Lettice Knollys: Cousin vs Queen (Part 3)

Guest article by Karlie aka History Gal

Lettice Knollys by Gower 1585
Lettice Knollys portrait housed at Longleat House photo attained from: http://www.thepeerage.com/p257.htm

Lettice Knollys’ flirtation and subsequent marriage to Queen Elizabeth’s favorite, Robert Dudley, saw her banished from court in 1569 and again in 1579.  Lettice had been forgiven once, but the Queen was not inclined to forgive her cousin again.

Dudley, on the other hand, was summoned back to court in a matter of weeks since Elizabeth banished him to Wanstead Hall (his estate in Essex). His favor with the Queen restored, the two spent more time together than they had in previous years….

For a while, Dudley was secure in Queen Elizabeth’s affections for him, until he was forced to compete with another man: Francis, the Duke of Anjou…

Elizabeth and the Duke had been corresponding for years through letters and through the Duke’s valet de chamber Jean de Simier. And in August 1579, the Duke arrived in England to woo the Queen into marriage.

It’s as hard to believe today as it was over 400 years ago that Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Anjou got along so well…. On the surface, the two were as different as night and day. To begin with, the Duke was from France: England’s mortal enemy. He was Catholic (but with Protestant sympathies) and Elizabeth was Protestant. The Duke was only 23 years old and she was 24 years his senior at 47.

ART 246171
Elizabeth I Plimpton Sieve portrait housed in the Folger Shakespeare Library photo attained from http://www.luminarium.org/renlit/elizface2.htm

The Plimpton Sieve Portrait of Elizabeth –attributed to artist George Gower—was painted in 1579. This image of the Queen is likely an embellishment of her appearance. However, the portrait accurately portrays what contemporaries described as Queen Elizabeth’s most distinguishing features: pale skin, large forehead, small black eyes, a slight hooked nose, narrow lips and red hair. By stark contrast, the Duke of Anjou was described as “contemptible in intellect and character, and repulsive in appearance, with [an] ugly pock-marked face, [a] great head and harsh croaking voice.” [1]

Elizabeth was not put off by the Duke’s physical short comings or unseemly personality. She once stated—after dining with the Duke privately in Simier’s room, at Greenwich Palace –: I have never in my life seen a creature more agreeable to me.[2] A courtier relayed that the Queen even went so far as to “[give] out that [the Duke of Anjou] was actually handsome… and all agreed who wished to avoid her wrath.” [3]

Queen Elizabeth affectionately bestowed on the Duke a (rather belittling) moniker: Frog. Frog was possibly a reference to the Duke’s French nationality, his frog like appearance, and or an earring that he once gave to the Queen that was in the shape of a frog.

Francis Duke of Anjou by Hilliard 1577
The Duke of Anjou portrait housed at the V & A museum, photo from https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nicholas_Hilliard_002.jpg#mw-jump-to-license

There was seldom a moment when Elizabeth and her “Frog” were not in each other’s company, much to the dismay of many at court who “hated [Francis] for being French, a Catholic, and the son of Catherine de Medici who was widely believed to have ordered the infamous St. Bartholomew’s Massacre of French Protestants in 1572”. [4] None loathed the Duke of Anjou and Simier more than Robert Dudley.

Dudley was angry with Simier for informing the Queen about his secret marriage to Lettice. This not only led to his wife’s permanent banishment from court, and his temporary banishment, but it threatened the validity of his marriage.

After the news was broken to her by Simier, Elizabeth declared Dudley should be charged with bigamy because she had it on good authority that he was already married to a lady named Douglas Sheffield….

Alleged portrait of Douglas Sheffield
Douglas Sheffield portrait attained from https://www.geni.com/people/Douglas-Sheffield/6000000006444632251

Douglas Sheffield (née Howard) served as maid of honor to her cousin Queen Elizabeth in 1559. Douglas left court – only a year into her position— when she married John Sheffield. Douglas bore two of John’s children: a son Edmund and a daughter Elizabeth. After John’s death in 1568, Douglas went back to court to serve the Queen as a maid of the privy chamber. In 1573 yet another wealthy, powerful and attractive man caught her attention…

Robert Dudley was not only the Queen’s favorite, he was also conducting an affair with Lettice (who was, at the time, married to Walter Devereux). To complicate matters, Douglas’s sister, Frances, had also fallen in love with Dudley.

