The Catholic north in 1569

pilgrimage-of-grace-banner.jpgEngland had been Protestant since the death of Mary Tudor in 1558.  The majority of the population had quietly got on with the change from Protestantism under Edward VI to Catholicism under Mary and then back to Protestantism with the ascent of Elizabeth.

On 14 November 1569 the Northern Earls led by the earls of Northumberland and Westmorland revolted.  They and their followers arrived at Durham Cathedral and celebrated a Catholic Mass having first of all overturned the communion table and destroyed Protestant books.  They rapidly acquired some 6000 men who marched under the old Pilgrimage of Grace (1536) banner – the five wounds of Christ shown at the start of this post. No one is quite sure how many people flocked to follow the banner – numbers have been put as high as 20,000.

What is interesting, aside from the insurgency itself, is the number of people who chose to go to the mass and what the state of religious belief actually was.  The cathedral was packed.  Perhaps its not so surprising.  Cuthbert Tunstall had been Bishop of Durham in 1559 but had been deprived of the diocese when he refused the Oath of Supremacy. He had been replaced by James Pilkington an unpopular but conformist Puritan.  That said there were a large number of parishes, many of them impoverished and subject to border raids, not to mention a shortage of clergy.  In many places the vicar had to serve several parishes or there were none.  It was even noted that “vagabond Scots” did the work of preaching.  It is perhaps not surprising that people continued to believe what they had always believed, irrelevant of what Protestant London might like. Effectively circumstance and geography ensured that religious belief in the north remained conservative.

The stated aim of the Northern Rebellion was to topple Elizabeth and replace her with Mary Queen of Scots – returning Catholicism to the country once again. By the 20th of December the Earls of Westmorland and Northumberland had fled across the border into Scotland and the churches which had toppled their communion tables and celebrated mass had some explaining to do. The Durham Consistory Court was busy.  Charges related to destroying Protestant books and altars, setting up Catholic altars and holy water stones that should have been destroyed previously but which had simply been hidden away, taking part in a Catholic mass and other Catholic rites.  Not everyone attended a mass because they wanted to. People in Darlington were forced to attend the event and so far as the Durham clergy were concerned a number of them testified that they had taken part in the old rites by compulsion rather than desire.

The numbers of churches destroying the paraphernalia of Protestantism in Yorkshire was even higher than it was in County Durham. It’s worth noting that the Earl of Northumberland’s territory stretched far into Yorkshire. Inevitably with statistics it is impossible to know how many of the men who burned books did so under duress or had simply become carried away on a tide of destruction rather than having genuine belief into the rights and wrongs of the matter.

As for the altars and water stones there is evidence that when it became clear that the rebellion was failing that a number of them including the water stones placed by the doors in Durham Cathedral were quietly returned to their hiding places.  When questioned no one admitted to knowing what had happened to them.

Texts identify the fact that in the years that followed numbers of Northern magnates opened their homes to Jesuits and the problem of clergy numbers remained in the north alongside impoverished livings.

Doran, Susan, and Durston, Christopher (1991)Princes, Pastors and People: The Church and Religion in England, 1529-1689 London: Routledge

Duffy, Eamon (1992)  The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580, New Haven: Yale University Press

Kesselring, Krista J. (2007) The Northern Rebellion of 1569: Faith, Politics and Protest in Elizabethan England, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

Elizabeth I – the final decade

queen_elizabeth_armada_portraitIn many ways the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 can be seen as the apex of Elizabeth’s reign – the Armada Portrait shows that God was definitely on her side and that in addition to reigning over England Elizabeth also ruled the waves and other parts of the globe – the latter can be seen from her proprietorial grip on a globe whilst the former is manifested in the carving of a mermaid on her chair – admittedly the artist had to do some reworking as the traditional symbolism of a mermaid was the opposite to that which usually depicted the Virgin Queen’s qualities.

It wasn’t long before Fortunes wheel began its downward cycle for the raging monarch.  The Earl of Leicester died on his was to take the waters in Buxton. Elizabeth, retired to her chamber to grieve and refused to come out. After the doors to her bed chamber had been broken down on the orders of Lord Burghley, the queen did not display much in the way of magnanimity to the widow -Lettice Knollys.  Instead she pressed for Dudley’s debts to the Crown to be repaid.  The irony cannot have been lost on Lettice.  Dudley had mortgaged Kenilworth, Leicester House in London and Wanstead to finance the campaign in the Netherlands.

At court the power dynamics changed without Dudley in the mix.  Sir Christopher Hatton rose in seniority whilst Dudley’s step-son  the earl of Essex became engaged in a bitter battle for supremacy with Sir Walter Raleigh.

Elsewhere radical Puritans made their voices heard and when Sir Christopher Hatton tried to silence them with laws of blasphemy the Queen found it politically expedient to be equally harsh to her Catholic subjects.  The war against Spain continued to drain the treasury. The Irish revolted. The Jesuits sent more agents. Harvests failed, prices soared and there was an out break of plague.  There were butter and fish riots.

Unsurprisingly there were one or two plots – including that of Dr Lopez- the queen’s own physician. Lopez as well as being a physician had also spied for both Walsingham and Dudley – now those particular chickens came home to roost when the Earl of Essex accused Lopez of plotting.  Lopez paid the price for playing the role of agent provocateur and also of Essex’s campaign to overthrow the Cecils.

The Earl of Essex was no Dudley -ultimately Robert Dudley had loved Elizabeth.  He and William Cecil might have cajoled and flattered on occasion but they knew that trying to bend the queen to their wills was not something to be undertaken lightly.  They did not see her as a mere woman – Essex on the other hand rather over rated his own appeal and powers of persuasion. And what was worse he ignored Elizabeth’s commands, returned from Ireland without permission, burst in on her when she was not rigged out in the full Gloriana costume and told her that she had a crooked carcass.  It was not behaviour designed to win friends and influence people. Defiance by Essex turned into rebellion.

After the Earl of Essex went to the block Elizabeth did her very best to appear as though she was neither aging nor tired but she stumbled when she got out of her coach at the opening of Parliament, was more bad tempered than in the past, ate little, suffered from arthritis and was prone to melancholy. It didn’t help that all her old friends and servants were dying one by one. Her fear of the darkness grew and she struggled to sleep more than a few hours each night – all of which is a bit of a contrast to the monarch bedecked in ribbons and pearls with her hand on the world.

Guy, John. (2016) Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years. London: Penguin

 

Gloriana

Halifax Thursday 25th October

Places still available – 

If you’re thinking of coming to Gloriana a life in pictures there are still a few places available.  Please let me know if you’re a regular and would like to attend.

queen_elizabeth_armada_portraitElizabeth is most usually depicted in costumes laden with symbolism but when she made her first appearance on the political stage in September 1533 shortly after her brith on the 7th of that month she was paraded as a naked babe in arms by her proud father for the benefit of Europe’s ambassadors.

Ann Boleyn had retired for her confinement in Greenwich Palace in August 1533.  The room with its fastened windows and tapestry heavy walls must have seemed close and airless.  Henry had been promised a son but the child who was born at 3pm on the 7th was a girl.  Henry was swift to say that boys would follow – Elizabeth appeared to be a healthy infant and this particular father knew that many babies didn’t arrive safely in the world so he made the best of a bad bargain.

She was baptised when she was three days old at Greenwich in the Church of the Observant Friars.  An account of the baptism may be found in  Henry VIII’s letters and papers for 1533:

the Childe was brought to the hall, and then every man set forward: first, the Cittizens two and two; then Gentlemen, Esquires, and Chap-laines ; next after them the Aldermen, and the Maior alone; and next the Kinges Counsell; then the Kinges Chappel in coaps; then Barons, Bishops, Earles, the Earle of Essex bearing the covered basons gilt; after him the Marques of Excester with a taper of virgin wax; -next him the Marques Dorset bearing the salt; behind him the Lady Mary of Norfolke bearing the crisome, which was very rich of pearle and stone. The old Dutches of Norfolke bare the Childe in a mantle of purple velvet, with a long traine furred with ermine. The Duke of Norfoike with his marshal’s rod went on the right hand of the saide Dutchesse; and the Duke of Suffbike on the left hand ; and before them went Officers of Armes ; the Countesse of Kent bare the long traine of the Childes mantle; and meane betweene the Childe and the Countesse of Kent went the Earle of Wilshire and tlie Earle of Darby on either side, supporting the said traine in the middest: over the Childe was borne a rich canapie, by the Lord Rochford, the Lord Hussey, the Lord William Howard, and the Lord Thomas Howard the elder. After the Childe, followed many Ladies and Gentlewomen.

