Did Robert Dudley Murder Amy Robsart?

The Death of Amy Robsart by William Frederick Yeames

According to a report in yesterday’s “Daily Mail”, entitled “Did Elizabeth I’s lover have wife killed so he could wed the Virgin Queen?”, new evidence has been uncovered which supports the theory that Robert Dudley arranged the murder of his wife, Amy Dudley (nee Robsart), so that he was free to marry Elizabeth I.

Amy’s Death

Amy Dudley’s body was found at the foot of the stairs of Cumnor Place in Oxfordshire, on the 8th September 1560. She had been suffering with a “malady in her breast” (breast cancer) and was thought to be dying and Alison Weir, in “Elizabeth, the Queen”, writes of how it is known that Amy was suffering from depression in early September 1560. Weir’s sources for Amy’s depression include a statement from Amy’s maid, saying that she had heard Amy “pray to God to deliver her from desperation”, and the “Leycester’s Commonwealth” tract which tells of how the Cumnor Place household were so concerned that Lady Dudley was “sad and heavy” that they wanted a doctor to prescribe medicine for her.

Whatever, the state of Amy’s health and mind, she was found dead by her servants when they returned from “Our Lady’s Fair” at Abingdon and at the inquest the coroner ruled that Amy’s death was an accident.

New Evidence

Alison Weir writes of how Alvaro de Quadra reported on the 11th September that Elizabeth I had ordered that the news of Amy’s death should be made public, that it was attributed to accidental causes and that Elizabeth had said that Amy had broken her neck and “must have fallen down a staircase”. However, the original coroner’s report had been found and it does not mention a broken neck!

Historian Steven Gunn, a lecturer at Oxford University, found the coroner’s report in the National Archives while searching through 16th century accident records. According to the report, Amy’s head had two deep wounds caused by two impacts and even though there were no signs of other injuries, whcih one would expect if Amy fell down a flight of stairs, the coroner ruled that Amy’s death was the result of “misfortune”. Gunn copied this report to historian Chris Skidmore who reveals it in his new book “Death and the Virgin” (released on the 25th February 2010), and is quoted in the Sunday Times newspaper as saying “At the very least it [the coroner’s report] casts doubt on the accident theory”.

Did Dudley Blackmail the Jurors?

Skidmore has also uncovered evidence to suggest that Robert Dudley may have attempted to “nobble” jurors to cover up Amy’s supsicious death and that household accounts show that Dudley gave Robert Smith, a courtier and foreman of the inquest jury, several yards of velvet and black taffeta to make clothes. Skidmore also reveals how Dudley asked that the jury be made up of “discreet” men, that one member of the jury (John Stevenson) was employed by Dudley and that Dudley also paid Anthony Forster, owner of Cumnor Place where Amy died, £310 (around £65,000 in today’s money) shortly after Amy’s death.

Gossip Surrounding Amy, Dudley and the Virgin Queen

Robert Dudley had married Amy Robsart, the daughter of Sir John Robsart, in 1550 and it was said to be a love match and what William Cecil described as “a carnal marriage, begun for pleasure”, rather than an arranged marriage. However, Robert Dudley had always been close to Elizabeth I, having known her since childhood and it is thought that their shared experience of being imprisoned in the Tower of London and Dudley’s time at court, away from his wife, brought the two of them closer and drove Robert and Amy apart. As Master of the Horse, Dudley saw Elizabeth on a daily basis and it was not long before there was gossip about Dudley and Elizabeth, and how much she favoured him.

On the 18th April 1559, the Count de Feria, wrote:-

“During the last few days, Lord Robert has come so much into favour that he does whatever he likes with affairs. It is even said that Her Majesty visits him in his chamber day and night. People talk of this freely that they go so far as to say that his wife has a malady in one of her breasts, and that the Queen is only waiting for her to die to marry Lord Robert”

and there were also rumours that Dudley had “sent to poison his wife” (de Quadra) and in early 1560 de Quadra wrote of how Dudley was planning to divorce his wife so that he could be Elizabeth’s consort.

There were also rumours that the Queen had had children by Dudley and a man named Henry Hawkins was punished for saying that “My Lord Robert hath five children by the Queen, and she never goeth on progress but to be delivered.”

However silly or unfounded these rumours, one can only imagine the distress caused to Amy Dudley. Even though she was away from court she must have heard some of these rumours and she must have worried at the closeness shared by her husband and the Queen. No wonder she was described as “sad and heavy” in the late summer of 1560, she was dying and her husband was living it up at court with another woman. Did she believe that her husband was just waiting for her to die?