Gilbert Talbot, the 7th Earl of Shrewsbury, wrote about Dudley’s predicament: “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…” [5]

Whether Dudley carried on a relationship with Frances remains a mystery. What is certain is that for many years he had an affair with Douglas, as evident by a letter he later wrote to her, in which he sought to put an end to any notion she had about marrying him. Dudley used Elizabeth as his excuse, writing: “….if I should marry I am sure never to have [the queen’s] favour….” However, Dudley found that it wasn’t going to be that easy to get rid of Douglas….

Robert Robin Dudley by Hilliard 1590
Robert Dudley (Lecister’s son) photo attained from http://www.tudorplace.com.ar/Bios/RobertDudley(EWarwick).htm

On August 7th 1574, Douglas gave birth to a son, christened Robert. At the time, the child was the elder Dudley’s first and only living son. For a few years Robert resided with his father at his stately homes. A servant of Dudley’s, named Heyborne, relayed that he: “often tymes discover[ed [the] love and care [Dudley] had of the said Sir Rob. Dudley and the desire he had to have him receive good usage and educacion.”  [6]

Three decades later, Douglas claimed that she and Dudley entered into a pre-contract of marriage in 1571, before they finally married in secret at Esher, Surrey in 1573.  She added that Dudley wished to dissolve their relationship because he wanted to marry Lettice Knollys. Douglas reluctantly agreed to leave Dudley and take the allowance he offered her, after a meeting they had, which left her in fear of her life should she not heed his command. In late November 1579, Douglas made an advantageous marriage with politician and court favorite: Edward Stafford.

Regardless of the true status of Dudley’s relationship with Douglas, their affair had gone far enough that enraged Queen Elizabeth and jeopardized his marriage to Lettice.

The Queen ordered a full investigation and sent the Earl of Sussex to question Douglas about her supposed engagement and subsequent marriage to Dudley. Douglas became tearful during the inquiry, and is quoted as saying that “She had trusted the said Earl too much to have anything to show to constrain him to marry her.” [7]

No matter how upset Elizabeth was over Dudley’s clandestine dealings with Lettice and Douglas, without sufficient proof it wasn’t enough to annul his marriage to either lady. Nor was it enough to charge him with bigamy, which “was not yet a felony in English law.” [8]. In the end, Queen Elizabeth had to abandon her schemes and Dudley remained married to Lettice.

It was under these circumstances that Dudley decided to exact revenge against Simier. It’s alleged that he first attempted to have Simier poisoned. When that plan failed he “employed a man called Robin Tinder to lay in wait and shoot him as he came out of the garden gate at Greenwich. However, Tider baulked when he saw how well guarded Simier was.” [9]


In late 1581, “Anjou arrived back in England and presented Queen Elizabeth with a diamond ring.” In return, “she gave him a jewel encrusted arquebus and a key that fitted into every room of the palace.” [10]

On November 21st 1588 an incident occurred that was sure to excite even more anger and resentment within the Queen’s council….

As Elizabeth and the Duke were walking in the gallery of Whitehall Palace, “the French ambassador came to her and said “the King his master wanted to know the Queen’s intention from her own lips.” Queen Elizabeth shocked everyone (most of all Dudley, who had been trailing behind her) when she replied “You may write this to the King:

Portrait of François-Hercule de France, duke of Alençon and later of Anjou via National Gallery of Art
Portrait of François-Hercule de France, duke of Alençon and later of Anjou via National Gallery of Art

that the Duke [of Anjou] shall be my husband.” [11] The Queen then kissed the Duke and gave him her ring as a sign of her commitment.

It’s uncertain whether or not Elizabeth’s declaration of marriage to the Duke was given in true faith. Many have speculated that Queen Elizabeth purposely led the Duke on, to gain an ally with France.

