Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dudley, Robert (1532?-1588)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
1199605Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 16 — Dudley, Robert (1532?-1588)1888Sidney Lee

DUDLEY, ROBERT, Earl of Leicester (1532?–1588), Queen Elizabeth's favourite, was fifth son of John Dudley, duke of Northumberland [q. v.], by Jane, sister of Sir Henry Guildford, K.G. Edmund Dudley [q. v.] was his grandfather. He was born 24 June 1532 or 1533 (Adlard, Amye Robsart, p. 16), was carefully educated, and acquired a good knowledge of Latin and Italian in youth (Wilson, Discourse of Usury, 1572). Roger Ascham at a later date expressed regret that he had preferred mathematics to classics, and praised 'the ability of inditing that is in you naturally' (Ascham, Works, ed. Giles, ii. 104). When about sixteen Dudley was brought by his father into the society of the young king, Edward VI, and of his sister, Princess (afterwards Queen) Elizabeth. The latter was of his own age, and was attracted from their first acquaintance by his 'very goodly person.' Dudley was soon knighted. On 4 June 1550 he was married at the royal palace of Sheen, Surrey, to Amy, daughter of Sir John Robsart. The king attended the wedding and made a note of it in his diary.

Amy Robsart was the only legitimate child of Sir John Robsart, lord of the manor of Siderstern, Norfolk, by Elizabeth, daughter of John Scott of Camberwell, Surrey, and widow of Roger Appleyard (d. 1530), lord of the manor of Stanfield, Norfolk. By her first husband Lady Robsart had four children, John, Philip, Anne, and Frances, and to her the manor of Stanfield was bequeathed, with remainder to her son John. She died in 1549. Amy was, like her husband, about eighteen at the date of the marriage. Her father settled some property on her just before (May 1550), and at the same time a second deed of settlement was signed by both Sir John Robsart and Dudley's father making provision for Dudley. On 4 Feb. 1562-3 Dudley's father granted Hemsby Manor, near Yarmouth, to 'Robert Dudley, lord Dudley, my son, and the Ladie Amie, his wife.' The early days of their married life were apparently spent in Norfolk, where Dudley was prominent in local affairs. He became joint-steward of the manor of Rising and constable of the castle (7 Dec. 1551); joint-commissioner of lieutenancy for Norfolk (16 May 1552), and M.P. for the county in 1553. But Dudley's father often took him to court, whither Lady Amy did not accompany him. In April 1551 he seems to have visited the court of Henry II of France at Amboise in company with his adventurous friend, Thomas Stukeley. He was appointed a gentleman of the king's privy chamber on 15 Aug. 1551; attended Mary of Guise, the queen-dowager of Scotland, on her visit to London in October 1551; became master of the buckhounds (29 Sept. 1552); and during the king's last illness (27 June 1553) received gifts of lands at Rockingham, Northamptonshire, and Eston, Leicestershire (Cal. State Papers, 1547-80, p. 62). In January 1551-2 he took part in two royal tournaments.

On Edward VI's death (6 July 1553) Dudley aided his father and brothers in their attempt to place his sister-in-law, Lady Jane Grey, on the throne. Early in July he proclaimed Lady Jane Grey queen of England at King's Lynn, Norfolk (Chronicle of Queen Jane, Camd. Soc. 111). He was committed to the Tower (26 July), and was arraigned, attainted, and sentenced to death 22 Jan. 1553-4. During his confinement in the Tower Lady Amy was allowed to visit him—a proof that they were on good terms. He was released and pardoned 18 Oct. 1554. In 1557 he accompanied his brothers, Ambrose and Henry, to Picardy [see Dudley, Ambrose], and acted as master of ordnance to the English army engaged in the battle of St. Quentin, where his brother Henry was killed. For his military services he and his only surviving brother, Ambrose, together with their sisters, Lady Mary Sidney and Lady Catherine Hastings, were restored in blood by act of parliament 7 March 1557-8 (4 and 5 Phil. & Mary, c. 12). King Philip is said to have shown him some favour and to have employed him in carrying messages between himself and Queen Mary.

Elizabeth's accession gave Dudley his opportunity. He was named master of the horse on 11 Jan. 1568-9, K.G. on 23 April, and was sworn of the privy council. On 3 Nov. he and Lord Hunsdon held the lists against all comers in a tournament at Greenwich, which the queen attended. Immediately afterwards Dudley was granted a messuage at Kew, the sites of the monasteries of Watton and Meux, both in Yorkshire, together with a profitable license to export woollen cloths free of duty and the lieutenancy of the forest and castle of Windsor. The royal liberality was plainly due to the queen's affection for Dudley. There can be no doubt at all that on her accession she contemplated marrying him. She made no secret of her infatuation. As early as April 1559 De Feria, the Spanish ambassador, declared that it was useless to discuss (as Philip II wished) the queen's union with the Archduke Charles, seeing that Elizabeth and Dudley were acknowledged lovers. Dudley at first seemed willing to entertain the match with the archduke, but in the following November he told Norfolk, its chief champion, that no good Englishman would allow the queen to marry a foreigner. De Quadra, De Feria's successor, reported that the queen's encouragement of Dudley's 'over-preposterous pretensions' so irritated Norfolk and other great noblemen that the murder of both sovereign and favourite had been resolved upon. In January 1559-60 De Quadra designates Dudley 'the king that is to be,' and describes his growing presumption and the general indignation excited by 'the queen's ruin.' On 13 Aug. 1560 Anne Dowe of Brentford was the first of a long line of offenders to be sent to prison for asserting that Elizabeth was with child by Dudley.