Theories on Amy’s Death

  • Accident – Alison Weir mentions the theory of Professor Ian Aird from 1956, in which he suggests that Amy’s death could have been an accident caused by a spontaneous fracture of the vertebrae as she walked down the stairs. Professor Aird bases this theory on the fact that breast cancer can cause a weakening of the bones.
  • Suicide – On the day of her death, Amy ordered all of her servants out of the house, giving them permission to go to Abingdon’s “Our Lady’s Fair” for the day. When some of them protested that it was not “fitting” to go to a fair on a Sunday, Amy was said to have been quite sharp with them, asking them to obey her orders. A Mrs Odingsells refused to go, much to Amy’s displeasure, but Mrs Odingsells did eventually retire to her room, leaving Amy alone. Did Amy arrange to be alone so that she could commit suicide, after all, she was said to be very depressed? Amy’s maid said that she wondered if Amy “might have an evil toy in her mind”, in other words suicide.
    In those days, it was believed that suicide was a mortal sin, one that led to eternal damnation, so would Amy have risked her soul to shorten her life? Who knows? Perhaps if she was in enough pain and distress, and felt abandoned by her husband.
  • Murder arranged by her husband – Did Robert Dudley get rid of Amy so that he could marry Elizabeth? See above for Chris Skidmore’s evidence.
  • Murder arranged by William Cecil – This is a theory put forward by Alison Weir. On p108 of my paperback version of “Elizabeth, the Queen”, Weir says:- “One man did profit from the death of Amy Dudley, and that was William Cecil. He was swiftly restored to favour as soon as the news was known and his rival banished from the court, and when he visited Dudley at Kew he did so in the comfortable knowledge that their positions had been reversed and that he now had the upper hand.” His motive for orchestrating the murder was, according to Weir, to stop Elizabeth marrying Dudley and risking her crown and popularity. Suspicion would surround Dudley and Elizabeth would not risk her reputation by marrying him. However, I find it hard to believe that Cecil would have risked the reputation of his beloved Queen for such a plot. I agree with Weir when she says that Cecil was a “perceptive man and he could foresee that if she died in suspicious circumstances, as many people expected her to do, then the finger of suspicion would point inexorably to her husband – as indeed it did. Cecil also knew that Elizabeth , who was very conservative at heart, would be unlikely to risk her popularity and her crown to marry a man whose reputation was so tainted” but I just can’t see Cecil acting on this belief.
  • Murder by an enemy of the Crown – I have to agree with Elizabeth Files visitor, Rochie, and “Virgin and the Crab” author, Robert Parry, who both believe that the most plausible explanation, if it was not an accident, is that it was murder committed by an enemy of Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley. There were many people who were against Elizabeth marrying her Master of the Horse and what better way to stop a future marriage than cause scandal and make Robert Dudley look like a murderer? Dudley had already been surrounded by scandal due to his family’s past and due to him being Elizabeth’s favourite and now they could use Amy’s death to bring him down. Did Mrs Odingsells stay behind on that day because she was an accomplice?
  • An aortic aneurism – A modern theory that Amy was killed by the terminal enlargement of one of the arteries from the heart. Symptoms of this include depression, fits of anger, mental aberrations and pain and swelling in the chest. According to Alison Weir “sudden slight pressure can cause the bursting of the aneurism, bringing instantaneous death”.


What I don’t get is why the fact that a coroner’s report stating that Amy Robsart suffered two head injuries should implicate Robert Dudley. Even the extra “evidence” of him paying the foreman with material and the owner of Cumnor Place does not necessarily mean that he was guilty, he could have simply been paying off debts  and he would have been downright stupid to murder his dying wife! She was ill enough for people to be talking about it so it did appear that she was terminally ill. Surely he would have known that a fall would have looked suspicious seeing as there were already rumours that he was poisoning her. He may have been in love but he still had a brain!

It would be interesting for a pathologist or someone with expertise to look at the coroner’s report and to look at the statements given by Amy’s household and to come up with a conclusion. As someone who does not have any medical knowledge or expertise in pathology, apart from watching CSI or Silent Witness (!), I can’t come up with a solid theory. All I can say is that I don’t believe that it makes sense for either Dudley or Cecil to get rid of Amy and that leaves accident, natural causes or murder by someone unknown.

Anyway, it does sound like Chris Skidmore’s book will be an interesting read but I will take it all with a fairly large pinch of salt!


43 thoughts on “Did Robert Dudley Murder Amy Robsart?

  1. If she was ill and depressed is it not likely she just feel down the stairs and hit her head? I have been ill and so tired at times I was wobbling around and very lightheaded, it would be easy to slip. Perhaps she just wated everyone to leave because she feel like cr@p and wanted some peace. Guess we will never know though x

  2. I agree, Gemma. Perhaps she was feeling really awful and that’s why she sent her staff to the fair, she just wanted to be by herself. She could then have got lightheaded or had a funny turn and fallen, knocking her head.

  3. I’ve always wondered about the death of Amy Robsart, there seems to be so many variables and unknowns surrounding it that on the face of it, it does seem like murder! I’ve tended to believe in the most simple theory, in that it was a horrible accident due to illness and having seen people suffer with cancer I can totally believe that’s what happened. I’ve just ordered Chris Skidmore’s book so can’t wait to read more!

  4. Oh the intrigue! History is so much more interesting than real life, isn’t it? I always thought that the death of Dudley’s wife seemed suspect, however knowing many healthy people who have fallen down stairs, it is very well possible that the whole thing was a terrible accident. Once again, great article! =)

  5. One of the facts supporting the suicide idea was that Amy sent her servants away, but what Gemma says is true – she might have just been longing for some peace and quiet. We can forget how rare it was for someone living in a large household to ever be alone. Being ill, and in pain, this would have been something she wanted, for sure.
    Murder – I guess it has to be more likely after this discovery, because no one commits suicide by inflicting multiple blows to their head – or am I wrong on this? Seems unlikely anyway. She could have fallen on a sharp object though – like something sticking out at the bottom of the stairs.
    I agree with Claire about Cecil. It would have been out of character, and he would never have wanted to inflict embarrassment on Elizabeth and her government.

  6. Claire, I concur with your conclusion that Skidmore’s evidence does not really support that Amy was murdered, let alone by her husband! Amy’s illness was not only mentioned by two different Spanish ambassadors at different times, but also by one Venetian. The “Mr. Smith” Dudley gave cloth in 1566 is not necessarily Robert Smith of the jury; BTW, this has been mentioned before by Prof. Susan Doran in “Monarchy and Matrimony” (1996), so it was not Skidmore who found this “connection”. The really new thing seems to be the coroner’s report; it is by no means mysterious that they wouldn’t mention (or even recognize) minor injuries on Amy’s body in those times. Perhaps they hadn’t have a thorough look under her clothes (she was a married woman, after all). Robert Dudley explicitly exhorted Thomas Blount, his steward to whom he wrote his letters after Amy’s death, to press for the jury to thoroughly examine her body! So, perhaps that was not the custom. As regards two “different” impacts, a 16thcentury coroner/pathologist could not distinguish between them occurring simultaneously or by differing causes. The letters cited in “Suspicious death that made the Virgin Queen” – An article in “The Sunday Times” are, without exception, well known and were all send to Thomas Blount directly after Amy’s death. Of course I will read his book but I am afraid Mr. Skidmore has little hard evidence to solve the “mystery” and rather speculates quite boldly against Robert Dudley (which is good for his sales, of course).

