The Tudor Society

Robert Dudley is made Earl of Leicester – 29 September 1564

On this day in history, 29th September 1564, Robert Dudley was made Earl of Leicester, an earldom which had been planned earlier in the year to make him more acceptable as a bridegroom to Mary, Queen of Scots. This earldom was an important one, having previously been held by royal princes like John of Gaunt and Henry of Bolingbroke (Henry IV). Although Dudley behaved impeccably at the ceremony, the queen did not. As she put the chain of earldom around Dudley's neck, she "could not refrain from putting her hand in his neck to kittle him smilingly." A loving gesture and perhaps one that was meant to reassure Dudley that he was still hers.

When Elizabeth first spoke to William Maitland of Lethington, the Scottish ambassador, about the potential marriage match, he laughed it off and then asked why Elizabeth herself did not marry Dudley; that way she could leave both her husband and kingdom to Mary, Queen of Scots! Elizabeth's chief advisor, William Cecil, supported the plan. After all, it killed two birds with one stone: it got rid of the troublesome Dudley and it formed an alliance with Scotland. Cecil wrote to Maitland in praise of Dudley but Maitland did not pass on the proposal to his queen because Dudley was not even a peer. He was a nobody. This was something that Elizabeth said that she would rectify by giving Dudley an earldom. However, although Elizabeth's ambassador to Scotland, Thomas Randolph, was ordered to keep on urging the Scottish queen to marry Dudley, neither Mary, Queen of Scots or Robert Dudley were keen on the idea.

In the spring of 1564, when Randolph spoke to Mary of the idea, she was flabbergasted. She had been married to the King of France, and here was Elizabeth trying to marry her off to a nobody. She did not say an outright "no", and demanded that if she were to marry Dudley then she should be named Elizabeth’s heir, but this was something that Elizabeth would never consider.

The marriage never took place, and it is hard to know how serious Elizabeth was in her offer of Dudley, her favourite, to her nemesis, Mary, Queen of Scots.

(Extract taken from Claire's book On This Day in Tudor History)

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  1. R

    Elizabeth would have been foolish to marry Robert Dudley, whose family were from nowhere when it came to suitable husbands and his father, brothers and grandfather had been tried, imprisoned and or executed for treason. Their guilt or not of course is open to debate, but certainly the entire family was tainted by it. Elizabeth herself was considered illegitimate, the child of a female traitor and adulterous Queen, she was considered a heretic both at home and abroad and popular or not, she had enemies willing to exploit such negative fodder and there was also another problem, Robert had a wife. His wife Amy then after ten years was found dead at the bottom of the stairs, alone in her husband’s relatives home, her neck broken and murder suspected. Robert immediately had a proper inquest and cleared himself, but Elizabeth couldn’t be associated with such scandals. She might enjoy his company as her spirit and be in love with him, but she couldn’t marry him.

    Dudley then married Lettice Knowles without permission and the Queen had a fit, as she often did. Now he was back and he was out to impress. Kennilworth the Seat of the Earls of Leicester was remodeled and Elizabeth came for nine days. Here she had a brilliant fireworks display, tournaments and vast feasts. He may have been trying to woo her and when he died in 1588 Elizabeth was devastated. On the letter he wrote she put His Last
    Letter and she probably still loved him. The Great love affair that could not be.

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Robert Dudley is made Earl of Leicester – 29 September 1564