Tag Archives: Lettice Knollys

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

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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

On this day in 1607 – Penelope Rich died

Penelope Devereux was born in January 1563 at Chartley Castle, Staffordshire to Walter Deverux and Lettice Knollys, the granddaughter of Mary Boleyn. In 1572 when Penelope was nine, her father was created Earl of Essex by Queen Elizabeth I.

Just a couple of years later, in 1575, saw the Queen visit Lady Essex as she returned from her stay at Kenilworth where she was entertained by Robert Dudley. The Queen was escorted by Sir Philip Sidney who met the 14 year old Penelope before her father died. The Earl of Essex died within a year of this visit and it is believed that he sent word to Sidney that upon his death he wished for Sidney to marry Penelope. With the death of her father Penelope and two of her siblings were sent to Henry Hastings, 3rd Earl of Huntingdon, who would now act as their guardian.

However, the match was broken two years later when Penelope’s mother married Robert Dudley, the Queen’s favourite, without permission of the Queen. This led to the family being banished from court and with it Penelope’s marriage agreement.

In January 1581, Penelope travelled to court with the Countess of Huntingdon and just two months later a new marriage match was arranged for her with Robert Rich, 3rd Baron Rich. Despite Penelope’s protests the couple were married and went on to have five children.

Although Penelope’s original marriage betrothal with Sir Philip Sidney never transpired into marriage it is widely believed that Penelope was the inspiration behind Sidney’s sonnet sequence Astrophel and Stella. Penelope was considered to be one of the beauties of the Elizabethan court with gold hair and dark eyes, not too dissimilar to Elizabeth considering they were distant cousins. Sidney was only the first to use Penelope as a muse as in 1594 an anonymous poem was published, later to be attributed to Richard Barnfield, entitled The Affectionate Shepherd was dedicated to her and also the future King James I was sent a portrait that had been painted by the Queen’s miniaturist, Nicholas Hilliard.

By 1595 Penelope had begun an affair with Charles Blount, Baron Mountjoy as she had become so unhappy in her marriage to Lord Rich.

In the Essex rebellion of 1601 Penelope was caught up in her brother’s plot with Rich denouncing her as a traitor along with Mountjoy and their children. Despite this the Queen did not take action against either and Penelope was free to have a public relationship with Mountjoy.

Upon the accession of King James I, Penelope was appointed as one of the ladies to escort Anne of Denmark as she entered London in 1603 and later served as Lady of the Bedchamber.

In 1605 Rich finally applied for a divorce to which Penelope publicly admitted adultery with Mountjoy. She had hoped that with the divorce she would be granted permission to marry Mountjoy and legitimise their children. Despite having no permission the couple went ahead and married in a private ceremony held by William Laud on 26th December 1605 at Wanstead House, London. They would be banished from court for this defiance of the King’s wishes.

Mountjoy would die just a few months later; his will would be contested after many arguments regarding his new wife and their children. Penelope was brought before the Star Chamber on charges of fraud and accusations of adultery. The charges were refuted but before a settlement could be reached on 7th July 1607 Penelope died of unknown causes and was buried in an unmarked grave in a London church.

250px-Nicholas_Hilliard_called_Penelope_Lady_RichPenelope Rich painted by Nicholas Hilliard