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.

John Maxwell, Fourth Lord Herries

Caerlaverock Castle

Caerlaverock Castle

John Maxwell was born in Dumfries the year before the Battle of Flodden.  The Maxwells were an important family in the Scottish West Marches – one of their castles was Caerlaverock.  Together with the Johnstones they made their mark on the Scottish West Marches – largely based on their hatred of one another.

When his father died in 1546, after losing the Battle of Solway Moss and spending some time in English captivity John Maxwell succeeded him as warden of the march- he took his role seriously and later in life made suggestions for reforms that set about ridding the region of lawless Grahams, Armstrongs and other reivers.

More immediately however, John needed to make his fortune.  He had set his sights on Agnes Herries- it might perhaps have been a love match apart from the small fact that she was an important heiress whose lands marched with his own.  Mary Queen of Scots’ regent – the Earl of Arran had also identified the match as a good one for his own son so there was a stand-off as to which man should wed young Agnes. Her opinion was not sought.

 

It was the time of the Rough Wooing, Maxwell was an assured Scot – the English had overrun Dumfries and burned the homes of the lairds who’d refused to sign a paper to say that they would support the English.  The assurances came with hostages.  It was an established system.  Maxwell sent twelve hostages to Carlisle as surety for his good behaviour and he received an English pension in return.  The twelve included members of his family.  Maxwell was soon faced with a stark choice: he could marry Agnes Herries but he would have to break his assurance with the English.  Arran would permit the marriage only if Maxwell agreed.  And so John Maxwell became the Fourth Lord Herries.  The hostages were executed and according to a local story Maxwell built Repentance Tower as a sign of his repentance  for their deaths.  More of the tale can be read in my forthcoming book about Harraby Hill – Carlisle’s site of execution.

 

Maxwell was not unduly troubled by the bloodthirsty habits of the times.  He and Agnes produced twelve children; he fulfilled his role as Lord Herries and assumed the role of Warden of the Scottish West Marches for several terms of office.  Maxwell was also praised by John Knox for his staunch Protestantism.  Indeed, the border laird spent time in Edinburgh Castle for his beliefs.

 

It is perhaps strange then Lord Herries, border reiver, Protestant and signatory of the Treaty of Berwick was loyal to Mary Queen of Scots throughout his life.  Mary, captured after the disaster at Carberry in 1567 was imprisoned in Lochleven.  The English Ambassador, Sir Nicholas Throckmorton identified him as the wisest person in the queen’s faction and also reported that   Mary Queen of Scots said  ‘there is nobody can be sure of him.’  Certainly he was very critical of her when she refused to be divorced from the Earl of Bothwell – but then James Hepburn  was a border baron as well.

 

But then having spoken for the infant King James’ party of Lords on the morning of 13 May 1568 he commanded Mary’s cavalry at the Battle of Langside.  Forty-five minutes after the battle began he and his queen were in headlong flight.

 

They rode sixty miles through the night.  The queen slept on the ground and cut her hair short to disguise herself.  Herries led her through Dumfries to his home at Terregles.  Herries wrote to the English Deputy warden, Sir Richard Lowther asking for permission to enter England.  The sad little party moved on to Dundrennan Abbey. On 16 May Herries and  fifteen  loyal followers  of the queen accompanied Mary across the Solway Firth to Workington.

 

Herries found himself drawing on old friendships and travelling to London on behalf of his queen who wrote frantic letters to her cousin asking for help in her time of need.  It was Herries who helped to represent the queen that October at the Conference of York in an attempt to prove her innocence from any complicity in the murder of Darnley at Kirk o’ Field.  By January 1569 it was clear that Mary had thrown herself straight out of the frying pan and into the fire.  She was a prisoner.

 

In Scotland, civil war erupted and simmered for a further two years.  Unsurprisingly Herries found himself in trouble with the Scottish Regent (and Mary’s half-brother) the Earl of Moray.  Once more he found himself in the dungeons of Edinburgh Castle. Although he was released Herries found himself on the receiving end of English raids encouraged by the Scottish government as well as penalties imposed by the Scottish government.

