On 8th September 1560, Amy Dudley (née Robsart), wife of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, died at her rented home, Cumnor Place in Oxfordshire.
Her death is rather a mystery. Her body was found at the foot of the stairs when her servants returned from their day out at the Abingdon Fair and although the coroner ruled that Amy, "being alone in a certain chamber... accidentally fell precipitously down", there were rumours and mutterings that her husband, Robert Dudley, and even Queen Elizabeth I, had been poisoning Amy and had arranged her death.
There is still controversy today over Amy's death. The theories include:
- Accident – Professor Ian Aird (1956) suggests that Amy's death could have been an accident caused by a spontaneous fracture of the vertebrae as she walked down the stairs. Professor Aird based this theory on the fact that breast cancer, which sources suggest Amy was suffering from, can cause a weakening of the bones.
- Suicide – On the day of her death, Amy ordered all of her servants out of the house, giving them permission to go to the fair for the day. When some of them protested that it was not “fitting” to go to a fair on a Sunday, Amy was said to have been quite sharp with them, asking them to obey her orders. A Mrs Odingsells refused to go, much to Amy's displeasure, but Mrs Odingsells did eventually retire to her room, leaving Amy alone. Did Amy arrange to be alone so that she could commit suicide? After all, she was said to be very depressed. Amy’s maid said that she wondered if Amy “might have an evil toy in her mind”, in other words, suicide.
- Murder – Some sources believe that Amy's husband, Robert Dudley, arranged her murder so that he could be free to marry Elizabeth I, and others believe that William Cecil orchestrated the murder to blacken Dudley's name and to prevent him from marrying Elizabeth.
- An aortic aneurism – A modern theory that Amy was killed by the terminal enlargement of one of the arteries from the heart. Symptoms of this include depression, fits of anger, mental aberrations and pain and swelling in the chest.
We will never know the truth of the matter.
Amy was buried at St Mary's, Oxford, but the exact location of her tomb is unknown.
Amy's death is a topic that I have written about at various times on my old site The Elizabeth Files, so here are links to some articles there for you:
- The Case of Amy Robsart: A Tudor Whodunnit?
- Did Robert Dudley Murder Amy Robsart?
- A Response to "Did Robert Dudley Murder Amy Robsart?"
- Update on "Did Robert Dudley Murder Amy Robsart?"
- The Marriage of Robert Dudley and Amy Robsart
Click here to read about the marriage of Robert Dudley and Amy Robsart.
Extract on theories taken from On This Day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway.