The Tudor Society

July 1575 – Elizabeth I visits Kenilworth Castle

From the 9th to the 27th July 1575 Elizabeth I stayed at Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire, home of her great friend Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. She had visited Kenilworth three times before but this was a special visit in that it lasted nineteen days and was the longest stay at a courtier's house in any of her royal progresses.

We know a substantial amount about Elizabeth's visit to Kenilworth because it was recorded in a letter by Robert Langham, a member of Dudley's household, and in an account by poet and actor George Gascoigne, a man hired by Robert Dudley to provide entertainment during the royal visit.

Elizabeth I had a very special relationship with Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester. They had been good friends since childhood and their close relationship caused much scandal and gossip at court and throughout Europe. Elizabeth I may have styled herself as the Virgin Queen but Robert Dudley was constantly by her side and acted as an unofficial consort at times. Unfortunately for Elizabeth and Dudley, the suspicious death of Dudley's wife, Amy Dudley (Robsart), in 1560, and the scandal surrounding it, put an end to any plans of marriage, if indeed there were any. Elizabeth was forced to distance herself from Dudley and consider other suitors.

Many see Elizabeth's final visit to Kenilworth in 1575 as Dudley's last chance to impress the Queen and win her hand in marriage. Dudley went to extraordinary lengths to impress his queen:

A privy garden was designed and made for Elizabeth I's own personal enjoyment, a paradise to please and impress the Queen. Although the garden was private and for Elizabeth's eyes only, Robert Langham was able to get into it with the help of a friendly gardener so we have a contemporary description of it which has enabled English Heritage to recreate it in the castle grounds. Features of the garden included:

Langham wrote of the garden:

" a garden so appointed to feel the pleasant whisking wind above, or delectable coolness of the fountain-spring beneath; to taste of delicious strawberries, cherries and other fruits... to smell such fragrancy of sweet odours, breathing from the plants, herbs and flowers; to hear such natural melodious music and tunes of birds."

I studied at the nearby Warwick University so Kenilworth Castle was one of my weekend haunts but it was still magical to visit it again in 2010 with my family. It is a beautiful castle and it gave me shivers walking around Leicester's Gatehouse and the ruins of Leicester's Building and thinking about Elizabeth visiting her "sweet Robyn" there in 1575. The Elizabethan Garden was not there the last time I had visited and so I was eager to see that. I was not disappointed, it was beautiful and made me understand just how much Elizabeth I meant to Robert Dudley. To lay on such wonderful entertainment, build special buildings and create such a paradise surely shows how much he loved her. What a shame that his plan to marry her backfired. Dudley ended up marrying Lettice Knollys and Elizabeth never returned to Kenilworth, a sad story.

Here are some photos I took on my visit to Kenilworth Castle:

Notes and Sources

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