 

Robert Cecil

00cecilR3Robert was born in 1563, the second son of William Cecil.  His mother was Mildred Cooke.  Robert had an elder half-brother called Thomas who would become the 1st Earl of Exeter but it was this younger, much more clever son, upon who William lavished his affection as well as training him to take over the reins of government.

When he arrived at court he initially seemed at a disadvantage when compared with the young and handsome Earl of Essex.  Robert was small and had a twisted back.  He had only is mind to recommend him and for a while the contest between the new young favourites cannot have been comfortable but in 1596 Elizabeth made Robert, who she called her “pygmy”, her Secretary of State.

In 1601 the Earl of Essex rebelled against the queen and suffered the ultimate penalty.   Robert had blamed his uprising upon the queen’s poor advisor’s of whom Cecil featured.  In the aftermath of the short-lived uprising Cecil counselled clemency but it did him no good in popular imagination.  People had rather liked the flamboyant Essex whereas Cecil was regarded with suspicion in part because of his physical disability – body reflecting godliness etc- there were ballads placing the blame for Essex’s death squarely on Robert’s head.

Interestingly when the conspirators of the Main  and Bye Plot were brought to trial – and bear in mind one of them was his brother-in-law Lord Cobham- it was Cecil who expressed some doubt over Raleigh’s guilt.  Modern historians tend to look at the transcript of the trial and wonder how anyone could have thought Raleigh guilty and are more inclined to consider the possibility that Cecil was helping a political opponent out of the picture.

Robert, like his father before him was a loyal servant to the queen but he opened a secret correspondence with James VI of Scotland.  The stability of the country was largely due to Cecil’s careful management of the transition between monarchs.   The reward for the ease with which James became king was an elevation to the peerage in 1605.  Cecil also became Lord Treasurer.

The Earl of Salisbury was at the root of James’ good governance in the years between 1603 and 1612.  It was he who negotiated the peace with Spain in 1604 – which although unpopular helped to stabilise the economy which was leaking money into the ongoing war. It was he who introduced a Book of rates in 1608 and it was he who attempted to negotiate the Great Contract between King and Parliament in 1610.  This particular venture didn’t come to fruition as neither side particularly trusted the other – and yes it will be a post very shortly.  Robert’s financial policy wasn’t helped by the king’s expenditure, his generous gifts to his favourites or the cost of maintaining a royal household that contained a king, his wife and their children.

Like his predecessor, James  had a predilection for nicknames – Cecil moved from “pygmy” or “elf” to “little beagle.”  The little beagle became increasingly over worked.  In addition to finances there was the matter of religion and the Gunpowder Plot. James also had a new favourite – the handsome but somewhat brainless Robert Carr. Cecil found his advice increasingly spurned in favour of that provided by Robert Carr – or more truthfully- Sir Thomas Overbury who advised Carr.  Francis Bacon’s political aspirations also made life difficult for Cecil who was increasingly adrift in the Stuart world.

And then there is the matter of the Gunpowder Plot – Cecil presents himself as the saviour of king and parliament but there are some doubts about exactly how much provoking Cecil might have done beforehand – he’d learned from that master of espionage Sir Francis Walsingham how to implicate suspects in a web of guilt.

He died in 1612 having swapped his father’s home at Theobalds in 1607 for the Royal Palace at Hatfield on account of the fact the king had taken a shine to Cecil’s house and garden. Cecil demolished the medieval palace and used the bricks to rebuild a new house.

 

Robert Dudley’s last letter

Penelope Devereux will be following shortly – I’ve got rather engrossed in the reading!  In the meantime here’s Robert Dudley’s last letter to Elizabeth I.  On 28th August 1588, an ill Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, wrote his final letter to his queen and childhood friend, Elizabeth I. He wrote it from the home of Lady Norreys at Rycote, where he was staying on his way to Buxton, to take the waters there.   He died on the 4th September 1588.  He is thought to have died either from malaria or stomach cancer.