Meanwhile Lady Amy, Dudley's wife, lived for the most part in the country. Extant accounts kept by her husband's stewards show that at the beginning of Elizabeth's reign she was travelling about in Suffolk and Lincolnshire, and paid occasional visits to Christchurch, Camberwell, and London. Her most permanent home seems to have been the house of a Mr. Hyde at Denchworth, near Abingdon. Hyde had a brother William who was M.P. for Abingdon; he had bought land of Dudley's father, and was friendly with Dudley himself. Dudley's account-books show that he frequently visited Lady Amy at Mr. Hyde's in 1568 and 1559. She spent large sums on dress, for which her husband's stewards paid. A letter addressed by her to a woman tailor, William Edney of Tower Royal, respecting an elaborate costume is still preserved at Longleat. Another of her letters (Harl. MS. 4712), dated 7 Aug. (1558 or 1559), and addressed to John Flowerdew, steward of Siderstern, gives, in her husband's name, several detailed directions about the sale of some wool on the Siderstern estate, which had become the joint property of her husband and herself on her father's death in 1557. The language suggests a perfect understanding between husband and wife. Early in 1560 Lady Amy removed to Cumnor Place, which was not far from Mr. Hyde's. Anthony Forster or Forrester, the chief controller of Dudley's private expenses and a personal friend, rented Cumnor of its owner, William Owen, son of George Owen, Henry VIII's physician, to whom the house had been granted by the crown in 1546. Forster was M.P. for Abingdon in 1572, purchased Cumnor in the same year, and nothing is historically known to his discredit. Besides Forster and his wife, Lady Amy found living at Cumnor Mrs. Odingsells, a widow and a sister of Mr. Hyde of Denchworth, and Mrs. Owen, William Owen's wife. On Sunday, 8 Sept. 1560, Lady Amy is said to have directed the whole household to visit Abingdon fair. The three ladies declined to go, but only Mrs. Owen dined with Lady Amy. Late in the day the servants returned from Abingdon and found Dudley's wife lying dead at the foot of the staircase in the hall. She had been playing at tables with the other ladies, it was stated, had suddenly left the room, had fallen downstairs and broken her neck.

Dudley heard the news wbjle with the queen at Windsor, and directed a distant relative, Sir Thomas Blount, to visit Cumnor. Blount was instructed to encourage the most stringent public inquiry, and to communicate with John Appleyard, Lady Amy's half-brother. All manner of rumours were soon abroad. Mrs. Pinto, Lady Amy's maid, said that she had heard her mistress 'pray to God to deliver her from desperation,' and although she tried to remove the impression of suicide which her words excited, Dudley's reported relations with Elizabeth go far to account for Lady Amy's alleged 'desperation.' Thomas Lever, a clergyman of Sherburn, wrote to the privy council (17 Sept.) of 'the grievous and dangerous suspicion and muttering' about Lady Amy's death, and it was plainly hinted that Dudley had ordered Anthony Forster to throw Lady Amy downstairs. On 13 Sept. Dudley repeated to Blount his anxiety for a thorough and impartial investigation, and (according to his own account) corresponded with one Smith, foreman of the jury. lie added that all the jurymen were strangers to him. A verdict of mischance or accidental death was returned. Dudley seems to have suggested that a second jury should continue the inquiry, but nothing followed. On a Friday, probably 20 Sept., his wife's body was removed secretly to Gloucester Hall, now Worcester College, Oxford, and on Sunday, 22 Sept., was buried with the most elaborate heraldic ceremony in St. Mary's Church. The corporation and university attended officially. Dudley was absent, and 'Mrs. Norrys, daughter and heire of the Lord Wylliams of Thame,' acted as chief mourner. John Appleyard was also present. Dr. Francis Babington [q. v.], one of Dudley's chaplains, preached the sermon, and is said to have tripped once and described the lady as 'pitifully slain' (Leicester's Commonwealth, pp. 22, 36).

That Dudley was, as Cecil wrote a few years later, 'infamed by his wife's death' is obvious. If the court gossip reported by the Spanish ambassador is to be credited, Dudley, in his desire to marry the queen, had talked of divorcing or of poisoning his wife many months before she died. De Quadra, indeed, wrote home at the time that the news of her death reached London (11 Sept.): 'They [i.e. the queen and Dudley] were thinking of destroying Lord Robert's wife. . . . They had given out that she was ill, but she was not ill at all ; she was very well and taking care not to be poisoned. . . . The queen, on her return from hunting [on 4 Sept.], told me that Lord Robert's wife was dead or nearly so, and begged me to say nothing about it.' According to this statement Dudley and the queen conspired to murder Lady Amy, but this terrible charge is wholly uncorroborated. Lady Amy's death undoubtedly removed the chief obstacle to the marriage of the queen with Dudley, and the influential persons at court, who were determined that Elizabeth should not take this disastrous step, naturally exaggerated the rumours of Dudley's guilt in order to disqualify him for becoming the royal consort. Throgmorton, the English ambassador at Paris, frequently reported to Cecil that Dudley was universally credited on the continent with the murder of his wife, but this was Throgmorton's invariable preface to an impassioned protest against the proposed marriage of the queen with her favourite. On 30 Nov. the queen told one of her secretaries that the verdict of the jury left no doubt that Lady Amy had died accidentally, and Sir Henry Sidney, Dudley's brother-in-law, in the following January assured the Spanish ambassador that the malicious rumours were totally unfounded. Cecil, although no friend to Dudley, comes to the conclusion that they could not be supported. In 1567 the charge of murder was revived by John Appleyard, who declared that the jury was suborned, but on being examined by the privy council he made an abject apology and confessed that he had wilfully slandered Dudley because he had been disappointed in not receiving greater gifts from his brother-in-law. In 1584 the story adopted by Sir Walter Scott in 'Kenilworth' was first published in a libel on Dudley usually known as 'Leicester's Commonwealth' (see infra). There Anthony Forster and Sir Richard Verney, apparently of Compton Verney, Warwickshire, one of Dudley's private friends, were said to have flung Lady Amy downstairs. But none of the statements in this libel deserves credit. There is no ground for connecting Verney in any way with the tragedy. The author of the 'Yorkshire Tragedy' (1608) obviously wrote in reference to the scandalous charge:

The surest way to chain a woman's tongue
Is break her neck — a politician did it.

