Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester
Earl Of Leicester
Although contemporaries believed that Robert Dudley was born on the same day, in the same year, as the
Queen, it is more likely that he was at least a year older. Recent calculations put his birthday on the 24th of June 1532. He was the
son of John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, Duke of Northumberland, and Protector of England during the reign of Edward VI. Robert was the
fifth child of thirteen, but not all his siblings survived into adulthood, and even of those that did, only Ambrose, Mary and
Catherine survived into the reign of Elizabeth I. Little is known about Catherine, who became Countess of Huntingdon following her
marriage to Henry Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon, but perhaps the interest in Mary comes from the fact that she was the mother of the
famous writer, Sir Philip Sidney, and literary patroness Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke.
Robert first met Elizabeth when he was eight years old, perhaps when they were both pupils in the royal classroom. They became good friends, and their friendship lasted throughout their lives. Robert was an intelligent boy, certainly a match for Elizabeth intellectually, but he had little interest in the Classics. His passion, even as a youngster, was mathematics, astronomy, and astrology. He was also an incredibly gifted horseman, and nurtured this gift all his life. Speaking of his childhood relations with Elizabeth later in life, he said that "he knew her better than anyone else from when she was eight years old." He also added: "and from that age she always said that she would never marry."
In 1550, Robert married Amy Robsart, the daughter of a Norfolk squire. Traditionally, their marriage has been seen as a love match, but a clause in the marriage treaty suggests that it may have been for less romantic reasons. Robert was the fifth son, and therefore any marriage that could be secured for him would be advantageous. It was easier to marry off daughters than it was younger sons, as they were often not heirs to their father's lands and titles. Amy herself was an heiress, so the marriage was even more desirable in that respect. The wedding was celebrated with great style, and was attended by Elizabeth, and the Boy King himself.
Robert Dudley & Amy Robsart
Following his father's attempt to usurp the throne for his daughter in law, Lady Jane Grey, Robert was imprisoned with his brothers in the Tower of London. He was kept in the Beauchamp Tower, which was only a walkway from the Bell Tower, where Elizabeth was herself a prisoner after the rebellion of Thomas Wyatt. Legend has it that they saw a lot of each other during at this time, and their friendship turned to love, but this is unlikely, given that both were strictly guarded. John Dudley went to the block, and Guildford was executed along with Lady Jane following Wyatt's rebellion, but the rest of the Dudley sons were spared.
Carving made by Robert Dudley whilst a prisoner in the Tower
After a year's imprisonment, they were released, probably following the death of their mother, Jane Dudley, in 1555. John Dudley, the eldest son, died shortly afterwards, but Henry and Robert joined the forces of Philip II and went to fight in France, where Henry was killed in battle. Robert then returned to England. At some point during Mary's reign, it seems that he sold some of his land to help Elizabeth out of financial difficulty. He was struggling financially himself, and Elizabeth never forgot his sacrifice.