Elizabeth & Robert: Did They or Didn’t They?

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.

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Letter from Queen Elizabeth to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester

As the Queen’s favorite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester had petitioned to be sent to the Netherlands to assist in protecting the Protestants in the country. King Philip of Spain had recently taken control of the country after the abdication of Charles V. King Philip was shocked at the number of Protestants in the country and how fast the movement was growing – he wished to stop the movement and return the Netherlands to Catholicism. As a Protestant herself Elizabeth understood the importance of putting a stop to King Philip’s campaign as soon as possible – what was to stop him from continuing on through Europe?

The Dutch were extremely grateful for England’s intervention in their cause and the leaders had asked Leicester to take a position as the head of their government as Governor of the Netherlands. Leicester sent word to the Queen to get her permission in the matter but had not heard back from her. Eventually, the matter was pressed further and Leicester felt the need to accept the position without the Queen’s permission…something this letter shows she was not pleased with.

Leicester as Governor General of the Netherlands


In two and half years the Queen would lose her closest friend and the person she had known the longest.

Netherlands, April 1586

Right trusty and right well-beloved cousin and councillor, we greet you well. It is always thought in the opinion of the world a hard bargain when both parties are leasoned (slandered), and so doth fall out in the case between us two. You, as we hear, are greatly grieved in respect of the great displeasure you find we have conceived against you; and we, no less grieved that a subject of ours of what quality that you are, a creature of our favor above all our subjects even from the beginning of our reign, should deal so carelessly – we will not say contemptuously – as to give the world just cause to think that we are had in contempt by him that have looked to receive any such measure. Which, we do assure you, hath wrought as great grief in us as any one thing that have ever happened unto us.

We are persuaded that you that have so long known us cannot think that ever we could have been drawn to have taken so hard a course herein, had we not been provoked by an extraordinary cause. Burt for that your grieved and wounded mind hath more need of comfort than reproof, whom we are persuaded (though the act in respect of the contempt can no way be excused) had no other meaning and intent than to advance our service, we think meet to forbear to dwell upon a matter wherein we ourselves do find so little comfort, assuring you that whosoever professeth to love you best taketh not more comfort of your well-doing or discomfort of your evildoing than ourself.

Now to come to the breach itself, which we would be glad to repair in such sort as may be for our honor without the peril and danger of that country, we do think meet that you shall, upon conference with Sir Thomas Heneage and such others whose advice you shall think meet to be used therein, think of some way how the point concerning the absolute title may be qualified in such sort as the authority may notwithstanding remain, which we think most needful to continue for the redress of the’abuses and avoiding of confusion that otherwise is likely to ensure. Which as we conceive may be performed if the States may be induced to yield that authority unto you, carrying the title of lieutenant-general of our forces, that they do now yield unto you under the title of an absolute governor. And for that we are persuaded that you may be best able, knowing the dispositions of all sorts of people there as well of the inferior as the superior, to judge what is fit to be done to bring such a qualification as we desire to pass, we think meet that the whole of proceeding should be referred to the good consideration and extraordinary care of you and Sir Thomas Heneage, and such others whose advise you shall use in the matter. For we must needs confess that it is a thing that we do greatly desire and affect. And therefore we do look that you should use all the best endeavor that possibly you may to bring that same presently to pass. And yet notwithstanding, if by conference with Sir Thomas Heneage and other whose advice you shall like to use therein, you shall find that any such motion for the present may work any peril of consequence to that State, then do we think meet it be forborne and are content to yield that the government shall be continued as it now doth under you for a time until we shall hear from you how the said qualification we so greatly desire touching the title may be brought to pass without breeding any alteration in those countries. For we can be content (if necessity shall so require) to tolerate the same for a time. And so, we think, must the Council of State be given to understand, for that they maybe be the rather drawn thereby to devise some way to yield us contentment in this our desire.

And whereas by our letters directed our servant SirThomas Heneage we have appointed that the answer to the requests of the council of Estate there contained in their letters directed unto us for the stay of the revocation of your authority should be delivered by him unto the Council of State there according to such resolution as should be taken between you, wishing it shall fall out to be such as you shall think meet that our assent be yielded for the continuance of your government as it now standeth for a time, then would we have the said Sir Thomas in the delivery thereof let the said Council of State understand how we are drawn, for the love we bear towards them and the care we have that nothing should proceed from us that might any way work their peril, to leave all respects unto our own hands, hoping that the consideration thereof will draw them the rather to devise some way how to satisfy us in the point of qualification, as also to be more ready from time to time to carry that respect and regard to you, our minister during the time of your employments there, as may be both for our honor, your comfort, and the particular benefit of themselves. Given under our signet at our manor of Greenwich.

