Sir Robert Dudley,
Earl of Leicester (CS4)
The Queen’s Favorite
By Evelyn Moody
Quite possibly one of the most controversial figures that interacted with Queen Elizabeth, Lord Robert Dudley has an air of mystery that surrounds him. The personal life of Lord Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester is not often discussed despite his alleged affair with the Queen and the suspicions surrounding the death of his wife. Gifted in many ways, Dudley was not favored by many of the Queen’s advisors and members of her Court. Known for his exceptionally good looks, there was very little in the life of Robert Dudley that was not considered controversial.
It is very difficult to find information on Lord Dudley without allegations of an affair with the Queen being mentioned within the first paragraphs. However, the life of Lord Dudley began under a cloud of controversy as both his father, Edmund Dudley, and grandfather, the Duke of Northumberland were executed. Robert’s father was executed for attempting to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne. Robert’s brother, Guilford, was also executed as Robert was sentenced to the Tower of London for his part in the conspiracy. However, he was pardoned in October 1554 and was appointed Master of the Ordinance by Queen Mary (Gairdner).
Dudley’s good favor with royalty continued when his child-hood friend Elizabeth took the throne. Named Master of the Horse, he received money to meet the expenses of this title. He was created a Knight of the Garter on April 23, 1558 when he was sworn in as a Privy Councilor (Hibbert, 64). All of this was done to entail Dudley’s place at Court so that the Queen will always be able to rely on him. In September 1564 he was appointed the baron of Denbigh by the Queen, and later the Earl of Leicester.
Highly disliked and distrusted by many, it was of common knowledge that the Queen was very fond of Lord Dudley. The Queen and Dudley were imprisoned in the Tower at the same time under the rule of Queen Mary. She often praised Robert for his abilities and would challenge anyone who spoke of him negatively (Hibbert, 65). The Queen loved to dance the galliard with him, a quick, complicated dance involving a high leap into the air. Rumors of their relationship ranged from nighttime visits in her chamber to secret marriage ceremonies. While the Queen may have sincerely enjoyed the company of Lord Dudley, her advisors were less than enthused. Sir William Cecil, Elizabeth’s long-time advisor, was adamant about the Queen finding a suitable husband and producing an heir to the throne however vehemently disapproved of the Queen and Dudley’s relationship. Lord Dudley was not considered a suitable mate for the Queen given his royal status and considering that both his father and grandfather were executed. One day on a boating trip, Dudley jokingly proposed to the Queen and declared that they should marry then and there (Hibbert, 82). However, their relationship did have many quarrels. The year before bestowing him Earl of Leicester, Queen Elizabeth recommended Dudley as the husband for Mary, the Queen of Scots (Gairdner). The Queen of Scots declined the proposal, however Dudley secretly married Lady Sheffield in 1571 and later deserted her for Lettice Knollys.
Making the alleged love affair between the virgin Queen and the unlikely suitor even more controversial was Dudley’s marriage to Amy Robsart, the daughter of the Lord of the Manor of Siderstern, Norfolk. On June 4, 1550, Amy and Robert were married at the age of eighteen. She went to visit Robert when he was in the Tower when he was imprisoned and stayed home while he was at Court with the Queen. On September 8, 1560, Lady Amy was found died at the bottom of the stairs (Ford). The suspicious circumstances surrounding Robsart’s death led some to believe that she had committed suicide. Mrs. Pinto, Lady Amy’s maid, stated that she had overheard Amy praying to God to free her of depression (Ford). Another theory was that the Queen and Lord Dudley conspired to have Amy killed. This theory was commonly supported because Amy’s death would make it possible for the Queen and Dudley to marry. Even more suspicious was Dudley’s absence from Amy’s funeral. Despite all of the lingering theories surrounding the death of Amy Rosbart, the death was ruled accidental by a jury.
Known for his dark, handsome features, no one could argue against the Queen’s attraction to him. Dudley was also a man of many talents. He was skilled horseman and had signified his abilities in royal tournaments. When he was twenty he was appointed Master of the Buckhounds (Hibbert, 64). Noted for his incessant energy and entertaining conversational skills, he had an interest in architecture and gardening (Hibbert, 65). Dudley was also very intelligent and could speak Italian and was eventually made a chancellor at the University of Oxford (Gairdner). Lord Robert Dudley’s notoriety as a ladies’ man and as being the alleged lover of the virgin Queen have made him a historical icon. His life was a series of suspicious and eventful incidents worthy of being explored. However, despite all of his honors and titles, he will always be considered Queen Elizabeth’s favorite.
Ford, David Nash. “Amy Robsart, Lady Dudley.” Royal Berkshire History. 25 Mar. 2007 <http://www.berkshirehistory.com/bios/arobsart.html>
Gairdner, James. “Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.” Luminarium: Anthology of English Literature.25 Mar. 2007 <http://www.luminarium.org/encyclopedia/ leicester.htm>
Hibbert, Christopher. The Virgin Queen. Cambridge: Perseus, 1991.