Author and historian A.N. Wilson thinks that the marriage negotiations were never taken seriously by the Queen. And that she only “encouraged the wooing as a salve for the hurt caused her by Robert and Lettice.”

Others speculate that the Queen was too advanced in years to have a safe pregnancy. Something Elizabeth was fully aware of, and which made the whole idea of marriage between the two inconvincible from the very beginning.

Then there are some who point out that English hostility towards the Duke, France, and Catholicism dashed any hopes Elizabeth had of marrying him. Certainly the uprising against her sister’s (Queen Mary I) marriage to Philip of Spain in 1554 was enough to cause her to take precaution about entering into a foreign match of her own.

But perhaps the most likely reason of all is that Elizabeth wasn’t interested in becoming a submissive wife to her husband (as married women of the period were expected to do). She even once declared to Dudley: “I will have one mistress here and no master.”

Whatever the Queen’s true intentions were, her engagement to the Duke of Anjou was called off in 1582. The official reason given was that the Duke wanted Elizabeth to back his political exploits in the Netherlands and that the French King (Henri II) refused to enter into an alliance with England.

It seems certain from her actions that Elizabeth was genuinely fond of the Duke. The poem she wrote in 1582 entitled “On Monsieur’s Departure” certainly betrays that her fondness for him was borne from love….

On Monsieurs departure photo attained from https://ramblingsoftheclaury.wordpress.com/2015/06/25/on-monsieurs-departure/

When the Duke died on June 10th 1584 from a fever, Queen Elizabeth was inconsolable. “She wore black for six months and referred to herself as “a widow woman who has lost her husband.” [12]


With her reputation at court tarnished, her influence curtailed and her favor with the Queen gone forever, Lettice found out all too quickly that her advantageous marriage to the Earl of Leicester came with its disadvantages. With her husband away paying court to the most powerful woman in England, now her bitter rival, Lettice was forced to live the life of a disgraced mistress. The threat of Elizabeth’s wrath required Lettice to often reside at her estate in Beddington and with her family at Rotherfield Greys (their estate in Oxfordshire). Occasionally she stayed with her husband at Wanstead, Hall but the visits were kept secret lest Elizabeth should discover it….

Lettice Knollys, Countess of Leicester attributed to George Gower, c.1585.
Lettice Knollys, Countess of Leicester attributed to George Gower, c.1585.

Despite her title being the Countess of Leicester, Lettice was formally addressed as the Countess of Essex. It’s thought that Lettice did this to avoid a dressing down from the Queen.

Dudley attempted to ease his wife’s troubles by encouraging several notable peers to accept her into their inner circle.

In a letter written to the imprisoned Mary Queen of Scots, the French ambassador Michel de Castlenau wrote “I dined today with the Earl of Leicester and his lady, to whom he is much attached. They both received me kindly, made many offers of friendship, and expressed a wish that the countess and my wife might be on intimate terms.” [13] Unfortunately, the wife of the ambassador was not interested in pursuing a friendship with the disgraced Lettice.

In late 1580, Lettice discovered she was pregnant with Dudley’s child. For the birth, Lettice went to Leicester House (Dudley’s fashionable residence in London). On June 6th 1581, Robert, Lord Denbigh was born.  Dudley was thrilled with the birth of his son: his first legitimate heir.

Lord Denbigh became lovingly known as the noble imp.  He “was treated as an infant prince” with all the trappings of royalty. “His cradle at Leicester House was “draped in crimson velvet, with trains of velvet taffeta” and “his chair was upholstered in green and carnation cloth of tinsel.” At least “three portraits of him [Denbigh] were painted, one with his mother”. [14] A suit of armor which is said to have been commissioned by Dudley, was fitted for Lord Denbigh. The armor has survived and is on display at Warwick castle, in Warwickshire, England.

The stakes were raised now that Lettice had provided Dudley his son and heir. Which meant that Dudley could no longer reasonably continue to distance himself from his wife just to appease the Elizabeth.

Lettice was no longer content with being treated as her husband’s mistress, being shunned by society and moved from house to house. By summer 1583, Lettice settled in permanently at Leicester House.