Elizabeth I – Collected Works (Pages 277-279)

Edited by Leah S. Marcus, Janel Mueller, and Mary Beth Rose

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Portraits of Elizabeth’s Favorite: Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester

In the past there were no cameras, only brushes and canvas to leave us with images of those who we would later learn about in history books, lectures and blogs online. Their true identity would be left to the eye of the beholder – it was up to them to translate what they saw onto canvas…for prosperity. As with most portraiture the final product can vary with each artist.

Portraits of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester

“Dudley’s youth was overshadowed by the downfall of his family in 1553 after his father, the Duke of Northumberland, had unsuccessfully tried to establish Lady Jane Grey on the English throne. Robert Dudley was condemned to death but was released in 1554 and took part in the Battle of St. Quentin under Philip II of Spain, which led to his full rehabilitation. On Elizabeth I’s accession in November 1558, Dudley was appointed Master of the Horse.” – Christine Hartweg (All Things Robert Dudley)

These two portraits are very similar – the sitter (Robert Dudley) appears to be wearing the same outfit, however, the faces appear to differ as do the details on the clothing. I was unable to find the artist for either of these.

Yale Center for British Art released under Creative Commons CC-BY license. Archived from the original on 2011-09-03.

It was in Dudley that the eight-year-old Elizabeth had confided upon the execution of her third stepmother, Catherine Howard, in 1541, vowing: ‘I will never marry’. He would always remember the conversation, and it may have been the reason he decided to marry Amy Robsart nine years later. – Tracy Borman (Robert Dudley: Queen Elizabeth I’s great love)

Robert Dudley in 1576, aged 44, as is stated in the margin. Miniature by Nicholas Hilliard


by Unknown artist, oil on panel, circa 1575

“Robert Dudley’s private life interfered with his court career and vice versa. When his first wife, Amy Robsart, fell down a flight of stairs and died in 1560, he was free to marry the Queen. However, the resulting scandal very much reduced his chances in this respect.” – Christine Hartweg (All Things Robert Dudley)

by Steven van der Meulen

Portrait by Nicholas Hilliard.

“Elizabeth made it clear that she had no intention of giving up her favourite. If anything, she found ways to spend even more time with him. A year after her accession, she had Dudley’s bedchamber moved next to her private rooms in order to facilitate their clandestine meetings. Before long, their relationship was causing a scandal not just in England, but in courts across Europe.” Tracy Borman (Robert Dudley: Queen Elizabeth I’s great love)

van der Meulen, Steven; Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester; The Wallace Collection; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/robert-dudley-earl-of-leicester-209567


“For the first 30 years of Elizabeth’s reign, until Leicester’s death, he and Lord Burghley were the most powerful and important political figures, working intimately with the Queen. Robert Dudley was a conscientious privy councillor, and one of the most frequently attending.”‘ – Christine Hartweg (All Things Robert Dudley)

unknown artist; Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester; National Portrait Gallery, London; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/robert-dudley-1st-earl-of-leicester-158140

unknown artist; Robert Dudley (1532/1533-1588), Earl of Leicester, High Steward of the University (1563); Old Schools, University of Cambridge; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/robert-dudley-153215331588-earl-of-leicester-high-steward-of-the-university-1563-195459


British (English) School; Robert Dudley (1533-1588), Earl of Leicester, KG; National Trust, Knole; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/robert-dudley-15331588-earl-of-leicester-kg-218909


Segar, William; Robert Dudley (1532/1533-1588), 1st Earl of Leicester; Corpus Christi College, University of Cambridge; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/robert-dudley-153215331588-1st-earl-of-leicester-193702



‘I humbly kiss your foot’ by Your Majesty’s most faithful and obedient servant. These were probably the last words ever written by Robert Dudley. Five days later, on 4 September 1588, he breathed his last. Elizabeth was inconsolable at the loss of ‘sweet Robin’, the only man whom she had ever truly loved. Their relationship had survived almost 50 years of trials and tribulations, and Elizabeth was lost without him.” -Tracy Borman (Robert Dudley: Queen Elizabeth I’s great love)


by Unknown artist, marble bust, late 18th century or 19th century


Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester by Unknown artist;silver medal, 1587  National Portrait Gallery, London


Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester by Christoffel van Sichem (Voschem) line engraving, 1580s – National Portrait Gallery, London


Christine Hartweg (All Things Robert Dudley)

Tracy Borman (Robert Dudley: Queen Elizabeth I’s great love)

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Monthly Recap of Articles #1: Latest Posts on TudorsDynasty.com

meHere at TudorsDynasty.com I try to put out new a article at least every other day, but sometimes it doesn’t happen and sometimes I publish more. It’s just the nature of the beast when I have a full-time day job. I’ve decided to start publishing a newsletter that will highlight the last 5-10 posts in case you’ve missed them.

Here is newsletter #1 with the 10 latest posts on Tudorsdynasty.comYou can click on the article name or picture to be directed to the post. Enjoy!

Articles listed from oldest to newest:

11 May 2016

Elizabeth’s Hand Fans

Have you ever looked at portraits of Queen Elizabeth I and noticed in many of them she’s holding a fan? This was something of interest to me and I had to look into it further.


12 May 2016

Anne Boleyn: What Did She Really Say?

The 19th of May marks the anniversary of the execution of Anne Boleyn. It is an event that history will not soon forget. No matter how hard Henry VIII tried to wipe her from history her story remains as one of the most well-known in English history.


15 May 2016

Katherine of Aragon: Near the End

As we talk about the end of Anne Boleyn we cannot forget the end of her rival, Katherine of Aragon only a few months earlier in January 1536. Katherine is often over-shadowed by Anne’s execution, but she was an interesting queen nonetheless. This piece show what her life was like near the end and how her fellow Spaniards would do anything for her.

Katherine of Aragon, NPG

19 May 2016

The Unpopularity of Anne Boleyn

Today we remember Anne Boleyn. Today is the anniversary of her execution. During our countdown to her execution on our site we haven’t really looked at the reasons people didn’t like her at the time.

This guest post will shed some light on why it seemed so easy for some to dislike Anne.

RIP Anne

Anne boleyn 12

21 May 2016

The Relationships of Lady Mary Tudor: Henry VIII and his Consort Katherine Parr (Part 1)

Throughout the reign of Henry VIII, as many know, he had six different wives.As you already know, his daughter Mary lived through all of his wives…she had five stepmothers.

This guest article by Meg McGath covers her relationship with Henry’s last wife.

mary kat

23 May 2016

Tudor Marys

There are so many women by the name Mary in the Tudor period. Guest author, P. Deegan gives us a breakdown of the most popular (and not so) Marys during the Tudor period.

Untitled design (4)

25 May 2016

Queen Mary’s False Pregnancies

Whenever I think about Mary’s false pregnancies a great sadness overcomes me. I know people in my own life who wanted children so badly but were not able to have them, for one reason or another.

This piece covers Queen Mary’s false pregnancies – the first in particular. Was Mary as delusional as the reports in this post made her seem?


27 May 2016

The Relationships of Lady Mary Tudor: Henry VIII and his Consort Katherine Parr (Part 2)

Throughout the reign of Henry VIII, as many know, he had six different wives.As you already know, his daughter Mary lived through all of his wives…she had five stepmothers.

This guest article by Meg McGath covers her relationship with Henry’s last wife.

Untitled design

29 May 2016

Lettice Knollys: Cousin vs Queen (Part 3)

The soap opera of Lettice/Dudley/Elizabeth continues on as Lettice Knollys flirtation and subsequent marriage to Queen Elizabeths 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).

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31 May 2016

Tudor Katherines

Following on from my piece on the various Marys that were notable figures in the Tudor period, I now intend to do a article on another name that crops up a lot during this period: Katherine or Catherine. Both forms of this name were used in this period and sometimes it is possible to find both forms used for the same person when different historians write about them.

Guest article by P. Deegan

Untitled design (3)

I hope you’ve enjoyed this first newsletter! If there is a topic, or a person you’d like to see us write about please feel free to let us know in the comment section below.

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 Elizabeths 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 Elizabeths 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 Dukes valet de chamber Jean de Simier. And in August 1579, the Duke arrived in England to woo the Queen into marriage.