 

It read:

“I most humbly beseech your Majesty to pardon your poor old servant to be thus bold in sending to know how my gracious lady doth, and what ease of her late pains she finds, being the chiefest thing in this world I do pray for, for her to have good health and long life. For my own poor case, I continue still your medicine and find that (it) amends much better than with any other thing that hath been given me. Thus hoping to find perfect cure at the bath, with the continuance of my wonted prayer for your Majesty’s most happy preservation, I humbly kiss your foot. From your old lodging at Rycote, this Thursday morning, ready to take on my Journey, by your Majesty’s most faithful and obedient servant,

Leicester

 

Elizabeth kept the letter in a box beside her bed for the rest of her life.  She marked it in her own hand “His last letter.”  Their relationship had changed over the years but she never fully recovered from his death.  Although Robert’s step-son the Earl of Essex stepped into Dudley’s place the world in which Elizabeth I found herself was changing.  Not only that but it has been argued that she relied on having familiar faces around her to overcome the anxiety of temperament that had haunted her since the days of Thomas Seymour.

http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/elizabeth-monarchy/earl-of-leicester-to-elizabeth/

Robert Dudley’s Last Letter

Dorothy Devereux – scandal, intrigue and a woman who knew her own mind.

Dorothy_penelope_devereauxLettice Knollys was the daughter of Catherine Carey – meaning that she was probably the granddaughter of Henry VIII as her grandmother was Mary Boleyn.  She was born on the 8th November 1543.  She married three times; first to Sir Walter Devereux who became the First Earl of Essex; second to Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester and thirdly to Sir Christopher Blount.

During the reign of Mary Tudor Lettice’s mother and father travelled to continental Europe because they were sincere protestants.  Elizabeth sent her cousin Catherine a letter signed “broken hearted” when she learned of her departure.  We do not know if Lettice travelled with her parents.  Two years after Elizabeth became queen Lettice married Walter Devereux, then Viscount Hereford.  They had five children:

Penelope was born in 1563 and Dorothy in 1564.  Lettice went on to have three sons: Robert, Walter and Francis.  Today’s post is about  Dorothy  and tomorrow I shall be posting about Penelope because of the portrait pictured at the start of the post which I love and is believed to be of Penelope and Dorothy.  It can be found at Longleat House.

Dorothy was married first, in 1583, to Sir Thomas Perrot – which makes it all a bit family orientated as Sir Thomas’s father John claimed to be one of Henry VIII’s illegitimate children (click on the link to open a pervious post about Sir John Perrot in a new window.)  Sir John was not one of Elizabeth I’s most favourite people even though he did claim close kinship with her.  He found himself in the Tower on charges of treason during her reign.  It is perhaps because of Sir John that Dorothy failed to ask Elizabeth I for permission to marry, which as one of her ladies-in-waiting she should have done and preferred, instead to elope with Penelope’s help.  Alternatively it might perhaps of been that Dorothy’s hand was being settled by  Robert Dudley who in 1582 had tried to arrange her marriage to his nephew Sir Philip Sidney.  Either way, Elizabeth was not amused and probably even less so when she learned of the circumstances of the wedding.

The marriage took place at Sir Henry Coke’s house in Broxbourne. Coke was one of Dorothy’s guardians.  He did not connive at the wedding.  For most of the service  Sir Henry’s servants were trying to break down the chapel door whilst the vicar was assaulted for arguing that the correct procedures had not been followed.  He was eventually told that John Alymer the Bishop of London had granted a licence.  This information would get him into trouble with Elizabeth.  The historian Robert Lacey places the blame for this highly irregular marriage on the inadequacies of Lettice’s and Walter’s marriage rather than Dorothy accepting her allotted role of chattel being sold to the most powerful bidder.

Dorothy was banished from court and Thomas found himself in the Fleet Prison.  There was also the small matter of William Cecil trying to have the marriage annulled.  However, despite the chapel door being battered there were six witnesses and a proper priest on hand.  In 1587 Dorothy’s brother Robert used his growing influence with the queen to try and return Dorothy to court during a visit by Elizabeth to one of Robert’s homes.  This was not particularly successful as the queen was unamused to find Dorothy in residence.  Dorothy had to stay in her room.  Unfortunately Sir Walter Raleigh, who was also a guest, became involved and there was rather a loud argument resulting in Dorothy leaving in the middle of the night.  It was only after Sir Thomas’s death that Dorothy was allowed back to court. By then she was the mother of four daughters: Penelope, Dorothy, Elizabeth and Ann

Dorothy then married the 9th Earl of Northumberland – Henry Percy- the so-called Wizard Earl.  This particular earl would find himself involved in the Gun Powder Plot in 1605.  He and his wife were not happily married despite the fact that Elizabeth I had approved of Dorothy’s second marriage.  The pair  separated in 1599. It is perhaps not totally surprising given that the earl had selected his wife based on her potential to have sons.  Dorothy did have sons with the earl but they both died young.   The couple had only one surviving child, a daughter called…Dorothy.