  7. I’ve just looked up Anthony Forster’s financial dealings with Robert Dudley which he had since at least 1557, when he borrowed over 1,000 pounds from Forster who was later a high-ramking officer in Dudley’s household. In “Household Accounts and Disbursement Books of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester” Cambridge UP (1995), the editor, Dr. Simon Adams (the greatest expert on Dudley), lists 300 pounds Dudley received from Forster in May 1559. Adams also comments on 310 pounds Dudley paid to Forster on 16 September 1560, eight days after Amy’s death, and 25 October 1560, in two instalments. Adams thinks the nearness to Amy’s death would perhaps point to “expenses of winding up her household”. So, nothing new on that front either! BTW, Dudley didn’t “maintain for years” that he didn’t know Robert Smith (as they say in the press): He never mentions him after the letter to Blount regarding the jury, where Dudley says he received a letter from “one Smith”.

  8. To be sure, the discovery of the coroners report by the author is a very exciting and important development. However, fractures to the skull are consistent with a fall from a high place, so nothing really changes in terms of whether it was an accident or not. Moreover, it must remain very unlikely that Robert would have been culpable in the affair. He was neglectful of his wife, yes, perhaps unkindly so. But it was not uncommon for a husband thus highly placed at court to be away from home for weeks or even months on end. It was part of the job description. Moreover, he knew, as did Cecil and the Queen, that it was sadly (in those days) only a matter of time before Amy succumbed to her illness, and there would have been nothing to gain for him or Elizabeth by having this hastened unnaturally through violent means – in fact quite the reverse.

    Other pieces of evidence against Dudley are largely hearsay or rumour spread by hostile forces. For example, why he did not attend the funeral? Sarah Gristwood in her excellent biography on Elizabeth and Leicester states that it was common in those times for personal mourners at a funeral to be of the same sex as the deceased. So nothing odd there.

    The gift to Robert Smith and others. It was normal for a man of Dudley’s estate to hand out gifts by way of payment to others. It occurred constantly, on an almost daily basis. Nothing out of the ordinary there. And was it even the same Smith as …

    Why did he not fly to the scene of Amys death immediately? Dudley was sent, probably by the Queen, to remain at Kew during much of the aftermath (probably mutually agreed so as not to suggest that Dudley had hurried to Cummer to arrange a cover up) and here, in fact, Cecil visited him. A letter from Robert to his colleague in government should shed light on the genuine depth of friendship between the two: ‘Sir, I thank you much for being here, and the great friendship you have shown towards me I shall not forget … I am sorry so sudden chance should breed in me so great a change, for methinks I am here all this while, as it were, in a dream and to far, too far from the place where I am bound to be.’

    To quote again from Sarah Gristwood: ‘But if Cecil actually had Amy murdered in order to damage Robert Dudley, the risks he ran were huge. He was gambling that Elizabeth’s reputation would not be irreparably damaged by association, and gambling that her disgrace would not affect the status of the Protestant religion, of which she was the most visible exponent.

    I believe that Dudley and Cecil were life-long friends and that their friendship went far deeper than we shall ever be able to truly discover. Of course friends do often argue. They can fall out publicly, and often do disapprove of one another’s behaviour. It is certainly true that Cecil was not fond of the idea of the Queen marrying Dudley, but he was by no means the only one. It is also quite possible that Cecil and Dudley deliberately created the impression of being at loggerheads over certain issues at times in order to draw out the views of their opponents and foes – particularly foreign ambassadors.

    Maybe this new book will shed some fresh light on this murky subject. I wonder if the proof therein that Robert did murder his wife is more a product of the publishers fancy – a good sound-bite for the reviewers – rather than the authors true contention in the actual body of the book itself. It would not be the first time a publisher has exaggerated the message of a book of this kind. We shall see.

  9. Another point is the sources of these gossipy accounts. Weren’t the Count (later, Duke) de Feria and Alvaro de la Quadra both hostile to Elizabeth? Although one can’t entirely dismiss diplomats and their reports back to their home courts, one should acknowledge that these sources are no more impartial than any other. I’m remembering Chapuys and his malignant little reports that routinely called then-Queen Anne Boleyn ‘whore’ and ‘concubine’, and the King’s daughter, Elizabeth, a ‘bastard’. So, why is 500 year-old malicious gossip suddenly considered a smoking gun to prove… what, exactly?

    Yes, you can say Amy’s death might raise questions, but at the end of the day, I find evidence of murder and a cover-up unconvincing. Occam’s Razor suggests it was simply an unfortunate accident for a woman already sad, ill, and in pain. But people have always loved to gossip. It makes one wonder whether people 500 years in the future will find some of the wilder conspiracy theories of today and declare they’ve found proof that JFK was actually killed by the space aliens who built the pyramids! LOL

  10. This ‘theory’ may sound silly, but could the answer have been more than one of the above? Could Amy have been depressed because of her illness and also the absence of her once beloved husband (as he was off with Elizabeth)? It dose not sound daft that she may have been jealous of Robert’s relationship with Elizabeth, and, for Amy, ending the pain AND placing Robert and Elizabeth in a difficult position would be to her advantage.
    As for head wounds, that could have been either gun-shots (implying suicide) or an edged object on the fall down. I may sound rediculos, but itis almost a plusable theory. Oh well, we will never get to the end of the story, so it doesn’t matter. (Unless Robert wrote in an official document ‘I killed Amy Robsart’.)

  11. Why bribe the jury if they don’t even bother to write a harmless report? Or otherwise, why should we take serious the coroner’s report if we don’t accept the verdict of that same jury? I wonder why Robert should have been so cunning as to write all those perfectly harmless sounding letters in bad faith or have forged them all when he was so stupid as to leave a trace of allegedly suspicious payment in his account book? Why didn’t he have killed Appleyard? Why did he even rescue him from the gallows in 1569, and let him live out his days in the Bishop of Norwich’s palace in 1574, where he could have talked! Anthony Forster was Dudley’s treasurer, and Robert even paid him back +1,900 pounds in 1558, received from him 300 pounds in 1559, so why not pay him 310 pounds in 1560?

    Sir Richard Smith is not so unknown either: he figures in the footnotes to this scurrilous anonymous anti-Dudley gossip chronicle reprinted here: “Religion, Politics, and Society in Sixteenth-Century England” (Camden Fifth Series) (2004) (p. 66):
    “And her death he mourneth, leaveth the court … Himself all his friends, many of the Lords … and his family be all in black, and weap dolorously, great hypocrisy used.”

