Robert Dudley KG

Robert Dudley KG (abt. 1532 - 1588)

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Sir Robert "1st Earl of Leicester" Dudley KG
Born about in Englandmap
Ancestors ancestors
Husband of — married (to ) in Palace of Placentia, Greenwich, Englandmap
Husband of — married (to ) in Wanstead, Essex, Englandmap
Descendants descendants
Died in Cornbury, Oxfordshire, Englandmap
Profile last modified | Created 12 Nov 2008 | Last significant change: 2 Dec 2018
11:57: Martin Allen edited the Biography for Robert Dudley KG. [Thank Martin for this]
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Categories: England, Pre-1700 PPPs | This Day In History June 24 | This Day In History September 04 | Knights Companion of the Garter | Kenilworth Castle | Prisoners of the Tower of London | Battle of Zutphen | Lord Leycester Hospital.

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Robert Dudley, fifth son of John Dudley and his wife, Jane Guildford [1] gave his day of birth as 24 June but the actual date is nowhere recorded. The Hilliard miniature of 1576 said he was 44 years old at the time which gives a year of 1532 or 1533 depending on when it was executed. [2] At the time of Robert's birth his father was a rising man at the court of Henry VIII. [3] King Henry died in January 1547 and was succeeded by his young son Edward VI then aged 9. The new king was heavily under the influence of his uncles, Edward Seymour (who became Lord Protector of the Realm and Duke of Somerset) and his brother, Thomas. The Seymours were overthrown and by February 1550 Robert's father, by then Earl of Warwick, had become leader of the Council [4] and effectively ruler of England.

Later that year and not then 18 years old Robert was married to Amy Robsart, daughter of Sir John Robsart and his wife, Elizabeth Scott, at the Palace of Placentia at Greenwich on 4 June 1550. [5] Amy was the same age as Robert. 1550 was also the year that Robert was knighted. [6] After the death of the young King on 6 July 1553 John Dudley, then Duke of Northumberland, sought to have his daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey made Queen instead of the devotedly Roman Catholic Princess Mary. His failure placed his entire family under threat of death and Robert found himself a prisoner in the Tower of London. John Dudley went to the block on 22 August 1553. [7] When Queen Mary announced her intention to marry Philip II of Spain a rebellion led by Thomas Wyatt broke out against the match. A co-conspirator was Henry Grey, Earl of Suffolk, Lady Jane's father. The failure of the rebellion led to the execution of Wyatt, Suffolk, Lady Jane Grey and her husband who was Robert's brother, Guildford Dudley. The Princess Elizabeth was sent to the Tower at this time and it is thought that this was when Robert's great friendship with Elizabeth developed. During their time in the Tower Robert and his brother, John, evidently joined in the time-honoured pursuit of carving their names. [8] After the Queen's marriage had taken place the remaining Dudley brothers were released not least because of the strenuous efforts made by their mother, Jane Dudley.

Robert was with Elizabeth at Hatfield on 18 November 1558 her accession day and was at once made her master of horse and very quickly became named by the Spanish as the most important person at court being made a Knight of the Garter in 1559. [9] Amy Dudley was kept firmly in the background. Indeed Robert was at Windsor with the Queen when Amy was found dead at the bottom of the stairs at Cumnor Place on 8 September 1560. This gave rise to rumours that she had died by Robert's design so that he would be able to marry the Queen, rumours that have not abated to this day. [10]

In 1563 Elizabeth suggested Robert as a husband for the widowed Mary Queen of Scots and created him Earl of Leicester to make him a more suitable husband. (Note that he was also said to have been created Earl in 1561, taking the same arms as his brother, Ambrose). [11] She also granted him Kenilworth Manor and Castle [12] and lands in Denbigh and Chirk. Mary was interested but Robert declined. It was a somewhat surprising episode since the Queen could hardly bear to have him out of her sight and he was largely treated and behaved as her consort. By 1566 he wrote of the Queen that he truly believed that she would never marry. They had become friends, he said, before she was 8 years old and she had said it then and later when she was old enough to marry. [13] Even so the Queen was possessive and jealous of the women her favourites loved.

About 1570 he began an affair with Douglas Sheffield, daughter of William Howard and his wife, Margaret Gamage and widow of Sir John Sheffield. The Queen and Robert were both in their late thirties and any prospect that they might some day marry and have heirs to inherit the throne had almost vanished. Even so he chose not to marry Douglas for fear of losing the Queen's favour and his own power and influence. Douglas bore him a son, Robert, in 1574.

