Tag Archives: Earl of Leicester

On this day in 1564 – Queen Elizabeth I created Robert Dudley the Earl of Leicester

On 29th September 1564 Queen Elizabeth I created Robert Dudley the Earl of Leicester. It was a move that Elizabeth had been planning for a few months in an attempt to make Dudley a more attractable prospect to Mary Queen of Scots. The marriage proposal between the two had been an idea of Elizabeth’s for some time.

Queen Elizabeth I first proposed the match to the Scottish Ambassador, William Maitland of Lethington who originally laughed at the match he also asked why Elizabeth did not marry Dudley herself and that when she died she could leave her husband and the throne to Mary Queen of Scots.

Sir William Cecil, chief advisor to Elizabeth supported the match as it would not only form an alliance with Scotland but it would also take Dudley away from Elizabeth and the court. Cecil began communicating with Maitland full of praise and support for the match with Dudley however; Maitland did not inform Mary of the proposal from England for the simple fact that Dudley was not a peer.

Thomas Randolph, the English ambassador to Scotland was urged to keep pushing the prospect of marriage with Dudley to Mary despite the fact that neither Dudley nor Mary wanted the marriage to go ahead. Elizabeth had no intentions for the marriage to go ahead, it was purely political as it kept Mary occupied with negotiations and it stopped the gossip within Elizabeth’s own court regarding her relationship with Dudley.

On 29th September 1564 despite the fact that the marriage negotiations between Dudley and Mary were failing Elizabeth created Dudley the Earl of Leicester. The Earldom had been previously held by the likes of John of Gaunt and Henry Bolingbroke (later King Henry IV) and was a prestigious title. It was reported that as Elizabeth placed the chain of earldom around his neck she placed her hand on his neck with a little stroke.

Robert DudleyRobert Dudley, Earl of Leicester

On this day in 1578 – Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and Lettice Knollys, Countess of Essex were married

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester married Lettice Knollys without consent from Queen Elizabeth I on 21st September 1578.

It is believed that Dudley had long hoped to marry Queen Elizabeth herself but it became more and more clear that she had no intentions of marrying anybody let alone her favourite, Dudley. Therefore, Robert began secretly looking for a wife. He had met Lettice Knollys, daughter of Catherine Carey and granddaughter of Mary Boleyn, when Lettice was 21 and married to Walter Devereux. Robert and Lettice enjoyed a brief flirtation at the time but it was nothing more than an attempt to make the Queen jealous after she had flirted herself with Sir Thomas Heneage.

After Devereux had been sent to Ireland Lettice remained in the employment of her first cousin, Queen Elizabeth and had regular encounters with Robert. Lettice was also present at Kenilworth Castle in 1575 when he entertained the Queen for 19 days, in an apparent last ditch attempt to win her hand in marriage.

Rumours began surfacing regarding the nature of Robert and Lettice’s relationship made worse when Devereux was sent back to Ireland. Devereux died in September 1576 leaving Lettice widowed with their four children to raise, they were forced to seek accommodation and favours from family and friends.

Finally accepting that the Queen would not marry him nor any other, Robert began negotiations with Lettice’s father and brothers in the hope that he could marry her. On the evening of 20th September 1578 Robert welcomed Lord North into his home at Wanstead and confided in him that he would be married in the morning. Robert also told his chaplain “that he had for a good season forborne marriage in respect of her Majesty’s displeasure and that he was then for sundry respects and especially for the better quieting of his conscience determined to marry with the right honourable Countess of Essex”.

The couple were married early on the 21st September between 7am and 8am with the bride wearing a loose gown. Only six people were present at the wedding including Lettice’s father and brother, Richard along with Robert’s brother, Ambrose and two friends the Earl of Pembroke and Lord North.

Queen Elizabeth was furious that Robert had married without her permission she banished the couple from the court, eventually allowing Robert to return but Lettice was not allowed back.

In the early years of their marriage in order to avoid further wrath from the Queen Lettice continued to call herself the Countess of Essex and not Leicester. She also continued living discreetly at her family home in Oxfordshire. Things changed when she gave birth to a son in June 1581, by 1583 Lettice and their son were openly living in Robert’s London home as man and wife, which infuriated the Queen further.

