The Glory Of My Crown (Guest Post)

Guest article by Lindsey Wolf

November 30, 1601.

140 members of the House of Commons collected unceremoniously in the Council Chamber of Whitehall. Kneeling in respect of their sovereign who had ruled them for these past forty three years, they both heard and recorded what was to go down as Elizabeth’s “Golden Speech.” Additionally, it was to be her last address to Parliament at the age of sixty eight. Within its “Letters of Gold”, one could not only better understand the political and diplomatic aptitude of Her Majesty, but also her vivacious talent. She was an astute public speaker, knowing how to  rally her soldiers in defense of both the country and her crown. She was the figurehead of a cult-like following in homage to her as the Virgin Queen, solely wedded to her Kingdom. Elizabeth was also equally adept at striking the sentimentality of her populace. A people whose average lifespan was around forty two years meaning that many of her subjects had only known her as Queen. Long forgotten were the days of turmoil in the reign of her predecessor and sister and furthermore her brother. An even fewer amount could recall the reign of her notorious father who had died over 50 years prior to that fall day of 1601. It was a speech that would perfectly wrap up an incredible, unprecedented and productive reign. A reign which began in an old world and seemed to end in a new one. Inheriting a country whiplashed by religious wars and financially unstable, owing some £227,000 or £100,000 modern equivalent. Additionally, she had all the eyes of Europe upon her who saw her Kingdom as ripe for the picking.

Surely Elizabeth’s accomplishments could never be overstated. History often prefers  to recount the peaceful, triumphant and perfect patch of time under Gloriana rather than the truth of it. Elizabeth’s reign, like any other, had its highs and lows. Naturally it is only to be expected in such a lengthy lapse of time. Sadly, the great lows of Elizabeth reigns found themselves in the final decade of her rule. The 1590s had been beset with struggle at every turn; politically, economically and even personally. The sun had risen and was now falling in the reign and life of the Virgin Queen, but was that to reflect the state of her England? Without the blessing of historical retrospect, it must have surely seemed that way. Without further adieu, let us enter the world in which Elizabeth had delivered her “Golden Speech.” Let us examine how politically advantageous it was of her to reform her policies after years of economic struggle. Furthermore, how truly needed it was to remind her subjects of her love for them from past to present. A notion which sealed and capped her legacy in such a way that the modern audience has all but forgotten the landscape of when and why this speech was given.


The Nine Years’ War or Tyrone’s Rebellion began in 1593 and ended in 1603. The rebellion was led by a man called Hugh O’Neill. The O’Neill clan is an ancient Irish family descended from the High Kings of Ulster in Northern Ireland. They held great political sway over both Ulster and all of Ireland as a result. They were well-respected and thought to be something like the King of Kings in their native Tyrone, all while England struggled to keep their foothold. Ireland had been left somewhat alone in the wake of the dynastic wars wreaking havoc through England. As a result, Henry VIII sought to reclaim what he felt was his just historical inheritance. This set the scene for the Crown of Ireland Act 1542 which allowed hereditary Kings and clans to trade in their former titles, recognize Henry’s supremacy and be given new Earldoms in return. At the risk of full out extermination, many complied. Including the O’Neill clan who surrendered their kingship of Tyrone for the Earldom of Tyrone. Of course it was never to be that easy. In addition to recognizing Henry as their liege lord; the Irish were also obligated to renounce their ties to Catholicism and embrace Henry’s new church. The Irish could no longer practice tanistry for passing on titles had to adopt primogeniture. Irish customs including dress and language were to go by the wayside as well. Needless to say, it was a little too much too soon.

Hugh O’Neill had become a ward of the crown after the assassination of his father. Hoping to foster loyalty to the crown, he had been held in court at London before returning home to claim his inheritance as Earl of Tyrone. He took advantage of his relationship with the crown to find his power but soon gained too much of it. All in all, the Irish wars were not only pricy and drained the royal treasury but also humiliating for the country who seemed unable to put it down all together. The Pope in Rome offered his support of the Irish cause against the Protestant Queen. Worse yet, The Spanish offered aid in troops and were determined to land a strategic grip on the land just 58 nautical miles from Dublin to the coast of Wales. Needless to say, it was an absolutely daunting concept which Elizabeth would not live to see the conclusion of. Hugh O’Neill and his forces surrendered on March 30, 1603. Six days after Elizabeth’s death.

In addition to the Lopez Plot in 1594 which saw Elizabeth’s own physician charged with high treason and executed accordingly, her court was dense in political strife. Cliques dominated and waged war against one another in the privy council and beyond. Elizabeth was known to be a great judge of character and much of her success is owed to this fact. Yet, she also became slower to recognize new courtiers to high positions and preferred to replace fathers with sons. After the death of William Cecil, he was replaced by his son, Robert Cecil in his father’s seat of principle advisor. In much the same, Francis Bacon earned his place at Elizabeth’s side due to his father’s position as Lord Keeper. However, this created a tide of dissension amongst the younger courtiers who felt themselves ripe for the picking but not being recognized for their talents. The leader of this opposing faction would be none other than the stepson of the late great Robert Dudley, Robert Devereux.

