Elizabeth’s Master of the Horse (Guest Post)

Guest article by Samantha K. Cohen

On Monday, November 28, 1558, Queen Elizabeth rode in procession to the Tower, her Master of the Horse riding close behind her. He was athletic, accomplished, brilliant, witty, extremely handsome, and Elizabeth was in love with him. He was Robert Dudley, the future Earl of Leicester.

Robert Dudley’s appointment as Master of the Horse raised eyebrows and roused jealousy, but no one who knew him could doubt he was in every way the obvious choice for the post. He was a celebrated horseman that proved himself time and again to be an expert jouster which required equestrian skills of the highest order.

The Master of the Horse headed one of the busiest departments of the royal household. Robert Dudley was responsible for the transport of the Queen and the court on all occasions, ceremonial and otherwise; for the supervision of the royal studs, together with the purchase, training and equipping of horses for all purposes; for the provision of mounts for household officials and royal messengers; for the organisation of the Queen’s annual progresses; and for the planning of ceremonial journeys. He had to provide war-horses, ‘great horses’ for the joust and for pulling the unsprung carriages just coming into fashion, coursers for the Queen’s gentlemen, palfreys and amblers for the maids of honour, cobs and rouncies for lesser attendants, mules and pack-horses for baggage, and a supply of hacks and hunters for the Queen’s sport. 

Thomas Blunderville came into Dudley’s sphere through William Cecil. In dedicating the English transition of THE ARTE OF RYDING to him, Blunderville says, ‘It is not…to serve the personal use of his patron, whose skill in Italian would enable him to read the original, and whose mastery of the art of riding, “by knowledge as also by office” renders him a suitable judge and patron of the work rather than its student. The favorable reception of this book prompted Blunderville to dedicate a larger work to Dudley entitled THE FOWER CHIEFYST OFFICES BELONGING TO HORSEMANSHIPPE. Evidence of Dudley’s conscientious management of his office is recorded in Blunderville’s reference to Master Claudio Corte, an Italian authority on horsemanship whom Leicester employed as an assistant. Corte was the author of a book on riding IL CAVALLERIZZO (Venice, 1572 and 1573)  “….not without mention of the Earl of Leicester’s excellence as a rider and as manager of the royal stable.”

As Master of the Horse Robert came in daily contact with Elizabeth. She was an excellent rider who “took great pleasure in good horses”. To her “Dudley was like one of the mettlesome steeds which she insisted on riding, despite being warned of the danger: a high-spirited beast, which she found it exhilarating to handle, but which she did not doubt her ability of control.”

Obviously tame horses were not to Her Majesty’s liking. At one point in 1560, she instructed Dudley to obtain from Ireland “good strong gallopers which are better than her geldings”. Elizabeth and Robert both had a passion for the chase. They could spend a day in sport with only each other for company. Suffice to say the Master of the Horse knew his high-spirited Queen well.

On Michaelmas Day, 29 September 1564 Elizabeth created her Master of the Horse, Earl of Leicester while Sir James Melville, Mary Queen of Scots’ special envoy, was at court. Why? Because the Queen of Scots needed the pot sweetened. Even though Robert was a man of accomplishment to say nothing of being handsome, witty, and charming, he was considered beneath her. The marriage Elizabeth proposed between Mary and Robert Dudley was taken as a joke. To Mary’s Secretary of State, William Maitland of Lethington being asked to consider for his mistress, a born queen, the widow of another king, and herself highly conscious of her own position, a man known to all as Queen Elizabeth’s paramour was not only a joke it was an insult. Ever the diplomat though, Maitland side stepped Elizabeth’s offer by saying he did not wish to deprive her of a thing she dearly prized herself. 

Made rich by the many appointments and monopolies granted him by the Queen, the Earl of Leicester could easily have done without the 100 marks a year that was his wage as Master of the Horse. The fact was though that he enjoyed the post and kept it all his life. Upon his death in 1588 thirty years after he was first appointed to the post, her sweet Robin was still Elizabeth’s Master of the Horse.


Anne Somerset – Elizabeth I

Eleanor Rosenberg – Leicester, Patron of Letters

Elizabeth Jenkins – Elizabeth and Leicester

Alan Kendall – Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester

Derek Wilson – Sweet Robin

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