Its 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: Englands 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 Gowerwas 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 Elizabeths 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 Dukes physical short comings or unseemly personality. She once statedafter dining with the Duke privately in Simiers 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 Dukes 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 others 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. Bartholomews 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 wifes 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 (ne 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 Johns children: a son Edmund and a daughter Elizabeth. After Johns 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 Queens favorite, he was also conducting an affair with Lettice (who was, at the time, married to Walter Devereux). To complicate matters, Douglass sister, Frances, had also fallen in love with Dudley.

Gilbert Talbot, the 7th Earl of Shrewsbury, wrote about Dudleys 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 wasnt 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 Dudleys first and only living son. For a few years Robert resided with his father at his stately homes. A servant of Dudleys, 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 Dudleys 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 Dudleys clandestine dealings with Lettice and Douglas, without sufficient proof it wasnt 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. Its 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 Queens 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 Queens 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 Franois-Hercule de France, duke of Alenon 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.

Its uncertain whether or not Elizabeths 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 sisters (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 wasnt 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 Queens 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 Monsieurs 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 Elizabeths 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. Its thought that Lettice did this to avoid a dressing down from the Queen.

Dudley attempted to ease his wifes 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 Dudleys child. For the birth, Lettice went to Leicester House (Dudleys 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 husbands 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 Dudleys, Lettices 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 Denbighs 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 (Lettices 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 wantethI must confess I have received many afflictions within these few years, but [none] greater [than Denbighs death] . I beseech the same God to grant me patience in all these worldly things, and to forgive me the negligences of my former time, that have not been more careful to please Him

For appearances sake, at least, Dudley was not affronted by Elizabeths 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). Whats more he would always be hers and hers alone. Its quite possible that Lettice felt that she could, in a sense, never have the utter love and devotion from her husband.

Lord Denbigh’s tomb photo attained from https://www.flickr.com/photos/32157648@N08/4529952201

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

Lord Denbighs death had a profound effect on Dudleys 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 Leicesters [Dudleys] elder brother, Ambrose, earl of Warwick, was also childless. This fact was not lost on Dudley, Lettice or anyone. A doggerel libel entitled Leicesters Ghostpublished sometime in 1584 after Denbighs death alludes to Dudleys 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 Scots Queens 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 Denbighs life had spard,

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. Dudleys 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 sisters son: Robert Sidney, who became the Earl of Leicester in 1618), and Robert Rich (the husband of Lettices 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 Elizabeths 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, Dudleys 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. Dudleys 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 Spains 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 Elizabeths] rage doth increase rather than any way diminishHer 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 Queens impending wrath that Dudleys 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 courtIt 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 latters 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. Marys death became a blight on the Queens conscious, as well as her reign.

Dudley left the Netherlands briefly in 1586 to attend Marys trial; he was one of many who pressured Elizabeth to kill Gods 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 campaignswhich 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 Queens 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.

Philips war became known as the Enterprise of England. The Spanish Kings 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 Philips 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 Englands 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 Dudleys 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 Philips 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 Queens 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. Pauls Cathedral on August 20th 1588, to celebrate Englands most triumphant victory since the Battle of Agincourt. Queen Elizabeth was hailed as Gloriana and she gave great thanks to Englands 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]

Elizabeths jubilation didnt 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

Dudleys 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. Marys at Warwick (near where his son Lord Denbigh was buried.)

Queen Elizabeth was utterly and completely shattered when she was informed of Dudleys 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 othersHow 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 Elizabeths bond caused England and its councilors annoyance and fear for their monarchs 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 Dudleys debts to the crown onto Lettice, which forced her to sell off three of her late husbands estates.

Queen Elizabeth and Lettice Knollys epic feud lasted throughout the latters marriage to Dudley. Their animosity seemed destined to last for eternity. That is until the Queen began to spend more and more time with Lettices 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:

kL16loFoIm Karlie (also known as History Gal on Twitter)! Im 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. Im 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!

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Dudley’s Last Letter to Queen Elizabeth I

Elizabeth kept the last letter Robert Dudley had written her prior to his death in her bedside treasure box — the letter was still there when she died over a decade later.

Last Letter from Dudley

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. Form my own poor case, I continue still your medicine and find that 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,

R. Leicester

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

Robert Dudley c. 1588


Elizabeth I: The Armada Portrait, c1588, unknown artist.