I can only conclude that I’m having a phase of unfortunate young women on the History Jar at the moment – and have made a mental note to be more grateful that I was born when and where I was!
Amy was the daughter of Sir John Robsart of Stanfield Hall near Wymondham in Norfolk. By a convoluted family link his wife was the sister-in-law of Robert Kett’s brother. Normally I wouldn’t bother with the intricacies of such a tenuous link but the fact that Elizabeth Scott, Amy’s mother had once been married to Roger Appleyard, a family with close links across a couple of generations to the Kett family is perhaps a small part of the reason why after the Battle of Mousehold Heath near Norwich in 1549 that John Dudley, then earl of Warwick visited the Robsarts along with his teenage son Robert. I should note that a more important reason was the fact that Robsart was a part of the Norfolk gentry and had served as Sheriff of Norfolk.
The conventional story is that Robert and Amy fell in love – a case of marry in haste and repent at leisure for both halves of the couple. Certainly William Cecil who was a guest at the marriage which took place in 1550 was most disapproving of the alliance but in reality it was an opportunity for John Dudley to extend his circle of influence in Norfolk and to provide an inheritance for one of his younger sons – at that stage in proceedings Elizabeth Tudor was the illegitimate daughter of Henry VIII rather than queen of England.
The pair married on the 5th or the 4th of June 1550 at Sheen in Richmond. The bride was not yet eighteen but neither was the groom – which is perhaps the reason why Cecil described it as a “carnal match.” A more exalted guest was the king. Edward VI had come to see one of his childhood friends married. Another guest was Elizabeth who was purported to have said to her friend Robert Dudley in 1540 after the execution of her step-mother Katherine Howard that she would never marry.
Edward VI noted the marriage in his diary – S. Robert dudely, third sonne to th erle of warwic married S. Jon Robsartes daughter after wich marriage ther were certain Gentlemen that did strive to who shuld first take away a goses heade wich was hanged alive on tow crose postes. Ther was tilting and tourney on foot on the 5th, and on the 6th he removed to Greenwich.
It should be noted that Robert was not the third son he was the fifth son.
Initially the pair lived at Ely Place, the former Bishop of Ely’s residence and now the Dudley’s London home or at Somerset House where Dudley had been appointed in 1553 as its custodian. The couple were also provided with a home, Hemsby, near Yarmouth by John Dudley. Robsart amended his will to accommodate Robert – he also agreed to give Robert £20.00 per year. So if it was a love match, which it appears to have been, it was accompanied by the usual exchange of property and both fathers might have felt as though they had made a gain – Robert Dudley might have been a penniless younger son but at that time his father was the most important man in the land next to the king so it is easy to see where Robsart might have felt that he had made a good deal.
The newly married pair settled in Norfolk and Dudley began to play the role of Norfolk gentleman in terms of serving as JP and in 1551 as MP but as John Dudley’s grip on power tightened the couple returned to London – Robert was a courtier when all was said and done.
In May 1553 the young couple found that their lives had become part of a Royal Crisis. From 10 May 1553 until 19 May 1553 Lady Jane Grey was queen of England. Robert’s younger brother, Guildford, sulked because his wife, Lady Jane, would not make him king and John Dudley discovered that the Commons were not with him or Sir Henry Grey in their planned coup. On the 22 January 1554 Robert was sentenced as a traitor but Amy was allowed to visit him in the Tower. Royal accounts also reveal that the new queen provided clothing for Dudley’s wife.
The problem for Amy was that her husband – traitor or not- was an ambitious Dudley. In the aftermath of Queen Mary’s accession to the throne it was judged expedient that the Dudley brothers be sent overseas to serve in Philip’s military campaigns. In short, Amy gained a husband who was interested in much more than his wife and the life of a country gentleman. Not only that but as an attainted traitor the property which both fathers had settled upon the pair reverted to the Crown. Robert and Amy were penniless. Amy’s father had died in 1554 so it fell to their respective mothers to provide for them. Jane Guildford, Robert’s mother died in January 1555 and a property was cobbled together on the understanding that Robert would pay his mother’s debts and give his sisters an annuity. If Amy thought that married wife had turned out differently from what she might have expected things were only about to get worse when in 1558, Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne – and Amy became a decided inconvenience.
There will be more, after all the death of Amy Robsart caused a scandal across Europe and her death still sells papers and books. Did she fall or was she pushed? And if she was pushed who did it – Dudley, Elizabeth or Dudley’s wiley political adversary William Cecil. I have a week to gather primary sources!
Skidmore, Chris. (2010) Death and the Virgin: Elizabeth, Dudley and the fate of Amy Robsart