24 June – The Birth of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester

Happy Birthday, Robert Dudley!

There is some controversy over his birthday with some of his contemporaries believing that he was born on exactly the same day as Elizabeth I (7th September 1533), but it is now believed that he was born on the 24th June 1532 or 1533, most likely 1532, making him just over a year older than his Queen and great friend.

Here are some facts about this man who many people believe to be the love of Elizabeth I’s life:-

  • Robert Dudley was the fifth son of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, and Jane Guildford, daughter of Sir Edward Guildford.
  • His mother was a friend of Catherine Parr and allegedly had links to the Protestant martyr, Anne Askew.
  • He was one of 13 children.
  • Robert received a humanist education and his tutors included the likes of John Dee and Roger Ascham.
  • He was brought up as a Protestant.
  • He married Amy Robsart, his sweetheart, on the 4th June 1550 in the presence of King Edward VI.
  • In July 1553, on the death of Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey, wife of Robert’s brother’s Guildford Dudley, became Queen but her reign lasted just 13 days because Mary I seized the throne. Guildford, Jane and Robert’s father, John Dudley, were later executed. Robert was imprisoned and condemned to death but was released in autumn 1554.
  • Robert fought in the Battle of St Quentin in August 1557.
  • He became Elizabeth I’s Master of the Horse shortly after her accession in November 1558.
  • He became a Knight of the Garter in April 1559.
  • It was rumoured that he and the Queen were more than friends and there was scandal when Robert’s wife, Amy Robsart, died in suspicious circumstances in September 1560. There is still debate today over Elizabeth and Dudley’s relationship.
  • Elizabeth called Dudley her “Eyes” and “Sweet Robin”.

  • Elizabeth spoke of making Dudley “Protector of the Realm” when she believed she was dying from smallpox in October 1562. He went on to become A Privy Councillor.
  • In 1563 Elizabeth put forward the idea that Dudley should marry Mary Queen of Scots.
  • Dudley was granted Kenilworth Castle in June 1563 and he famously improved it for the Queen’s visit in 1575, adding a gatehouse, luxury apartments and a beautiful garden. He also held a lavish celebration there which lasted over two weeks and which is seen as a last ditch attempt to win the Queen’s hand.
  • He was descended, on his father’s side, from Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, and so adopted the Bear and Ragged Staff heraldic device of the Earls of Warwick.
  • He had an illegitimate son, Robert Dudley, from his relationship with Lady Douglas Sheffield.
  • Dudley secretly married Lettice Knollys, daughter of the Queen’s cousin, Catherine Carey, on 21st September 1578. The Queen was furious when she found out and she referred to Lettice as “the she-wolf”.
  • Dudley and Lettice had a son, Robert Dudley, Lord Denbigh, in 1581 but he died in 1584.
  • He founded Lord Leycester’s Hospital in Warwick in 1571.
  • Dudley was made commander of the English forces in the Netherlands in 1585.
  • He supported the execution of Mary Queen of Scots in 1587.
  • During the Spanish Armada, Dudley was in charge of mustering the English land forces as “Lieutenant and Captain General of the Queen’s Armies and Companies”, and was responsible for Elizabeth’s famous visit to Tilbury.
  • He financially supported Sir Francis Drake’s circumnavigation of the world.
  • He was Chancellor of the University of Oxford.
  • Dudley was a Patron of the Arts, being interested in theatre, literature and history. He had his own company of players and was the patron of the artist Nicholas Hilliard.
  • He died at Cornbury Park near Oxford on 4th September 1588 on his way to take the waters at Buxton.
  • Elizabeth I was distraught at news of Dudley’s death and locked herself away for days.
  • Elizabeth I kept the last letter Dudley wrote to her shortly before his death, keeping it in a box beside her bed and writing on it “His Last Letter”.
  • Robert Dudley was buried at the Collegiate Church of St Mary in Warwick and shares a tomb there with his wife, Lettice, who died in 1634.