In spite of the suspicious circumstances of the death, nothing can be historically proved against Dudley. His absence from the inquest and funeral is a point against him. The anxiety expressed in his letters to Blount that the jury should pursue their investigation to the furthermost, at the same time that he was himself writing privately to the jury, is consistent with his guilt. But all the unpleasant rumours prove on examination to be singularly vague, and are just such as Leicester's unpopularity, caused by his relations with the queen, would have led his numberless enemies to concoct. It is difficult to believe that the alleged murder would have been hushed up when so many persons regarded it to the interest of themselves and the nation to bring it home to Dudley. The theory of suicide has most in its favour.

Whatever were the queen's relations with Dudley before his wife's death, they became closer after it. It was reported that she was formally betrothed to him, that she had secretly married him in Lord Pembroke's house, and that she was 'a mother already' (January 1560-1). But Elizabeth was never so completely a victim to her passion as to allow her lover to control her political action, and his presumption often led to brief though bitter quarrels. On 30 Nov. 1560 the queen promised to raise him to the peerage, but suddenly tore up the patent. Dudley tried in vain to supplant Cecil. Although Cecil was for a time out of favour with Elizabeth owing to Dudley's machinations, his position was never seriously jeopardised. The puritan preachers were hottest in their denunciation of Elizabeth's behaviour with Dudley, and this was one of the causes which led Elizabeth to yield to Dudley's unprincipled and impolitic suggestion to seek Spanish and catholic aid in bringing about their union. Sir Henry Sidney in January 1560-1 first asked De Quadra whether he would help on the marriage if Dudley undertook to restore the Roman catholic religion in England. In February Dudley and the queen both talked with the Spaniard openly on the subject; in April Dudley accepted the terms offered by De Quadra. He promised that England should send representatives to the council of Trent, and talked of going himself. On 24 June De Quadra accompanied Elizabeth and her lover on a water-party down the Thames, when they behaved with discreditable freedom. In a long conversation De Quadra undertook to press on their union on condition that they should acknowledge the papal supremacy. The negotiation was kept secret from the responsible ministers, but Cecil suspected the grounds of De Quadra's intimacy with Dudley and Elizabeth, and powerful opposition soon declared itself. Dudley's personal enemies and the catholic nobles agreed that Dudley should only marry the queen at the cost of a revolution, and De Quadra wrote home that if the marriage took place Philip II would find England an easy conquest. With curious duplicity Dudley also corresponded with the French Huguenots to induce them to support his ambitious marriage scheme. But his over-confidence did not please the queen. In July 1501 the king of Sweden offered Elizabeth his hand. Dudley ridiculed the offer, and the queen, irritated by his manner, said in the presence chamber that 'she would never marrv him nor none so mean as he,' and that his friends 'went about to dishonour her' (State Papers, Foreign, 22 July). Dudley straightway asked permission to go to sea and obtained it, but he remained at home and was soon reconciled to his mistress. When the succession question was debated in 1562, Dudley supported the pretensions of Lord Huntingdon, the husband of his sister Catherine. In the autumn of the same year the queen, on what she judged to be her death-bed, nominated her favourite protector of the realm. Next year the reports that Elizabeth had children by Dudley revived. One Robert Brooke of Devizes was sent to prison for publishing the slander, and seven years later a man named Marsham of Norwich was punished for the same offence. An English spy in Spain in 1588 reported that a youth aged twenty-six, calling himself Arthur Dudley, and claiming to be Elizabeth's son by Dudley, had lately arrived in Madrid. He was born, he said, in 1562 at Hampton Court. Philip II received him hospitably, and granted him a pension of six crowns a day, but he was clearly a pretender (Ellis, Orig. Letters 2nd ser. iii. 135-136 ; Lingard, Hist. 1874 edit. vi. 367-8).

Although Dudley did not abandon hope of the marriage, it is plain that during 1563 Elizabeth realised its impracticability. Cecil, Sussex, Hunsdon, and Dorset did all they could to discredit Dudley, and his presumptuous behaviour led to more frequent explosions of wrath on the queen's part. On one occasion Dudley threatened to dismiss one Bowyer, a gentleman of the black rod. The matter was brought to the queen's knowledge. She sent for Dudley and publicly addressed him: 'I have wished you well, but my favour is not so locked up for you that others shall not partake thereof. . . . I will have here but one mistress and no master' (Naunton, Fragmenta, ed. Arber, p. 17). About 1563 the question of Queen Mary Stuart's marriage was before the English council, and Elizabeth, with every appearance of generous self-denial, suggested that Dudley should become the Scottish queen's husband. She would have preferred, she said, a union between Queen Mary and Dudley's brother Ambrose, but was willing on grounds of policy to surrender her favourite. In June 1564 Dudley made friends with De Silva, the new Spanish ambassador, and once more declared himself to be devoted to Spain. De Silva wrote home that if Cecil could only be dismissed and replaced by Dudley, Spain and England would be permanent allies. On 28 Sept. 1564 Dudley was created Baron Denbigh, and on 29 Sept. Earl of Leicester. In October (according to Melville, the Scottish ambassador) Elizabeth declared herself resolved to press on the match between Dudley and Queen Mary, and it was stated that she had bestowed an earldom on him to fit him for his promotion. The union of Mary with Darnley in 1565 brought the scheme to nothing.

