Guest article by Samantha K. Cohen
Being a romantic I hope they did but history being more practical than me says maybe they did and maybe they didn’t. In other words, we really don’t know.
Medically, Elizabeth I was a mess. Frequent headaches and stomach aches were two of her many illnesses. Missed periods were frequent.
The very conditions of her [Elizabeth] body which gave her a feeling of ill-being… A healthy sexual life, a womb, and ovaries in perfect health, a body that glows in full perfection of womanly beauty are handicaps to a woman who has to steer a course amidst the shoals and narrows of the Sea of State; with such a full endowment she cannot but be the slave of the qualities with which nature has so richly dowered her. Elizabeth had the advantage of her defects as a stateswoman; she paid the penalty for her defects in a feeling of ill-being and often positive ill-health. In a medical sense her sexual system was blasted;…If a study of Elizabeth’s health and illnesses can throw a light on her character and through her on the history of her period, it will be found not in a study of her dropsies, fevers, small-pox, spice of mother, etc., but in the disordered condition of her sexual system.’
This is the opinion of Sir Arthur Keith, Royal College of Surgeons of England. To be fair the good doctor gave this medical opinion in the year 1918. It’s unlikely that any doctor today would say her sexual system was blasted. Still, if Sir Arthur thought Elizabeth’s ‘sexual system was blasted’ then it’s possible that conceiving could have been out of the question. The Spanish ambassador, Count de Feria who had eyes and ears in every corner of Elizabeth’s court, informed the King ‘For a certain reason they have recently given me, I understand she will not bear children.’ The symptom he spoke of, which was also repeated to the Scottish ambassador, Sir James Melville, was probably that the Queen had very few monthly periods. It’s possible that because of her irregular periods Elizabeth believed she could not get pregnant, and believing that, she could have given into her desire to sleep with Robert Dudley. It’s possible, and yet when rumors spread that ‘Lord Robert did swyve the Queen’ Elizabeth hotly declared that the rumours were slanderous. She was attended round the clock by her ladies and maids-of-honor she said. How could she have assignations under such circumstance? When Ambassador Breuner sent an agent to make discreet inquiries of Elizabeth’s ladies they said their mistress ‘showed her liking for [Dudley] more markedly than is consistent with her reputation and dignity’ but protested that she had ‘certainly never been forgetful of her honor’.
Being that Elizabeth was hardly ever alone could she have had a sexual relationship with Robert? It would have been difficult, but not impossible. Despite always being surrounded, she did manage to disguise herself as the maid of Katherine Howard in order to enjoy the secret pleasure of watching Robert shoot near Windsor Castle. Was that the only time she wore a disguise in order to see Dudley or to meet him? Did they share quiet dinners, her in court disguise, him in a fine linen shirt the ties undone. Or sans disguise, did she slip into his apartment, the apartment that caused so many tongues to wag?
The rooms in Whitehall allocated to Lord Robert being too near the river were damp. The Queen graciously offered him a suite of apartments next to her own on the first floor and that started the rumor mill churning. The French ambassador, Antoine de Noailles had been told by a colleague ‘that he had been assured by a person in a position to know that Lord Robert had slept with the Queen on New Year’s night.’ Mary, Queen of Scots had no trouble believing Elizabeth and Dudley were lovers. During her captivity, she told Bess of Hardwick that Dudley had visited Elizabeth’s bed numerous times. As gossip and rumors spread, and even as Elizabeth swore her innocence, she continued to show her favor for her sweet Robin. She made him her Master of the Horse. They both loved riding and hunting, and hardly a day went by when they weren’t out riding, sometimes alone.
It was in the spring of 1559 that Elizabeth’s love affair with Robert Dudley became serious. It was universally agreed that Lord Robert was a man that could turn any woman’s head. He was six foot tall with a magnificent physique and dark good looks that earned him the nickname of ‘the gypsy’. As well as being handsome he was cultivated, witty, and charming. And, he knew Elizabeth since they were children which bred a familiarity between them that allowed them to be at ease with each other. Robert could certainly tease Elizabeth in a way no one else could.
Elizabeth was beautiful, vivacious, quick-witted, brilliant, flirtatious, and, Queen of England. The princess of Robert’s youth was now a fascinating, desirable woman. Both twenty-five and brimming with life, the attraction between these two exceptional people must have been combustible, and yet. And yet. Elizabeth had seen much in her life that could have kept her from the final act of surrender. There was no question that she was in love with Robert Dudley and certainly intimate dinners by candlelight with her sweet Robin had to quicken her pulse. Still, was she so strong-willed that she could resist him. Did Robert understand her well enough to know she would never yield to him? He said he knew the Queen and her nature better than any man. When they danced and ‘he would sometimes ask her if she did not think she had some subjects of her own…able to make an heir for the kingdom of England?’ did they both know that what he hinted at would never happen?
A servant by the name of Tamworth was granted an annuity of 500 pounds. Who was Tamworth? Why was he granted such a grand sum? In 1562 Elizabeth was struck down with smallpox and she was dying. She drifted in and out of consciousness until finally the smallpox eruptions broke out and the crisis passed. It was in one of her lucid moments that she stunned her councilors by demanding that her beloved Robin, Lord Robert Dudley be appointed Protector of the Realm with a salary of 20,000 pounds. She then went on to say that Lord Robert’s body-servant, a man named Tamworth, be granted an annuity of 500 pounds. This Tamworth was a highly-trusted servant who was witness to of the comings and goings of his master, Lord Robert and Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth. Late at night, he stood guard at the door while Robert and Elizabeth were alone. Was his silence bought? Or to put it more delicately, was his continued loyalty insured?
Did they or didn’t they? I’d like to think that in those early years when their love was young and they didn’t give a hoot what people thought, that they ‘did’. But dame history says you may think what you want but the truth is long buried and until the day when some determined historian discovers evidence that says they did or didn’t, the truth will stay buried. It will remain a secret. Their secret. Elizabeth and her sweet Robin’s titillating secret.