly terms and had an efficient working relationship which never broke down. In 1572 the vacant post of Lord High Treasurer was offered to Leicester, who declined and proposed Burghley, stating that the latter was the much more suitable candidate. In later years, being at odds, Dudley felt like reminding Cecil of their "thirty years friendship".
Robert the Patron Edit
Robert Dudley was a pioneer of new industries; interested in many things from tapestries to mining, he was engaged in the first joint stock companies in English history. The Earl also concerned himself with relieving unemployment among the poor. On a personal level, he gave to poor people, petitioners, and prisons on a daily basis. Due to his interests in trade and exploration, as well as his debts, his contacts with the London city fathers were intense. He was an enthusiastic investor in the Muscovy Company and the Merchant Adventurers. English relations with Morocco were also handled by Robert.
In 1561, grateful for favors he had done them, the Inner Temple admitted Dudley as their most privileged member, their "Lord and Governor". He was allowed to build his own apartments on the premises and organised grand festivities and performances in the Temple. As Chancellor of Oxford University Dudley was highly committed. He enforced the Thirty-nine Articles and the oath of royal supremacy at Oxford, and obtained from the Queen an incorporation by Act of Parliament for the university. Leicester was also instrumental in founding the official Oxford University Press, and installed the pioneer of international law, Alberico Gentili, and the exotic theologian, Antonio del Corro, at Oxford. Over del Corro's controversial case he even sacked the university's Vice-Chancellor. Around 100 books were dedicated to Robert Dudley during Elizabeth's reign.
The Spanish Armada Edit
In July 1588, as the Spanish Armada came nearer, the Earl of Leicester was appointed "Lieutenant and Captain-General of the Queen's Armies and Companies". At Tilbury on the Thames he erected a camp for the defence of London, should the Spaniards indeed land. Leicester vigorously counteracted the disorganization he found everywhere, having few illusions about "all sudden hurley-burleys", as he wrote to Walsingham. When the Privy Council was already considering to disband the camp to save money, Leicester held against it, setting about to plan with the Queen a visit to her troops. On the day she gave her famous speech he walked beside her horse bare-headed.
Death and Burial Edit
After the Armada the Earl was seen riding in splendor through London "as if he were a king", and for the past few weeks he had usually dined with the Queen, a unique favor.
On his way to Buxton in Derbyshire to take the baths, he died at Cornbury Park near Oxford on 4 September 1588. Leicester's health had not been good for some time and historians have considered both malaria and stomach cancer as death causes. His death came unexpectedly, and only a week earlier he had said farewell to his Queen. Elizabeth was deeply affected and locked herself in her apartment for a few days until Lord Burghley had the door broken.
Her nickname for Dudley had been "Eyes", which was symbolized by the sign of ôô in their letters to each other. Elizabeth kept the letter he had sent her six days before his death in her bedside treasure box, endorsing it with "his last letter" on the outside. It was still there when she died 15 years later.
Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester was buried, as he had requested, in the Beauchamp Chapel of the Collegiate Church of St Mary, Warwick—in the same chapel as Richard Beauchamp, his ancestor, and the "noble Impe", his little son. Countess Lettice was also buried there when she died in 1634, the epitaph she commissioned says. the "best and dearest of husbands".