The old nobility at Elizabeth's court acquiesced with a very bad grace in Leicester's predominance. In March 1565 Norfolk, who had persistently opposed himself to Dudley's pretensions, quarrelled openly with him in the queen's presence. They were playing tennis together before Elizabeth. During a pause Leicester snatched the queen's handkerchief from her hand and wiped his face with it. Norfolk denounced this action as 'saucy,' and blows followed. In August 1565 the queen paid her first visit to Kenilworth, which she had granted Leicester (6 Sept. 1563). While the court was at Greenwich in June 1566 Sussex and Leicester had a fierce altercation in Elizabeth's presence, and the queen herself brought about a temporary reconciliation. Early in 1566 the Archduke Charles renewed his offer of marriage with Elizabeth, and the queen discussed it so seriously that Leicester acknowledged in a letter to Cecil that his fate was sealed. Cecil drew up more than one paper in which he contrasted Leicester and the archduke as the Queen's suitors, much to the latter's advantage. He declared Leicester to be insolvent, to be 'infamed by his wife's death,' and anxious to advance his personal friends. Little change in Leicester's personal relations with the queen was apparent while the negotiations with the archduke were pending, and he did what he could to ruin the scheme. In December 1567 he strongly opposed in the council Sussex's and Cecil's proposal to bring the archduke to England. In order to obstruct his rivals' policy he boldly turned his back on his old relations with the catholics and raised a cry of 'popery.' As early as 1564 Leicester had been making advances to the puritans, and Archbishop Parker and he had had some differences as to the toleration to be extended to their practices (Strype, Parker, i. 311). Subsequently he figured as their chief patron at court, and ostentatiously took Thomas Cartwright under his protection. Jewel was now directed by him to stir up the puritans in London against the marriage. Sussex vainly remonstrated and threatened to denounce him publicly as the betrayer of the queen and country. Early in 1668 Leicester's victory was assured and the archduke's offer rejected.

Outside the court. Leicester's position was reckoned all-powerful. Elizabeth had made him rich in spite of his extravagant habits. Four licenses to export woollen cloth 'unwoved' were issued in 1561 and 1562. In 1563 he received from the crown the manor and lordship and castle of Kenilworth, the lordship and castle of Denbigh, and lands in Lancashire, Surrey, Rutland, Denbigh, Carmarthen, York, Cardigan, and Brecknock (Pat. 5 Eliz. 4th part ; Orig. 6 Eliz. 3rd part, rot. 132). The manors of Caldecote and Pelynge, Bedfordshire, with many other parcels of land, followed in the next year, and in 1566 sixteen other estates in drSerent parts of England and Wales were assigned him (Orig. 8 Eliz. 1st part., rot. 66; Pat. 8 Eliz. 7th part). In 1666 he was granted a license to 'retain' one hundred persons, and became chancellor of the county palatine of Chester. In 1562 he was appointed high steward of Cambridge University, and stayed with the queen at Trinity College in August 1564, when she paid her well-known official visit. Soon afterwards (31 Dec. 1564) he became chancellor of Oxford University, and directed the elaborate reception of Elizabeth there in August 1666. A public dialogue, in Latin elegiacs, between Elizabeth and her favourite was printed (Elizabethan Oxford (Oxf. Hist. Soc.), pp. 157-68). In January 1565-6 Leicester and Norfolk were created by the French king, Charles IX, knights of St. Michael (Ashmole, Garter, p. 369), and in 1571 Leicester kept with great state at Warwick the feast of St. Michael, when his gorgeous attire excited general admiration (cf. Topogr. Bibl. Brit. vol. iv. pt. ii.)

In 1568 Mary Queen of Scots fled to England for protection; the catholic lords of the north of England were meditating open rebellion, and attempts were being made at court under the guidance of Norfolk to get rid of Cecil. Leicester fostered the agitation against Cecil, and told the queen that she would never be safe while Cecil had a head on his shoulders. He also sought to make the presence of Queen Mary serve his own ends. He received with enthusiasm her envoy, the Bishop of Ross; deprecated the bishop's suggestion that he should himself marry the Sottish queen; sent her presents, and finally agreed to forward the Catholic plot for marrying her to the Duke of Norfolk. Elizabeth was bitterly opposed to this dangerous scheme, but Leicester freely argued with her on the point. Meanwhile Leicester, with characteristic baseness, allowed it to be assumed by the conspirators that he was looking with a favourable eye on the treasonable conspiracy hatching in the north. He obviously believed Elizabeth's fall to be at hand and was arranging for the worst. But Cecil was more powerful than Leicester calculated. Elizabeth's government weathered the storm with comparative ease. Norfolk was sent to the Tower in October 1669, and the rebellion of the northern earls was crushed in November. Leicester recognised that his influence with the queen in matters of politics would not compare with Cecil's. 'Burghley,' he wrote 4 Nov. 1572, 'could do more with her in an hour than others in seven years.' But, so far as his personal relations with the queen were concerned, his position was unchanged, although his hopes of marriage were nearly ended.

In 1570 and 1571, with much show of disinterestedness, Leicester strongly supported the proposal that Elizabeth should marry the Duke of Anjou. Private affairs doubtless encouraged this policy. In 1571 he contracted himself to Douglas Sheffield, widow of John, second baron Sheffield, and daughter of William, first lord Howard of Effingham. In May 1573 he secretly married the lady at Esher. Two days later a son, Robert [see Dudley, Sir Robert, 1573-1649], was born, of whose legitimacy there can be little doubt. Apparently fearing the queen's wrath, Leicester never acknowledged this marriage. His infatuation for Lady Douglas was falsely said by his enemies to have led him to poison her former husband. But his sentiments soon changed, and he offered Lady Sheffield 700l. a year to ignore their relationship. The offer was indignantly rejected. Leicester was afterwards reported to have attempted to poison her, and to have so far succeeded as to deprive her of her hair and nails. Gilbert Talbot wrote to his father, 11 May 1573, that two ladies had long been in love with Leicester, Lady Sheffield and Lady Frances Howard, that the queen suspected their passion, and spies were watching Leicester (Lodge, Illustrations, ii. 100). But his influence at court was not seriously imperilled. Evidence of the power which he was credited in the country with exerting indirectly on ministers of state is given by the records of the town of Tewkesbury for 1673. The citizens had petitioned for a charter of incorporation, and when the proceedings dragged, they 'levied and gathered' among themselves money to purchase for Leicester 'a cup of silver and gilt,' and subsequently 'an ox of unusual size.'