In 1583 Dudley and Lettice allegedly arranged a marriage between their son Lord Denbigh and Arabella: the granddaughter of the Countess of Shrewsbury (aka Bess of Hardwick). If true, this was an extremely bold and controversial move on Dudley’s, Lettice’s and the Countess’ part. Arabella Stuart, then age 9, was a great-great-granddaughter of King Henry VII, and thus a possible contender for the throne of England. It is said that Queen Elizabeth “may at one time have thought of naming [Arabella] as her successor….

Alleged Armour of Lord Denbigh at Warwick Castle
Lord Denbigh’s armor photo attained from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/570760952751197198/

The Queen once said “to the French ambassador (speaking of Arabella): “Look at her well. She will one day be attired just as I am, and will be a great lady; but I shall have gone before her.” [15]

If Elizabeth died and Arabella became Queen it would mean that Dudley and Lettice would be the parents of the King Consort of England.

Doubtless, Dudley and Lettice were anxious to keep this engagement a secret from Queen Elizabeth. But unfortunately for them, their machinations were betrayed.  “Lord Paget [wrote] to the Earl of Northumberland: “A friend in office is verie desirous that the Queen should have light given to her of the practice between Leycester [Dudley} and the Countess [Bess] for Arabella, for it comes on very lustily, insomuch as the said Earl hath sent down the picture of his babie [Lord Denbigh].” [16] When the Queen was told of the engagement she become extremely angry. So much so that she, once again, demanded Dudley leave court.

The marriage between Denbigh and Arabella never materialized (Arabella eventually married William Seymour, the Duke of Somerset.)

Around the time of Lord Denbigh’s supposed engagement, the Spanish Ambassador reported that Dudley and Lettice were trying to secure a dynastic marriage for another member of their family. This time the proposal was between Dorothy Devereux (Lettice’s daughter from her first marriage) and the young James VI, the King of Scotland. Once again the secret and underhanded ambitions of Dudley and Lettice was revealed to Elizabeth. The latter declared that she would “rather allow the King to take her crown away than see him married to the daughter of such a she-wolf,” she added that “if she could find no other way to repress her ambition and that of the traitor Leicester [Dudley] she would proclaim her all over Christendom for the bad woman she was, and prove that her husband was a cuck-hold.” [17] Dudley and Lettice were forced to abandon their schemes, and in July 1583 Dorothy eloped with Thomas Perrot.
In the summer of 1584 tragedy struck the Dudley household when Lord Denbigh became ill. He died from a fever at Wanstead Hall on July 19th 1584. He was only four years old. Dudley and Lettice were heartbroken over the loss of their son. Dudley unceremoniously left court without asking for the Queens permission in order to grieve and, in his own words: “to comfort my sorrowful wife for the loss of my little son, whom God has lately taken from us.”

Despite her famous temper Queen Elizabeth was not void of tender feelings. Christopher Hatton, wrote a letter to Dudley following his sudden departure from court. In it, he states that he took the liberty to inform the Queen of his circumstances and that she was “very sorry” for his loss, and that she promised to write and to visit him in the near future.

(Elizabeth never visited Dudley during this time, nor did she write a letter of condolences. Instead, she sent her diplomat and ambassador Sir Henry Killigrew in her place. Queen Elizabeth most likely avoided the situation because she wished to avoid Lettice.)

Dudley was grateful to Hatton for his handling of matters, as relayed in a letter he wrote to him towards the end of July 1584.

“Mr. Vice-Chamberlain, “he wrote, “I do most heartily thank you for your careful and most godly advice at this time. Your good friendship never wanteth…“I must confess I have received many afflictions within these few years, but [none] greater [than Denbigh’s death] …. I beseech the same God to grant me patience in all these worldly things, and to forgive me the negligence’s of my former time, that have not been more careful to please Him…”

For appearances sake, at least, Dudley was not affronted by Elizabeth’s absence, he added:“…preserve her Majesty forever, whom on my knees I most humbly thank for her gracious visitation by Killigrew. She shall never comfort a more true and faithful man to her…” He closed his letter with an ode to the Queen: ..”for I have lived and so will die only hers.” [18]

The last words are interesting. Naturally it was the duty of a courtier to appease their Monarch, but it also shows that Dudley still had feelings for the Queen (as one might have for their mistress or their wife). What’s more he would always be hers and hers alone. It’s quite possible that Lettice felt that she could, in a sense, never have the utter love and devotion from her husband….