Though mostly at court Robert also saw to the modernising of his castle at Kenilworth and it was there in 1575 that he entertained Elizabeth with lavish feasting and pagentry. [14]

His second liaison with Lettice Knollys, daughter of Sir Francis Knollys and his wife, Catherine Carey and widow of Sir Walter Devereux, also resulted in a pregnancy. Lettice was the Queen's cousin on the Boleyn side. He and Lettice were married at 7 in the morning on 21 September 1578 [15] at Wanstead in Essex. [16] Though the wedding was kept secret from the Queen depositions were taken to ensure the legitimacy of the child, another Robert, born at Wanstead. Among the witnesses were Robert's brother, Warwick, the Earl of Pembroke, Roger, Baron North, Lettice's father Francis Knollys and her uncle, Richard Knollys with Robert's chaplain Henry Tyndall officiating. The child died in 1574 aged 3. The marriage did not result in the loss of the Queen's favour when she learned of it, but Lettice was never forgiven. Robert and Lettice had no more children but he took a keen interest in her children by Devereux.

Tension between England and Spain had been an ongoing issue throughout the reign and in 1584 William the Silent, Prince of Orange was murdered, resulting in chaos in the United Provinces. The Dutch looked to England for help and a book called Leycesters Commonwealth appeared on the continent, probably printed in Amsterdam, accusing Robert of murdering Amy. Firm measures were taken to prevent the book from appearing in England and many copies were seized and destroyed. [17] Elizabeth finally let Robert off the leash and he was dispatched thither under arms in which cause he mortgaged his estates to the sum of £25,000. On 25 January 1586 he accepted the offer to become Governor-General of the United Provinces. The entire affair was a disaster and after the Battle of Zutphen during which his nephew, Sir Philip Sidney was mortally wounded, he was ordered home. [18]

At the time of the Spanish Armada in 1588 he was made Lieutenant and Captain-General of the Queen's Armies and Companies and was beside the Queen at Tilbury. However he was by this time ailing and set out for Buxton in Derbyshire to take the baths. Robert died on 4 September 1588 at Cornbury Park in Oxfordshire [19] having requested in his will that he be buried in the Collegiate Church of St Mary, Warwick. [20] Lettice had an elaborate tomb created for him at St Mary. [21]


  1. Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester Cites: Mosley, Charles, editor. Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage, 107th edition, 3 volumes. Wilmington, Delaware, U.S.A.: Burke's Peerage (Genealogical Books) Ltd, 2003
  2. Simon Adams, ‘Dudley, Robert, earl of Leicester (1532/3–1588)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2008 accessed 22 Oct 2017
  3. Wikipedia: John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland
  4. Wikipedia: Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset
  5. Wikipedia: Amy Robsart
  6. Spartacus Educational: Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester
  7. Wikipedia: John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland
  8. The Gentleman's Magazine Library
  9. Wikipedia: List of Knights and Ladies of the Garter
  10. Wikipedia: Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester
  11. Burke's General Armoury Dudley
  12. British History online: Kenilworth Castle
  13. Simon Adams, ‘Dudley, Robert, earl of Leicester (1532/3–1588)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2008 accessed 22 Oct 2017
  14. British History online: Kenilworth Castle
  15. Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester Cites: Mosley, Charles, editor. Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage, 107th edition, 3 volumes. Wilmington, Delaware, U.S.A.: Burke's Peerage (Genealogical Books) Ltd, 2003
  16. Wikipedia: Lettice Knollys
  17. Leycesters Commonwealth
  18. Wikipedia: Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester
  19. Wikipedia: Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester
  20. Simon Adams, ‘Dudley, Robert, earl of Leicester (1532/3–1588)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2008 accessed 22 Oct 2017

See also

  • Leicester and the Court: Essays on Elizabethan Politics (Politics, Culture and Society in Early Modern Britain) Simon Adams 2011
  • "Royal Ancestry" 2013 by Douglas Richardson Vol. II. page 279
  • "Royal Ancestry" 2013 by Douglas Richardson Vol. III. page 340
  • Camden Society Series (London, 1844) Vol. 27: "Correspondence of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leycester, during his Government of the Low Countries, in the years 1585 and 1586"

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