In July 1575 Leicester entertained the queen at Kenilworth. The royal party arrived at the castle on Saturday, 9 July, and remained there till Wednesday, 27 July. As early as 1570 Leicester had begun to strengthen the fortifications of his palace, and to celebrate the queen's visit he is said to have added largely to the munition and artillery there. Elaborate pageants were arranged, and all the festivities were on an exceptionally gorgeous scale. Shakespeare is believed to have witnessed some part of the fantastic entertainments. Oberon's vision in 'Midsummer Night's Dream' (ii. 148-68) has been explaiend as a description of what the poet actually saw in Kenilworth Park. In the lines on Cupid's shaft aimed 'at a fair vestal throned by the west' and falling on 'a little western flower,' a covert hint has been detected of Leicester's relations both with the queen and Lady Sheffield (cf. Halpin, Oberon's Vision Illustrated, Shakspere Soc, 1843). Two full reports of the reception accorded to Elizabeth at Kenilworth were issued in 1576 — one by Robert Laneham, clerk of the council, and the other (entitled 'Princely Pleasures at the Courte at Kenelwoorth') by George Gascoigne. In July 1576 Leicester was in ill-health, and his doctors insisted on his drinking Buxton waters.

Leicester's ambition was still unsatisfied. In September 1577 Elizabeth was contemplating the despatch of an army to fight against Spain in the Low Countries, and Leicester resolved to obtain the post of commander-in-chief. He had wholly abandoned his flirtations with Spain, and took shares in Drake's expedition, which sailed in November. Elizabeth raised no objection to Leicester's application for the generalship, but, after giving a definite promise to help the Low Countries, she suddenly, in March 1578, declined to send an army abroad. Leicester was deeply disappointed, but private affairs were again occupying him. Although unable to rid himself of Lady Sheffield, he was making love to Lettice, the widowed countess of Essex, with whose late husband, Walter Devereux, first earl of Essex [q. v.], he had been on very bad terms. When Essex died at Dublin in 1576, it was openly suggested that Leicester had poisoned him, but the report proved baseless. Lady Essex, who was well known to the queen, and interchanged gifts with her on New Year's day 1578, had long been on intimate terms with Leicester, and had stayed at Kenilworth during the festivities of 1575, while her husband was in Ireland. Early in 1578 the Duke of Anjou, now Duke d'Alençon, renewed his offer of marriage to Elizabeth, and it was seriously entertained for a second time. Astley, a gentleman of the bedchamber, reminded the queen that Leicester was still free to marry her. She grew angry and declared it would be 'unlike herself and unmindful of her royal majesty to prefer her servant whom she herself had raised before the greatest princes of Christendom' ({{sc|Camden). In 1578 Leicester, having finally abandoned all hopes of the queen's hand, married Lettice Knollys, countess of Essex. The ceremony was first performed at Kenilworth, and afterwards (21 Sept. 1578) at Wanstead, in the presence of Leicester's brother, Warwick, Lord North, Sir Francis Knollys, the lady's father, and others. Wanstead, which was henceforth a favourite home of Leicester, had been purchased a few months before, and the queen visited him there in the course of the year (Nichols, Progresses, ii. 222 ). The fact of the marriage was kept carefully from Elizabeth's knowledge, although very many courtiers were in the secret. In August 1579 M. de Simier, the French ambassador, who was negotiating Alençon's marriage, suddenly broke the news to the queen. Elizabeth behaved as if she were heartbroken, and three days later promised to accept Alençon on his own terms. She ordered Leicester to confine himself to the castle of Greenwich, and talked of sending him to the Tower, but Sussex advised her to be merciful. Leicester's friends declared that he voluntarily became a prisoner in his own chamber on the pretence of taking physic (Greville, Life of Sir P. Sidney).

The queen rapidly recovered from her anger and Leicester returned to court, resolved to avenge himself on De Simier, and to put an end to the French marriage scheme. He was credited with endeavouring to poison the ambassador, and when a gun was accidentally discharged at the queen's barge on the Thames, while Elizabeth, De Simier, and Leicester were upon it, it was absurdly suggested that De Simier had been shot at by one of Leicester's agents. Alençon arrived in 1580. Leicester attended him and the queen, and in February 1580-1 accompanied the duke on his way to the Low Countries as far as Antwerp by Elizabeth's order. On Leicester's return Elizabeth had an interview with him and reproached him with staying too long abroad. Rumours were spread that Leicester aimed at becoming prinee of the protestant provinces of Holland, and the queen openly charged him with conspiring with the Prince of Orange against her. Leicester did not deny that his ambition lay in the direction indicated, but warned the queen that if she, as in her irritation she hinted, intended to ally herself with Spain against the Low Countries, she would have to prepare for war with France as well as with the Netherlands.

Leicester's presumption was now at its zenith. With an eve on the Low Countries as an appanage for himself, he in December 1582 proposed that Arabella Stuart should marry Robert, his infant son by his wife Lettice, and thus the crown might possibly enter his own family. He also suggested that one of his stepdaughters would make a good wife for James of Scotland. The latter proposal led to a passionate protest from Elizabeth, who loathed Leicester's wife, and denounced her with terrible vehemence (June 1583). In 1584 Leicester suggested the formation of the well-known association for the protection of the queen's person, chiefly with the object of circumventing the catholic nobility, whom the queen's treatment of Queen Mary was drawing into treasonable devices. In the same year Leicester was held up to the nation's detestation in an anonymous pamphlet, first issued at Antwerp as 'The copye of a letter wryten by a Master of Arte at Cambridge,' but better known as 'Leicester's Commonwealth.' The author, who is assumed on highly doubtful grounds to be the jesuit Parsons, tried to prove that the ancient constitution of the realm was practically subverted, and that the government of the country had been craftily absorbed by Leicester, whose character was that of an inhuman monster. All offices of trust were, it was alleged, in his hands or those of his relations. The corporation of Leicester replied to these charges by entertaining the earl at an elaborate banquet on Thursday 18 June, while he was staying with his sister, the Countess of Huntingdon. Sir Philip Sidney, Leicester's nephew, circulated a vindication of his uncle and his family (prints by Collins in the 'Sydney Papers'). On 26 June 1585 Elizabeth issued an order in council forbidding the book's circulation, and asserting on her own knowledge that its charges were false. As an historical authority it certainly has no weight, but as an indication of the hatred that Leicester had succeeded in exciting, it is of importance to his biographer. In August 1585 Burghley wrote to Leicester to complain of certain contemptuous speeches which the earl was reported to have made concerning him. Leicester replied at great length, denying the imputation. He lamented the envy which his position at court excited, but deprecated the notion that he wished for Burghley's place, and asserted that he had always been Burghley's friend (Strype, Annals, iii. i. 503-6).

