Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dudley, Robert (1573-1649)

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DUDLEY, Sir ROBERT, styled Duke of Northumberland and Earl of Warwick (1573–1649), naval commander and inventor, was son of Robert Dudley [q. v.], earl of Leicester, by Douglas Sheffield, widow of John, second baron Sheffield, and daughter of William, first lord Howard of Effingham. He was born at Sheen House, Surrey, 7 Aug. 1574. Dudley's legitimacy was never legally established. He adduced evidence to show that his parents formally contracted themselves at a house in Cannon Row, Westminster, in 1571; that in the winter of 1573 they were secretly married at Esher, Surrey; that Sir Edward Horsey gave the lady away; that Dr. Julio and seven others witnessed the ceremony; that the secrecy was due to his father's desire to keep the marriage from Queen Elizabeth's knowledge, and that until he was three years old, and his father's affections were transferred to the Countess of Essex, Leicester treated him as his lawful heir. About 1577 Leicester seems to have offered Lady Sheffield 700l. to induce her to disavow the marriage, but this bribe she indignantly declined. In 1578 Leicester married the Countess of Essex, whereupon Lady Sheffield married Sir Edward Stafford of Grafton. These marriages, whose validity was not disputed, are the substantial ground on which Dudley has been adjudged illegitimate; but they are not incompatible with the allegation that his father and mother went through a marriage ceremony at Esher in 1573. His godfathers were Sir Henry Lee and his father's brother, Ambrose Dudley [q. v.], earl of Warwick. Lady Dacres of the South was his godmother, but none of these persons were present at his baptism. The Earl of Warwick always seems to have treated the child with kindness. For a time Dudley lived with his mother, and his father was denied access to him. But when he was five or six Leicester obtained possession of him, and sent him to a school at Offington, near Worthing, Sussex.

In 1588 he was entered at Christ Church, Oxford, as an earl's son, and placed under the care of Thomas Chaloner. Leicester died in 1588, and left to young Robert after the death of Warwick the Kenilworth estate, with the lordships of Denbigh and Chirk. Warwick died 20 Feb. 1589–90, and Robert took possession of the property. At the time he was a handsome youth, learned in mathematics, and an admirable horseman. Before he was nineteen he married a sister of Thomas Cavendish [q. v.], the circumnavigator, whose exploits he wished to emulate. On 18 March 1592–3 the mayor of Portsmouth was directed by the privy council to deliver to Dudley two ships, the property of Cavendish, who had lately died at sea. Immediately afterwards he projected an expedition to the South Seas, but the government laid obstacles in the way of his departure. On 6 Nov. 1594 he started on a voyage to the West Indies with two ships (the Earwig and Bear). He destroyed much Spanish shipping at Trinidad; visited the Orinoco river, naming an island at its mouth Dudleiana, and after exploring Guiana, arrived at St. Ives, Cornwall (Hakluyt, iii. 574 et seq.). In 1596 Dudley was with Essex at Cadiz, and was knighted by his commander. On his return Dudley, now a widower, married Alice or Alicia, daughter of Sir Thomas Leigh of Stoneleigh, Warwickshire. His eldest daughter Alicia was baptised at Kenilworth 25 Sept. 1597. Immediately afterwards he resolved to secure legal proof of his legitimacy, and to claim the titles of his father, Leicester, and uncle, Warwick. A suit was commenced in the Archbishop of Canterbury's court of audience, and Dr. Zachary Babington was commissioned to examine witnesses. Many persons deposed on oath to the Esher marriage. But Lettice, Leicester's widow, was unwilling that the lawfulness of her marriage should be questioned, and Robert Sidney, son of Leicester's and Warwick's sister Mary (wife of Sir Henry Sidney), also resisted the claim. An information was filed in the Star-chamber charging Dudley, Sir Thomas Leigh (his father-in-law), Dr. Babington, and others with a criminal conspiracy. All proceedings were stayed, and documents and depositions impounded. Chafing at this injustice, Dudley applied for and was granted a three years' license to travel abroad (25 June 1605). An extant letter from Dudley to his father's friend, Arthur Atye, dated Stoneleigh, 2 Nov. 1603, shows that Dudley, who was then in England, had not yet abandoned all hope of obtaining a legal decision in favour of his claims. But in July 1605 Dudley abandoned his home for ever.