The separation was not permanent.  Realistically the earl needed an heir and Dorothy could not really afford more scandal.   Lucy Percy was born circa 1600 and the all important heir to the earldom of Northumberland followed in 1602.  A second son arrived in 1604.

In 1605 when Northumberland was implicated in the Gunpowder Plot and sentenced to life in the Tower, Dorothy showed herself to be a loyal wife.  She visited her spouse most days.  For Dorothy the years of the earl’s imprisonment meant that she was responsible for running the earldom whilst Percy was in charge in name only. Like her first cousin twice removed (I think I’m right given that Catherine Carey and Elizabeth I were officially cousins; Elizabeth and Lettice were first cousins once removed thus Dorothy must have been twice removed) Dorothy was a woman with a brain.  Unlike Elizabeth, Dorothy was not always able to act independently and much of her marital difficulty appears to have stemmed from this.

Dorothy died in 1619, two year’s before her husband’s eventual release from the Tower.  She is buried in the Percy family vault at Petworth.

Robert Dudley – lap dog.

elizabethpeace.jpgElizabeth I was fairly clear about her intention never to marry.  she famously said that “I will have but one mistress here and no master.”  It is also said that Elizabeth, aged eight, told Robert Dudley, shortly after the execution of her step-mother Katherine Howard that she would never marry – a precocious child would have spotted the dangers of child birth and execution!.
The rumours about Elizabeth and her Master of Horse spread around Europe.  Elizabeth once complained that she was watched by a thousand eyes.  Certainly various continental ambassadors spent a great deal of paper speculating upon the relationship that existed between Elizabeth and Robert and the consequences if they were to marry.  Despite the fact that their relationship never officially progressed beyond courtly love it was true that Robert’c bedchamber lay next to Elizabeth’s and that she was absolutely furious when he eventually married her cousin Lettice Knollys.  In Brentwood, Mother Dowelled got herself into huge amounts of bother when she claimed that Elizabeth were lovers.
Whilst William Cecil and the gossips of England’s ale house may have been concerned about Elizabeth’s relationship Elizabeth herself was all set to bring Dudley down a peg or two.  She said to him in 1566,  ‘I cannot do without my Lord Robert’, she told the French ambassador, ‘for he is like my little dog’.  She is also reported to have told Dudley   “when you are seen people know to expect me soon after.”
Perhaps this is why she appears with a lap dog in the so called Peace Portrait commissioned by Robert Dudley.

Sir Robert Dudley, explorer

Robert_Dudley,_styled_Earl_of_WarwickRobert, the child of Robert Dudley and Douglas Sheffield, was born in August 1574. His father appears to have been fond of him and oversaw his education.  He went to Christchurch, Oxford and from there was apprenticed to a naval architect.

Somewhat surprisingly Elizabeth I didn’t appear to hold a grudge against Douglas Sheffield for her liaison with Robert Dudley – she even gave her a dress when she was pregnant with Robert and accounts suggest that the queen had a soft spot for the illegitimate son of her favourite.

When the Earl of Leicester died Robert who was the last remaining child inherited Dudley’s property including Kenilworth Castle but not the title – on account of his illegitimacy.  When Ambrose Dudley died, Robert inherited land from his uncle as well.

In 1591 Robert was contracted to Margaret Vavasour with the approval of Elizabeth I but the bride wasn’t so keen on the match so married someone else and got herself banished from court. Dudley consoled himself by marriage to Margaret Cavendish in 1592 .  Margaret Cavendish was part of the Suffolk family who were the senior line to the dukes of Devonshire. Margaret received two ships as a wedding gift from her father –who was an explorer as was her brother Charles Cavendish or other sources say that Dudley inherited two ships on the death of Charles.  On Margaret’s death in 1593 Dudley married  for a second time to Alicia Leigh in 1596, by whom he had four/fiveFerdinand II daughters.

In 1597 Robert was part of the raid on Cadiz with his step brother Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex.  Unfortunately he followed Essex a step too closely when he joined the earl in his rebellion.  He was briefly imprisoned.

