Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley

This page has been written exclusively for The Elizabeth Files by novelist Jeane Westin, writer of “The Virgin’s Daughters: In the Court of Elizabeth I”. Thank you so much, Jeane, for giving us this insight into the relationship between Elizabeth and her “Robin”.

Did they or didn’t they? Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester.

Bess and her Robin’s love story is a tangled puzzle, one which I’ve attempted to unravel in years of research and two novels. In the first, The Virgin’s Daughters:In the court of Elizabeth I, NAL, August, 2009, I’ve viewed their lives through the eyes of two of Elizabeth’s ladies-of-the-bedchamber. In the novel I’m currently writing, His Last Letter: Elizabeth I and the Earl of Leicester, NAL, August 2010, I write from their viewpoints, getting inside their hearts.

Robin’s last letter to Elizabeth survives. He says her medicine has made him feel better and he kisses her foot. But is that all? Was there another page to the letter that Elizabeth could not allow to survive? Did she carry a romantic secret to her grave, a secret that answers one of the continuing puzzles of her life?

Elizabeth, the iconic Virgin Queen, Gloriana, Good Queen Bess, Diana the Huntress and all the other grand titles she was known by, was obviously and forever in love with Robert Dudley, her Sweet Robin. For thirty years she could not allow him to leave her side without great pain, their love outlasting her endless flirtations with other courtiers and on-going marriage negotiations with most of the foreign princes of Europe.

Yet, Robert was so unpopular with many jealous courtiers and much of the English population that for several centuries after his death he was treated by historians as a greedy, not too bright failure with little to recommend him but his looks and ability to dance the galliard. In his lifetime many believed he murdered his first wife, Amy Robsart He was also suspected of poisoning every man who opposed him and who died suddenly.

The Death of Amy Robsart by William Frederick Yeames

We know better today. Although I believe that Elizabeth might have married him in the beginning of her reign, Amy’s suspicious death made that forever impossible. Did he kill his wife? No, I don’t believe so. Dudley was no fool. If there was one thing that would put the queen forever beyond his reach, it was a murder…a murder in which she, too, would obviously be implicated.

Amy had advanced breast cancer when she fell down two short flights of stairs at Cumnor Manor in 1560 and broke her neck. Modern medicine tells us that cancer can cause brittle bones. It would take a very short fall by a woman in great pain to break a fragile neck. She could also have committed suicide, but the possibility of that was immediately hushed because it meant that she could not be buried in consecrated ground. Two juries judged Amy’s death was caused by “misadventure,” in modern meaning an accident, but many Englishmen never accepted that judgment.

Any number of theories about Amy’s death have come down to us. I even found an accusation against William Cecil, Elizabeth’s Secretary of State. Could he have had Amy killed in order to implicate Dudley, since Cecil feared Elizabeth would marry him instead of a foreign prince? I’ll leave that one to the conspiracy theorists.

As for Robert Dudley, his love for Elizabeth survived his two marriages and many affairs, remaining the one constant and supremely important love of his life.

There are numerous guesses about why Elizabeth never married. Marriage put a wife in Tudor times under her husband’s total control. Her father’s marriages taught her well. Besides, Elizabeth liked to rule. Perhaps she was afraid of childbirth, which killed many women. Most of all, she liked to play the marriage game keeping half of Europe guessing and her country free from attacks while there was a possibility of acquiring England without bloodshed or expense.

The first question asked of any writer of Elizabeth and Dudley: Did they have a consumated love affair or was she truly a virgin? One answer could be that the the definition of virgin has changed over the centuries. In Tudor times it meant a “maid,” in other words an unmarried woman. Another answer: Elizabeth willed herself to be a virgin and that was that! No one will ever know for sure, which is a good thing for writers who want to weave a tale.

Cecil, himself, thought they were lovers as late as 1572 or 14 years after Elizabeth ascended the throne. In the early years of her reign, it was remarked in letters by ambassadors and other unofficial communications that they were very physical…she, touching him (she tickled his neck when he knelt to be made a garter knight) and he, having access to her chamber whenever he liked. When they were young, they had adjoining chambers.