Additionally, in 1595, England was attacked for the first time by hostile forces in form of the Spanish. Years prior, Spanish forces had taken root in Northern France and constructed a power base. They’d make landfall along the coast of Cornwall where three towns were sacked and burned. The Spanish were a constant threat. They did not merely go away to lick their wounds following the defeat of the Armada as that was but the first of two. Those latter attempts would ultimately be wrecked by storms at sea.


In Elizabeth’s reign, the population of England rose from three million to four. Simply put, there were more children being produced and those children were living longer. Additionally, this required vast resources to feed a growing population though the harvest failed each year from 1594 to 1597. This lack of goods drove up the prices of what did exist which in turn drove inflation. William Cecil, Lord Burghley would remark “the lamentable cry of the poor who are likely to perish by means . . . of the dearness and high price of corn.” From 1595 through 1597, there were riots across the country. In Somerset, Kent, Norfolk and most notably London. In 1595, approximately 1,000 apprentices collected in what was to be the biggest riot in London in 80 years. Amongst their complaints were rising food prices and the behavior of the wealthy in the wake of their despair. Five of the apprentices were charged with high treason and hung, drawn and quartered. Ironically, it is around this time that Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was being penned with the possible reflection of London’s violent street brawls in its pages.

It is due to this economic decline that the populace began to take notice of the monopolies that made their lives even more difficult. During this period, The Queen would reward those around her with these taxes. From wine to playing cards to salt and starch. The monopolies ranged from creature comforts to downright necessities. Parliament reflected those worries in cutting some of the cumbersome tax from the back of English citizens but outrage amongst the remainder remained. Unknowingly, these monopolies were held as royal prerogative. Thus, when Good Queen Bes dismissed her own personal monopolies in her final speech to parliament, it was hardly an unprovoked or charitable act. It was an absolute necessity that had taken years upon years to conclude. Yet, you could still see it as an act of good faith considering the estate of her own personal finances due to the weighty decade. Elizabeth had previously climbed her way out of the debt left to her only to be rolled back into it due to factors far out of her control.

Additionally, The Black Death would return in 1592. Its presence would render 10,675 London inhabitants dead in all but one year. Its effect can be best seen when it caused a halt to one of Elizabethan England’s most favorited activity; the theatre. The globe was shut down for almost two entire years as the plague swept.


Last but certainly not least, the matters of personal effect that plagued England’s Queen. Elizabeth’s long life was indeed admirable and great politically but not all those around her were to be so fortunate to share in its longevity. It was in the last decade of her reign that she’d see tragedy after tragedy, death after death. From her ladies including Margaret Radcliffe and Blanche Parry to her favorite courtiers. Sir Francis Drake, Francis Walsingham, William Cecil, Christopher Hatton, Henry Carey and of course, her last court favorite who died by the stroke of her own pen; Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.

Robert was the son of Walter Devereux and Lettice Knollys (the daughter of Catherine Carey, she herself being the daughter of Mary Boleyn and allegedly the illegitimate daughter of Henry VIII) making him Elizabeth’s cousin. He was introduced to court by his stepfather, Robert Dudley and quickly made an impression. An expert courtier, Robert was handsome, charming, well spoken and ambitious. However, his ambition made him self-seeking, overly-confident and defiant. He was a soldier but his military campaigns often led to little to no productivity. He spent the better part of his time attempting to triumph over the Cecil family as the leader of his own faction. His grasp would extend his reach again and again as did his burden triumph over his usefulness. In 1596, he and his forces sacked and seized Cádiz, Spain and put him at the height of his fame with mostly the common people. A fame which threatened Elizabeth’s success with her own people. However, he’d fail during further campaigns against the Spanish and all eyes were turned towards the warfront in Ireland.

Despite his lack of respect for her, Elizabeth favored him. Be it his youthful and naive nature or his relation to her long lost Dudley, no one will ever know for certain. Yet, it seems this was the one man who threatened Elizabeth’s jurisdiction and prospered while doing it. Essex even went as far once to half draw his sword on his Queen in the privy council. Yet, instead of earning himself a free trip to the tower, he was sent to Ireland as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. It was there that he led a subordinate and utterly disastrous campaign of his own making. Armed with 16,000 troops and orders to confront the rebellion in Ulster, Essex ordered his men to Southern Ireland. Furthermore, he met with O’Neill. Not on the field of battle but to negotiate a truce that was the humiliation of the crown. Hearing of the Queen’s displeasure, he abandoned his post and burst in upon the Queen undone in her private chambers. Once again, Bess took mercy upon him. Sentencing him to house arrest and revoking his monopoly, Essex was led into financial ruin. In defiance, he attempted to use his popularity against the Queen and lead a revolt of London. Like most other things to do with Essex, it failed and he was brought up on charges to high treason to later be executed.