 

Herries was getting old but he made one last attempt to help his queen. He threatened Queen Elizabeth with the suggestion that if she did not support Mary then her friends would have to look abroad for help – a fear that filled Cecil and Walsingham’s minds.  Herries continued to play a part in Scottish politics as well as writing his memoirs- he even took on the office of Border Warden on more time under the Regent Morton.

 

He died at the beginning of 1583, four years before his queen.

 

 

Two men, two queens, one surname….and a girl.

Nicholas Throckmorton

Nicholas Throckmorton

Have you noticed the way that one name will repeat itself throughout a period of history.  The Norman period is littered with women called Matilda. Bizarrely the same is true, in the reign of Elizabeth I, of the name Throckmorton.  The two men are Nicholas and Francis Throckmorton; the two queens Elizabeth I of England and Mary Queen of Scots.

Nicholas Throckmorton was a Tudor courtier and loyal ambassador to Elizabeth as well as being Francis’s uncle.  Francis was a Catholic conspirator who plotted to assassinate Elizabeth and put Mary on the throne.

 

Nicholas Throckmorton was also Catherine Parr’s cousin so first met Elizabeth when both of them were in the Dowager Queen’s household.  Young Throckmorton navigated the rocky whirlpool of Tudor politics because of his Protestant sympathies and because he was able to become one of Edward VI’s advisors.  He went on to become and MP and undertreasurer at the mint which was at that time in the Tower of London.

 

He got to know the Tower much better during reign of Mary when his protestant ideas got him into trouble.  Eventually he went to France.

 

After Elizabeth’s accession his fortune’s changed once more and he found himself in France not this time as asylum seeker but as Elizabeth’s ambassador where he met Mary Queen of Scots.  It was he who helped arrange her journey back to Scotland after she’d been widowed.  In 1565 he was sent as ambassador to Scotland.  His task was to prevent Mary, by now a personal friend, from marrying Lord Darnley.  He was in Scotland once more when Mary was overthrown. He found himself in the predicament of irritating touchy Scottish lairds and annoying his famously tetchy queen.  It didn’t help that Elizabeth sent him one set of instructions while Cecil sent a different set of instructions.  He was probably relieved to return to England – where he leapt from the proverbial frying pan straight into the fire stoked by Mary Queen of Scots.

He became involved with the plan to marry Mary to the Duke of Norfolk in 1569.  This led to the Northern Earls Rebellion and to Throckmorton spending an uncomfortable few weeks in Windsor under arrest while Elizabeth fumed at Throckmorton’s stupidity.  He claimed that he thought that Elizabeth was in favour of the marriage.  He escaped trial and imprisonment but he wasn’t allowed any more key political roles and certainly wasn’t allowed anywhere near the Scottish queen.

On to the the second Throckmorton. In 1583 there was a plot to assassinate Elizabeth; at its heart a man called Throckmorton – Francis was Nicholas Throckmorton’s nephew.  He was also very Catholic.  Francis Throckmorton had been recruited by the Spanish to kill Elizabeth at the same time that Henry Duke of Guise invaded England (funded by the Spanish.)  It was the discovery of this plot that led to the Bond of Association which stated that it was sufficient to know of a plot to kill the queen or usurp the throne to be guilty of treason – as in, guilty by association.  Francis was tired and found guilty after making his confession which was gained by torture.  He was executed for treason.

Bess Raleigh nee Throckmorton

Bess Raleigh nee Throckmorton

…And the girl?  The girl is the other famous Tudor Throckmorton.  Bess Throckmorton was Nicholas Throckmorton’s daughter and Francis’s cousin but she is more usually remembered as the lady-in-waiting who fell in love with and married Sir Walter Raleigh much to Elizabeth’ s irritation.