Dudley, Robert

, baron of Denbigh, and earl of Leicester, son to John duke of Northumberland, and brother to Ambrose earl of Warwick, before mentioned, was born about 1532, and coming early into the service and favour of king Edward, was knighted in his youth. June 1550 he espoused Amy, daughter of sir John Robsart, at Sheen in Surrey, the king honouring their nuptials with his presence; and was immediately advanced to considerable offices at court. In the first year of Mary he fell into the same misfortunes with the rest of his family; was imprisoned, tried, and condemned; but pardoned for life, and set at liberty in October 1554. He was afterwards restored in blood, as we have observed in the former article. On the accession of Elizabeth, he was immediately entertained at court as a principal favourite: he was made master of the horse, installed knight of the garter, and sworn of the privy-council in a very short time. He obtained moreover prodigious grants, one after another, from the crown: and all things gave way to his ambition, influence, and policy. In his attendance upon the queen to Cambridge, the highest reverence was paid him: he was lodged in Trinity college, consulted in all things, requests made to the queen through him; and, on August 10, 1564, he on his knees entreated the queen to speak to the iruversity in Latin, which she accordingly did, and was probably prepared to grant the request. At court, however, Thomas earl of Sussex shewed himself averse to his | counsels, and strongly promoted the overture of a marriage between the queen and the archduke Charles of Austria; as much more worthy of such a princess than any subject of her own, let his qualities be what they would. This was resented by Dudley, who insinuated that foreign alliances were always fatal; that her sister Mary never knew an easy minute after her marriage with Philip; that her majesty ought to consider, she was herself descended of such a marriage as by those lofty notions was decried: so that she could not contemn an alliance with the nobility of England, but must at the same time reflect on her father’s choice, and her mother’s family. This dispute occasioned a violent rupture between the two lords, which the queen took into her hands, and composed; but without the least diminution of Dudley’s ascendancy, who still continued to solicit and obtain new grants and offices for himself and his dependants, who were so numerous, and made so great a figure, that he was styled by the common people “The Heart of the Court.

To give some colour to these marks of royal indulgence, the queen proposed him as a suitor to Mary queen of Scots; promising to that princess all the advantages she could expect or desire, either for herself or her subjects, in case she consented to the match. The sincerity of this was suspected at the time, when the deepest politicians believed that, if the queen of Scotland had complied, it would have served only to countenance the preferring him to his sovereign’s bed. The queen of Scots rejected the proposal in a manner that, some have thought, proved as fatal to her as it had done to his own lady, who was supposed to be sacrificed to his ambition of marrying a queen. The death of this unfortunate person happened September 8, 1560, at a very unlucky juncture for his reputation; because the world at that time conceived it might be much for his conveniency to be without a wife, this island having then two queens, young, and without husbands. The manner too of this poor lady’s death, which, Camden says, was by a fall from a high place, filled the world with the rumour of a lamentable tragedy .*


Mr. Aubrey has given a very circumstantial and curious account of this affair; and, as it is generally supposed to be true in the main, we will here insert it: " Robert Dudley, earl of Lei­ cester, a very goodly personage, being a great favourite to queen Elizabeth, it was thought, and commonly reported, that had he been a bachelor or widower, the queen would have made him her


husband. To this end, to free himself of all obstacles, he with fair flattering entreaties desires his wifr 10 repose herself here,“that is, at Cutnnor in Berkshire, where this tragical affair was executed, ” at his servant Anthony Forster’s house, who then lived in the manor house of this place; and also prescribed to sir Richard Varney, a promoter to this design, at his coming hither, that he should first attempt to poison her, and, if that did not take effect, then by any other way whatsoever to dispatch her.“The scheme of poisoning not succeeding, they resolved to destroy her by violence; and, as Aubrey relates, they effected it thus: ” Sir Richard Varney, who. by the earl’s order, remained with her alone on the day of her dea’h, aud Tors’er, who had that day forcibly sent away all her servantsfrom her to Abingdon fair, about three miles distance from this place; these two persons, first stifling her, or else strangling her, afterwards flung her down a pair of stairs and broke her neck, using much violence upon her: yet caused it to be reported, that she tell down of herself, believing the world would have thought it a mischance, and not have suspected the villany. As soon as she was murdered they made haste to bury her, before the coroner had given in his in­ quest, which the earl himself condemned, as not done advisedly; and her father, sir John Rebsart, hearing, came with all speed hither, caused her corpse to be taken up, the coroner to sit upon her, and further inquiry to be made concerning this business to the full. But it was generally thought, that the earl stopped his mouth; who, to shew the great love he bore to her while alive, and what a grief the loss of so virtuous a lady was to his tender heart, caused her body to be buried in St. Mary’s church in Oxford, with great pomp and solemnity. It is also remarkable,“says Aubrey, ” that Dr. BabingtoH, the earl’s chaplain, preaching the funeral sermon, tripped once or twice in his speech, by recommending to their memories that virtuous lady so pitifully murdered, instead of saying, so pitifully slain.“Antiquities of Berkshire, vol. i. p. 149. This narrative, hewever, appears doubtful, because it is in fact almost closely copied from Leicester’s Commonwealth," a work whioh, with some truth, contains also much misR-prtsen’ation. Ye! this noblernau’s moral chaiacter, we fear, will not bear a very strict examination. Concerning queen Elizabeth’s inclination to marry him, see a letter in lord Hardwioke’s State-papers, vol. I. p f 1631—69.