It is well documented that Elizabeth’s own health had begun to fail her during this period. Bouts of melancholy plagued her. No doubt a result of deep self reflection upon her life, reign and decisions as a whole. One can only imagine the things that hung in the conscience of the elderly Queen. The execution of her royal cousin Mary Queen of Scots, the hardships of ruling which caused one to revolt against their own private morality, maybe even the possibilities of what could have been. Love, marriage, children. All exchanged for the love and longevity of her Kingdom which had left the fate of her country in the hands of a virtual unknown. A seemingly odd act of karma that the son of the woman whose death warrant she had signed, was now to succeed her most precious station beyond her.


In conclusion, the Golden Speech might have been the end of a golden reign but hardly a golden decade. One upon which surely the Queen was grateful to hand back to the ages. Despite her struggles and disappointments that would have hardened the hearts of so many, she remained the Queen that history records her as being. “Semper Eadem” or “always the same.” Despite wars, betrayal on both public and private fronts, age and tragedy; it was always this. This 68 year old woman was the same who had looked down the Armada and declared she too had  “the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England.” The same who had defied all odds placed against her from the very beginning and succeeded to a throne that was never meant to become hers. The same whose name rides triumphantly through the chronicles of history. Who gave her namesake for a period of time known for its national pride, literature, pomp and triumphant. While Elizabeth’s final parliamentary speech might not have been as innocent as many portray it to be, that does not weaken it. Neither in sentimentality or political value. So let us all hope to be as wily as Bess at the age of 68 with a little less to do with the stepsons of our deceased sweethearts.





“Daily Life in the Elizabethan Era.”. “Daily Life in the Elizabethan Era.” Gale Library of Daily Life: Slavery in America,, 2018,

Briscoe, Alexandra. “History – British History in Depth: Poverty in Elizabethan England.” BBC, BBC, 17 Feb. 2011,

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Hugh O’Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone.” Encyclopædia

Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 16 July 2018,

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 18 Feb. 2018,

Donnchadha, Pádraig Mac. “Introduction of the Crown of Ireland Act 1542.” Your Irish Culture, Your Irish Culture, 21 Mar. 2017,

“Elizabeth I and Finances.” History Learning Site,

“Elizabeth I’s ‘Golden’ Speech.” History Today,

Hull, Eleanor. “Home.” Maria Edgeworth, 1 Jan. 1970,

“Rebellion by London Apprentices in 1595.” The British Library, The British Library, 26 Jan. 2016,

“Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 26 Aug. 2018,,_2nd_Earl_of_Essex.


Book Review: “Elizabeth’s Rival” by Nicola Tallis

Jane Seymour (11)

Elizabeth’s Rival by Nicola Tallis

When I was asked to review this book by Michael O’Mara Books I was thrilled to have the opportunity to learn more about Lettice Knollys, cousin to Queen Elizabeth of England. You see, most of you probably know that my favorite monarch to study is Henry VIII, and so stepping outside my comfort zone into the world of Elizabethan England was a little scary. Was I going to like it? Would there be something that would draw me in? In this review I’ll go into the basis of the story and what it is I enjoyed about it.

Cousin to Elizabeth I and grandniece to Anne Boleyn, Lettice had a life of dizzying highs and pitiful lows. Entangled in a love triangle with Robert Dudley and Elizabeth I, banished from court, plagued by scandals of affairs and murder, embroiled in treason, and finally losing her family to war, sickness and the executioner’s axe. Lettice lived to the astonishing age of ninety-one; her tale gives us a remarkable, personal lens on to the grand sweep of the Tudor Age. – Michael O’Mara Books

Lettice Knollys was the daughter of Catherine Carey and Francis Knollys, her grandmother was Mary Boleyn, making her a first cousin (once removed) to Queen Elizabeth. Now, if you believe the stories that Catherine Carey was the illegitimate daughter of Henry VIII and Mary Boleyn then she would instead be Elizabeth’s niece. The resemblance between the two women had often been stated and so it, in my opinion, is highly likely that Lettice’s grandfather was indeed the King of England.

Lettice married three times, the first was to a man by the name of Walter Devereux. She was seventeen years old when she became Viscountess Hereford and in 1572, after his promotion, she became Countess of Essex. By all accounts it appeared the couple had a strong relationship, they even had five children together.

Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex as in great favor with the Queen of England. Elizabeth liked him very much and Devereux was not afraid to speak his mind with the Queen – something not many around her were brave enough to do. Devereux spent a lot of time in Ireland trying to subdue uprisings. He was looking for fame within the Queen’s court and offered to fund the campaign through his own pocket – something that would later cause him and his family much grief.

It was during one of Walter’s campaigns in Ireland that rumors began to spread that she was having an affair with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Kenilworth Castle and Chartley were not too far from one another and Lettice was known to make trips to Leicester’s estate to hunt. This was something many other nobles did as well. Often Leicester was at court and so they would not even see one another.

After many years away, Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex died of dysentery in 1576. Lettice mourned the loss of her husband and two years later secretly married Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester without the Queen’s permission. While she once was one of the Queen’s favorite things turned quickly for Lettice when Elizabeth found out about the marriage. Their relationship would never be the same again.

When Robert Dudley died in 1588 there was the hope that Lettice would once again be welcomed back to court and into the Queen’s favor. Unfortunately for Lettice that would not happen. In 1589 she married a Catholic by the name of Christopher Blount. While the marriage appeared to be a happy one he would eventually be executed for treason.

This book was wonderfully written and researched. It was a quick read for me because the story was told so well – I couldn’t put it down. Tallis does a wonderful job of laying the foundation of Lettice’s life before court, including that of her mother, Catherine Carey. Catherine and her husband were ever-loyal to the Queen and died without her husband by her side. Francis Knollys was not granted permission to come back to England to be with his wife. Tallis shows the side of Lettice Knollys that many don’t know – the doting mother who until their last days smothered her children with love and support.

Most articles I’ve read about her life focus solely on her scandalous relationship with Robert Dudley, but this book gives the full picture of who she was as a person. I now have a whole new respect for Lettice Knollys. If I had half of her courage I would be happy.

If you’d like to read this book you can purchase it on Amazon:

Amazon – US
Amazon – UK

Lettice Knollys: Cousin vs Queen (Part 2)

Guest article by Karlie aka History Gal
READ: Cousin vs Queen -Part 1 Here

Portrait of Lettice Knollys, George Gower, 1595
Portrait of Lettice Knollys, George Gower, 1595

By the summer of 1565, Robert Dudley was not the only one who had rivals at the English court it was Queen Elizabeth too, by way of her own cousin Lettice Knollys. When Elizabeth discovered that Dudley had been wooing her beautiful and much younger cousin she became irate. Dudley attempted to deflect his licentious behavior by reminding the Queen of the overly affectionate attention she was lavishing on a married man at court, by the name of Thomas Heneage. Not one to be outdone, Dudley went directly to Heneage and quarreled with him over the nature of his relationship with the Queen.

According to the Spanish Ambassador Diego Guzmn de Silva, after Elizabeth refused Dudleys plea to leave court, she upbraided him [Dudley] with what had taken place with Heneage, and his flirting with the Viscountess [Lettice] in very bitter words.[1] It was the Queen of England who ended up placating an insolent courtier: Heneage was sent away, and Robert returned to his own apartments where he stayed for three or four days while Cecil and Sussex sought a reconciliation. De Silva wrote that a short while later, both the Queen and Robert shed tears and he has been returned to favor. [2]

Lettice, on the other hand, didnt fare as well as Dudley. Elizabeth dismissed her from her presence and demanded she leave court. This may have curtailed Lettices influence at court but, as the Queen later found out, Lettice was as obstinate as she was resilient.

On November 10th 1565 Lettice fulfilled one of her main duties as a wife: she delivered a son. He was christened Robert, born at another of the Devereux family estates, in Herefordshire. Even in his youth Robert Devereuxs very existence was surrounded by intrigue, courtly machinations and gossip. Many of his contemporaries suspected that Robert was actually the biological son of Robert Dudley, and not Walter Devereuxs. Whether the rumors were true or not we will never know. The elder Devereux accepted Robert as his own as well the other two male children that were to follow: Walter in 1569 and Francis.

Portrait of Mary Queen of Scots, Francois Clouet, 1588
Portrait of Mary Queen of Scots, Francois Clouet, 1588

Despite Elizabeths negative feelings towards Lettice, she was quite pleased with her husband. In 1568, Devereux was selected as one of the men in charge with keeping Mary Queen of Scots in custody. After being installed as Lord Lieutenant of Staffordshire in 1569, he became high marshal of the field and helped his fellow men successfully repress the northern insurrection. Also known as the Rising of the North and the Earls Rebellion, the insurrection was made up of men of high, middle and low birth. Their main objective was to restore the Catholic faith, and have Mary Queen of Scots released. For his accomplishments and contributions to the crown, Devereux was created the Earl of Essex and made a Knight of the Garter in 1572.

