Marriage & Succession
Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester
To complicate matters further, it seemed that Elizabeth had fallen deeply in love with one of her own subjects, Lord Robert Dudley, her Master of Horse. They had been friends since childhood, and he was one of the few men Elizabeth believed valued her for herself, and not for the fact that she was now Queen. Her marriage to a fellow protestant Englishman would certainly have avoided the problem of foreigners controlling the realm through marriage to the Queen, and avoided a clash over religion, but marriage to a subject also gave rise to serious problems. Competition for power amongst the English nobility was fierce, and if Elizabeth married one noble, his rivals in power would be offended, and possibly withdraw their allegiance from her, and even plunge the country into civil war. Also the match would not be one of equality, and would not provide England with a much needed foreign ally.
There were also other considerations that made Dudley particularly unsuitable. To begin with he was already married, having married a young girl called Amy Robsart when he was about seventeen, and secondly he was the son of the much hated Duke of Northumberland who had been executed for treason in the reign of the Queen's sister, and the grandson of Edmund Dudley, who had likewise met a traitors death earlier in the century. Robert Dudley himself had been imprisoned in the Tower for his involvement in his father's scheme to place Lady Jane Grey on the throne, and was regarded with suspicion by his fellow Englishman. Elizabeth's attachment to him, however, seemed unrelenting, and it was feared by many that he would seek an annulment from his wife, and marry the Queen. Whether Elizabeth seriously intended marrying him or not, is another of the many mysteries of her reign, but the sudden death of Dudley's wife in the September of 1560, put to an end any real hope of marrying him that she may have entertained.
Death of Amy Robsart
The relationship between the Queen and her Horse Master had long been the subject of speculation amongst her people and in Europe, and malicious gossip had circulated the idea that Dudley was going to murder his wife so that he could marry Elizabeth. Amy was found dead at the bottom of a narrow staircase, her neck broken, and many believed that her death was not an unfortunate accident. Dudley was widely suspected to be responsible for her death, despite the fact that the Inquest declared it to be an accident, and had Elizabeth married him, many more would have believed the ugly rumours circulating about him, and perhaps even that Elizabeth herself had been involved. But despite the bar Amy's death made to their marriage, for the next ten years, Dudley was still the most likely candidate for her hand, and her advisors reluctantly had to acknowledge this fact.