Robert Dudley, the 1st Earl of Leicester, was undoubtedly one of the most important men in Elizabeth I’s life, after her father, Bluff King Hal, and Robert Cecil. Here was the ultimate love/hate relationship. She heaped honors, money, love and dignities on him, and alternately banished him from court, sent him from her to woo another woman, albeit another Queen (Mary, Queen of Scots), who rejected him.
Dudley was in many ways, Elizabeth’s “consort”. Not in fact, not in any way that truly counted, but he acted as if he were her partner in many schemes.
Born June 24, 1532, he was one of the 13 children born to the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk, the notorious couple who attempted to put his daughter in law, the young Lady Jane Grey, the wife of his son Guilford and daughter of Henry VIII’s sister Mary, onto the throne of England, in place of Mary or Elizabeth, the daughters of Henry VIII, after the death of Henry’s son Edward. Bad Duke!
He was educated with the young Elizabeth, sharing tutors and teachers, often being outshone by the highly intelligent princess.
Back to the bad Duke… in 1553, with Edward, taking his last breath, his father, John, the Duke of Norfolk, an able administer, in a misguided attempt to keep the crown Protestant, the country from going to ruin with a queen who was Catholic, and to put his own family onto the throne (really?? I’m not really sure this was a motive…), he married his second youngest son, Guilford off to Jane Grey, the daughter of Frances Brandon, the daughter of Charles Brandon (yes… THAT Charles Brandon!) And Henry’s sister Mary.
As a rebellion, this was a miserable failure. Within days (9 to be exact) Mary led a triumphant procession into London, Jane and her supporters were imprisoned in the Tower, including the Duke of Northumberland and his family, including Robert. And the Princess (who, because of the questions raised about her birth at the time, was called the Lady) Elizabeth.
Legend has it that the prisoners were allowed to talk to each other, but the Lady Elizabeth and Robert Dudley managed to communicate with notes and through faithful servants. How much of this is true is up to speculation. We do know that Kat Ashley was not in on it, though. She was not to join Elizabeth in the Tower until October 1555 and was arrested in May of 1556 of having “seditious books” and kept in Fleet Prison for 3 months and then forbidden to see Elizabeth again. This lasted until Mary’s death in 1558. Poor Kat.
Back to Robert…
Because of his father’s bad behavior, he was condemned to death with the rest of the family. I mean, hey, if the head of the family is plotting treason, it stands to reason that the rest of the family is in on it, right? Well… at least the menfolk…
The Duchess of Northumberland, Jane Dudley was hard at work, trying to secure the release of at least some of her children. She saved four of her sons, including Robert with the help of the Spanish who came a-courting. Guilford was a goner.
Mary had married Phillip of Spain and the land did NOT rejoice. Phillip was known as the biggest bull shipper in Europe. He had wars going on with everyone. And Mary… she had issues of her own… like the Castilian penchant for insanity… OK… maybe not insanity, per se… but mental instability… False pregnancies, paranoia, and depression pretty much covers Mary’s reign.
Be sure to check out Part II… Coming soon to a Brite Column near you!