If you have read much of this queen’s reign, you know that she was shrewd and a good judge of men. Would she have kept Dudley so close if he were an idiot? She put him on her council. She twice named him head of her armies and even contemplated naming him Captain-General of England, which would have put him second in command of the realm. Cecil talked her out of it.

Early in her reign when she thought she was dying of smallpox, she named Dudley Protector and demanded that her council give him twenty thousand pounds a year (an unheard of sum). England was her most precious possession; she refused to ever name an heir in her lifetime. Would she have left her realm, her most precious posession to someone she thought unworthy?

One of my greatest pleasures in writing about them is to imagine them in their castles and riding madly through the countryside all those years, always together yet forever apart.

By Jeane Westin
Author of “The Virgin’s Daughters: In the Court of Elizabeth I”.

24 Responses to “Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley”

  1. HANA says:

    hey this info is great, helped increase my memory..thanxXXX

  2. lisa says:

    if Robert wasn’t married they most probley would have been, as they were in love.

  3. Dawn says:

    I am always concerned when I read speculation presented as fact, Amy Dudley MAY have had breast cancer but this is not known for sure. Although some of his conclusions are questionable, Christ Skidmore’s Death and the Virgin is a useful reference with the newly discovered Coroner’s Report into Amy’s death.

  4. Dawn says:

    My apologies, that should read CHRIS Skidmore…iPad predictive text causing a major error there!

  5. Tracy says:

    I also apologize for all.of my spelling errors Dawn! Ipad does it’s best to thwart me too!

  6. Kellie says:

    I love Elizabeth 1. Even though I’m only 13 (almost 14), I know pretty much everthing that’s possible to know (sorry if that sounds arrogant). She’s my idol and I’ve always hated the thought of her secretly marrying somebody. This helped me be a bit open-minded and helped me find out evidence of how she DIDN’T marry (just in case that in the future I argue with someone).

  7. Carol says:

    I feel Elizabeth was not going to have a man rule over her.
    Her father was a mean man.

    I feel she protected herself by giving her life to her country.
    She was smart for a woman of that era.

    Its hard to love someone that you can’t have.
    People always want to believe the worse in people.

    She definitely was afraid of giving herself total self to one another.

    Like VIctoria and her husband that was true love they felt for each other and
    she included her husband who only wanted the best for her.

    I feel when one is born into wealth or anything, they have a big responsibility
    on their shoulders that they didn’t ask for.

    I feel women were looked down on at that time as someone to rule.
    I am glad that Ann Boleyn got her wish that her daughter would be a great queen.

  8. Cyan says:

    Why Elizabeth never married? Perhaps she had consummated her relationship with Robert Dudley. Having done so it would have been impossible to marry royalty because her loss of virginity would be grounds to contest any marriage. Virginity would be checked by an examination of bed sheets, and perhaps Bess knew she could not pass that test. Regardless, she is a historical figure I admire and am fascinated with.

  9. Cyan says:

    PS – The consummation would have occurred before she became queen, and ended when she became queen. She could not have risked becoming pregnant at this point.

  10. gulagula says:

    elizabeth is a virgo lady. base on this, i prefer that she never married becoz of ‘husband undercontrol’. i prefer, like any virgo, she will think about any small detail before making decission. they prefer to be single forever than taking risk for unhappy, unstabil marriage. beside, her father beheaded her mother.

  11. Ashley says:

    Hi I was wondering I have an essay to write and I’d like to read published letters that went back and forth between Elizabeth and Robert are there any?

  12. I find it really cool that I’m directly related to Robert, he being my greatx8 grandad, it makes a great story to tell to my children, once I actually have some of course.

  13. Emma Phillips says:

    It is thought that Elizabeth as a very young girl, maybe 14, suffered the indignities of a much older man, her guardians husband Sir Thomas Moore, touching her inappropriately, spanking her and going into her bed chambers at night half dressed and sitting on her bed till the small hours. Could this be why she never married? In public a ferocious flirt commanding every mans attention, in private deeply wounded by her guardian in some way?? The truth in this matter will never come to light, but wouldn’t it be fascinating to know.