    Did Sir Henry Sidney (admittedly a brother-in-law) lie when he privately said he had inquired on his own and was convinced it was not murder? Did Elizabeth lie all her life and at the time she “declared and testified his innocence” officially in 1584 after the publication of “Leicester’s Commonwealth”? How could she be so close, also physically close, with a murderer of women? How could she pervert justice to such a degree? She was not Mary Queen of Scots! How could any other woman want to marry him? (There were at least two of them).

    After the death of his son Dudley wrote to his friend Christopher Hatton: “The afflictions that I have suffered may satisfy such as are offended, at kleast appease their long hard conceits: If not , yet I know there is a blessing for such as suffer; and so is there for those that be merciful.”

  12. I’ve come across this rather late but because I’ve seen an essay in the Daily Express by Chris Skidmore.

    I will say from the outset that I am not impressed with Chris’ conclusions based on the essay he has written – it makes me think the book will not be much better.

    His evidence that there was foul play and probably by Dudley and possibly Elizabeth I as well (though indirectly) is as follows:

    He states that the coroner’s report shows that Amy had indeed died of a broken neck, but there were also the two head wounds – “…one was half an inch deep, the other no less than two inches deep.”
    He questions whether a fall down stairs would cause these wounds (he doesn’t state WHERE the wounds are on the head). He then turns his attention to Cumnor Place, commenting that it was demolished in the 19th century. Such a shame that the staircase doesn’t exist isn’t it? Or is it. Read the quote from the article…

    “…However, a sketch of the stairs has also been unearthed. This reveals eight steps, then a landing, followed by another four steps. If Amy fell from the top of these stairs,, it seems likely that the landing would have broken her fall. And it does not explain how she could have suffered such extreme head injuries and a broken neck.”

    I’ll pause here to take issue with this. A Medieval/Tudor house would not have a staircase of a maximum of 12 steps to get up to an upper story. Therefore, I would say there was another landing not in the sketch (I’ll talk about THAT in a moment) which doglegged back. Therefore, IF Amy was intending to commit suicide, she would be more likely to throw herself off the upper level which would have her hitting the ground level at the bottom of the described staircase with a great force.

    I don’t know what sketch was used, but the article has a black and white image of the illustration of the staircase that is on this very page!

    Lets go on with the quote:
    “Interestingly, the sketch does reveal that on the landing there was an interlinking doorway, leading outside – perhaps a perfect getaway for any intruder.”

    Oooh – this line really makes the historian in me angry. He is making a conclusion based on a sketch that he has not proved (in this article anyway) was made IN THE 16th CENTURY. At best it is a SECONDARY level evidence. He has already said that Cumnor Place has not existed since the 19th century and previously to that was falling down.

    How can Chris Skidmore state that the door on the landing (assuming it DID exist!) led outside. Assuming the sketch in the article (which is the same as the illustration on this page) is the sketch Chris apparently found (and I will say I am not sure if it is or not), then all he has for THAT theory is a window through which the viewer cannot see anything. The door could merely lead to a small room. If it led outside its on a higher level than the ground so that would mean another series of steps OUTSIDE. Which I think is unlikely to be the case.

    He also implies that the coroner’s report provides the names of the juror’s for the first time and mentions Sir Richard Smith. As has already been mentioned my old Personal Tudor Prof Susan Doran already knew that Sir Richard Smith was on the Jury and was the foreman. He also comments that Sir Richard Smith was the “Queen’s Man” – clearly this snippet of info clearly implies in Skidmore’s mind that Elizabeth I was in the know of the whole sorry affair!

    Skidmore goes on to say that Smith write to Dudley before the jury verdict but he doesn’t say what was in the letter. Then he comments the payments/presents made by Dudley to a Mr Smith (Skidmore is assuming its the same man) SIX YEARS LATER. Again, as someone else has pointed out, it may not be the same Smith. I also can’t see that IF the two Smiths were the same person AND had been nobbled, that he would have waited 6 years for a pay off! It also totally ignores the bald fact that gift giving was a form of currency in the 16th century court.

    I would also point out that Chris Skidmore claims HE found the Coroner’s Report. I quote from the article:
    “…For centuries, it has been thought impossible to know [what happened] since the original coroner’s report into Amy’s death has been presumed lost. Yet, in the course of my research into Amy’s death, I discovered it in the archives at the National Record Office in Kew, buried among a stack of legal files written on vellum…”

    Bearing in mind the evidence above that Steve Gunn found it, this one paragraph means I simply can’t take Chris Skidmore seriously. Taking credit for someone else’s work – even if it was merely finding the document, is not right.

    Taking just this article written BY the author of the book “Death and the Virgin” (who does he mean here?), I would not be wanting to read his book as I really feel he has had a theory: Dudley and probably Elizabeth are involved in murdering Amy. Skidmore is clearly of the view that Amy was murdered. He has looked for evidence to fit that theory.

    He has completely ignored the concept of “Cui bono?” – to Whose Benefit? What was the motive in murdering Amy?

  13. Hmm – Personal TUTOR Professor Susan Doran! Sorry.

    She taught me 16th century history through my degree course and was my Dissertation tutor.

  14. Thank you so much, Bess, for taking the time to argue this point so wonderfully. Skidmore is getting lots of publicity for his book but I had missed the article in The Daily Express. I’ve found an online copy of it at http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/164401/A-Tudor-murder-mystery and assume that it was printed with the painting of Amy Robsart at the bottom of the stairs. To me, his theory makes no sense and like you say it seems that he came up with the theory and then went on a hunt to find evidence to fit it. Even if there is evidence that Amy was murdered then I just can’t believe that Dudley would be stupid enough to do it, she was already obviously dying!

    Brilliant comment, Bess!

  15. I love reading all these comments and hope to learn more as the discussion continues. It seems to me there is the possibility that someone who wanted to stop Elizabeth and Robert form ever marrying might have arranged something to cast such a shadow on Dudley that Elizabeth could never accept him. But who would that be?? Aha, Philip of Spain (kidding but who knows? He had designs on her and he might have thought with a MAN at her side, she would have been a much more formidable enemy. It is all very strange–I think if I were going to do away with myself, flinging myself down a flight of stairs would not me my method of choice. A nice sleeping potion perhaps…..