Tomb effigy of Lord Denbigh at the Beauchamp Chapel of St. Mary’s Church
Lord Denbigh’s tomb photo attained from https://www.flickr.com/photos/32157648@N08/4529952201

Lord Denbigh’s funeral was held at Wanstead Hall on August 1st 1584. “He was buried on the south side of the Beauchamp Chapel, at St. Mary’s Church, Warwick under a splendid alter-tomb with a life-size effigy. [19]

Lord Denbigh’s death had a profound effect on Dudley’s legacy. Not only did he lose his legitimate heir, but “the death of this child meant that both the earldoms held by the Dudley family now faced extinction – for the marriage of Leicester’s [Dudley’s] elder brother, Ambrose, earl of Warwick, was also childless.” This fact was not lost on Dudley, Lettice or anyone. A doggerel libel entitled Leicester’s Ghost–published sometime in 1584 after Denbigh’s death –alludes to Dudley’s plight.

“First I assayed Queene Elizabeth to wed,

Whom divers princes courted in vaine;

When in the course unluckily I sped,

I sought to the Scot’s Queen’s marriage to obtaine;

But when I reapt no profit for my paine,

I sought to match Denbigh, my tender childe,

To Dame Arabella, but was beguiled.

“Even as Octavius with Marke Antony

And Lepidus the Roman Empire shared,

That of the world these held the sovereignty,

So I a new triumvirate prepared,

If Death awhile young Denbigh’s life had spar’d,

The granddame, uncle, and the father-in-law,

Might thus have brought all England under awe.” [20]

In late 1582, Lettice was reputed to have been pregnant with her 7th child, but nothing came of it, and for the rest of her marriage to Dudley she bore no other children. Dudley’s elder brother Ambrose had only one child: a daughter (born to his first wife Anne Whorwood) who died in 1552. Thus the Dudley family Earldoms of Leicester and Warwick were inherited by their sister’s son: Robert Sidney, who became the Earl of Leicester in 1618), and Robert Rich (the husband of Lettice’s daughter Penelope) who became the Earl of Warwick in 1618.


Sometime in August 1585 Lettice and Dudley went to Kenilworth Castle. Time and death had not healed the deep wounds between the two cousins; in fact it exacerbated it…. When Elizabeth discovered that Lettice and her husband were on holiday together, she became angry and immediately summoned Dudley to return to his duties at court.

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester in the robes of the Order of the Garter by an unknown artist. @Yale Center for British Art
Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester in the robes of the Order of the Garter by an unknown artist. @Yale Center for British Art

Despite being reconciled with the Queen, the latter was still angry with him and threatened to prevent one of his life-long ambitions: to become the head of the army in the Netherlands. The pains that Elizabeth took to undermined him had not gone unnoticed by Dudley.

In a letter written to Elizabeth’s secretary Francis Walsingham, Dudley said of Queen Elizabeth: “she doth take every occasion by my marriage to withdraw any good from me.”

In the end, public opinion at home and in the Netherlands persuaded the Queen to declare Dudley Lieutenant General. In December 1585 Dudley and abt. 6,000 soldiers sailed to the Netherlands, in an effort to assist the Protestant Dutch in their war against the unwelcomed invasion and rule of Philip II of Spain.

Unfortunately, Dudley’s time in the Netherlands was not very successful for the Protestant cause or for his career. In January 1586 Dudley accepted the position of Governor General of the United Provinces. Elizabeth was extremely angry when she discovered that Dudley had accepted this position without royal permission. Dudley’s appointment “made it appear that England was actually seeking to gain land claimed by Spain instead of fortifying an ally, and this constituted an act of war in Spain’s eyes.” [21]

The Queen wasted no time in letting Dudley know how displeased she was with “his treacherous ambition against her own sovereignty.”

