I’ve been researching about Elizabethan England and Elizabeth’s reign for my novel-in-progress. I’m spending far too much time researching and not writing, since there are many fascinating stories surrounding Elizabeth I. I keep seeing short stories I could carve out of the Queen’s life and reign. One aspect of Elizabeth’s personal life particularly stands out to me: Her close relationship with Robert Dudley.
How Elizabeth and Dudley Met
Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (c.1533-1588) was most likely the only man Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) ever truly loved. Elizabeth’s relationship with Dudley, makes their story quite fantastical, yet tragic, when Dudley’s death parted the pair. Having been born the same year, Elizabeth and Dudley were close childhood friends, and Dudley may have shared lessons with Elizabeth in a group of aristocratic children. Dudley himself was known to say, ‘I have known her better than any man alive since she was eight years old.’ Almost immediately after her coronation, Elizabeth appointed Dudley as Master of the Horse, which placed him in contact with her on a daily basis, as the two rode out together every day and enjoyed hunting. He was probably the only man to physically touch the Queen, as he helped her on and off her horse.
A Perfect Love for the Queen
Elizabeth and Dudley’s relationship wasn’t without its ups and downs. One day the Queen would be screaming at him and banishing him from court, but she soon realized that she missed him and never wanted another day without him by her side. Out of all Elizabeth’s many suitors, Dudley was a perfect match for the Queen. He could not offer marriage, as he was already married to Amy Dudley, and therefore, Elizabeth could have the benefits of a romantic relationship with him, all without having to deal with marriage and rule her kingdom alongside a husband. Staying unwed also allowed Elizabeth to maintain her image as the Virgin Queen.
Even after Amy Dudley’s suspicious death in 1560, Elizabeth refrained from not marrying Dudley, especially since many among her council, her court, and her subjects viewed him as his wife’s murderer. Some even thought Elizabeth conspired with Dudley in ridding of Amy so that the Queen could marry him. In the political realm, marriage to Dudley just wasn’t an option for Elizabeth. But that didn’t stop him from going as far as petitioning the aid of his friend, and once potential suitor for the Queen, Philip II of Spain. In 1562, Dudley asked the Spanish King for a handwritten recommendation nominating him for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage. As with all her other marriage proposals, Elizabeth stalled in giving Dudley an answer. He proposed yet again in 1565, only to be strung along once more.
Knowing Elizabeth would never marry him, Dudley married in secret, not once, but two times. After being by Elizabeth’s side every day for thirteen years, their relationship was never the same after his marriages, yet they still continued to love and support one another until his death. It’s said that when she learned of Dudley’s death, she was heartbroken and locked herself in her room for several days. He had written a letter to her six days prior to his death, which Elizabeth kept in a box by her bed for the rest of her life.
Dudley’s Final Letter to Elizabeth:
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 pain she finds, being the chiefest thing in the 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 [it] amends much better than 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 Thursday morning, ready to take on my Journey, by Your Majesty’s most faithful and obedient servant,
Even as I had writ thus much, I received Your Majesty’s token by Young Tracey.
“Last Letter Of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (c.1533-1588).” Elizabethi.org.
Weir, Alison. The Life of Elizabeth I. New York: Ballantine, 1998.