The 9th July 1575 saw a royal visit like no other when Queen Elizabeth I arrived at Kenilworth Castle, home of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and the Queen’s favourite. Elizabeth would stay here for the next 19 days, the longest she stayed anywhere during her progresses. The relationship between Elizabeth and Dudley went back to their childhood and remained throughout.
With the visit of the Queen ahead of him Robert Dudley spared no expense in renovating his home in order to impress the Queen, some rumours at the time also claimed that it was Dudley’s last chance to try and win Elizabeth’s hand in marriage.
Elizabeth arrived with four hundred staff, 31 barons and on a daily basis at least 20 horseman arrived and left delivering messages to the court.
According to records at the time Dudley did the following to his home;
- A new tower block called Leicester’s Building that was built that would provide state accommodation to the Queen and her staff, it was originally built for Elizabeth’s visit in 1572 but Dudley improved it further for the 1575 visit.
- A grand entrance to the castle was created in 1572 called Leicester’s Gatehouse
- The castle’s landscape was vastly improved with new flowers and trees planted as well a bridge that was built to connect the gatehouse with the chase
- A privy garden was created for the Queen’s personal use
Robert Langham, a member of Dudley’s staff wrote about the privy garden he said;
“a garden so appointed to feel the pleasant whisking wind above, or delectable coolness of the fountain-spring beneath; to taste of delicious strawberries, cherries and other fruits, even from their stalks, to smell such fragrancy of sweet odours, breathing from the plants, herbs and flowers; to hear such natural melodious music and tunes of birds.”
Alongside the renovations to the castle Dudley put on a wide range of entertainment including;
- A magnificent firework display
- Many plays one of which included Triton riding on an 18 foot mermaid in a lake alongside the Lady of the Lake and her nymphs. This play was said to inspire a scene in William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
- Dudley ensured his grounds were well stocked for daily hunts
- A masque was written but cancelled due to bad weather that was called ‘Zabeta’.
Robert Langham also wrote;
“In the centre, as it were, of this goodly garden, was there placed a very fair fountain, cast into an eight-square, reared four feet high; from the midst whereof, a column upright, in the shape of two Athlants, joined together a back half; the one looking east, the other west, with their hands upholding a fair-formed boll of three feet over; from whence sun-dry fine pipes did lively distil continual streams into the reservoir of the fountain, maintained still two feet deep by the same fresh falling water; wherein pleasantly playing to and fro, and round about, carp, tench, bream, and for variety, pearch and eel, fish fair-liking all, and large: In the top, the ragged staff; which, with the bowl, the pillar, and eight sides beneath, were all hewn out of rich and hard white marble. One one side, Neptune with his tridental fuskin triumphing in his throne, trailed into the deep by his marine horses. On another, Thetis in her chariot drawn by her dolphins. Then Triton by his fishes. Here Proteus herding his sea-bulls. There Doris and her daughters solacing on sea and sands. The waves surging with froth and foam, intermingled in place, with whales, whirlpools, sturgeons, tunneys, conches, and wealks, all engraven by exquisite device and skill, so as I may think this not much inferior unti Phoebus’ gates, which Ovid says, and per-adventure a pattern to this, that Vulcan himself did cut: whereof such was the excellency of art, that the work in value surmounted the stuff, and yet were the gates all of clean massy silver.”
During her time at Kenilworth Castle the Queen also continued to work and knighted five men, including Thomas Cecil and she also received nine people who were ill so she could touch them as it was believed that one touch from the monarch could cure any illness.
Elizabeth’s stay cost Dudley a rumoured £1000 a day, which he suffered the effects of for the rest of his life.