Queen Elizabeth I & Robert Dudley: True Love?

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

471px-Elizabeth_I_in_Parliament_Robes

Elizabeth I of England in Parliament Robes, Helmingham Hall, Stowmarket (c. 1585-90).

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_Leicester_miniatures_by_Hilliard

Elizabeth and her favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, c. 1575. Pair of stamp-sized miniatures by Nicholas Hilliard. The Queen’s friendship with Dudley lasted for over thirty years, until his death.

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.

The Proposal

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.

Secrets

Robert_Dudley

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (c. 1560-1565).

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, 

R. Leicester

Even as I had writ thus much, I received Your Majesty’s token by Young Tracey.

 

Sources:

“Last Letter Of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (c.1533-1588).” Elizabethi.org.

Weir, Alison. The Life of Elizabeth I. New York: Ballantine, 1998.

Queen Elizabeth I & Mary Stuart: The Struggle Among Cousins

A Bond Through Letter-writing

While researching Elizabeth I (1533 –1603) I became intrigued by the Queen’s relationship with her cousin, Mary Stuart (1542–1587).  Also known as Mary, Queen of Scots, while she was living in Scotland, the cousins formed a bond through writing letters, but their relationship was tested once Mary arrived in England after being accused of murdering her husband in Scotland.  Many people believed Mary Stuart as the rightful heir to the English throne, including Mary herself.  Shortly after Elizabeth succeeded the throne of England in 1558, Mary made it her goal to push Elizabeth into naming her as her successor to the throne, but Elizabeth refused.  Mary also conspired to overthrow Elizabeth, yet was never successful.

Elizabeth I in coronation robes.

Elizabeth I in coronation robes.

Mary, the Murderess

Mary Stuart was full of schemes, affairs, and murder plots.  She poisoned her first husband, collaborated in the murder of her second husband, then MARRIED the murderer, who she hoped would die in battle.  It was after the accusation of murdering her husband, Lord Darnley, that Mary escaped to England.  Upon her arrival, Mary was placed and watched under guard, where she caused Elizabeth much grief for twenty years.  However, the Queen could not put Mary on trial in England for murder.  Since Mary was a foreign ruler, she was not subjected to English law.  While Elizabeth’s council did a thorough inquiry, the January 1569 decision was that there wasn’t enough evidence against Mary.

Elizabeth I’s Big Decision

Elizabeth continued to keep her cousin as a prisoner.  Rightfully so, considering Mary had Catholic support in the north and was collaborating with the devout Catholic, Philip II of Spain, to stage an invasion of England.  Elizabeth’s spies gathered evidence by having Mary’s letters intercepted.  Just when her councilors thought Elizabeth would send Mary to the execution block, the Queen stalled.  By 1584, Mary was still held prisoner, yet continued to get secret letters to Philip encouraging him to continue the plan to invade England.  Mary was finally tried in 1587 and beheaded. Elizabeth was deeply saddened by her cousin’s execution and blamed her councilors for forcing her hand in signing Mary’s death warrant.  Being a Queen who deeply cared for her subjects, Elizabeth knew that in order to keep herself and her people safe, she had to bring herself to execute her own cousin.

Mary, Queen of Scots in captivity, by Nicholas Hilliard 1578

Mary, Queen of Scots in captivity, by Nicholas Hilliard 1578

Sources:  Weir, Alison.  The Life of Elizabeth I.  New York: Ballantine, 1998.