During this time, there were rumors at court that Lettice was set to join her husband in the Netherlands “with such a train of ladies and gentleman, and such rich coaches, litters and side saddles as her Majesty had none…” [22] with the specific intention of setting up a vice-regal court. The very thought of Lettice being treated as a Queen in the Netherlands was enough to send Elizabeth into a rage.

In a letter dated to his brother on March 6th 1586 the Earl of Warwick wrote further about the matter concerning Lettice “[Queen Elizabeth’s] rage doth increase rather than any way diminish…Her malice is great and unquenchable.” [23] An Elizabethan contemporary reported that before she could even ascertain if the rumors were true, Elizabeth shouted: “with great oaths, she would have no more courts under her obeisance than her own.” [24]

Lettice was so overcome with fear at the Queen’s impending wrath that Dudley’s personal messenger William Davison, had to assure her that he approached the Queen with the matter in the most delicate way possible.

Elizabeth I, painted by John Bettes the Younger, c1580s
Elizabeth I, painted by John Bettes the Younger, c1580s

The rumors about Lettice joining her husband in the Netherlands was never established as fact nor did it come to pass. Nevertheless, Elizabeth was shaken by the entire incident, so much so that the Privy Council and had to persuade her not to order Dudley to rescind his governorship in the Netherlands. They insisted that his “action represented the only viable way ahead in the Low Countries.” [25]

At any rate, there were other pressing matters at court…It was discovered that the imprisoned Mary Queen of Scots was complicit in a plot to escape captivity and to have Queen Elizabeth assassinated, whereby she would became Mary II, Queen of England. The plot was genuine in that many wanted to see Protestant England and Queen Elizabeth destroyed, so that the Catholic faith could be restored. But there were other forces at play in the plot, namely men (like Robert Poley) who were recruited to restore Mary but were in fact working for Francis Walsingham. The latter’s main goal was to rid England of a Catholic thorn in its side by seeking the total destruction of Mary.

Known as the Babington Plot, its chief conspirator: Anthony Babington, was found guilty of treason and was executed at St Giles Field. His death was followed by seven others including the Jesuit priest John Ballard, and Mary Queen of Scots who was beheaded on February 8th 1587 in the Great Hall at Fotheringhay Castle. Mary’s death became a blight on the Queen’s conscious, as well as her reign….

Dudley left the Netherlands briefly in 1586 to attend Mary’s trial; he was one of many who pressured Elizabeth to kill God’s anointed Queen (as Mary was proclaimed).

When Dudley returned to the Netherlands “in June 1587, the English-held port of Sluis was lost to Parma.” [26] This was a devastating blow to Dudley whose troops in the previous year loss claim and control of the capital of Grave to the Duke of Parma, in a battle known as The Siege of Grave.

The next few months after Sluis was conquered “the English army [was] wasted  in fruitless military campaigns…which had no real effect on helping the Dutch rebellion.”

Dutch opinion was beginning to sour against Dudley when he “introduce[ed] new taxes that impinged on local privileges”. This was made worse when “two of his commanders betrayed Deventer and a fort at Zutphen to the Spanish in 1587.” [27]

Dudley was eventually forced to resign his governorship in the Netherlands. He returned home in late 1587 in severe debt and under a cloud of humiliation.

Helping the Protestant Dutch suppress Catholic and Spanish rule proved to be much more trouble than it was worth. Philip II was angry that Queen Elizabeth had dared to interfere in his conquest. He was furthered annoyed by the attacks against his fleet and the looting of Spanish treasure by the Queen’s men, led by Francis Drake. When Mary Queen of Scots was executed, this gave Philip the additional ammunition he needed to launch an attack and invasion against England.

Philip’s war became known as the Enterprise of England. The Spanish King’s main goal was to unseat Queen Elizabeth and replace her with his daughter Isabella: effectively making England, Catholic.