In the autumn of 1585 Elizabeth at length resolved to intervene in the Low Countries. A great English army was to be sent to the aid of the States-General in their war with Spain, and the command of the expedition was bestowed on Leicester (September 1585). His intimacy with the queen made the appointment satisfactory to England's allies, but his incapacity soon showed its imprudence. In December he reviewed his troop of six hundred horse in London, and marched to Harwich. He disembarked at Flushing 10 Dec. The Dutch received him triumphantly. Gorgeous pageants and processions were arranged in his honour. At Utrecht Jacobus Chrysopolitanus and Arnold Eyck issued extravagant panegyrics; the former added a brief history of the earl's reception, and on 23 April 1586 Leicester celebrated with abundant pomp the feast of St. George in the city. At Leyden the memory of similar festivities lasted so long that the students on 7 June 1870 gave an imitation of them to celebrate the 295th anniversary of the Leyden High School. At the Hague was published in 1586 an elaborate series of twelve engravings representing the triumphal procession whicn welcomed Leicester to the town. Leicester had good grounds for writing home to the queen that the Netherlanders were devoted to her, but he was in no hurry to take the field. On 14 Jan. 1585-6 a deputation from the States-General offered him the absolute government of the United Provinces. Leicester declared that he was taken by surprise, and pointed out that his instructions only permitted him to serve the States-General and not to rule them. Further entreaties followed, and Leicester yielded. On 25 Jan. he was solemnly installed as absolute governor, and took an oath to preserve the religion and liberty of his subjects. On 6 Feb. a proclamation was issued announcing his new dignity (translation printed in Somers Tracts, 1810, i. 420-1). Davison, the English envoy at the Hague, with whom Leicester had long been on intimate terms, was sent home to communicate the news to Elizabeth.

All was known before Davison arrived. The queen was indignant, and threatened to recall the earl. It was reported that Leicester's wife was about to join her husband with a great train of ladies, and the queen's wrath increased. Burghley, Walsingham, and Hatton urged that Leicester's conduct had been politic. Leicester, who soon learned of the disturbance created by his action, argued in a despatch that he had been modest in accepting the mere title of governor, and blamed Davison for not defending him fairly. Sir Thomas Heneage reached Flushing (3 March), and brought letters announcing Elizabeth's displeasure. Leicester replied by sending Sir Thomas Sherley, but the queen did not relent. The quarrel was distracting attention from the objects of the expedition, and Burghley threatened to resign unless Elizabeth gave a temporary ratification of the earl's appointment. At last she yielded so far as to allow him to continue in his office until the council of state could devise such a qualification of his title and authority as might remove her objection without peril to the public welfare. After more negotiations and renewed outbursts of the queen's wrath, the matter ended by the Dutch council of state petitioning Elizabeth to maintain the existing arrangement until they could without peril to themselves effect some change (June 1586). The queen had published her displeasure and had relieved herself of all suspicions of collusion with Leicester. She therefore raised no further difficulties.

Leicester's arrogance soon proved to the States-General that they had made an error. He called his Dutch colleagues 'churls and tinkers,' and was always wrangling with them over money matters. 'Would God I were rid of this place,' he wrote (8 Aug.), and bitterly remarked that the queen had succeeded in 'cracking his credit.' In military matters Leicester was no match for the Spaniards under the Duke of Parma. He succeeded in relieving Grave, and vainly imagined that the enemy were completely ruined by the victory. On 23 April Leicester was reviewing his troops at Utrecht when news was brought him that the Spaniards were marching to recapture Grave. He marched leisurely to Arnheim and Nimeguen with the avowed intention of intercepting the enemy, but as he had no news of their route Leicester never met the attacking force, and Grave was recaptured with ease. To allay the panic which this ludicrous failure produced in Holland, Leicester tried the governor of Grave, Baron Henart, by court-martial, and sent him to the scaffold. Prince Maurice and Sir Philip Sidney seized Axel, and partly retrieved the failing reputation of the English army. Leicester in his despatches blamed everybody for his own neglect of duty, and let Nuys fall to the enemy without raising a finger to protect it. The equipment and temper of part of his army were certainly unsatisfactory, and he had repeatedly to make an example of deserters, but his petty wrangling with Norris and other able colleagues explains much of his failure. In August a gentle letter of reprimand from the queen, the receipt of fresh supplies of money, and the advice of Sir William Pelham, enabled Leicester to improve his position. On 2 Sept. he relieved Berck; the enemy soon retired into winter quarters; the forts about Zutphen and Deventer wore captured by the gallantry of Sir Edward Stanley and Sir William Pelham; and the indecisive campaign was at an end. Leicester came home, making no provision for the command of the army. He had laboured hard for the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, had written letters pressing it on the queen while in Holland, and had hinted when Elizabeth seemed to hesitate that Mary might be privately strangled. He now renewed his importunities, and on 8 Feb. 1586–7 the execution took place.

In January 1586–7 Deventer was betrayed to the Spaniards, and the States-General begged for Leicester's return. The queen refused the demand, but, after directing him to avoid hostilities, sent him over in June to inform the Dutch that they must come to terms with Spain. Parma was besieging Sluys, and declined to entertain negotiations for peace. The English were forced to renew the war, but it was too late to save Sluys, which fell in August. The wretched plight of the English soldiers rendered them nearly useless. Leicester did little or nothing, and he was finally recalled on 10 Nov. 1587. With characteristic love of display he had a medal struck with the motto 'In vitus desero non Gregem sed ingratos.' A party still supported him in Holland, and resisted his successor. On 12 April 1588 a proclamation was issued by the States, announcing his final resignation of his high office (translation in Somers Tracts, 1810, i. 421–4).

