The Tudor Society
The Tudor Society

4 September 1588 – Death of Robert Dudley

Robert Dudley 591px-Nicholas_Hilliard_005Today is the anniversary of the death of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. He died on 4th September 1588 at his lodge at Cornbury, near Woodstock in Oxfordshire.

Leicester had been suffering from a recurring stomach ailment and was actually on his way to Buxton to take the waters. Unfortunately, he never made it. He was taken ill at Cornbury and never left. Elizabeth I was devastated by the death of the man she referred to as her "Eyes", or as "Sweet Robin". It was reported that she shut herself in her chamber for days and refused to speak to anyone. It got so bad that William Cecil, Lord Burghley, gave the order for her doors to be broken down.1 She kept the farewell letter he wrote her in a special treasure box which she kept at the side of her bed and it was found still in the box when Elizabeth died in 1603.

The official cause of Dudley's death was malaria but some historians now wonder if he had stomach cancer or a heart condition.

The fifty-six year old Leicester left his wife, Lettice (née Knollys), and an illegitimate son, Robert, who he'd fathered with Lady Douglas Sheffield. Robert Dudley the Younger went on to become a famous explorer and cartographer.

Leicester was buried in the Beauchamp Chapel of the Collegiate Church of St Mary in Warwick, the same place as his son (by Lettice) Robert Dudley, Lord Denbigh, who died in 1584 aged three. Lettice joined her husband in the chapel when she was buried in 1634. Leicester's brother, Ambrose, is also buried in the chapel. Here are photos Tim took of the tomb of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and his wife Lettice:

Notes and Sources

  1. "The Queen is sorry for his death, but no other person in the country. She was so grieved that for some days she shut herself in her chamber alone, and refused to speak to anyone until the Treasurer and other Councillors had the doors broken open and entered to see her." 'Simancas: September 1588, 11-20', in Calendar of State Papers, Spain (Simancas), Volume 4, 1587-1603, ed. Martin A S Hume (London, 1899), pp. 425-432 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/simancas/vol4/pp425-432 [accessed 4 September 2015].

There are 19 comments Go To Comment

  1. laureen /

    Visited the tomb of the Dudleys in august, a beautiful memorial. Was also impressed by the Lord Leycester hospital in Warwick.

  2. melanie taylor /

    Robert and Elizabeth – the love story that continues to captivate us.

    1. Claire Ridgway / Post Author

      It does indeed.

    2. Matthew Stull /

      Yes, and their son Francis Bacon !!! hahahha…

  3. Kelley /

    One of the things I always ponder–what if she had married him and had children with him. How different history would have been.

    1. Margaret Ward /

      I wonder the same thing. As great and beloved a monarch as Elizabeth was, and surrounded by admirers, friends and servants, I think she must have had a lonely life.

      1. LINDA FOX /

        I was also thinking of how lonely Elizabeth was too. I hope in heaven they are together …

    2. sharice /

      I was thinking the same thing!

    3. Matthew Stull /

      They did have at least one child…… Sir Francis Bacon.. true author of the Shakespeare canon

  4. Anne Barnhill /

    He must have been an amazing man. What a love story!

    1. Claire Ridgway / Post Author

      I think his last letter to her is lovely. He’s concerned about her health and well-being, rather than his own. And yes, a real love story.

      1. Claudia palacios /

        Hi Claire! Oh my! Please, where can I read this letter please?

        1. Claire Ridgway / Post Author

          Hi Claudia,
          You can read what Leicester wrote in my article at https://www.tudorsociety.com/robert-dudleys-last-letter/ and if you want to see the letter ‘in the flesh’ you’ll have to go to the National Archives (Letter from the Earl of Leicester to Elizabeth I, 29th August 1588, SP 12/215 f.114) as it’s held there. They have a photo of it on their website at http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/elizabeth-monarchy/earl-of-leicester-to-elizabeth/

          Claire

        2. Isobel Collyer /

          Felix Pryor . Elizabeth I Her life in Letters, has a facsimile of this and other correspondence. I regularly include it in my concert series on Elizabeth because I find it so moving http://Www.charivari.co.uk.

  5. Ana Gomez /

    I do think she loved him !

  6. Laura Henderson /

    I always find that in that church I am so humbled. Beautiful atmosphere.

    I feel grateful that I live within 10 minutes of it.

  7. RealTudorLady /

    I too believe Elizabeth loved Robert Dudley and if he wasn’t a married man she may have risked marriage with him, once she was Queen. However, she knew his tainted history, son, brother and grandson of traitors, she knew she couldn’t really marry him without a scandal and if she married him as Princess she would lose her fortune left in her father’s will and she went against her brother and sister in their Council. She knew any marriage had to be a political alliance, for all that her sister’s Council moaned about the alliance with Spain, Mary could only make a powerful alliance to be taken seriously and Elizabeth would need to do the same. However, she at some point decided that she wouldn’t marry because her husband would rule her as a woman and that she couldn’t except. I don’t believe Elizabeth dismissed marriage completely in her early years but she did decide this after several failed alliance attempts. She would play one realm off against another and thus kept everyone on their toes. Elizabeth is sometimes praised for this, but it was very risky and left her land, Court and Council divided and very much a problem for her. It left England without a direct heir and it left her open to ambitious men trying to win her over and every family with old blue blood (in the minds of her spies) posed a threat to her throne. She was in love with her sweet Robin, but she could never make him hers.

    His last letter moved her more than most other things and he had always held Elizabeth in his heart. It was particularly hard as his death followed within weeks of the Defeat of the Amarda and Elizabeth must have felt emotionally drained. It is a love which captivates us even now, possibly because it could never be. We are drawn to star crossed lovers, love that is denied or forbidden or ends in tragedy, far more than love which is normal and life long, unless the lovers triumph over the forces which challenge them and come together regardless. It is the human way of things.

  8. Teresa /

    Love the Tudor era. Fascinates me, must of been difficult in those days to be a woman, no rights or freedom. Often wonder when Henry died he was met by the wifes he betrayed

    1. Claire Ridgway / Post Author

      It must have been incredibly difficult unless you had an enlightened father or husband.

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4 September 1588 – Death of Robert Dudley