  14. My guess is that there is the possibility of someone being quick enough to think of a fantastic way to keep Dudley off the throne: in the height of the gossips and rumors about him and the Queen, have his wife murdered so that either he will be condemned for murder or ALWAYS they will think he murdered his wife to marry the Queen, making him an unfavorable choice as he was. I think both Bess and Robin were innocent in action, except perhaps in their thoughts and hearts lol… I guess we will never know!

  15. sharon dudley says:

    When I was 15 I was forced to go to Europe with my parents. We ended up in England for the last 2 week of our trip. My grandma Dudley had told me some stories about the framed cloth crest that hung in their living room and how it was from a long ago relative, “The Earl of Leicester”. So of course when we visited Leicester I had to go into the local library to do some research. My mother dropped me off and I went to the librarian to get some help in locating information about Robert Dudley, letting the librarian know just who I was. Boy, was I embarrassed when she made copies of some of the material I had read and discovered some very unflattering things about my distant relative. I was related to a cad, a cheat and a murderer. Yikes! I slunk out of the library and quickly revealed the horror of my ancestry to my waiting mother. It was decades later when movies were being made that I became aware of the true love and devotion between Robert and Elizabeth. I am no longer embarrassed by Robert and I don’t believe that he murdered his wife. In fact, I think it’s pretty cool that one of my ancestors held the livelong favor of such a forward thinking, culturally progressive and powerful woman as Queen Elizabeth!

  16. Catrina says:

    I find all of this very fascinating, especially given that I have recently discovered that Robert Dudley is one of my ancestors! It’s amazing how much you can find out online!

  17. HistoryFreakGeek says:

    i Just want to say thanks for the article, it really helped my source work on Elizabeth…
    Everyone who reads this should know it is biased to making the one bad bit of evidence about Elizabeth not so bad, but there is nothing wrong with that… It is still helpful to have the input of an acclaimed Historian…. Thanks x

  18. Ioannes Henricus says:

    Could it be that SIr John III Harrington (who had been married to Her Majesty’s half sister, Etheldreda Malte, and his wife, Lady Harrington, Isabella Markham, were really guardians for Her Majesty’s biological son with Dudley, “Sir John IV Harrington?”

    In the year of his birth, Elizabeth Regina had retired to her bedchamber for six weeks, a custom of the Royals before bringing their issue into the world, and six of her ladies of the Privy Chamber were telling the court (who had no access to Elizabeth) that THEY were pregnant (easy to hide under those farthingales!). Sir John IV Harrington is born; HM becomes his godmother and he becomes her “favourite godchild” whom she calls “my saucy boy.”

    At least one wonders.

    Sir John III would surely have been able to keep a secret and he had benefitted from the wealth that Etheldreda had acquired from Henry VIII when Eltheldreda died and left him a widower who then married Lady Markham.

    Just ruminations….

  19. Jemima says:

    She sounds like a prostitute to be honest… even though I’m related to her!! She is my x7 grandmother

  20. mj says:

    I’m just wondering how Robert Dudley or Elizabeth I could be 7x, 8x, etc. grandparents since there is no record of either being a parent of a child who grew to become an adult. I thought that a childless person could not be a grandparent of any kind. I’m confused. I know they could be some type of aunt or uncle.

  21. I have come late to this conversation as well as the conversation about ‘The Bisley Boy’. The discussion is ‘did Elizabeth and Robert Dudley’ do IT. Here’s a theory I’ve read.

    In the summer of 1587, a Spanish ship intercepted a boat off the coast of San Sebastian that had been heading to France. One of the passengers was a young man who claimed to be a Catholic undertaking a pilgrimage. The Spanish arrested him suspecting he was a spy. The man asked to see Francis Englefield, a Catholic who had been the adviser to Mary I and who was now in exile at the Spanish court. He told Englefield his name was Arthur Dudley and this was his story.

    He had been raised by Robert Southern, a man who had once been a servant of Kat Ashley, Elizabeth’s governess and friend, in a village around sixty miles outside of London. On Southern’s deathbed, he had admitted to the young man that he was not his father. The young man was the son of Robert Dudley and the Queen.
    He told Englefield that Southern had been handed a baby after being summoned to Hampton Court and that he had been instructed to name him Arthur and raise him as his own. He had assumed initially that it was the child of one of the Queen’s ladies. He later found out from Kat Ashley’s husband that he was ‘someone important’ and he was to be given the education of a gentleman.