  16. Ann, one person who hated Dudley was none other than Cecil, the Chancellor to be. He hated the Dudleys and made no bones about not liking or trusting him to Elizabeth…He also had the most to lose if Elizabeth married Dudley. Just a passing though!

  17. You say the original coroner’s report doesn’t mention a broken neck? But according to Amy Robsart’s Wiki page it does –

    “She had also, “by reason of the accidental injury or of that fall and of Lady Amy’s own body weight falling down the aforesaid stairs”, broken her neck, “on account of which … the same Lady Amy then and there died instantly; … and thus the jurors say on their oath that the Lady Amy … by misfortune came to her death and not otherwise, as they are able to agree at present”.[53]”

    Haven’t read Skidmore so don’t know what he says exactly, is Wiki wrong or badly worded?

  18. The coroner’s report says she broke her neck, Ana. This article here was based on press coverage in February (as you can see); the press had it wrong, as usual! Your quotation contains a verbatim quotation from the coroner’s report.

  19. Hi: I used to, probably like a lot of people, prior to the advent of access to original letters and documents; accepted one version of the story, that she was suspected of being murdered, but by some fluke of the fact that the jury and the investigators were paid, and Dudley was the favourite of the king; her death was believed to be either suicide or an accident. Later it also became clear, reading her story, that she may have had breast cancer and this may have had a part in her death.

    Now we have access to her postmorton documents, her personal letters and to the eye-witness accounts of the day of her death. We have rediscovered these documents; (I love that’ rediscovered; were where they to begin with?)by accident (someone was dusting the attic one day and came upon them) or we have bothered to look into the death at the Brittish Library. Why not look more carefully at the documents years ago, at least the ones we did have? And we have the history channel and the internet and a gaggle of scholars (not one of them trained in forensic pathology) and suddenly her death is like looking at a modern investigation on the 24 hour news. The point is; suddenly we seem to have a lot of questions about the death of Amy that need to be answered and more than one theory.

    The first thing that I would like to say is; recently I began to think that the death was in fact an accident as the case was looked at 70 years ago and this was the conclusion. In 1932; it was suggested for the first time that breast cancer can lead to the decay and weakening of her bones and this explained how she fell, the way that she fell and the accident itself. It also explained the way that she felt in the last few months, being depressed and wanting to be alone in the house. It was unusual for a woman to be alone in the 16th century in the house; a personal friend would normally have stayed or a house keeper; even if the rest went to the fair. But for no-one to remain is unusual. However, it is not to be seen as sinister. She could have been depressed and wanted to be alone; it is not unknown for this to happen. Nor should we take the fact that she wrote a touching and seemingly joyful letter, ordering a new dress as a sign that she was not ill. She may have wanted to lighten her last few weeks and treat herself. I had clinical depression for several years and I did not mope around all day; I did things that changed my mood.

    If Amy was expecting to see Robert; why would she not want to look her best for her husband, even if she were ill? And the fact that she travelled around visiting? Evidence of good health? She may have had good days as well as bad and made the most of that time and people today who are dying of cancer do all sorts of mad things and they enjoy them. I would travel the world if someone told me I only had a few months to live and to hell with the consequences!

    And what about the head wounds?

    Now, this makes the death seem like murder and it is only just recently that I have realised that she had head wounds. This is the only evidence that she could have been murdered. It is not conclusive proof, but it does open up the case. The only thing is; all we have is the postmorton report; we do not have the body to verify that these wounds existed. Withour physical remains, the charge of murder has to remain an open question. Yes, there are modern methods of looking at the evidence in the light of the scandal that followed, but they can only determine a likely cause of death. Only Amy’s body can provide actual proof, and that, sad to say is missing.

    So for now, my conclusion; possible murder, possible accident: case unproven.

  20. I haven’t completely read “Death and the Virgin” yet – just got and skimmed through it yesterday and was poking around the Net today for commentary on it. I was taught the breast cancer theory; I never truly believed it answered the questions, however. How could she have fallen (or thrown herself) down the stairs and not messed up her headdress? It’s just not logical. Then yesterday I read the part in the Coroner’s Report about Amy having two head wounds. Those head wounds would indicate to me that she was hit with something (Rose, guns weren’t accurate enough at that time to inflict only two small wounds at close range; assuming Amy could even use one, the damage would have been severe) and then placed at the foot of the stairs to imply suicide or accident. Her headdress may have been replaced when her body was arranged, to cover the wounds. As someone pointed out above, autopsies were not performed the same way in the Tudor Era and the body, especially the body of a gentlewoman, might not have even been completely undressed, so the culprit could have assumed the wounds would never be seen.

    I would not implicate Dudley, however. He had to have known it would be political and “romantic” suicide to murder Amy. Elizabeth had rejected eminently appropriate suitor after eminently appropriate suitor yet kept him, relatively poor and offering no benefit to England, by her side, so Dudley had no reason to think she would not continue to wait until Amy had safely passed of natural causes (far from whereever Dudley was at the time). Even if she lived on for years, there was no cause for Dudley to get rid of her as all the evidence proves she was no impediment to his social life or political ambitions. She was ignored and neglected and probably would have continued to be for her entire life, but she simply wasn’t important enough for him to take the risk of murder.

    Just who commited the murder, however, is impossible to determine with the existing evidence. Dudley had many enemies, both at home and abroad, and each of those enemies would have had scores of adherents who could have acted on his/her own, thinking to help his/her benefactor. In the absence of more substantial evidence (or a time machine to go back and examine the scene more thoroughly), we can only speculate.

  21. Three months ago I fell backwards down a flight of five stone steps while drinking coffee in a cafe virtually unscathed except for a painful arm injury. I’ve also been hit head on at 60 mph by a car while riding a motoorbike ( and several other accidents in 26 years). Amongst other things I ‘ve experienced a hang gliding accident and fallen 15 feet down a mine shaft. My point is humans are more robust than people imagine and having an accidentin the manner of Amy Robsart’s or Princess Diane (assasination conspiracy theory) doesn’t guarantee a fatal outcome.

