The Tudor Society

4 September 1588 – Death of Robert Dudley

Tomb of Lettice and her second husband Robert Dudley

Today 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 [accessed 4 September 2015].
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