The Queen and the whole of England became aware of Philip’s impending attacks in early 1587. Indeed, the Spanish took very little pains to keep it secret in the hopes of frightening Elizabeth and her subjects into submission.

At first, Queen Elizabeth dismissed the invasion as another threat issued by Philip, but her Privy Councilors urged her that this time the threat was real. “Francis Drake [then] led a primitive strike on Spanish ships gathering at Cadiz in April 1587 and a number [of them] were destroyed.” This bold and ingenious attack by Drake and his men “delayed the Armada for a year and allowed the Queen to mobilize England’s defenses.” [28]

Despite his failure in the Netherlands, Elizabeth appointed Dudley as Lieutenant and Captain General of the Queens Armies and Companies, in July 1588.  With great enthusiasm he accepted the title and set up camp at Tilbury.

A few months before Dudley’s advancement, a fleet of 130 ships and 22 galleons, known as the Spanish Armada was spotted advancing across the English Channel. After a series of minor failures and accomplishments by the English forces, there came a decisive win….

Known as the (second) Battle of Gravelines, the English successfully attacked Philip’s fleet which caused the Spanish to retreat towards the north “where many ships were sunk by storms”. [29] On July 29th 1588 the English were declared the victors.

However, England remained very much on the defense as the threat of counter attacks by Spain loomed over them.

In August 1588, Queen Elizabeth visited her soldiers at Tilbury. A contemporary letter written by Dr. Leonel Sharp to the Duke of Buckingham relays the Queen’s actions shortly after her arrival at Tilbury. The Queen rode through all the squadrons of her army, as armed Pallas, attended by noble footmen, Leicester [Dudley], Essex, and Norris, then lord marshal, and divers other great lords, where she made an excellent oration to her  army…” [30]

A service of Thanksgiving was held at St. Paul’s Cathedral on August 20th 1588, to celebrate England’s most triumphant victory since the Battle of Agincourt. Queen Elizabeth was hailed as Gloriana and she gave great thanks to England’s victory by having a medal struck “…showing her proud face on one side and the Spanish ships bobbing up and down on the waves on the other. The medal carried these words: “God breathed and they were scattered.” [31]

Elizabeth’s jubilation didn’t last long….


After a triumphant procession through London in which Dudley relished in the adulation of the people, he and Lettice made their way towards Buxton to partake in the rejuvenating and luxurious baths.

older Robert Dudley by unknown artist 1580
Robert Dudley portrait housed at the Weiss Gallery photo attained from http://spartacus-educational.com/TUDdudleyR.htm

Dudley’s health soon began to deteriorate and the couple was forced to remain at Cornbury Park (their estate in Oxfordshire).

In the early morning hours of September 4th 1588, Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, died, aged 56. The official cause of death is unknown but the general consensus is that he died from Malaria. He was laid to rest on October 10th 1588 in the Beauchamp Chapel of St. Mary’s at Warwick (near where his son Lord Denbigh was buried.)

Queen Elizabeth was utterly and completely shattered when she was informed of Dudley’s death. In a flood of tears, she locked herself in her room at Whitehall palace and refused to come out or speak to anyone. Her only solace was this last letter that Dudley wrote to her, dated August 29th 1588:

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 pain she finds, being the chiefest thing in the 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 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,

Even as I had writ thus much, I received Your Majesty’s token by Young Tracey. [31]

The Queen only emerged from her solitude when her adviser William Cecil had the doors to her bedchamber forced open.

Robert Dudley was the one man that Queen Elizabeth loved above all others…How far their love went we do not and probably will never know. But their close relationship was certainly more like that of a married couple rather than a Queen and her subject.


Dudley and Elizabeth’s bond caused England and its councilor’s annoyance and fear for their monarch’s reputation.

The only one who survived the inappropriate and turbulent relationship between the Queen and her favorite, was Lettice Knollys.