    Arthur told Englefield that he had taken flight abroad in fear of his life when he found the secret of his birth. After officers named Blount and Fludd (yes…those names did actually exist) took him before Robert Dudley, Dudley showed him “affection by tears and words”. It was a long and complicated story, with plausible events and real names, telling of his fear that he would be tracked down and murdered to keep him quiet. If he was indeed the son of Elizabeth, he had every reason to be afraid. If publicised, the story would have sparked an international crisis and possibly a civil war.

    Arthur wrote a letter to King Philip of Spain asking for his protection by spreading a rumour that he had escaped and that nobody knew where he was. Englefield believed that Elizabeth was planning to acknowledge Arthur as her son and nominate him as heir to the throne to obstruct the claims of James VI of Scotland and King Philip. That, however, was supposition on his behalf.

    Whoever we believe Arthur was, historical evidence shows that he definitely existed and we even know from a letter sent to William Cecil in May 1588 that a young man, who states he was twenty-seven (that would make him born in 1561), and that he was the son of Robert Dudley. He stated that Arthur was costing him six crowns a day to keep imprisoned. But Arthur is never mentioned again and it was assumed he remained in Philip’s prison.

    Ultimately, only Dudley and Elizabeth knew the truth and neither of them were telling. Dudley died in September 1588, a year after Arthur laid the claims, and Elizabeth followed him twenty-five years later. The truth died with her. And with her, the Tudor dynasty died as well.

  22. Bobbi Sutton says:

    Robert Dudley, Alias Sutton as I tell my friends would have been my crazy uncle if we lived during the same time period.

    Sir John Lord Sutton baron of Dudley was the direct ancestor of mine. I would like to better understand the name change from Sutton to Dudley. In my mind I feel that because of the long titles back then like Sir John Lord Sutton Baron Dudley it was just easier for some of the family to go by John Dudley. It seems like my direct ancestors kept the Sutton surname so it would be uncles that went by Dudley like Robert Dudley.

    Am I on the right track in my thinking?

    I am so excited and interested in finding out as much as I can about my English family so any information you could share with me would be very appreciated. Like do I have family that still lives in England, they came over here in 1634.

    I live in Colorado Springs, Colorado and it is difficult to find out too much information on the internet. I want the nitty gritty if you know what I mean.

    Please respond. It would be so great if you can fill in some information.

    Bobbi Sutton
    3405 Sinton Rd. #144
    Colorado Springs, CO 80907

  23. Amanda says:

    Emma Philips… Sir Thomas Moore was most definitely not the man to have had inappropriate relations with Elizabeth. Sir Thomas More was killed in Henry VIII’s reign. You’re thinking of Thomas Seymour, Katherine Parr’s husband. Henry VIII was married to Katherine Parr but, as soon as he died, she wasted no time in marrying Seymour and she became Elizabeth’s ward. Between her father’s failed marriages, her sister’s failed marriage and even Katherine Parr’s marriage, I think she had a disgust for marriage. I also think that she knew exactly how to play the marriage card. She used marriage as a political tool, and she used it well!
    Jemima… Elizabeth sounds like a prostitute to you?! That’s by far, the most ridiculous and juvenile sentence I’ve ever read.. Also, there’s no possible way, whatsoever, that Elizabeth could be your 7x grandmother. She never had kids, and the Tudor line died with her. There’s no possible scenario where she could be your grandmother. None.
    I know the last posts on here are old but, I had to say something.

  24. Paula says:

    Hi l like the history of late kings an Queens
    . But l think the rule of Elizabeth 1 her lover Dudley if ruled it may av had a twist to the Royal family rule of tday. As l believe pregancy cud not b stopped even fr a queen or queens wth lovers, l say elizabeth 1 she wud av had several children or shud never had been with a male suiter in her chambers. Even so u Stll cud not stop sex even then unless royals queens had chasity belts fitted. l wonder who an were if alive siblings in this future of heirs to the thrown of her rein r alive tday an who believe they av a right to a royal legacy. It would b interested to now

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