On Leicester's return home he was welcomed as of old by the queen. She seemed to place increased confidence in him. In May and June 1588, while the country was preparing to resist the Spanish Armada, he was constantly in her company, and received the appointment of 'lieutenant and captain-general of the queen's armies and companies' (24 July). He joined the camp at Tilbury on 26 July, and when the danger was over the queen visited the camp, and rode with him down the lines (9 Aug.) (One of Leicester's latest letters described to Lord Shrewsbury (15 Aug.) Elizabeth's glorious reception by the troops. At the same time she had a patent drawn up constituting him lieutenant-general of England and Ireland, but, yielding to the protests of Burghley, Hatton, and Walsingham, she delayed signing it. Leicester withdrew from London at the end of August. While on the way to Kenilworth he stopped at his house at Cornbury, Oxfordshire, and there he died of 'a continual fever, as 'twas said,' on 4 Sept. 1588, aged about fifty-six. Ben Jonson tells the story that he had given his wife 'a bottle of liquor which he willed her to use in any faintness, which she, not knowing it was poison, gave him, and so he died' (Conversations with Drummond, p.24), Bliss in his notes to the 'Athenæ Oxon.,' ii. 74–5, first printed a contemporary narrative to the effect that the countess had fallen in love with Christopher Blount [q. v.], gentleman of the horse to Leicester; that Leicester had taken Blount to Holland with the intention of killing him, in which he failed; that the countess, suspecting her husband's plot, gave him a poisonous cordial after a heavy meal while she was alone with him at Cornbury. Blount married the countess after Leicester's death, and the narrator of the story gives as his authority William Haynes, Leicester's page and gentleman of the bedchamber, who saw the fatal cup handed to his master. But the story seems improbable in face of the post-mortem examination, which was stated to show no trace of poison. Leicester was buried in the lady chapel of the collegiate tomb at Warwick. The gorgeous funeral cost 4,000l. An elaborate altar-tomb with a long Latin inscription was erected there to his memory by his wife, Lettice. By her he had a son, Robert, who died at Wanstead 19 July 1584, and was buried in the Beauchamp Chapel, Warwick. Leicester's will, dated at Middleburg, 1 Aug. 1587, was proved by the countess, the sole executrix, two days after his death. He left to the queen, with strong expressions of fidelity, a magnificent jewel set with emeralds and diamonds, together with a rope of six hundred 'fair white pearls.' Wanstead was appointed for the countess's dowager-house. Sir Christopher Hatton, the Earl of Warwick, and Lord Howard of Effingham were overseers of the will. His personalty was valued at 29,820l. (cf. Harl. Rolls, D. 35). Inventories of his pictures at Kenilworth, Leicester House, and Wanstead have been printed (Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. ii. 201–2, 224–5). There are 183 entries, among them portraits of himself, his relatives, the queen, and the chief foreign generals and statesmen of the time. Leicester's widow, after marrying Sir Christopher Blount, sought in vain a reconciliation with Elizabeth in 1597; remained on friendly terms with Robert, earl of Essex, her son by her first husband, till his execution in 1601; took some part in the education of Robert, third earl of Essex, her grandson; resisted the efforts of Leicester's son. Sir Robert Dudley [q. v.], to prove his legitimacy; and died, vigorous to the last, on 25 Dec. 1634, aged 94. She was buried by Leicester in Beauchamp Chapel, Warwick, and some verses on her death by Gervase Clifton were painted on a tablet hung near the Leicester monument.

'Laws and Ordinances,' drawn up for the English army in Holland, and published in London in 1587, is the only printed work of which Leicester was author, but numerous letters appear in Digges's 'Compleat Ambassador,' 1655, in 'Cabala,' 1671, and in the 'Leycester Correspondence,' 1844. They all show much literary power. His style is colloquial, but always energetic. In 1571 Leicester founded by act of parliament a hospital at Warwick for twelve poor men. The first warden was Ralph Griffin, D.D., and the second Thomas Cartwright, the puritan [q. v.] Leicester drew up statutes for the institution, 26 Nov. 1585 (Collins, Sydney Papers, i. 46–7).

Leicester was a patron of literature and the drama. Roger Ascham, whose son Dudley (b. 1664) was his godson, often wrote of his literary taste. Gabriel Harvey devoted the second book of his 'Congratulationes Valdinenses,' London, 1578, to his praises, and printed eulogies by Pietro Bizari, Carlus Utenhovius, Walter Haddon, Abraham Hartwell, and Edward Grant. Geoffrey Whitney, when dedicating to him his 'Choice of Emblemes' (1586), states that many famous men had been enabled to pursue their studies through his beneficence. Horne dedicated to him his translation of two of Calvin's sermons in 1585, and Cartwright was always friendly with him. While patronising the puritan controversialists he exhibited with characteristic inconsistency an active interest in the drama. As early as 1571 'Lord Leicester's Men' performed a play before the queen when visiting Saffron Walden. In succeeding years the same company of actors is often mentioned in the accounts of the office of revels. On 7 May 1574 the first royal patent granted to actors in this country was conceded to the Earl of Leicester in behalf of his actor-servants, at whose head stood James Burbage [q. v.] Plays or masques formed the chief attractions of the Kenilworth festivities of 1575 (Collier, Hist. English Dramatic Poetry, i. 192, 202, 224–6, iii. 259).