  22. My good friend and I have been just discussing this subject, she actually is normally endeavouring to prove me incorrect! I will present her this particular blog post and rub it in a little!

  23. The question is who stood to gain from the death ?…..answer …no one ! a suspisous death looks bad on the Queen and Dudley , a death in general would have mean’t the end of Cecil and others at court ,her death was bad news for everyone …apart from her ,she clearly had something wrong with her . If, in her mind she decided to take her own life, she would have known the shame of suicide and made it look like an accident with the benefit of knowing the

  24. Robert Dudley had to have known that “doing away” with his wife would certainly not have made Elizabeth any more enamored of him. In fact, I think he would have really risked her ire, her mis-trust of him, and her sorrow. She was a Queen of the people…and I believe that included ALL of the people of England. She was not a heartless, unfeeling woman OR Queen. He would have just been tossing away ANY chance he had with her. It would have been sheer folly on his part, to even plan his wifes death.

  25. There is one thing that Lord Dudley coveted even more than Queen Elizabeth-The crown! Dudley was ruthlessly ambitious and he desperately wanted to be King Robert of England. Dudley did love Elizabeth(although he may not have been IN love with her), but his first love was POWER. Elizabeth was being courted by many suitors around 1559-60, and Elizabeth was a Woman who played her cards close to her chest; she liked to keep people guessing. She probably never took any of her suitors seriously(she once told Robert when they were children that she would never marry), but, wanting to make Robert jealous, she perhaps gave the impression that she MIGHT actually marry. Elizabeth was deeply in love with Robert Dudley, but he knew that she was under increasing pressure from all sides to marry and produce an heir. Dudley was not about to let his Queen AND the crown get away from him! I believe he was behind his wife’s murder; he may not have carried it out, but I think he was behind it. One of the wounds in Amy’s head was 2 thumbs deep according to the report-that is a very deep injury; Amy was obviously knocked over the head. There is one other very intriguing puzzle; the day before Amy’s death , on the Queen’s birthday sept. 7th, the Queen told the spanish ambassador De Quadra, that Lady Amy Dudley was dead! Did the Queen have PRIOR knowledge of Amy’s impending doom? were she and Robert Dudley in fact in the plot to murder Amy together? and afterwards, when everyone was talking about the scandal, the two lovers realised that they could NEVER marry now? it wouldn’t be the first time that people have done wicked and stupid things in the name of love–even Kings and Queens; and let’s not forget who Elizabeth’s parents were; Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn; when Henry fell in love he let NOTHING stand in his way, and neither did Anne in her quest for power. They were strong, ruthless and mercenary; perhaps their
    child was the same. I adore Anne Boleyn and her daughter Queen Elizabeth, who I think is the greatest monarch we have ever had–and Will ever have; but I am not blind to their faults! Or Dudley’s.

  26. I don’t think Dudley had anything to do with Amy’s death. Say what you might about the man, he wasn’t stupid, and he knew Elizabeth well. She would never have risked her reputation or her crown to marry a man who would be assumed a murderer, whether he’d killed his wife or not. Besides, if Amy was as ill and depressed as various people claimed, all he would have had to do is wait for her to die naturally.

    Amy’s maid mentioned that she might have had “an evil toy in mind”, i.e., might be suicidal. Given that she was a deeply religious woman, I doubt she actually committed suicide, since it was considered a mortal sin. I tend to lean more toward the theory of a genuine accidental death.

    However, there are plenty of people who could have murdered her, people who would want to sabotage any chance Dudley might have of marrying Elizabeth. Nobody wanted Dudley on the throne, so any number of people could have killed Amy to prevent it.

    The sad thing is, it might not have been necessary to sabotage it at all. Elizabeth had vowed over and over that she would never marry, and she seemed serious about it. So long as Dudley remained a suitor, she had total control over their relationship, whereas in Elizabethan times a married woman, even a queen, would be expected to defer to her husband. I think she would have kept stringing him along for the rest of his life, just as she did with all her other, much more appropriate suitors. Poor Amy could easily have been left alone, without fear of Dudley gaining anything.

  27. Have just been reading about Amy Robsart and all the theories put forward and have to say that I do think it was probably an accident. Having fallen down a flight of stairs myself with a dogleg landing and ending up hitting a stone floor, I consider myself very lucky that all I had was a cut that didn’t need stitches and a lump the size of a large fist to the back of my head, concussion and a stay in hospital. It is quite possible to fall down stairs and not be injured but i also know from experience that the opposite can happen especially if like me you are not well for whatever reason at the time. Robert Dudley may not have been kind to his wife but he would have been stupid to murder her and stupid he was not.

  28. I have given much thought to Amy Robsart Dudley’s death and I am so pulled by all of the theories surrounding her death. Accidentt…Murder…Suicide? I do tend to agree with the murderer or accident theories…definitely NOT suicide.Simply because throwing yourself down a flight of stairs ESPECIALLY with a landing or several of them (if you consider the painting to be historically correct) is simply not a viable or feasible conclusion…at least not in my befuddled brain! It would be a very unreliable way to do away with yourself and at the very least would require bravery of a very special kind!! Why not just drink deeply of the opium liquid that you have ready access to? Given the propensity for which we of the female persuasion not to mar our looks in death I would think suicide would be highly improbableand unlikely. I was in a motorcycle accident in which I was thrown headfirst onto the hood of an automobile and suffered no head injury at all. I DID have compound fractures of both legs…tibia and femur. Perhaps it was because of my helmet but the young man I was riding with unfortunately did die of a head injury because the impact destroyed his helmet but not mine. If I were to throw myself down some stairs in a misguided futile attempt to commit suicide I would…please forgive me…be “royally pissed” to find myself with only a broken wrist or leg huddled at the bottom of the stairs feeling and looking sheepish at my husband! Just my opinion for what it’s worth…

  29. Again I apologize for my errors. I meant for my comment to read “Given the propensity for which we of the female persuasion are known to not wish our looks be marred in death”.
    I love my fellow Tudor obsessees b/c you really have to make sure your comments are on target! Love to all of you!