The relationship between Elizabeth and Robert never fully recovered after he married Lettice and although she still relied upon him and sent him on military missions abroad. The couple remained married until Robert’s death in 1588. The couple are buried together in the Beauchamp Chapel of the Collegiate Church of St Mary, Warwick alongside their son. When Lettice died in 1634 she had commissioned an epitaph to be fitted onto their tomb which read that she was buried with the ‘best and dearest of husband.’

Lettice Knollys Lettice Knollys and Robert DudleyRobert Dudley

On this day in 1588 – Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester died

On 4th September 1588 Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester died, aged 56 not long after the defeat of the Spanish Armada.

Dudley’s health had been deteriorating for some time with complaints of stomach pains. At the end of August 1588 Dudley set off to Buxton, Derbyshire to take in the water, the spa water in the baths were believed to have healing powers.

As Dudley was travelling to Buxton he stopped at a house at Rycote near Reading, a place he had visited previously with Queen Elizabeth, who he had a close relationship with throughout his life. It was here he wrote his final letter to his treasured Queen. Dudley wrote;

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 pains she finds, being the chiefest thing in this 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 amends much better than with 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 morning, ready to take on my Journey, by your Majesty’s most faithful and obedient servant,

  1. Leicester

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

After writing this letter Leicester continued his journey to Buxton stopping at Combury Park near Woodstock, Oxfordshire where his health failed even further when at 4pm on the 4th September he passed away. He was buried in the Beauchamp Chapel of the Collegiate Church of St. Mary’s, Warwick.

Queen Elizabeth was devastated at the loss of her ‘Sweet Robin’. An informer of the Spanish Ambassador reported that Elizabeth was so upset with grief that she locked herself in her chamber with no servants and refused to speak to anybody. It took the force of her council to break down her down and enter. Elizabeth kept Dudley’s final letter and when she died it was found kept in a box next to her bed with the inscription ‘His Last Letter’.

Dudleys last letterRobert Dudley’s last letter to Queen Elizabeth

On this day in 1588 – Queen Elizabeth delivered a speech to the troops at Tilbury

On 9th August 1588 Queen Elizabeth I visited her troops who were stationed at Tilbury, Essex during the Spanish Armada and delivered a speech that was designed to unite and rouse her army.

Elizabeth visiting Tilbury

Although the Armada had been defeated in the Battle of Gravelines 11 days previously, the Armada had headed up and around Scotland in an attempt to flee the English navy. It was unknown whether they would try a second attempt at invading England on the way back past or if the Duke of Parma would attempt to cross the channel and invade. Therefore troops were still on high alert at Tilbury.

Upon arrival at Tilbury, the Queen left her bodyguards and went amongst her subjects with an escort of six men. Lord Ormonde walked ahead of the group carrying the Sword of State followed by a page leading the Queen’s charge and another page carrying on a cushion her silver helmet. It is believed that the Queen wore silver armour and rode on a grey horse flanked by the Earl of Leicester or her right and the Earl of Essex on her left with Sir John Norreys following behind.

The Queen then gave her speech to the troops, many versions of her words are documented however, it is widely believed that the correct speech was written in a letter from Leonel Sharp to the Duke of Buckingham after the event. It read;

My loving people,

We have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit ourselves to armed Tilbury Speechmultitudes, for fear of treachery; but I assure you I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear. I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good will of my subjects; and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heart of battle, to live and die amongst you all; to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust.

I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field. I know already, for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns; and We do assure you on a word of a prince, they shall be duly paid. In the mean time, my lieutenant general shall be in my stead, than whom never prince never commanded a more noble or worthy subject; not doubting but by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and your valour in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over these enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.”

The Spanish Armada did not attempt a second invasion but instead travelled straight back to Spain following severe losses of the coast of Ireland but Elizabeth’s speech is remembered for uniting the country against the Spanish.

Elizabeth Armada paintingPortrait of Queen Elizabeth to commemorate the

defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588

On this day in 1574 – Sir Robert Dudley was born

Sir Robert Dudley was born on 7th August 1574 and was the illegitimate son of Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester and Lady Douglas Sheffield. He grew up in his father’s household and was educated at Christ Church, Oxford.

At the age of 14, in 1588, as the Spanish Armada approached England the younger Robert Dudley joined his father at Tilbury as he commanded the army. The elder Dudley would die just weeks later and left his illegitimate son a large inheritance which included Kenilworth castle and estates and upon the death of his uncle the lordships of Denbigh and Chirk.

