Earl Of Leicester
Robert Dudley dancing with Queen Elizabeth
With the accession of Elizabeth to the throne in 1558, Dudley's fortunes changed. He was made Master of the Queen's horse, a prestigious position that required much personal attendance on the Queen, as well as organizing her public appearances, progresses, and her personal entertainment. This position suited him perfectly. Not only was he a skilled horseman, but was a great athlete, had a flair for the spectacular, and shared the Queen's love of drama and music. It was obvious from almost the beginning of her reign that he was to be her favourite. Within the first year she had lavished titles, properties, and money on him, and had spent more time with him than with anyone else. Tongues wagged at their intimacy, and it was said that they were lovers, that Elizabeth was even carrying his child. However, while such stories can easily be dismissed, it is almost certain that they were, by this time, very much in love. Perhaps it was an inevitability. They knew each other better than they knew anyone else, had suffered very similarly in the past, and perhaps most importantly, respected and trusted one another. Like any couple they argued, but Robert always treated her with the respect her position demanded, and she would allow him to behave and speak with her in ways that she would allow no one else.
Their familiarity, and his position as favourite, meant that he incurred a lot of hatred, and if he benefited financially from the Queen's favour, he suffered for it in other ways. By 1560, he was the most unpopular man in Elizabethan England, and remained so until his death. It seemed no one, except the Queen and his family, had a good word to say about him. No matter what he did, he was never able to shake this hostile public opinion, and it haunted him for the rest of his life. It has also coloured his reputation over the past 400 years. Elizabeth was an astute judge of character, and it is unlikely that he would have been able to maintain pretended affection for thirty years. He seems to have genuinely loved the Queen, and his behaviour at times testifies to genuine affection, rather than calculated manipulation. Had the political circumstances been more favourable, the Queen may well have married him. Privately, she told him she would marry no one else.
Death of Amy Robsart
The insuperable bar to their marriage lay in the circumstances of his wife's death. She was found dead of a broken neck at the bottom of a stair case, and many pointed the finger at Robert. For a long time people had been saying he meant to kill her so that he would be free to marry the Queen. The dissolving of a legally valid marriage was virtually unknown in Tudor times, and so divorce was not really an option for the couple. Certainly it would have made the legitimacy of any children Elizabeth had by Robert if they married, dubious. Whatever Robert's personal feelings for Amy may have been, it is incredibly unlikely that he had anything to do with her death. Amy was probably terminally ill with breast cancer as she was said to be suffering from a "malady in the breast." Recent medical advances suggests that a woman in this condition may have a spontaneous bone fracture, and walking up the stairs of her house in Oxfordshire, may have been enough to cause a spontaneous fracture in her spine, that proved fatal.
Such understandings were beyond the medical knowledge of the Elizabethans, however, and everyone, including Robert himself, thought that Amy had been murdered. Had the Queen married him, people would have believed the gossip, even that Elizabeth herself had been involved. Also, as Robert was hated only because of his monopoly of royal favour, promoting him to prince consort may have provoked a rebellion against the Queen. However, for some years, it seems that both entertained the possibility of marriage, and Robert in particular continued to hope for it for many years. He did not remarry until 1578 when it seemed certain that the Queen would not marry him. In 1575, during the glorious entertainments at Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire, Robert made his last proposal of marriage to the Queen. As she had done in the past, she refused him.