  30. Sorry to keep coming back to this, but Amy had 2 head wounds. The ORIGINAL report says that one of them was ‘two thumbs deep’. This is an incredibly bad head injury to sustain simply by falling down some stairs; she was obviously hit over the head. And Elizabeth DEFINITELY is historically recorded as telling the Spanish ambassador De Quadra that Amy was dead-the DAY BEFORE Amy actually died! And whilst Lord Dudley was certainly not stupid, he WAS ruthlessly ambitious. And ruthless ambition often makes people do stupid things! Amy was dying, but perhaps not fast enough for Dudley.

  31. I’m no expert in the above subject despite my enthusiam and curiosity towards English history. I read the Queen’s Pleasure by Brandy Purdy and enjoyed it immensely. Amy Robsart was described as a woman in mortal pain and crippled by her terminal illness of breast cancer, not to mention the mental hell she was enduring from imagining her husband in the Queen’s arms. She had trouble with the simplest movements of rising from a bathtub or chair and the slightest raising of her arm would shoot a rapier-sharp pain through her chest which travelled all the way to her side, semi-immobilizing her. This was a woman who was very, very weak, already at the precipice of death. Walking down the stairs would have been a truly dangerous enterprise, considering she was planning to make her descent independently. Pirto, her childhood nanny, who assisted her in EVERYTHING, wasn’t by her side to ensure Amy’s safety, having been hastened off to the Abingdon Fair.Is it likely that Amy’s knees might have buckled beneath her due to a sudden onslaught of pain that rendered her off kilter, resulting in a tumble down the steps and her misfortune aided in her death by twisting her neck fatally, killing her?

    Would it be too much of a co-incidence that she had to die on a day when there was no one in the house, hence facilitating the stealthy entrance of her would-be murderer to come in and do the deed without anybody to thwart his/her plans or witness a killing. How could her murderer have counted on the fact that Amy would be in a hurry to empty the house of all its inhabitants since only Amy knew of her decision to do so and had even Pirto startled with her order that the old nanny go to the Abingdon fair alone. And I don’t think Mrs Oddingsells would have pushed her down the stairs because being the only person in the house that day, she would surely be implicated. First and foremost, why would Mrs Oddingsells want to kill her? It’s true that she adopted a holier-than-thou approach whenever she confronted Amy but why would she trouble herself by killing somebody whose days were already numbered?

    If Amy were going down the stairs, why would her murderer not want to simply push her and be done with it? Why go through the extra trouble of hitting her head and then shoving her downstairs? Or could she have been clubbed on the head first in her bedchamber and in a feeble attempt to save herself, fled down the stairs and then be betrayed by her body’s fragility resulting in her fatal tumble? Was there a pattern of blood splatter in her bedchamber or on the steps where she breathed her last that would reinforce the very last theory posited above? I am surprised that whoever killed her would go through that much trouble of dealing her two powerful blows to the head and then pushing her down the stairs. This poor woman was one severely depleted of energy, not a giant of supreme strength. How would she resist and fight back even the slightest of assaults? If her assailant wanted her dead, he could have EITHER cracked her skull open OR pushed her down the stairs, but why do both? It doesn’t make sense to me. I believe that if Robert Dudley did indeed want his wife dead, he would have arranged it in such a way that it would resemble a suicide. Two deep impacts to the head scream “foul play” at the top of their voices.

    would resemble a suicide. Two deep impacts to the head scream “foul play” at the top of their voices. Elizabeth was willing to witness a civil war break out over her succession dispute and she still held fast to her decision to never marry. This was one courageous and rebellious queen we are talking about. So even if Dudley had commissioned his wife’s death, I don’t think Elizabeth would have cared about the scandal surrounding Amy’s death if she had truly wanted to wed Lord Dudley. But she was a woman who had grown weary and cynical of love and despite how her heart fluttered at the sight of Robert, her eyes never once wavered from or blinded themselves to the capricious nature of the heart and how easily ambition could supplant any torrent of affection Robert might be feeling for her. It’s most likely that Amy died of natural circumstances, if I were to venture my own personal conclusion. But hence, the two mysterious wounds to the head, which I cannot seem to wrap my head around (no pun intended at all), render my conclusion, inconclusive.

    1. I can’t quite make my mind up either! I think it was a tragic accident, but if it was murder then I don’t believe that it had anything to do with either Cecil or Dudley. Dudley had nothing to gain because he would have known that Amy’s death would cause scandal and Cecil would not have wanted scandal to surround his mistress the Queen, however much he didn’t want her to be involved with Dudley. We’ll never know!

  32. Amy’s personal maid, perhaps the person who knew her best, Mrs Pinto/Picto/Pito did not say that she believed Amy had an evil toy in mind ( suicide ). During questioning, Pinto talked of Amy’s heaviness of soul, or her pain. Pinto had heard Amy praying “god deliver me”etc. The investigator then asked her if because of that, Pinto believed that Amy had an ‘evil toy’ in mind. Mrs Pinto was taken aback, aghast and absolutely denied any such belief. Strenuously, Amy’s closest personal servant ( and they were close in Tudor times ) stated she regretted having said as much as she did, or anything at all that would lead investigators to think such a thing.
    The way the investigation is written sounds authentic; it seems when the ‘evil toy’ idea is brought up to her, it was something she’d never considered.

  33. I have not read the other comments,but it sounds sneakey to me.Suppose Cecil got word to her that he was coming on a certain day,and they needed privacy ,to discuss the situation,then get someone to murder her,thereby stopping the royal wedding and getting himself back into power.
    I know it’s stretching it a bit,but so many dodgey things happened in Tudor times ,that it would not surprise me.