Love of display and self-indulgence are Leicester's most striking personal characteristics. By his extravagant dress, his gluttony, and his cruel treatment of women he was best known to his contemporaries. That he was also an accomplished poisoner has been repeatedly urged against him, but the evidence is inconclusive in all the charges of murder brought against him. In politics his aim was to control and (at first) marry the queen, whose early infatuation for him decreased but never died. He was a clever tactician, and contrived to turn the least promising political crises into means of increasing his influence at court. The general policy of Elizabeth was unaffected by him. The piety with which he has been credited in later life does not merit serious attention. In person he was stated to be remarkably handsome, although 'towards his latter end he grew high-coloured and red-faced' (Naunton), tall in stature, dignified in bearing, and affable in conversation. The best portrait is that by Mark Garrard at Hatfield. Another (with a page) by Zucchero belongs to the Marquis of Bath. A third at Penshurst was painted in 1585. Others are in the University Library, Cambridge, and at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. In the large picture of Queen Elizabeth visiting Hunsdon House (1571), belonging to Mr. G. D. W. Digby, Leicester is the courtier standing nearest to the queen (Catalogue of Exhibition of National Portraits, 1866).

[There is no good biography of Leicester. 'The copy of a Letter wryten by a Master of Arte of Cambridge to his Friend in London concerning some talke past of late between two worshipfull and grave men about the present state and some proceedyngs of the Erle of Leycester and his friendes in England,' is the full title of the scurrilous libel attributed to Father Parsons, usually quoted as 'Leicester's Commonwealth,' and known from the green-edged leaves of the original edition as 'Father Parson's Green Coat.' Some letters in Cole's MSS. xxx. 129, show clearly that Father Parsons was not the author, but that it was the work of a courtier who endeavoured to foist responsibility on Parsons. This book, which treats Leicester as a professional poisoner and a debauchee, is the foundation of all the chief lives. It was first printed probably at Antwerp in 1584; it appeared in a French translation under the title of 'La Vie Abominable, Ruses, Trahisons, Meurtres. Impostures,' &c. (Paris? 1585), and in a Latin version by Iulius Briegerus at Naples in 1585 as 'Flores Calvinistici decerpti ex Vita Roberti Dudlei, comitis Leicestriæ.' It was republished in London in 1641 as 'Leicester's Commonwealth identified,' and was versified as 'Leicester's Ghost' about the same time. Orders were issued for its suppression in October 1641 (Cal. State Papers, 1641-3, p. 136). It formed the basis of Dr. Drake's 'Secret Memoirs of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester' (London, 1706, 2nd edit. 1706. 3rd edit. 1708), which was given in 1721 the new title 'Perfect Picture of a Favourite.' Drake pretended to print the libel 'for the first time from an old manuscript.' In 1727 Dr. Jebb issued a Life 'drawn from original writers and reoords,' which does not place less reliance than its predecessors on 'Leicester's Commonwealth,' but quotes many other authorities. The Amy Robsart episode has been the subject of numerous books. Ashmole's account, which Sir Walter Scott adopted, is printed in his 'Antiquities of Berkshire,' i. 140-54, and is drawn from 'Leicester's Commonwealth.' More critical examinations of the story appear in A. D. Bartlett's 'Cumnor Place' (1850), in Pettigrew's 'Inquiry concerning the Death of Amy Robsart' (1859), and in J. G. Adlard's 'Amye Robsart' (a useful collection of authorities and genealogical information about the Robsart family) (1861). Canon Jackson printed several manuscripts relating to Lady Amy, now at Longleat, in 'Wiltshire Archæological and Natural Hist. Mag.,' xvii. 47-93 (May 1877), and in 'Nineteenth Century' for March 1882 he argues strongly for Leicester's innocence. Mr. Walter Rye, in his 'Murder of Amy Robsart — a brief for the prosecution' (1885), attempts to convict him by treating 'Leicester's Commonwealth' as trustworthy evidence, and interpreting unfavourably much neutral collateral information. A valuable list of royal grants made to Leicester, and some contemporary documents at Hatfield, notably Appleyard's 'Examination,' appear in Mr. Rye's appendix. 'Cumnor Hall,' the well-known ballad on Amy Robsart, by W. J. Mickle, first appeared in Evans's Ballads, 1784, and first directed Sir Walter Scott's attention to the subject. His novel of 'Kenilworth' was issued in 1821. Its historical errors, often exposed, were fully treated of by Herrmann Isaac in 'Amy Robsart und Graf Leicester' in 1886. Leicester's important letters to Blount, written immediately after Amy's death, were first printed from the Pepys's Collection in Lord Braybrooke's edition of Pepys's 'Diary' in 1848. For Leicester's career in Holland the 'Leycester Correspondence,' ed. John Bruce (Camd. Soc. 1844), which covers his first visit. 15856, is, together with Motley's History, most valuable. 'A brief Report of the Militarie Service done in the Low Countries by the Earl of Leicester, written by one that hath served in a good place there,' is a contemporary eulogy (London, 1587). Contemporary accounts of his triumphal progress through Utrecht, Leyden, and the Hague are mentioned above, A Remonstrance (in French) against his conduct in Holland appeared at Utrecht in 1587. and his reply (in Dutch) at Dordrecht in the same year. Madame Toussaint wrote a Dutch novel entitled 'Leicester en Nederland,' and at Deventer in 1847 was issued Hugo Beijerman's 'Oldenbarneveld : de Staten von Holland en Leycester,' a discussion of his policy. See also Froude's History (very valuable for the Spanish accounts of Leicester); Lingard's Hist.; Naunton's Fragmenta Regalia; Camden's Annals; Stow's Annals; Sydney Papers, ed. Collins; Sir Dudley Digges's Compleat Ambassador (1655); Cabala (1671); Cal. State Papers (Domestic) (1547-88); Nichols's Progresses, especially ii. 613-24; Cal. Hatfield Papers, i.; Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr. ii. 30, 543; Wood's Athenæ Oxon.,ed. Bliss, ii. 74-5 ; Strype's Annals, Memorials, and Lives of Parker and Whitgift; Biog. Brit. (Kippis) ; Notes and Queries, 6th ser. iii. 283 (an unprinted letter to the Earl of Bedford, 17 Sept. 1665); Dugdale's Warwickshire. The fullest account of Lettico, Leicester's third wife, is in Gent. Mag. (1846) i. 250 et seq. ; it is by Mr. J. G. Nichols.]

S. L. L.