By 1573, Devereux had become so great a favorite that Leicester [Dudley] and others [were] jealous of his increasing influence. [3] Further solidifying his status as one of the Queens favorites, Elizabeth granted Devereux permission to …embark in a scheme for subduing part of Ulster, expelling the Scotch and islesman, and colonizing it with English[man].[4]

According to the 17th century historians Thomas Fuller and William Camden, it was Dudley who suggested to Devereux that he should help suppress Irelands rebellion: he [Devereux] was put upon this adventure by Leicester who loved the Earls nearest relation [Lettice] better than he loved the Earl himself and that Devereux, followed therein the counsel of those who desired above all things to have him further off, and plunge him into dangers under pretense of procuring him honor.[5]

With Devereux away from England and in Ireland, Lettice and Dudley resumed their acquaintance. The supposed lovers took up residence in close proximity to each other.

During this juncture in their relationship, its almost certain that Lettice and Dudley were having an affair. Even when Dudley was away he thought about Lettice: that great beauty of the court. In 1573, he sent her some venison from his chief residence at Kenilworth castle, in Warwickshire. To those of us in the 21st century, venison seems like an odd gift for a man to give a woman. However, in Tudor times, Gentry families who owned game parks frequently sent venison to those in positions of power, their friends and relations… [6]

Thereafter, Lettice became a frequent visitor at Kenilworth, where she and Dudley enjoyed hunting together.

Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire, England
Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire, England

In 1575, Lettice joined Dudley and her cousin Elizabeth during the latters progress. She witnessed alongside them, the spectacular and legendary merry making events that were held at Kenilworth Castle, that same year. The incident between Dudley and Lettice in 1565 hadat least on the surface been forgiven by Queen Elizabeth, if not forgotten about.

Edward Arden former High Sheriff of Warwickshire, found it hard to forgive or forget Dudleys indecent behavior with Lettice. Arden refused to wear Dudleys livery for the revelries at Kenilworth. The final insult came when Arden told everyone and anyone whod listen, that he didnt appreciate the Earls private access to the Countess of Essex [Lettice], before finally referring to Dudley as a whore-master. [7] In 1583, Arden ended up paying a heavy price not just for his Catholic convictions and his personal connection with a man who plotted to execute Elizabeth I, but also for incurring Dudleys displeasure he was executed.

Meanwhile, rumors at court were that Lettice and Dudley had not only been having an affair but that she had delivered two of his bastards: a girl who was being raised in another household and a baby who had been aborted.

Walter Devereux
Walter Devereux, 1572

If any clandestine meetings took place between Lettice and Dudley it was put to an abrupt end in late 1575. After two years in Ireland, and ignominiously failing as Governor of Ulster [8], all Devereux wanted was to live henceforth an untroubled life. However, it was not meant to be. The salacious rumors about his wife and Dudley had reached him. The Spanish ambassador Antonio de Guaras reported that As the thing is publicly talked of in the streets, there can be no harm in my writing openly about the great enmity between the Earl of Leicester and the Earl of Essex [Devereux], in consequence, it is said, of the fact that while Essex was in Ireland his wife had two children by LeicesterGreat discord is expected in consequence. [9]

Fortunately for Dudley, Devereux never exacted his revenge (if we are even to believe he found credence in these rumors). The Queen granted Essex lands in Ireland and appointed him the Earl Marshal of Ireland, although he had to sell his English estates to satisfy his creditors. [10] On the surface, Lettice didnt appear to take much interest in her husbands business or private affairs. On one occasion its noted that she went to Buxton to see Dudley.

On September 22, 1576, Devereux died in Dublin, Ireland. In the days leading up to his death he had complained of a grief in his belly before he succumbed to worse afflictions. On his death bed, Devereuxs last words were: Lord forgive me and forgive all the world, Lord, from the bottom of my heart, from the bottom of my heart even all the injuries and wrongs that any have done unto me! Lord forgive them, and I forgive them from the bottom of my heart. [11] It is quite possible, that in these words, Devereux was referring to the Earl of Leicester and the Countess of Essex

Though the cause of death was ruled as dysentery (aka the flux) there was talk that Dudley paid someone to poison Devereux. This is relayed in depth in a book written about the Queens favorite called Leicesters Commonwealth published in 1584. In it, it claims that when he [Devereux] was coming home from Ireland with intent to revenge himself upon my Lord of Leicester for begetting his wife with child in his absence (the child was a daughter and brought up by the Lady Shandoies, W. Knooles his wife), my Lord of Leicester hearing thereof, wanted not a friend or two to accompany the deputy, as among other, a couple of the Earl’s own servants, Crompton (if I miss not his name), yeoman of his bottles, and Lloyd, his secretary, entertained afterward by my Lord of Leicester. And so he died in the way, of an extreme flux, caused by an Italian recipe, as all his friends are well assured, the maker whereof was a surgeon (as is believed) that then was newly come to my Lord from Italy. A cunning man and sure in operation, with whom if the good lady had been sooner acquainted and used his help, she should not have needed to have sitten so pensive at home and fearful of her husband’s former return out of the same country, but might have spared the young child in her belly, which she was enforced to make away (cruelly and unnaturally) for clearing the house against the goodman’s arrival.