  34. I have always believed it was suicide. If Amy had thrown herself headfirst down a solid staircase she could well end up with two dents in her head (from the bottom treads) and a broken neck. And this would account for any attempt by her husband to put pressure on the jury – they were local men and compassionate so the verdict was Misadventure and not Felo De Se (self-murder). Someone has already pointed out that suicide was contrary to church law – at that date it was believed to be a one-way ticket to Hell – but it would also mean that SHE WAS NOT ENTITLED TO A FUNERAL. Her body would have to be buried without ceremony in unconsecrated ground. This would not just be scandalous and disgraceful, it would also be deeply painful to those who loved her. |Her serving woman’s evidence is psychologically interesting. She admits that Amy had been thinking and praying about suicide but denies she actually did it. Exactly similar in a case of a friend of mine who did commit suicide. Some of our mutual friends went ‘into denial’ and refused to believe it was any such thing. (There was no inquest. We had a tactful and understanding doctor.) Possibly poor Amy thought Hell would be an improvement on her existing situation; perhaps she was just in too much pain & distress to care any more; perhaps she hoped God would be kinder to her than the preachers said He would be…. As for the new gown – some people want to look their best to die. To prepare for their end. Remember, criminals on the way to be hanged at Tyburn wore their best clothes.

  35. From what I have read in The Tudors, Amy was quite ill from cancer.
    (she had a hugh growth between her neck and shoulder). I do no know if they referred to this growth as cancer, however she drscribed it to be quite painful. Doctors gave her what relief they could, but it was very temporary at most. My teeling is that the became so excruciating to bare, that she took her own life.



  36. This interesting discussion has been going on for some years now. Someone wrote : ‘history is more interesting than real life’. Well, I disagree. This history has been real life hundreds of years ago! That makes this story so fascinating.
    My 2 cents: While I think all three possibilities – murder, accident or suicide – can’t be excluded by the known facts, I would think it highly unlikely that Dudley or Elizabeth had a hand in this. Since Amy was dying anyway they had nothing to gain at all but everything to lose by killing her. And if one of them or both really wanted to hasten her death along a bit, wouldn’t the method of choice rather have been something a bit less obvious? So, if Amy was killed – and the two VERY bad head wounds cannot be easily explained with a simple fall ( although it’s possible of course), the question of cui bono arises. As many have stated, Dudley and Elizabeth had no motif at all. But there are plenty of persons who might’ve been less than pleased to see a matrimonial alliance between Elizabeth and Dudley for many different reasons. And they had to act fast, since Amy was mortally ill. I won’t go into all possible suspects behind such an intrigue, but there are many. What about Amy herself, btw? She was dying a very painful death and was abandoned by the man she once loved. Couldn’t she have been full of rage when she pictured him in the arms of the queen, both of them just waiting for her to die? Would she want her husband to become the Queens’s consort after her death? Could she bear this thought? She’s always been described as sweet natured, but she once loved Dudley very much, and who knows how she really felt. She was in a terrible situation. When my aunt was dying from cancer she explicitly said to her husband she wouldn’t mind him to marry again. But there was one woman whom she didn’t want him to marry. She said a name – it was the name of the woman whom she suspected – correctly – to be the mistress of her husband. And he never did. He abandoned his mistress although they’ve had an affair over many years and were clearly in love. My aunt wasn’t a mean person at all. She was sweet and loving. But she felt terribly betrayed. It’s a really tragic but powerful story. Couldn’t Amy have felt the same way? I find the fact that she herself sent simply everybody in the household away somewhat suspicious, considering that she was gravely ill. Wanting to be completely alone for a while is a modern concept IMO. In those days people of Amy’s social standing were used to large households and being waited upon. It was second nature for them to have servants around even in very intimate situations. So, I cannot shake the suspicion that Amy was up to something that day and that she didn’t want witnesses. Maybe she did commit suicide and wanted to make it look suspicious. Or, considering that the method of throwing herself down the stairs wasn’t foolproof at all, she had assistance by someone, who helped to make it look like a suspicious death. This someone simply could’ve bashed her over the head a couple of times after she threw herself down the stairs. Maybe he killed her outright. She wouldn’t have committed suicide, then, and her killer might’ve even regarded it as a merciful act. She could even have gotten approached by a politically interested party, who offered to hasten her death along, thus preventing an alliance between the Queen and Dudley once and for all. Melodramatic, yes. But disguised or assisted suicide would be compatible with all the known facts. Means and motives would’ve been there. Forensics which could’ve disentangled such a scenario didn’t exist at the time. And if the desired outcome was to prevent Dudley once and for all from marrying Elizabeth, it most certainly worked. If I would write a historical novel, I’d certainly go for such a solution.
    Of course nothing short of revealing authentic documents turning up somewhere can be proven anymore. It could’ve been a simple accident. But the two deep head wounds, the sending away of the servants by Amy herself, and the eventual result – that Bess could never marry Robert – a result that pleased many factions, make me think, there must be more to it. And stranger things have been known to happen in those fascinating days.

  37. just seen a programme about this on Nat Geo this morning. ‘Dying’ has been ruled out by the letter to her tailor.No indication of that kind of ill health. Falling was ruled out by the forensic pathologist. So, we are left with head wounds and that indicates murder. Clear as day. I wonder why so much has been said about her being faint and ill and so on. She was 28 and fit. No child, nothing to debilitate her. No indication in her surviving letters that she was terminally ill. Go see the programme, listen to the historians there. They show a different Amy. Just as we now know more about Richard III through discoveries, we have learned more about Amy Robsart through discoveries and I am sure there are many more exciting finds to be revealed.
    Don’t diss Chris Skidmore, if that email had arrived in my box, the finding of the coroner’s report, I would have been over the moon that there was new fresh evidence after all these years.

  38. Hello Dorothy Davies,

    Interesting post of yours. Can you please give me the title of the Nat Geo programme you watched. I would love to track it down, if I can.

    thanks so much

  39. I just saw a show on this on the History Channel, an episode of Medieval Murder Mysteries., where they located the Coroner’s report and it lists two dents (wounds) to the back of her head one being a half inch and another being 2 inches deep. The staircase was supposed to be a small one. It looks like a murder. No witnesses, modern medicine, cc tv, DNA, finger prints etc, easier to get away with it back then, and there were plenty of motives, Dudley’s enemies framing him to get him away from the queen, or he himself could benefit by being free to marry the queen. Suicide? I don’t think you’d bash yourself twice on the back of the head then jump down a few stairs.

  40. This is such a great post and has helped me a lot with my school assignment. Personally I think that it was an aortic aneurism, because why would someone kill a dying person? Besides, all the symptoms match. Anyway, thanks so much!

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