In 1591 Dudley was contracted to marry Frances Vavasour with the consent of the Queen, however, the stipulation was that Dudley was to wait until he was slightly older as he was still 17. In the same year Frances Vavasour secretly married another man and the Queen banished her from court. Instead Dudley went on to marry Margaret Cavendish secretly and as a result also found himself banished from court, this banishment only lasted a few days before Elizabeth allowed him back to court. Margaret died soon after their marriage.

Dudley became interested in exploration and in 1594 he assembled a fleet of ships led by his galleon the Beare. Dudley intended to head towards the Spanish who were in the Atlantic and disturb them, the Queen disapproved of the plan due to Dudley’s inexperience and that the fleet was worth a lot of money eventually she agreed to Dudley being a general and sailing the Guiana instead. Dudley recruited 275 sailors along with captains Thomas Jobson and Benjamin Wood. The fleet set sail on 6th November 1594 but were delayed by storms that divided the fleet. They eventually regrouped in the Canary Islands. By December they captured two Spanish ships and incorporated them into the English fleet up until this point it looked as if the expedition would be a failure. From Tenerife the fleet sailed towards Cabo Blanco and then on towards Trinidad where Dudley discovered an island that he claimed in the name of the Queen and called Dudleiana. The fleet recruited a Spanish speaking Indian to guide then in search of Gold but the guide deserted them and the fleet had to find their own way back to the meeting point. In March 1595 Dudley led the fleet north towards Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico before sailing towards Bermuda. With the fleet low on provisions and ammunition as well as no sign of any Spanish Dudley began leading the fleet home to England. It was travelling to England that they engaged in a two day battle with a Spanish ship, although they won the battle they did not capture the ship and landed back in Cornwall in May 1595.

The following year, in 1596, Dudley joined Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, in an expedition against Cadiz where he was knighted for his conduct during the Capture of Cadiz.

Also in 1596 Dudley married Alice Leigh and the couple went on to have seven daughters.

In 1603 Dudley was informed by a traveller, Thomas Drury, that his parents had secretly married and that Dudley was the legitimate son of his father. This began a case that appeared in front of the Star Chamber in 1604 to legitimise his claims and allow himself to be called the Earl of Leicester and Earl of Warwick. Over 90 witnesses appeared on behalf of Dudley who even had his own mother write that the marriage happened although she could not remember the details including the date or who conducted the ceremony. On the other side of the argument Lettice Knollys, Robert Dudley’s widow called 57 witnesses to deny the claims that were being put forward. As a result the Star Chamber declared that the marriage never happened and Dudley was not only illegitimate but deceived by Thomas Drury.

In 1605 Dudley left his wife and fled England with Elizabeth Southwell, his mistress and cousin after declaring that they had converted to Roman Catholicism. They found themselves in Lyon in 1606 where after receiving a papal dispensation married. The newlyweds headed to Florence where they would set up their new life together. After arriving in Florence, Dudley began calling himself the Earl of Leicester and the Earl of Warwick, titles that were denied to him by the Star Chamber. The couple would go on to have 13 children together, many of whom married into Italian families.

Dudley became a naval advisor to Ferdinand I, Grand Duke of Tuscany and set about designing and building war ships for the Tuscan navy.

In 1607 King James I ordered Dudley to come back to England and provide for his estranged wife and family, the King even revoked Dudley’s travel permit to force him to return, however, Dudley refused and remained on the continent. As a result the King confiscated Dudley’s estates and declared him an outlaw. Although the King had outlawed him, his son the Prince of Wales, remained in touch with Dudley and negotiated the sale of Kenilworth Castle. In 1611 a price of £14,500 was agreed upon with Dudley keeping the position of constable of the castle, the young Prince died the year later and Dudley had only received £3000 of the agreed fee. Kenilworth Castle became the property of the new Prince of Wales, Charles. Charles only paid £4000 for the property after he passed an Act of Parliament in 1621 that allowed Dudley’s estranged wife to negotiate the sale of the property.

In 1644 King Charles I created Dudley’s deserted wife a Duchess in her own right and recognised Dudley’s claims to legitimacy. Although he was now legitimate the King did not grant Dudley the titles or estates that belonged to his father.

Robert Dudley died on 6th September 1649 in Villa Rinieri and was buried at San Pancrazio in Florence. Dudley left his entire estate to Ferdinand II de’Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany.

Robert Dudley jrA portrait believed to be Sir Robert Dudley