Moonday’s Heroic Hunks: Elizabeth’s Men – the European Princes

King Philip II of Spain

Prior to her accession to the throne of England, Elizabeth Tudor had lived a precarious existence.  Her mother, Queen Anne Boleyn, had been beheaded when Elizabeth was only three.  Henry VIII, her father, had divorced two of his other queens and beheaded Queen Katherine Howard, Elizabeth’s own cousin.  She had been implicated in Thomas Seymour’s attempts to seize power which ended in his execution and waT sent to the Tower by her sister Queen Mary for her association with the Dudley/Lady Jane Grey treason.

Before and after Queen Elizabeth refused Robert Dudley’s (the love of her life) marriage proposal, she used her availability for marriage as a political tool.  Everyone-English and European alike-assumed that Elizabeth would be anxious to marry.  Elizabeth, however, once wrote: “Better beggar woman and single than Queen and married.” While Elizabeth’s councilors plotted and fretted, only Robert Dudley who knew her heart believed her.  He knew she would never willingly grant power over her and control of her England to any man.

King Eric of Sweden

In 1559, King Philip of Spain, the widower of Elizabeth’s sister Mary, was the first to send a proposal her way.  He wished to keep England Catholic and Elizabeth out of bed with the Protestant rulers of Europe.  Elizabeth strung him along, first hot and then cold, for more than a year–to the frustration and aggravation of two Spanish ambassadors.  Their communications to their Spanish master provide insight into the complicated machinations of the English Court.

Another of Elizabeth’s suitors, King Eric of Sweden, a fellow Protestant, was seriously considered by Elizabeth’s ministers. His suit was popular in the England but Eric was far from a wealthy monarch, and marriage to him would have brought England little financial benefit or provided a strong alliance.  Despite his fervent letters attesting to his devotion, Eric was eventually refused also.  Good thing, King Eric was deposed in 1568 and poisoned with arsenic-laced pea soup in 1577.

Henry II of France

When the Archduke Charles of Austria proved to be too Catholic for her., Elizabeth looked to the Valois of France, still Catholic but not so much.  Henry, Duke of Anjou, and Francis, Duke of Alencon and (later) Anjou, were the sons of Catherine d’Medici.  Henry who was reputed to be homo- or bisexual was rejected after his comments referring to her as a “public whore” and ridiculing her age (37) were reported Elizabeth.  Elizabeth appeared to genuinely have some affection for Francis, her “frog,”  even though he was 24 and she was 46 when he visited her. (She actually wore an earring in the shape of a frog for several years.”)  Elizabeth, fearing her people would not accept a French overlord, sent him on his way.  Anjou, the last of Elizabeth’s suitors died two years later.

Francis, Duke of Alencon

 Several other foreign suitors, including the Duke of Saxony, Earl of Arran, and the Duke of Holstein were proposed but not seriously considered.  Next Moonday, Elizabeth’s English suitors and the succession.  Rita Bay

Moonday’s Heroic Hunk n History: Robert Dudley, Part 2

Elizabeth & Dudley Dancing

Merry Christmas!!  Follow the YouTube link at the end of my post for a festive holiday Flash Mob video.

     We left Robert Dudley last week with a wife who had died a suspicious and convenient death at a most auspicious time.  With the death of Amy Robsart Dudley in September of 1560, Robert Dudley finally became a widower.  Even though he had not seen his wife in more than a year and only visited her twice in the last two years, he sponsored a magnificent funeral for her.  Following the custom of the times, he did not attend.  He and his household went into mourning for six months while the inquiries into her death were conducted. 

     When Robert Dudley returned to court, Elizabeth heaped titles, lands, and honors on him but refused his numerous marriage proposals.  He, in turn, thwarted anyone else’s chances with    Elizabeth and refused several stellar political matches for himself, including  marriage to Mary, Queen of Scots.  Elizabeth remained enthralled with him, calling him “her eyes,” and often refused to allow him to leave Court.  To the horror of the Court and the English people, she moved Dudley into a suite of rooms adjoining hers. 

Joseph Fiennes as Dudley in Elizabeth (1998)

     Dudley, now the Earl of Leicester thanks to Elizabeth’s largesse (Did Elizabeth really tickle his neck while he was being invested?), conducted numerous affairs and fathered one child out-of-wedlock with Lady Douglas Sheffield, a member of the powerful Howard clan.  In a letter to her regretting his inability to marry he stated:  “You must think it is some marvellous cause … that forceth me thus to be cause almost of the ruin of mine own house … my brother you see long married and not like to have children, it resteth so now in myself; and yet such occasions is there … as if I should marry I am sure never to have [the Queen’s] favour.”

     Later, he had another long-lasting affair with the beautiful and vivacious Lettice Knowles while her husband, the Earl of Essex, was warring in Ireland. After 18 years and one final proposal to Elizabeth which she turned down, he secretly married the recently-widowed Lettice who was pregnant with his child.  (Many wondered whether the Earl died from dysentery or poison.)  Dudley evidently loved Lettice—even defended her to the Queen—and desperately needed an heir, but Elizabeth would have none of it.  She called him “a cuckold and traitor.” She called Lettice (her own cousin) a “she-wolf” and banned her from Court.  Although Dudley eventually returned to her good graces Lettice didn’t return to court until after Elizabeth’s death in 1603. 

Lettice Knollys Dudley

     Dudley was far more than Elizabeth’s boyfriend and dance partner.  He was intelligent, well-educated, an excellent horseman, a rabid tennis player and jouster, a supporter of the arts and education, and a forward-thinking economist.  A staunch Calvinist who supported Protestant governments, he was a member of the triumvirate—with Francis Walsingham and William Cecil—who ruled England for 20+ years.  He supported the execution of Queen Mary of Scotland and gained King James’ tacit approval of his mother’s execution.  When Philip of Spain declared war on England in 1588, Dudley assumed command of the Queen’s land forces, despite his ill-health.  After accompanying Elizabeth on her triumphant return to London, he left her side to visit the baths of Buxton.  On the way, he died suddenly near Oxford on September 4, 1588, most likely of malaria or stomach cancer.  He was buried in Beauchamp Chapel in St. Mary’s, Warwick.

     Elizabeth, devastated by his death, took to her rooms until Lord Burghley had the door broken. At her death 15 years later, the last letter he’d written to her six days before his death was found in her box of treasures at her bedside.  On it, she had written “his last letter.”  Their relationship was the subject of numerous books and plays, including Fiennes & Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth in 1998.

Unfortunately Robert, Dudley’s child by Lettice, died when he was three.  After Dudley’s death in 1588, his bastard son—also Robert Dudley—who had inherited all his wealth tried, unsuccessfully, to claim his titles based on an allegation of a secret marriage with his mother for which there was no evidence. 

Robert Dudley in Later Life

     Dudley failed to establish or continue a dynasty.  His stepson from his marriage to Lettice, the Earl of Essex, suffered for his own arrogance, losing his head for treason on Elizabeth’s order.  In the end, Lettice lost both husband and son to Elizabeth but outlived them all.  When she died in 1634, she was buried beside the “best and dearest of husbands.” 

Until next Moonday when we celebrate a Renaissance Elizabethan Holiday.    In the meantime, check out this YouTube holiday treat. (Suggestion:  Pop it out when you get to YouTube and maximize the screen before starting it for the best effect.) Rita Bay

Happy Holidays!!

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

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