Dudley was never charged with any crime committed against his lovers husband, as Devereuxs autopsy concluded that no malicious substance was present in his system.

With her spouse gone and not much to live on, Lettice was forced to rely on the charity and hospitality of her family and friends while she recovered some of the money that rightfully belonged to her as Devereuxs widow. Even during this uncertain time in her life, Lettice still yearned to be with Dudley. He made it possible by sending her up and down the country, from house to house, by privy ways thereby to avoid the knowledge of the Queen. [12]

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, 1575, aged about 43
Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, 1575, aged about 43

After a thirteen year courtship, Lettice and Dudley were married. Though she was said to have been pregnant on her wedding day, there is no record of Lettice bearing a child shortly after her marriage to Dudley. We can only surmise that either Lettice was never pregnant, or whats more likely, she suffered a miscarriage.

For a while, Lettice and Dudley were forced to keep their marriage a secret lest Elizabeth should find out. They spent time whenever they could, usually at one of the Knollys family estates.

Lettice and Dudley did their best to behave normally around the Queen; with Dudley fawn[ing] over [her], as much as usually he did [13], and Lettice presenting her cousin with a greate cheyne of Amber slightly garnished with [a] golde and small perle. during the Christmas festivities at court in 1578. [14]

Word had begun to spread around court of the Queens favorite and her cousins marriage. The Earl of Sussex, Thomas Radcliffe, had informed the French ambassador, de Castlenau of it as early as November 1578.

It is generally accepted that Elizabeth did not find out about her cousins marriage to Dudley until almost a year later, in August 1579. However, many historians debate over the time frame: it seems improbable that most of the English court should know of Lettice and Dudleys marriage shortly after it had taken place but that Elizabeth did not hear of it until much later.

The Duke of Anjous representative Baron Jean de Simier is credited with having broken the upsetting news to the Queen.

Upon hearing that Dudley had married Lettice, Elizabeth is said to have been filled with rage, vexation and disappointment. Not only was she upset that Leicester, the dearest of her favorites, should form such a connection, such an indissoluble tie, and that too with her own relation, but he hadnt even consulted her, implored her sanction or begged for forgiveness. [15]

by Unknown artist, oil on panel, circa 1575
by Unknown artist, oil on panel, circa 1575

Queen Elizabeth was so infuriated that she wanted to have Dudley locked away in the tower of London. It was the Earl of Sussex who dissuaded her from doing so. He reminded her that, no man was to bee molested for lawfull Marriage, which amongst all men hath ever been honest and honoured. [16] Elizabeth may not have thrown him in the tower, but she was determined that Dudley should be dismissed from court and her presence. She ordered for him to return immediately return to Wanstead Hall, his estate in Essex, where he would remain until she decided, if ever, to forgive him.

To Elizabeth, her cousins marriage to the man she loved and had risked her reputation for, was the ultimate betrayal. Things came to a head when Elizabeth spotted her cousin looking resplendent in an ornate gown, with a train of servants behind her. That Lettice came to court with all the glitz and trappings befitting that of the Countess of Leicester only infuriated the Queen even more. In the presence of several courtiers and ladies, [Elizabeth] strode up to Lettice and boxed her ears. The Queen then allegedly said to her , As but one sun lights the East, so I shall have but one queen in England! [17] Lettice was promptly banished from court and from ever coming into the Queens presence again.

Lettice Knollys learned that to cross the Queen of Englands path was not only a foolish venture but also a dangerous one with far reaching consequences. As it turns out, Elizabeth was not done exacting her revenge on Lettice….

Continue the story here with Part 3!

[1], [2] Elizabeth I: The Voice of a Monarch By Ilona Bell
[3], [4] A Compendium of Irish Biography: Comprising Sketches of Distinguished Irishmen, and of Eminent Persons Connected With Ireland by Office or by Their Writings By Alfred Webb
[5] Transactions of the Leicestershire Architectural and Archaeological Society, Volume 2 By The Society, 1870 of Leicestershire, England
[6] Hunting, hawking and the Early Tudor Gentleman By Williams, James, History Today
[7] The Elizabethans By A. N. Wilson
[8] Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Volume 10, Issue 3
[9] Elizabeth and Leicester by Elizabeth Jenkins
[10] Encyclopedia of Tudor England, Volume 1 By John A. Wagner, Susan Walters Schmid
[11] Lives and letters of the Devereux, earls of Essex, in the reigns of Elizabeth, James I., and Charles I., 1540-1646 By Walter Bourchier Devereux
[12] Oberon’s Vision in the Midsummer-night’s Dream: By a Comparison with Lylie’s Endymion By Nicholas-John Halpin
[13], [14] Royal Pains: A Rogues’ Gallery of Brats, Brutes, and Bad Seeds By Leslie Carroll
[15] The Queens of England and Their Times: From Matilda, Queen of William the Conqueror, to Adelaide, Queen of William the Fourth, Volume 2 By Francis Lancelott
[16] Love, Lust, and License in Early Modern England: Illicit Sex and the Nobility By Johanna Rickman
[17] Royal Affairs: A Lusty Romp Through the Extramarital Adventures That Rocked the British Monarchy By Leslie Carroll