After the death of Elizabeth, Robert made a bid for legitimacy by claiming that his parents had been married in secret. The case was eventually heard by the Star Chamber but as his mother, who wrote a deposition, couldn’t remember the name of the cleric who married her and identified ten very dead witnesses it wasn’t a case that particularly held water. Essentially Robert who inherited land under the term of his father’s will wanted to claim the title as well.

Inevitably there’s more to the tale.  In 1605 he went to Italy  which would have been fine apart from the fact that he was accompanied by Elizabeth Southwell, the daughter of Sir Robert Southwell -she was Robert’s cousin.  She was disguised as a page and there was the small matter of Robert’s wife and family to take into consideration.  When Robert refused to return home his property was confiscated. Undeterred Robert promptly turned Catholic and married Elizabeth Southwell in Lyons.  From there he went into the service of Cosimo II., grand-duke of Tuscany.  He became a map maker and an engineer. In 1620 the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II recognised his title not only to Warwick which his uncle Ambrose had held but also to  Northumberland – remember his grandfather, the Duke of Northumberland had been executed.  The Duca di Nortombria died near Florence on the 6th of September 1649, leaving a large family.

 

Lady Douglas Howard – a footnote in the Earl of Leicester’s love life

robert dudley minature.pngIn popular history Douglas get barely a mention.  She might as well be invisible. Douglas’ son Robert, the illegitimate son of Robert Dudley, would claim that his mother was secretly married to his father in May 1603 – Elizabeth I being safely dead.  The case was heard in 1605 in the Court of the Star Chamber.  Unfortunately all the witnesses were dead and she couldn’t remember the name of the cleric who married them. Douglas made a deposition to the effect that they had been married until Leicester tired of her and turned his attentions to Lettice Knollys. But who was Douglas?

 

Her father was William Howard, 1st Baron Howard of Effingham, making her a cousin of Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard.  He brother  She attended court during the first year of Elizabeth’s reign and then married John Sheffield.  He died in December 1568.  Inevitably accusations of poison were made.  In any event Douglas returned to court as a gentlewoman of the privy chamber – Elizabeth liked to have her mother’s family around her.

By May 1573 she was in deep competition with her own sister Frances for the attention of Robert Dudley.  Gilbert Talbot wrote about the pursuit and the falling out between the two sisters:

There are two sisters now in the court that are very far in love with him, as they have long been; my Lady Sheffield and Frances Howard. They (of like striving who shall love him better) are at great wars together and the queen thinketh not well of them, and not the better of him”

 

By then Leicester knew that he was unlikely to succeed in his attempt to win Elizabeth’s hand.  During their relationship Leicester wrote a long letter explaining how much he cared for Douglas but that if he married her that he would be ruined.  He actually urges her to marry one of her other suitors to ensure her respectability.  In August 1574 Douglas gave birth to her son Robert.  Leicester referred to him as his “base son” but cared for the boy taking him into his own care.

Leicester married Lettice in 1578.  The following year on 29th November 1579 Douglas married Sir Edward Stafford  of Grafton in Staffordshire- an unusual act for a woman who later claimed to be already married.  According to one source she became a bigamist in order to put a stop to Leicester’s threats to have her poisoned!  Stafford became ambassador to the French court and the pair lived in Paris from 1583  where Douglas became a friend of Catherine de Medici.  Douglas was sent home in 1588 due to the deteriorating political situation.  Stafford was not a fan of the Earl of Leicester.

 

Sir Edward Stafford died in 1605 having told the Star Court that he married Douglas having ascertained beforehand that she was not married to Leicester on the explicit orders of Elizabeth I. Douglas died in 1608.  She bore Stafford two sons but they died young.

Robert Dudley – and his love life!

