QUEEN ELIZABETH I
Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester
Much was expected of a male courtier. He was expected to be graceful and courteous in manner and discourse; well educated in classical works of literature, history, geography, mathematics, languages; athletic, industrious, generous, and witty. While all the men who frequented the court were technically a courtier, the role of the traditional courtier was very different to the role of
the councillor or the politician.
The Queen, therefore, expected different things from various men. Of traditional Courtiers like Robert Dudley, she expected a certain flamboyance of dress and manner. She expected to be courted in the courtly love tradition, in which she was the available, but ultimately unobtainable, lady they wished to woo. She expected flattery, gifts, expected to be courted by music, by dancing, and by words of love and devotion. It was all part of the courtly ideal and a perfect solution to the problem of how a man should behave towards a female monarch, especially a single female monarch. It was in many ways frivolous fun and married men as well as single men played this game with the Queen. It was not meant to be taken from the courtly to the personal level or to result in an actual relationship or personal romance with the Queen. Hostile outsiders sometimes misunderstood (or deliberately misrepresented) these innocent flirtations for serious romantic intentions and this was partly responsible for the idea that Elizabeth was not really the Virgin Queen she claimed to be. Rumours circulated, especially in Europe, that she was sleeping with Robert Dudley, Christopher Hatton and other courtiers, and Elizabeth is said to have complained: "I do not know how such a bad opinion has been formed of me. A thousand eyes see all I do."
Sir Francis Walsingham
Of her political advisors, Elizabeth expected a degree of sobriety, and her relationship with these men was rarely tinged with the romanticism of her relationships with the traditional courtier. One of the strengths of her rule was that she had the ability to judge men well and in choosing courtiers, as opposed to politicians, she chose men of very different characters. Both William Cecil and Francis Walsingham were piously religious, family men, and incredible hard workers. More often than not they dressed in black and were the models of sobriety. Her courtiers like Robert Dudley and Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, were flamboyant men with an eye for the spectacular, outgoing men with great wit and charm, and handsome and athletic men who excelled at courtly events such as jousts.
Despite their best efforts, neither Robert Dudley or Robert Devereux managed to successfully combine their roles as courtier and political advisor. Both were better courtiers than politicians, but the Queen needed men she could trust as her advisors. If his personal circumstances had been more favourable, Dudley's courtly virtues would have made him a good Prince consort. It was only one man, Christopher Hatton, who was successful in bridging the gap between both worlds. He was a handsome, athletic, courtier, and also a successful politician, rising to become Lord Chancellor of England. Like his step father, Robert Devereux also tried to become a courtier and a politician, but his attempts only ended in personal and political disaster.
As well as ambitious courtiers, politicians, bishops and servants, Elizabeth's court also housed its share of spies. These spies belonged to various foreign powers who planted them in the Royal household to find out secrets and to generally provide them with information. The Queen had her own spies in royal residences in other countries.