Note: Robert, Lord Denbigh was not as some disreputable texts may claimborn in 1579. He was born in June 1581. Re: The Polarisation of Elizabethan Politics: The Political Career of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, 1585-1597 by Paul E. J. Hammer

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!

Follow on Twitter: @HistoryGal_

Facebook no longer shows our posts to a majority of our followers - Don't want to miss out on new articles? Get notified! Subscribe to email updates from Tudors Dynasty.

Join 5,011 subscribers.

Lettice Knollys: Cousin vs. Queen (Part 1)

Guest article by Karlie

It was in the early hours of the morning on September 21st 1578, when a woman of 34 years and a man of 46 years were joined together in holy matrimony. The setting of the ceremony was idyllic: at a country manor called Wanstead Hall, in Essex. The bride was dressed simply and looked demure in a ‘loose [fitting] gown’. The chaplain, a learned and pious man named Humphrey Tyndall, was there to officiate the nuptials. To witness this happy occasion were the bride’s father and brother, two of the groom’s friends and brother.

But not all was as it seemed…The first wedding (according to Catholic propagandist 1) actually took place in private, at another of the groom’s residents: Kenilworth castle, in Warwickshire. But when the bride’s father, Francis Knollys, found out about the affair, he demanded that the two have a more formal wedding amongst witnesses. As for the bride’s ‘lose gown’, as later remarked by the chaplain, it was seen by many as a curious choice of clothing to wear. In Tudor times, a woman (particularly one of high rank) typically wore an ornate gown on her wedding day. This ‘lose gown’ gave way to gossip that the bride was pregnant and that a marriage only took place to avoid the bride delivering a bastard. What was worse is that it was a forbidden marriage. One that incurred the wrath of Elizabeth I, Queen of England.

This was Lettice Knolly’s second marriage; her first one took place sometime in the early 1560’s to Walter Devereux, Viscount Hereford, aka the Earl of Essex. They met at court, when Lettice was fulfilling her duties as maid of the privy chamber to Elizabeth I.  Lettice was given such a prominent role at court, because of her family’s unwavering faith and devotion to Elizabeth and Protestantism and because of a shared ancestry.

Lettice’s mother was Catherine Carey, who served as Elizabeth’s chief lady of the bedchamber. Catherine was the daughter of King Henry VIII’s infamous mistress Mary Boleyn. That same Mary Boleyn was the sister to Henry’s second wife Anne Boleyn, who was executed on trumped up charges of adultery, incest, witchcraft and plots against the King on May 19th 1536.

Anne Boleyn was the mother of Elizabeth I. Which made Catherine, Elizabeth’s first cousin, and Lettice her first cousin once removed. As there was talk in the 16th Century, there is still talk in the 21st Century that Catherine Carey and her brother Henry were really the illegitimate children of Henry VIII. If true, that would have made Catherine the half-sister of Elizabeth, and Lettice, Elizabeth’s niece and the granddaughter to Henry VIII.

Lettice’s father was Sir Francis Knollys, who Elizabeth made Vice Chamberlain and a member of the Privy Council. Francis had served in various capacitates under Henry VIII, and Elizabeth’s brother Edward VI. His father had also been a servant under the Tudors: acting as an usher to Henry VIII and his father Henry VII.

Catherine and Francis had a total of 15 children together. Lettice was their third child, born on November 8th 1543. She grew up at her father’s estate: Greys Court in Rotherfield Grey’s in the county of Oxfordshire and at his town house (Abbey House) in Reading. From all accounts, Lettice’s life was peaceful and idyllic. It wasn’t until 1553 when Mary I became Queen of England, when Lettice was forced to face the harsh realities of life for those whose faith weren’t acceptable to those in power.

In an instant, the family was uprooted. Francis took his wife and children to live in Basel, Switzerland and then to Frankfurt, Germany where they would go unprosecuted for their Protestant beliefs. No one knows which of the five children Francis and his wife took with them when they self-exiled. It is generally thought that Lettice stayed in England and joined the household of a then 19 year old Elizabeth.