Robert_Dudley_LeicesterBy  the 10 Nov 1558 it was clear that Elizabeth would be queen and when a week later her sister Mary died, Elizabeth became the first English monarch to bear that name.  The following day the Great Seal was surrendered into her hands and she made Robert Dudley her master of horse which meant that he was the only man in the kingdom legally allowed to lay hands on her for the purposes of helping her on and off her horse.  Now, an unmarried queen was an asset in diplomatic terms but fears for the nation and the queen’s health were compounded by the fact that Elizabeth had known “Sweet Robin” Dudley since she was a child and rather like a child allowed out of school for the summer Elizabeth rather enjoyed the freedom that being queen now gave her.  It wasn’t long before there was speculation about Elizabeth and her Master of Horse.  It wasn’t much longer until there were rumours that Elizabeth was pregnant or had even had a child by Dudley.  Nicholas Throckmorton the English Ambassador in Paris wrote home expressing the view that these rumours needed to be scotched.
Eighteen months later things became even worse when on the 9th September 1560 Amy Robsart was found laying dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs at Cumnor.  Once again it wasn’t long before the rumour mill suggested that Dudley had disposed of his wife so that he could marry the queen.  Amy’s marriage had been a love match  but even at the wedding one of the guests – William Cecil no less- had expressed the view that it would not end well.  He perhaps guessed that the groom would tire of his country mouse.
Dudley now found himself in a situation where he might have hoped to have married Elizabeth but Elizabeth was more politically savvy than he guessed.  She kept him dangling on a thread- rather like the lap dog she once accused him of being.  meanwhile rumours about the death of Amy Robert would haunt him his entire life. You have to admire the man’s optimism because he didn’t marry again for the next eighteen years.  In all fairness his hopes had reason to be high – for example in 1562 when Elizabeth had smallpox she named Dudley regent in the event of her death.
The following year however, Elizabeth suggested that her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots should marry Dudley.  It was on the strength of this suggestion that Elizabeth made him the Earl of Leicester.  Let’s not get into the discussion about whether she actually intended it or not, that she was trying to insult Mary or that it was a canny stratagem to make Dudley an earl.  By March 1565 the idea was dead in the water with both the proposed bride and groom being in opposition to the suggestion.
It is usually suggested that Dudley was a serious contender for Elizabeth’s hand throughout the 1560s but realistically the death of Amy and Elizabeth’s suggestion that he marry Mary make it an unlikely suggestion beyond 1564.  In 1565 Dudley showed some serious courtly attention to the queen’s cousin Lettice Knollys.  It didn’t go down very well. Nor did it probably help that Lettice looked very like her cousin. By the end of the decade Dudley gained a mistress in the person of Douglas Sheffield:

I have, as you well know, long both loved and liked you, and found alway that faithful and earnest affection at your hand again that bound me greatly to you. This good will of mine, whatsoever you have thought, hath not changed from that it was at ye beginning toward you. And I trust, after your widowhood began upon the first occasion of my coming to you, I did plainly and truly open unto you in what sort my good will should and might alway remain to you, and showing you such reasons as then I had for ye performance of mine intent, as well as ever since. It seemed [that] you had fully resolved with yourself to dispose yourself accordingly, without any further expectation or hope of other dealing. From which time you have framed yourself in such sort toward me as was very much to my contentation. And I did with my former mind also continue my good will & determination toward you.

 

You can’t say that Dudley didn’t lay his cards on the table.  In 1574 Douglas had a son called Robert but by then Dudley’s attentions had turned back to Lettice Knollys who was married to the 1st Earl of Essex.  Walter Devereux was sent to Ireland in 1573.  Let’s just say that when the earl returned home in 1575 that Dudley wasn’t his most favourite person.  The earl went back to Ireland in 1576 and promptly expired of dysentery.  Dudley who was in England was very soon accused of having poisoned the earl.

In July 1575 Elizabeth arrived to visit Dudley in Kenilworth.  Dudley made yet another marriage proposal – it was very elaborate and very expensive.  He’d also commissioned two full length portraits one of himself and one of Elizabeth.  The queen enjoyed the party and the flattery but did not take the bait.

On 21 September 1578 Dudley married Lettice at Wanstead – in secret.  Nine months later the queen found out and there was rathe ra lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth.  Elizabeth did not forgive and forget.  Lettice was never welcome back at court and in 1583 she was still sniping at Dudley’s treachery.

In the great scheme of things Dudley actually seems fairly subdued on the woman front  – but when in pursuit of a queen its perhaps best not to have too many floozies on the go.   In later years Robert’s son by Douglas would claim that the pair were married but it was never proven – and had more to do with inheritance than truth.

 

Just a fortnight to go until the History Jar day school – there are still places available – was Amy murdered? Did Dudley marry Douglas Howard in a secret ceremony? What was Elizabeth’s relationship with Lettice?  Who needs a soap opera when there’s the reality of Tudor court life?

Thursday 27th September 2018   10.00 am – 3.30pm

Inconvenient Wives

The story of Robert Dudley, Amy Robsart,

Lettice Knollys and Elizabeth I

The Orange Box, Halifax.