Moonday’s Heroic Hunk in History: Robert Dudley, Part 1

     This Moonday’s Heroic Hunk in History is Queen Elizabeth’s life-long favorite, Robert Dudley. The Princess Elizabeth and Lord Robert had known each other since they were eight years old. They shared Roger Ascham as a tutor and the dangers of being close to the English throne. If the name Dudley is familiar, that’s because Robert Dudley is the son of the Duke of Northumberland who governed England when young Edward VI reigned. It was the upstart Duke who placed Lady Jane Grey on the English throne after Edward’s death—after marrying her to his son, Guilford Dudley.  Lord Robert’s father, Lady Jane, and his brother were executed for treason. Robert Dudley was sentenced to be executed with others of his family but was saved through the intercession of King Philip. The disgrace of his family’s treason, however, followed him for the rest of his life. BTW, Lord Robert and the Princess Elizabeth were both imprisoned in the Tower at the same time for their suspected treason.

Robert Dudley

     When Queen Mary died, Lord Robert rushed to Elizabeth’s side along with most of the English courtiers. The handsome and young Lord Robert was awarded the plum position of Master of the Horse and spent hours every day riding by her side, often hunting. He also arranged many of the Crown’s ceremonies and entertainments. Elizabeth heaped wealth and honors on Dudley, including the earldom of Leicester and induction as a Knight of the Garter. Dudley’s power and influence with Elizabeth was resented by many. In 1562, to the horror of many, Elizabeth who was seriously ill with smallpox, named him Lord Protector of England during her illness.    

     Dudley’s Master of the Horse duties didn’t concern Elizabeth’s Council and people. All worried over their romance. Everyone assumed that Elizabeth would likely make a foreign marriage and that her husband would rule in her stead. Soon after she became Queen, however, she turned down all of her appropriate English suitors. Then, she strung along and played against each other King Erik of Sweden, King Philip of Spain (her sister Mary’s widower), and two sons of the Austrian Emperor.
     The only male constant in her life was Robert Dudley. After her accession, their relationship was the subject of countless communications home by the ambassadors to the English court. The Queen’s ladies, servants and laundresses were bribed for information about the relationship and the Queen’s virginity. Rumors of marriage abounded. Their main problem? Dudley was already married.

Amy Robsart Dudley

     Dudley fell in love with Amy Robsart and married her when they were about 17 in 1550. (This when “carnal unions”—love matches—were frowned upon among the nobility.) They survived only with help from both sets of parents and their fortunes fell with the death of King Edward and his father’s treason with Lady Jane Grey. The death of Amy’s parents increased the couple’s wealth but shortly afterwards Dudley jumped at his opportunity to take service with Elizabeth on her accession to the throne—at the expense of their marital relationship. According to a contemporary court chronicle, he (Dudley) “was commanded to say that he did nothing with her (Amy), when he came to her, as seldom he did”.
     Amy who stayed with friends or rented lodgings across England was not welcome at court. In 1560, she was rumored to be ill with a “condition of the breast.” Whether this was breast cancer or some other illness, the Queen and Dudley were putting it about that Amy was not long for this world. (editorial comment—in Elizabethan-speak “breast” also meant chest—a heart condition, to my thinking, would be far more likely in a 28-year-old woman than breast cancer which occurs in only 1 in 2500 women today. Also, untreated terminal breast cancer is very messy with debilitating open, draining wounds of which there were no reports.)
     Regardless of the nature of her illness, she died from a broken neck from a fall down a short flight of stairs—the day she had demanded that all of servants leave her to attend a fair in a nearby town. Prior to her death, ambassadors had discussed the possibility that her demise would be speeded along by Dudley. Of course, given the suspicious nature of her death, rumors of murder spread across England and Europe. Even though his wife’s death was ruled accidental, Elizabeth could no longer consider marrying Dudley at this time, if that had been her desire. Dudley, who knew Elizabeth better than anyone, once stated that the Queen had told him that she would marry no one. Did he hold out hopes that she would relent? More, on Dudley, next week. Also, a special holiday treat is in the works. Later, Rita Bay


6 Responses

  1. I know I don’t comment nearly enough, but I do want to thank you for all the great information you leave us with each week.

    • Thank you so much, Lizbeth. I enjoy sharing tale s of history. It’s more than dry dates and places. These are real people with interesting stories–sometimes risque. RitaVF

  2. I guess a wiser woman snatched and retained control where ever she could; control seems to be the only way to ensure you remained alive — or if left alive by the powers in control, free from imprisonment.

    I don’t blame Elizabeth for not wanting to marry. Who would want to chance a man from an arranged marriage claiming all that was hers, dismiss her, and have her executed on trumped up charges?

    Once again you’ve impressed me, Rita. Thank you.

    • Thanks, Runere. Elizabeth did not have very good role models for marriage. As we’ll see later, even Robyn was not faithful to her.. In coming weeks, we’ll look at some other women who weren’t such good decision-makers. BTW, Elizabeth was know to be a “ditherer” at times. RitaVF

  3. Love the “ditherer” comment. I really look forward to your history lesson each week. I’ve leaned so much. Thanks, again and again.


    • Thank you so much, Allison. Elizabeth was, indeed, a ditherer. The worst case was over ordering (or not) the execution of Mary Stuart. More on that in a few weeks. RitaVF

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