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The Tudor Society

28 August – Robert Dudley’s last letter to Elizabeth I

On this day in Tudor history, 28th August 1588, an ailing Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, wrote his final letter to his queen and childhood friend, Elizabeth I. He wrote it while on his way to Buxton, in Derbyshire, to take the waters for his health.

The letter is very special because Elizabeth labelled it "His Last Letter" and kept it close by her until her own death in 1603.

In today's talk, I share a transcript of Robert Dudley's last letter, and talk about Elizabeth I's reaction to his subsequent death.

Also on this day in Tudor history, 28th August 1551, thirty-five-year-old Mary, future Mary I, received a visit from a delegation of men sent by her half-brother, thirteen-year-old King Edward VI.

Mary was being defiant and disobedient. She was ignoring her half-brother's orders and was breaking the laws of the land. What was she doing? She was continuing to celebrate the Catholic Mass in her household. Find out more about what happened on this day in 1551 and how Mary handled it, in last year’s video:

Also on this day in history:

  • 1550 – Death of Thomas Magnus, administrator, Archdeacon of the East Riding of Yorkshire, member of the King's Council and diplomat, at Sessay in the North Riding of Yorkshire. He was also buried there.
  • 1553 – Death of Sir John Harington, administrator, in Bishopsgate, London. He was buried in Exton. Harington served Henry VIII as Esquire of the Body, Treasurer of War (1542 and 1543), Vice-Treasurer of the army for the 1544 French campaign and Treasurer of the expedition to France (1546).
  • 1583 – Burial of William Latymer, Chaplain to Queen Anne Boleyn, Dean of Peterborough, chaplain to Elizabeth I and author of the “Cronickille of Anne Bulleyne”, a biography of Anne Boleyn. He was buried in Peterborough Cathedral.
  • 1588 – Execution of William Dean, Roman Catholic priest and martyr, by hanging at Mile End Green, Middlesex. He was found guilty of high treason for being a Catholic priest.
  • 1588 – Execution of Franciscan friar and martyr, Thomas Felton, near Brentford, Middlesex. He was hanged, drawn and quartered for his beliefs, and for proclaiming that he could not accept a woman as supreme head of the Church.
  • 1609 – Death of Sir Francis Vere (de Vere), soldier. He served in the English army in the Low Countries, and also in the 1596 Cadiz expedition. He was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Transcript:

On this day in Tudor history, 28th August 1588, an ailing Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, wrote his final letter to his queen and childhood friend, Elizabeth I. He wrote it from the home of Lady Norreys at Rycote, where he was staying on his way to Buxton, in Derbyshire, to take the waters there. It read:

“I most humbly beseech your Majesty to pardon your poor old servant to be thus bold in sending to know how my gracious lady doth, and what ease of her late pains she finds, being the chiefest thing in this world I do pray for, for her to have good health and long life. For my own poor case, I continue still your medicine and find that (it) amends much better than with any other thing that hath been given me. Thus hoping to find perfect cure at the bath, with the continuance of my wonted prayer for your Majesty's most happy preservation, I humbly kiss your foot. From your old lodging at Rycote, this Thursday morning, ready to take on my Journey, by your Majesty's most faithful and obedient servant,
R. Leicester”

He added a postscript:
“Even as I had writ thus much, I received Your Majesty's token by Young Tracey.”

Leicester died at his lodge at Cornbury, near Woodstock in Oxfordshire, while still on his way to Buxton on 4th September 1588.
Elizabeth I was devastated by his death, locking herself away in her chambers at St James’s Palace. Sir Francis Walsingham wrote that he was unable to do any state business with the queen, by “reason that she will not suffer anybody to access unto her, being very much grieved with the death of the Lord Steward”. She stayed in her chambers for days and only came out when her doors were actually broken down on the orders of William Cecil. When the queen received a letter from the Earls of Derby and Shrewsbury offering their congratulations on the victory over the Armada and their condolences on Dudley's death, she replied:
“We desire rather to forbear the remembrance thereof as a thing whereof we can admit no comfort, otherwise by submitting our will to God’s inevitable appointment. Who notwithstanding his goodness by the former prosperous news hath nevertheless been pleased to keep us in exercise by the loss of a personage so dear unto us.”

At her own death in March 1603, Leicester’s letter was found in the special treasure or keepsake box Elizabeth kept at her bedside. It had been marked by Elizabeth “His Last Letter”.

I can imagine Elizabeth taking that letter out of the box on regular occasions and reading and re-reading it. I believe that her keeping the letter, combined with her reaction on receiving news of his death, shows just how much Elizabeth loved Robert Dudley. She chose to be married to England, but her heart belonged to him, don’t you think?

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28 August – Robert Dudley’s last letter to Elizabeth I