Tag Archives: Robert Dudley

On this day in 1586 – Sir Philip Sidney died

Sir Philip Sidney was born on 30th November 1554 at Penshurst Place, Kent to Sir Henry Sidney and his wife Lady Mary Dudley. His uncle was Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester. Sidney was educated at Shrewsbury School and later Christ Church, Oxford.

In 1572 Sidney was elected as Member of Parliament for Shrewsbury and he also travelled to France in the same year as part of the team tasked with negotiating the marriage of Queen Elizabeth I and the Duc D’Alençon. Whilst in France Sidney witnessed the St. Bartholomew’s day massacre in Paris on 24th August 1572. Sidney would spend the next few years travelling around Europe visiting countries like; Germany, Italy, Poland, Hungary and Austria during this time Sidney met many prominent politicians and even visited an exiled Jesuit priest, Edmund Campion. Sidney returned to England in 1575 and he soon met Penelope Devereux, Devereux would go on to inspire Sidney’s sonnet entitled ‘Astophel and Stella.’ Devereux’s father had planned to marry his daughter to Sidney but died before the marriage could take place.

Aged 22 Sidney was sent on a diplomatic mission by the Queen and was sent to Rudolf II, the German Emperor, and Louis VI, Prince of Orange, in order to present the Queen’s condolences on the death of their fathers. Sidney was also tasked with learning whether the Spanish and their control over Europe was a threat to England. Sidney returned and gave the Queen a positive report of his mission, but his age and lack of experience went against him and Elizabeth sent other diplomats to gather information, they returned with a less optimistic view than the one Sidney returned with.

Sidney opposed the Queen’s prospective French marriage which caused some tensions within the political world. He wrote a detailed letter to her in 1579 outlining why she should not marry the Duke of Anjou, although moved by the letter the Queen reprimanded Sidney for speaking out of line as he was still a commoner. Sidney would go on to clash with Edward De Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, regarding the Queen’s marriage. In August 1579 Oxford and Sidney would clash during a performance of play with Oxford insulting Sidney during an exchange between the two Sidney would leave but the following day sent Oxford a reminder of honour’s obligation ad Oxford responded. The Queen and the council heard of the argument and quickly put a stop to it. As a result Sidney retired from the court for the next year and stayed with his younger sister, Mary, in Wilton.

During his time in retirement Sidney wrote ‘Arcadia’ originally entitled ‘The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia’ with the title being a reference to his sister.

ArcadiaSir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia

In January 1581 Sidney was a Member of Parliament for Kent, a post he also held in 1584. During this time at court he met Penelope Devereux and quickly fell in love with the future Lady Rich. The love could not grow and he wrote ‘Astrophil and Stella’ about his experiences of impossible love, with Penelope being the inspiration.

In 1583 Sidney was restored to the Queen’s favour and was knighted and stood in for Prince Casimir who was being inducted as a Garter Knight. Later in this year Sidney married Frances Walsingham, daughter of Elizabeth’s Secretary of State, Sir Francis Walsingham. The marriage was opposed by the Queen who felt that she could use Walsingham’s daughter for a political marriage. As part of the couple’s marriage Sir Francis paid off £1500 of Sidney’s debt and to allow the couple the chance to save money they moved into the Walsingham family home.

Sidney was sent abroad in the service of the Queen and on 22nd September 1586 he was wounded at Zutphen in the Netherlands. Sidney was serving under his uncle, Robert Dudley, in his first military campaign. He was hit in the thigh with a musket ball after giving his leg armour away to a soldier who had none. Although his wound was serious he was able to ride the mile back to camp where he arrived with a large loss of blood. He was offered water upon arrival but shunned it so another wounded soldier could drink some. It was believed that Sidney would recover from the injury and so was taken to Arnhem to recover. Sidney died 26 days after being shot on 17th October 1586, his body was returned to England in a boat that sailed with black sails and the court went into mourning. A state funeral was held at St. Paul’s Cathedral .

Sir Philip SidneySir Philip Sidney

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On this day in 1562 – Queen Elizabeth I was taken ill with smallpox

On 10th October 1562 Queen Elizabeth I was taken ill at Hampton Court Palace with smallpox, Elizabeth became so ill with a dangerously high fever that her council began to prepare in case she did not survive the illness. As she lay recovering Elizabeth named Robert Dudley as protector of the kingdom and swore to her councillors that ‘as God was her witness nothing improper had ever passed between them.’

