Earl Of Leicester
Lettice Devereux, Countess of Leicester
In 1578 Leicester married the Queen's cousin, Lettice Devereux, Countess of Essex. He may well have been in love with her, as she was certainly a very vivacious, attractive woman, but in all probability he married her because she was pregnant, and was pressurized into making an honest woman of her by her influential family. Legend has it that Robert kept his marriage from the Queen for a year, but recently this has been brought into question. It is more likely that the Queen knew of his marriage shortly after it took place. It would have been very difficult for him to hide his marriage, as his enemies would have been very eager to tell the Queen about it. Lettice miscarried of their first child, but in 1579/80 gave birth to a son ,who she also named Robert. However, the child was not healthy and died in 1584. Robert was devastated. He had idolised his little son, and with his death, died his dream of perpetuating his dynasty. He had another son, also named Robert, from his affair with Lady Dudley Sheffield in the early 1570's, but he was illegitimate, and illegitimate children could not usually inherit their father's titles.
Lady Sheffield later claimed that Robert had married her in a secret ceremony, and while this is still a popular belief, there is no evidence to support her claims, and Robert always denied it. In the seventeenth century, she brought forward a court case to try and prove that he had married her, but she was unsuccessful. Perhaps her motivation was the desire to secure for her son the estates of the Earl. It is interesting that she did not bring forth this case following Robert's death, or in the lifetime of the Queen. But while Robert's son could not inherit, Robert was a good father to him, and provided him with a respectable education. His son was very talented, and grew up to be quite a romantic figure, eloping to Europe with a maid of honour of the Queen after her death, despite having a wife and five daughters.
Dudley's son, Sir Robert Dudley
In 1585, Robert was made commander of the English forces in the Netherlands. The Netherlands were revolting against the rule of Philip II, and the English were helping the Dutch in their campaign. Robert stayed in the Netherlands until 1587, although he did return to England during the Mary Queen of Scots crisis of 1586/7, and was present in England when Mary was executed. English involvement in the Netherlands was not particularly successful, and when he did return permanently, he received a lot of criticism for his actions there. Although Elizabeth herself had not always been pleased by what he had done, she would not hear a word said against his efforts there.