Lettice was, as Dudley described her — a most “faithful and very loving and obedient careful wife”; (even when he had betrayed and transferred his affections elsewhere). For the genuine love and affection Dudley had for Lettice, he made her the sole executer and chief benefactor of his will, which resulted in Lettice raking in an estimated £25,168. However, Dudley was in a considerable amount debt at the time of his passing. As his widow, it fell on Lettice to pay his expenditures. Elizabeth rather callously transferred Dudley’s debts to the crown onto Lettice, which forced her to sell off three of her late husband’s estates….

Queen Elizabeth and Lettice Knollys’ epic feud lasted throughout the latter’s marriage to Dudley. Their animosity seemed destined to last for eternity. That is until the Queen began to spend more and more time with Lettice’s son, the young, handsome and dashing Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex…

Finish the story here with Part 4 – The Conclusion


[1] “History of England: From the accession of Henry VIII to the revolution of 1689” by T. F. Tout, M.A. 1908
[2], [10], [32] “Elizabeth and Leicester: The Truth about the Virgin Queen and the Man She Loved” by Sarah Gristwood
[3] “The Twilight Lords: Elizabeth I and the Plunder of Ireland” by Rowman & Littlefield
[4] “Queen Elizabeth I” by Susan Doran
[5] “Love, Lust, and License in Early Modern England: Illicit Sex and the Nobility” by Johanna Rickman
[7,] [23] “Elizabeth I” by Anne Somerset
[8] “The Voyage of Robert Dudley, afterwards styled Earl of Warwick and Leicester and Duke of Northumberland, to the West Indies, 1594-1595” by Warner, Wyatt and Dudley.
[9], [11] “The Queen’s Bed: An Intimate History of Elizabeth’s Court” by Anna Whitelock
[11], [17] “Calendar of Letters and State Papers Relating to English Affairs: Volume 3: Preserved Principally in the Archives of Simancas” by Martin A. S. Hume
[12] “Royal Affairs: A Lusty Romp Through the Extramarital Adventures That Rocked the English Monarchy” by Leslie Carroll
[13], [14] “Contributions to Modern History from the British Museum and the State Paper Office: Queen Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots” by Friedrich von Raumer
[14] “Wicked Women of Tudor England: Queens, Aristocrats, Commoners” by R. Warnicke
[15] “Annals of the Seymours” by Richard Harold St. Maur
[18] “Memoirs of the Life and Times of Sir Christopher Hatton, K.G., Vice-Chamberlain and Lord Chancellor to Queen Elizabeth: Including His Correspondence with the Queen and Other Distinguished Persons” by Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas
[20] “The life and letters of Lady Arabella Stuart: including numerous original and unpublished documents” by Elizabeth Cooper
[21] “A Body Politic to Govern: The Political Humanism of Elizabeth I” by Ted Booth
[22] “Lives of the Queens of England: From the Norman Conquest, Volume 3” by Agnes Strickland and Elisabeth Strickland
[23] “Elizabeth” I by Anne Somerset
[24] “History of England from the Fall of Wolsey to the Death of Elizabeth, Volume 12” by James Anthony Froude
[25] “Elizabeth I” by David Loades
[26] http://www.liquisearch.com/robert_dudley_1st_earl_of_leicester/governor-general_of_the_united_provinces
[27] “The European Reformation, 1500-1610” by Alastair Armstrong
[28] http://www.rmg.co.uk/discover/explore/elizabeth-i-road-war
[30] “A Collection of Scarce and Valuable Tracts, on the Most Interesting and Entertaining Subjects: Prior to the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Reign of Queen Elizabeth” by Sir Walter Scott, Baron John Somers
[31] “Queen Elizabeth and England’s Golden Age” by Samuel Willard Crompton


About the Author:

kL16loFoI’m Karlie (also known as History Gal on Twitter)! I’m a pre-med student from the U.S. I have many interests including reading, writing, drawing and painting but my passion is History. I have read and love to read just about every period in history but I am most interested in the Tudor period. I’m intrigued, not just by the Tudor dynasty, but also by the world in which they lived: the people, the religion, the politics, the conflicts, the events, the castles, the beautiful clothes, just overall their way of life.

It should go without saying that I love England and its rich history. My dream is to go there and see as many Tudor related places as I can!

Follow on Twitter: @HistoryGal_

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