Fortunately the Queen survived, however, her nursemaid Lady Mary Sidney caught the illness from the Queen and was badly disfigured as a result. Mary’s husband wrote in his ‘Memoirs of Services’ the effects the disease had on his wife;

When I went to Newhaven I lefte her a full faire Ladye in myne eye at least the fayerest, and when I returned I found her as fowle a ladie as the smale pox could make her, which she did take by contynuall attendance of her majesties most precious person (sicke of the same disease)the skarres of which (to her resolute discomforte) ever syns hath don and doth remayne in her face, so as she lyveth solitairlie sicut Nicticorax in domicilio suo more to my charge then if we had boorded toether as we did before that evill accident happened.”

Although Elizabeth survived the disease relatively unscathed she did have some minor scarring and hair loss that she began to cover with the use of makeup and wigs. Elizabeth would go on to reign for another 41 years following her illness.

queen-elizabeth-iQueen Elizabeth I

On this day in 1577 – George Gascoigne died

George Gascoigne was born in 1535 to Sir John Gascoigne of Cardington, Bedforshire. He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge and later enrolled at Middle Temple before becoming a member of Gray’s Inn in 1555.

Gascoigne translated two plays that were performed in 1566 at Gray’s Inn, which was considered the most aristocratic of London’s Inns of Court. The plays were ‘Supposes’ based on Ariosto’s Suppositi and ‘Jocasta which is believed to have been derived from either Euripides’s Phoenissae or Lodovico Dolce’s Giocasta. Gascoigne’s translation of Ariosto is believed to be the first comedy written in English prose and used by William Shakespeare as a source for ‘The Taming of the Shrew’.

At some point it is believed that he was imprisoned for debt and that his father disowned him, however, Gascoigne himself claims that he was obliged to sell his patrimony to pay the debts that he had contracted whilst at court. Between 1557 and 1559 he was M.P for Bedford but when he presented himself for election at Midhurst in 1572 he was refused on the charges of being ‘a defamed person and noted for manslaughter’, ‘a common Rymer and a deviser of slaunderous Pasquelles’, ‘a notorious rufilanne’, and an atheist.

Gascoigne’s own writings were first published in 1573 under the title ‘A Hundredth Sundry Flowres bound up in one small Posie. Gathered partly in the fine outlandish Gardens of Euripides, Ovid, Petrarch, Ariosto and others; and partly by Invention our of our owne fruitfull Orchardes in Englande, Yelding Sundrie Savours of tragical, comical and moral discourse, bothe leas aunt and profitable, to the well-smelling noses of learned readers.’ It was printed by Richarde Smith and the book appeared to be an anthology of courtly poets edited by Gascoigne and two others that went by the initials H.W and G.T. The book is thought to contain courtly scandal and is hinted at throughout with the use of initials and posies with Latin or English tags denoting authors in place of actual names. It was republished two years later with the shorter title ‘The Posies of George Gascoigne, Esquire’ with additions and edits made.

George GascoigneGeorge Gascoigne

In 1572 Gascoigne sailed as a soldier of fortune to the Low Countries where his ship was driven by bad weather to Brielle, which had just fallen into the hands of the Dutch. There Gascoigne obtained a captain’s commission and was active in campaigns over the next two years including the Middelburg siege. Gascoigne was taken prisoner following the evacuation of Valkenburg by English troops during the Siege of Leiden and was sent back to England in late 1574. He wrote his adventures in ‘The Fruites of Warres’ and ‘Gascoigne’s Voyage into Hollande’ and dedicated them to Lord Grey de Wilton.

In 1575 Gascoigne had a share in devising the masques as ‘The Princely Pleasures at the Courte at Kenelworth’ which was in regards to the Queen’s visit to Kenilworth and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. In the same year at Woodstock he delivered a prose speech in front of the Queen and was present at a reading of the ‘Pleasant Tale of Hemetes the Hermit’ which Gascoigne then translated into Latin, Italian and French and gifted it to the Queen the following New Year during the annual gift exchange with members of the court.

Gascoigne died on 7th October 1577 at Walcot Hall, Barnack near Stamford where he was the guest of George Whetstone. He was buried in the Whetstone family vault at St John the Baptist’s Church, Barnack.

George Gascoigne tombThe tomb of George Gascoigne

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 1560 – Amy Dudley died

Amy Dudley the first wife of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, died on Sunday 8th September 1560. Amy had been staying at Cumnor Place, Abingdon as a guest Sir Anthony Forster and his wife. On the morning of the 8th September Amy had sent her servants to attend the Fair that was in Abingdon.