On November 17th 1558 Mary I died from a long bout of illness (historians today think the most likely cause was uterine or ovarian cancer). Her demise was bad news for Catholics, but joyous news for Protestants who had witnessed the horrific burnings of people of their faith during the tumultuous 5 years that Mary reigned.

It was then that Elizabeth became Queen, which meant that Lettice and her family could once again unite and prosper in England.

Lettice flourished in the court of her cousin’s. Not least because of her striking resemblance to Elizabeth but also because of her beauty. Lettice had the ever fashionable red-gold hair, and skin so fine and fair it was described as resembling porcelain. She also had impeccable style and a flair for fashion, which didn’t go unnoticed by the men at court. Even the Spanish ambassador Diego Guzman de Silva wasn’t immune to her charm and beauty, he once wrote, in 1565, that she was “One of the best looking ladies at the court”.

The Great Beauty of the court (as Lettice came to be known) was married off to Walter Devereux, when she was just 17. It was assumed she would spend the rest of her life as a dutiful wife to Devereux at his Staffordshire estate: Chartley Hall.

Lettice fulfilled many of her duties. She gave birth to two children during her absence from court: Penelope in 1563 and Dorothy in 1564. But in the summer of 1565 Lettice was back at court: pregnant with her third child and still a great beauty. Though many of the male courtiers were enamored with her, there was one man in particular that could court infinite danger: and that was Robert Dudley, the Queen’s favorite…Who shamelessly flirted with the latter’s cousin in public. What was worse was that Lettice was reciprocating his advances.

Though foolhardy, it was not impossible to see why Lettice would risk her reputation to flirt openly with the Queen’s favorite. Robert was described by contemporaries as tall and handsome. He had a fine figure in which he wore the latest and most expensive fashions, he had brown hair, dark skin and blue eyes. He was called a Gypsy by many at court but Elizabeth lovingly referred to him as her Eyes.

Dudley and Elizabeth had known each other in their youth, having been tutored side by side by the scholar and humanist Roger Ascham. Their paths crossed again in the summer of 1553 when Dudley was arrested for taking up arms against Mary I on behalf of his sister in law Lady Jane Grey. Edward VI along with Dudley’s father, the Duke of Northumberland, had installed Jane as Queen of England upon the young King’s death; thus ousting Mary I’s rightful claim to the throne.

But the people of England wanted to see Mary not Jane as their Queen, and after only 9 days Jane and her husband Guildford were overthrown. Dudley was then thrown in the Tower of London, with his brothers and father, where he was sentenced to death.

In 1554 Elizabeth became a prisoner as well, when it was thought that she was complicit in an attempt overthrow her sister in a coup known as Wyatt’s Rebellion. Elizabeth was sectioned in the Bell tower, Dudley the Beauchamp Tower but during their walks they would see each other. Soon, the two– who bonded over their imprisonment and shared misery– solidified their devotion to each other…

In 1555 Dudley — having lost his father and brother Guildford to the executioner– was released from the Tower and straight back into the arms of his wife Amy Robsart (whom he married five years previously, on June 4th 1550). It wasn’t until 1558 –when Elizabeth inherited the throne—that Dudley’s life, much like that of Lettice’s, changed for the better.

Having formed a special attachment to Dudley, Elizabeth made him the Master of the Horse. This high ranking position meant that both Elizabeth and Dudley had an opportunity to see each other, many times a day, sometimes in private, on a regular basis. Gossip at court and abroad was that the Queen and Dudley were lovers and that they had known each other carnally, which seemed perfectly plausible as his rooms at court adjoined hers!

This 1559 account given by the Count of Feria, perfectly describes the nature of Elizabeth and Dudley’s relationship: “During the last few days Lord Robert has come so much into favor that he does what he likes with affairs and it is even that her Majesty visits him in his chamber day and night. People talk of this so freely as to say that his wife has a malady in one of her breasts and the Queen is only waiting for her to die so she can marry Robert…” 2

Sadly, Amy did die on September 08th 1560 at Cumnor Place in Oxfordshire. She was found dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs. Though Dudley was for a long time suspected of having murdered his wife to marry Queen Elizabeth, he was eventually cleared of all charges. Amy’s death being ruled as “Misfortune”, the general consensus being that she fell down the stairs. After some time out of favor with the Queen he was reinstated back at court where they resumed their close relationship. Much to the chagrin of his rivals….

Part 2 to come!


1 Encyclopedia of Tudor England by John A Wagner and Susan Walters

2 Elizabeth’s Bedfellows: An Intimate History of the Queen’s Court by Anne Whitelock

Get Notified

Facebook no longer shows our posts to a majority of our followers - Don't want to miss out on new articles? Get notified! Subscribe to email updates from Tudors Dynasty.

Join 5,011 subscribers.