With him there went, in the disguise of a page, Elizabeth, the beautiful daughter of Sir Robert Southwell of Woodrising, Norfolk, and his own cousin-german. This lady was his mistress. He is said to have married her by papal dispensation at Lyons, and to have repudiated his former marriage with Alice Leigh, by whom he had a large family of daughters, on the ground that he had been precontracted to some one else. Orders were issued by the English government for Dudley's return (2 Feb. 1606–7), to meet a charge of having assumed abroad the title of Earl of Warwick. He refused to obey, and his estates were forcibly sold. On 21 Nov. 1611 Kenilworth, which had been valued at 38,550l., was purchased for 14,500l. by Henry, prince of Wales; but Dudley, who claimed to retain the office of constable of the castle, obtained nothing from the transaction. The Sidneys of Penshurst seized his estates of Balsall and Long Itchington; but his daughters Catherine and Anne recovered them after many years' litigation. On the appeal of Sir Thomas Leigh, the privy council ordered (21 May 1616) the sale of all Dudley's remaining property for the benefit of his forsaken wife and daughters. On 30 July 1621 Sir Thomas Chaloner wrote that if Dudley made proper provision for his legitimate family, means might be found for his return to England.

Dudley meanwhile settled at Florence, and became a Roman catholic. In 1612 he sent to his friend, Sir David Foulis, a pamphlet about bridling parliaments, with a view to recovering James I's favour. An accompanying note was signed ‘Warwick.’ Under the same signature he forwarded to Foulis in the same year ‘A Proposition for Henry, Prince of Wales,’ which chiefly dealt with the necessity on England's part of maintaining an efficient navy, and suggested a new class of war-ships, called Gallizabras, and carrying fifty cannon. In January 1613–14 he sent further letters from Leghorn, describing his nautical inventions. On 15 July 1614 he informed Foulis that he could build his own kind of ship, and wished to return to England; but this wish was never gratified. In 1613 he bought a house of the Rucellai family at Florence, still standing in the Vigna Nuova. His ingenuity as a shipbuilder and mathematician attracted the attention of Cosmo II, duke of Tuscany, whose wife, Magdalen, archduchess of Austria, and sister of the emperor, Ferdinand II, appointed him her grand chamberlain. On 9 March 1620 the emperor, who had heard of his accomplishments and knew his history, created him Earl of Warwick and Duke of Northumberland in the Holy Roman Empire, and he was enrolled by Pope Urban VIII among the Roman nobility. Dudley was employed by Ferdinand II, who succeeded his father, Cosmo II, as Duke of Tuscany in 1621, to drain the morass between Pisa and the sea, an operation to which the town of Leghorn owed its future prosperity. A pension was granted him for this skilful piece of engineering. He built himself a palace at Florence, and was presented with Villa Castello in the neighbourhood. Lord Herbert of Cherbury visited Dudley at Florence in 1614, and has described the meeting at length in his ‘Autobiography.’ John Bargrave [q. v.] met him in 1646, and has also left on record an account of his interview. He died at Villa Castello 6 Sept. 1649. His remains were placed in the nunnery of Boldrone, where they are said to have remained as late as 1674. A stone coroneted shield—with the bear and ragged staff engraved upon them—is still preserved in what remains of the Florentine church of San Pancrazio, and is locally described as part of a tomb set up there above Dudley's body. Elizabeth Southwell, who died before Dudley, was certainly buried in that church, but the tomb and inscription were destroyed by the French in 1798.

Alice Dudley, Dudley's deserted wife, was created in her own right Duchess Dudley on 23 May 1645. The patent which recognises her husband's legitimacy confers the precedence of a duke's daughters on her surviving children. The title was confirmed by Charles II in 1660. The duchess resided at Dudley House, St. Giles's-in-the-Fields, once the residence of her husband's grandfather, the Duke of Northumberland, and she enjoyed the rents of some of her husband's landed property. She was a great benefactor of the church and parish of St. Giles, and bequeathed large sums to the parochial charities, on her death at Dudley House, 22 Jan. 1668–9. She was buried at Stoneleigh. A funeral sermon (‘Mirror of Christianity’), preached at St. Giles's Church by the rector, Robert Boreman [q. v.], was published. A portrait is at Trentham Hall, Staffordshire. Of her seven daughters by Dudley, Alicia, born at Kenilworth in 1597, died in 1621. Frances married Sir Gilbert Kniveton of Bradley, Derbyshire, and died before 1645, being buried in St. Giles's Church. Anne was wife of Sir Robert Holbourne, and died in 1663. Catherine married Sir Richard Leveson of Trentham; died in 1673, and was buried at Lilleshall, Shropshire.

Dudley is credited with having had thirteen children by Elizabeth Southwell. Five sons were alive in 1638, of whom the fourth, Ferdinando, was a Dominican, and the eldest, Carlo, called himself ‘duca di Nortumbria’ after his father's death. Carlo married Maria Maddalena Gouffier, daughter of Duc de Rohanet of Picardy, and died at Florence in 1686. His son and heir, Ruperto, was first chamberlain to Maria Christina, queen of Sweden, at Rome. One of Carlo's daughters married Marquis Palliotti of Bologna, whose son was hanged at Tyburn, and whose daughter, Adelhida, married Charles Talbot, duke of Shrewsbury. Of Dudley's six daughters, Anna died in 1629, and was buried in the church of San Pancrazio, where her father and mother set up an elaborate tomb. Teresa married Conte Mario di Carpegna; a third married the Prince of Piombino; the fourth, Marquis of Clivola; the fifth, Duke di Castillon del Lago (Wood).

Dudley wrote the following: 1. ‘A Voyage … to the Isle of Trinidad and the Coast of Paria,’ printed in Hakluyt's ‘Voyages,’ iii. 574 (1600); reprinted by the Hakluyt Society 1899 with the fuller account of the expedition by George Wyatt, first printed from Brit. Mus. Sloane 358. 2. ‘A Proposition for His Majesty's Service to bridle the Impertinence of Parliaments,’ written in 1612, and forwarded to Sir David Foulis. The manuscript was found in Sir Robert Cotton's library in 1629, and caused much commotion in both the court and parliamentary parties. It recommended to James I a military despotism, and was first printed in Rushworth's ‘Collections’ (1659) [see art. Cotton, Sir Robert]. 3. ‘Dell 'Arcano del Mare di D. Roberto Dvdleo, Dvca di Northvmbria e Conte di Warvick,’ Florence, vol. i. (1646), vols. ii. and iii. (1647), dedicated to Ferdinand II, duke of Tuscany. These magnificent volumes are divided into six books; the first deals with longitude, and the means of determining it; the second supplies general maps, besides charts of ports and harbours, in rectified latitude and longitude; the third treats of maritime and military discipline; the fourth of naval architecture; the fifth of scientific or spiral navigation; and the sixth is a collection of geographical maps. Numerous diagrams give the book great value. A second edition appeared at Florence in 1661. Wood states that Dudley also wrote an otherwise unknown work called ‘Catholicon,’ ‘in good esteem among physicians,’ perhaps a book of medical prescriptions thumbed out of existence. A Pisan doctor, Marco Cornachini, published at Florence in 1619 a work dedicated to Dudley, describing a powder of extraordinarily effective medical properties invented by Dudley. The powder, composed of scammony, sulphuret of antimony, and tartar, appears in many English and foreign pharmacopœias as ‘Pulvis Warwicensis,’ or ‘Pulvis Comitis de Warwick.’ Wood also adds that Dudley was ‘noted for riding the great horse, for tilting, and for his being the first of all that taught a dog to sit in order to catch partridges’.

Engraved portraits appear in Adlard's ‘Amye Robsart’ and in ‘The Italian Biography.’ There is a close resemblance between his features and those of Shelley.

[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), iii. 258–62, communicated by Dudley's son Carlo from Rome 17 Oct. 1673; The Italian Biography of Sir Robert Dudley, Kt. … and Notices of Dame Alice Dudley, privately printed, without author's name, date [1856?], or place (an ill-arranged but elaborate work by the Rev. Vaughan Thomas, B.D. (1775–1853), vicar of Stoneleigh); J. Temple Leader's Life of Sir R. Dudley, Florence 1895; G. F. Warner's pref. to Voyage of Sir R. Dudley (1594–5), Hakluyt Soc. 1899; Adlard's Memoirs and Correspondence (from the State Papers), in Amye Robsart and the Earl of Leicester (1870); Salvetti's Correspondence in Hist. MSS. Comm. 11th Rep. pt. i. 174, 181–3; Walpole's Royal and Noble Authors, ii.; Biog. Brit. (Kippis); Lord Herbert of Cherbury's Autobiogr. (1886), pp. 156–7; Bargrave's Alexander VII, Camd. Soc.; Sir N. H. Nicolas's Report of Proceedings on claim to Barony of De L'Isle, 1829; Gillow's Bibl. Dict. of English Catholics.]

S. L. L.