Upon their return they found Amy dead at the foot of the stairs with two head rooms and an apparent broken neck. Robert Dudley upon hearing of his wife’s death immediately ordered his steward, Thomas Blount, to order an inquest at once. Blount reported back to Dudley regarding his wife’s movements on the morning of her death, he reported that Lady Dudley had risen early and;

would not that day suffer one of her own sort to tarry at home, and was so earnest to have them gone to the fair, that with any of her own sort that made reason of tarrying at home she was very angry, and came to Mrs. Odingsells… who refused that day to go to the fair, and was very angry with her also. Because (Mrs. Odingsells) said it was no day for gentlewomen to go… Whereunto my lady answered and said that she might choose and go at her pleasure, but all hers should go; and was very angry. They asked who should keep her company if all they went; she said Mrs. Owen should keep her company at dinner; the same tale doth Picto, who doth dearly love her, confirm. Certainly, my Lord, as little while as I have been here, I have heard divers tales of her that maketh me judge her to be a strange woman of mind.”

Mrs. Picto was Amy Dudley’s maid and Thomas Blount asked her whether or not she suspected foul play in her death Blount reported that Mrs. Picto replied;

she said by her faith she doth judge very chance, and neither done by man nor by herself. For herself, she said, she was a good virtuous gentlewoman, and daily would pray upon her knees; and divers times she saith that she hath heard her pray to God to deliver her from desperation. Then, said I, she might have an evil toy in her mind. No, good Mr. Blount, said Picto, do not judge so of my words; if you should so gather, I am sorry I said so much.”

Thomas Blount continued in his report by saying;

My Lord, it is most strange that this chance should fall upon you. It passeth the judgment of any man to say how it is; but truly the tales I do hear of her maketh me to think she had a strange mind in her: as I will tell you at my coming.”

An inquest was set up consisting of the coroner and the jurors were made up local gentlemen and yeomen. Blount followed up his letter to Dudley with a second to keep him informed of the proceedings, he informed Dudley that some of the jury were not friendly towards Anthony Foster and they were proceeding with the inquiry and were very thorough. He wrote;

they be very secret, and yet do I hear a whispering that they can find no presumptions of evil. And if I may say to your Lordship my conscience: I think some of them be sorry for it, God forgive me…Mine own opinion is much quieted… the circumstances and as many things as I can learn doth persuade me that only misfortune hath done it, and nothing else.”

Rumours began to spread around the court back in London regarding the circumstances of Amy’s death, it had long been rumoured that Dudley wished to marry the Queen and viewed his wife as an obstacle. Therefore rumours sprang up that Dudley had his wife murdered or poisoned to further his proposal with the Queen. It was in Dudley’s best interest for the inquiry to conclude as quickly as possible with an outcome that cleared him of any suspicion.

The jury wrote to Dudley to tell them that the ruled the death as accidental but they recommended that another inquiry should take place to investigate further and it should include any friends of Amy’s that were available as well as her half brothers John Appleyard and Arthur Robsart. However, this second inquiry never happened.

The coroner ruled on 1st August 1561 that Lady Dudley ‘being alone in a certain chamber… accidentally fell precipitously down’ the stairs ‘to the very bottom of the same’ The coroner reported that she had two injuries to her head with one being ‘of the depth of a quarter of a thumb’ and the other ‘of the depth of two thumbs’. It continued to say that ‘by reason of the accidental injury or of that fall and of Lady Amy’s own body weight falling down the aforesaid stairs’ that she broke her neck ‘on account of which … the same Lady Amy then and there died instantly;… and thus the jurors say on their oath that the Lady Amy…by misfortune came to her death and not otherwise, as they are able to agree at present.’

Amy Dudley was buried at St. Mary’s, Oxford and Robert spared no expense with her funeral and spent £2,000. Robert Dudley did not attend the funeral as was the custom in Tudor times but he wore mourning clothes for the next six months he also retired from court for a month and went into mourning at his home at Kew.

With the aid of modern medicine the death of Amy Dudley has been kept alive theories surrounding her death suggest that she was suffering from breast cancer that had spread into her spine causing her neck to break easily under limited strain. Another theory was that she was murdered but not by Dudley but by someone who did not wish to see the Queen and Dudley marry. However, anyone who did arranged it risked the Queen’s reputation. Therefore, the most likely cause of death I believe is either illness or perhaps even suicide due to depression or a worsening illness.

Amy Robsart paintingThe death of Amy Dudley painted by Victorian artist,

William Frederick Yeames

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