Merry Christmas! A very Happy Christmas to you and yours!
In today’s talk, I explain how Tudor people would have celebrated Christmas, before moving on to today’s “on this day” event, the death of Lettice Blount (also known as Lettice Devereux, Lettice Dudley and Lettice Knollys). Not only did she serve Queen Elizabeth I as a gentlewoman of the privy chamber, she was also the queen’s first cousin once removed, and was nicknamed the “she-wolf” by her royal mistress. Find out more about Lettice Knollys in today’s talk.
On this day in Tudor history, Sunday 21st September 1578, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, married Lettice Dereveux (née Knollys) in a secret marriage at his house. So secret was it that he only told his chaplain and his friends the day before.
Leicester was marrying the woman Elizabeth I had dubbed “the she-wolf”, so he knew that his queen would not be happy.
In today’s talk, I give details of this secret wedding along with some facts about the bride, Lettice Knollys.
Lettice Knollys was born on 8 November 1543 at Rotherfield Greys in Oxfordshire. She was the eldest of sixteen children born to Sir Francis Knollys and his wife, Katherine Carey. Lettice’s mother was the daughter of Mary Boleyn, meaning that Lettice was the great niece of Anne Boleyn. She was also a kinswoman of Elizabeth I. Francis and Katherine Knollys departed for the Continent in the mid-1550s to escape the religious persecution during Mary I’s reign, but it is possible that Lettice remained with Elizabeth Tudor at Hatfield. When Elizabeth came to the throne in 1558, Francis was appointed vice-chamberlain and Katherine, who was close to the queen, was appointed a lady of the bedchamber. Lettice, now in her teens, served as a gentlewoman of the privy chamber.
On the morning of Sunday 21st September 1578, between seven and eight o’clock, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, married Lettice Devereux (née Knollys), widow of Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex, at his house in Wanstead, Essex.
Leicester’s chaplain, Humphrey Tindall officiated, and the guests at this secret and private ceremony included Sir Francis Knollys, father of the bride; Richard Knollys, the bride’s brother; Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick and brother of Leicester; and Leicester’s friends, the Earl of Pembroke and Lord North.
Author Adrienne Dillard, who has done extensive research on Lettice’s family, the Careys and Knollys, has written this excellent bio of Lettice. Thank you so much to Adrienne.
Per Francis Knollys’ Latin Dictionary entry,* Lettice Knollys was born in 1543 on the Tuesday present after All Hallows’ Day, or November 8, 1543, most likely at the Knollys’ family home at Rotherfield Greys in Oxfordshire. Lettice’s brilliant red hair and pale complexion may have come from her close connections to the royal family. Her mother, Catherine Carey, was Anne Boleyn’s niece and Elizabeth I’s cousin. Some historians have debated whether Catherine was the product of Mary Boleyn’s affair with King Henry VIII, but it has never been proven and rests only on circumstantial evidence. Lettice was the third child and second daughter born out of a possible sixteen, but more likely fourteen, children born to Catherine and Francis.