| In Sept. 1564, the queen created him baron of Denbigh,­and, the day after, earl of Leicester, with great pomp and ceremony; and, before the close of the year, he was made chancellor of Oxford, as he had been some time before high-steward of Cambridge. His great influence in the court of England was not only known at home, but abroad, which induced the French king, Charles IX. to send him the order of St. Michael, then the most honourable in France; and he was installed with great solemnity in 1565. About 1572 it is supposed that the earl married Douglas, baroness dowager of Sheffield: which, however, was managed with such privacy, that it did not come to the queen’s ears, though a great deal of secret history was published, even in those days, concerning the adventures of this unfortunate lady, whom, though the earl had actually married her, and there were legal proofs of it, yet he never would own as his wife. The earl, in order to stifle this affair, proposed every thing he could think of to lady Douglas Sheffield, to make her desist from her | pretensions but, finding her obstinate, and resolved not to comply with his proposals, he attempted to take her off by poison “For it is certain,” says Dugdale, “that she had some ill potions given her, so that, with the loss of her hair and nails, she hardly escaped death.” It is, however, beyond all doubt, that the earl had by her a son (sir Robert Dudley, of whom we shall speak hereafter, and to whom, by the name of his Base Son, he left the bulk of his fortune), and also a daughter.

In July 1575, as the queen was upon her progress, she made the earl a visit at his castle of Kenilworth in Warwickshire. This manor and castle had formerly belonged to the crown; but lord Leicester having obtained it from the queen, spared no expence in enlarging and adorning it: and Dugdale says, that he laid out no less than 60,000l. upon it. Here, due preparation being made, he entertained the queen and her court for seventeen days with a magnificence, of which, being characteristic of the times, the following account from Dugdale may be not unamusing. That historian tells us (Antiquities of Warwickshire, p. 249), that the queen at her entrance was surprised with the sight of a floating island on the large pool there, bright blazing with torches; on which were clad in silks the lady of the lake, and two nymphs waiting on her, who made a speech to the queen in metre, of the antiquity and owners of that castle, which was closed with cornets and other music. Within the base-court was erected a stately bridge, twenty feet wide, and seventy feet long, over which the queen was to pass: and on each side stood columns, with presents upon them to her majesty from the gods. Sylvanus offered a cage of wild fowl, and Pomona divers sorts of fruits Ceres gave corn, and Bacchus wine Neptune presented sea- fish Mars the hahiliments of war; and Phcebus all kinds of musical instruments. During her stay, variety of shows and sports were daily exhibited. In the chace, there was a savage man with satyrs; there were bear-baiting and fire-works, Italian tumblers, and a country bride-ale, running at the quintin, and morrice-dancing. And, that nothing might be wanting which those parts could afford, the Coventry men came and acted the ancient play, called Hock’s Thursday, representing the destruction of the Danes in the reign of king Ethelred; which pleased the queen so much, that she gave them a brace of bucks, and five marks in money, to bear the charges of a | feast. There were, besides, on the pool, a triton riding on a mermaid eighteen feet long, as also Anon on a dolphin, with excellent music. The expences and costs of these entertainments may be guessed at by the quantity of beer then drunk, which amounted to 320 hogsheads of the ordinary sort: and, for the greater honour and grace thereof, sir Thomas Cecil, son to the treasurer Burleigh, and three more gentlemen, were then knighted; and, the next ensuing year, the earl obtained a grant of the queen fora weekly market at Kenihvorth, with a fair yearly on Midsummer-day. So far Dugdale. There is also in. Strype’s Annals, p. 341, a long and circumstantial narrative of all that passed at this royal visit, by one who was present; which strongly illustrates the temper of the queen, and the manners of those times.

In 1576 happened the death of Walter, earl of Essex, which drew upon lord Leicester many suspicions, after his marriage with the countess of Essex took place, which, however, was not until two years after. In 1578, when the duke of Anjou pressed the match that had been proposed between himself and the queen, his agent, believing lord Leicester to be the greatest bar to the duke’s pretensions, informed the queen of his marriage with lady Essex; upon which her majesty was so enraged, that, as Camden relates, she commanded him not to stir from the castle of Greenwich, and would have committed him to the Tower, if she had not been dissuaded from it by the earl of Sussex. Lord Leicester being now in the very height of power and influence, many attempts were made upon his character, in order to take him down: and in 1584 came out a most virulent book against him, commonly called “Leicester’s Commonwealth,” the purpose of which was to shew, that the English constitution was subverted, and a new form imperceptibly introduced, to which no name could be so properly given, as that of a “Leicestrian Commonwealth.” In proof of this, the earl was represented as an atheist in point of religion, a secret traitor to the queen, an oppressor of her people 1 an inveterate enemy to the nobility, a complete monster with regard to ambition, cruelty, and Just; and not only so, but as having thrown all offices of trust into the hands of his creatures, and usurped all the power of the kingdom. The queen, however, did not fail to countenance and protect her favourite; and to remove as much as possible the impression this performance made | upon the vulgar, caused letters to be issued from the privycouncil, in which all the facts contained therein were declared to he absolutely false, not only to the knowledge of those who signed them, but also of the queen herself. Nevertheless, this book was universally read, and the contents of it generally received for true: and the great secrecy with which it was written, printed, and published, induced a suspicion, that some very able heads were concerned either in drawing it up, or at least in furnishing the materials. It is not well known what the original title of it was, but supposed to be “A Dialogue between a scholar, a gentleman, and a lawyer;” though it was afterwards called “Leicester’s Commonwealth.” It has been several times reprinted, particularly in 1600, 8vo; in 1631, 8vo, the running-title being “A letter of state to a scholar of Cambridge;” in 1641, 4to, and 8vo, with the addition of “Leicester’s Ghost;” and again in 1706, 8vo, under the title of “Secret Memoirs of Robert Dudley earl of Leicester,” with a preface by Dr. Drake, (see Drake) who pretended it to be printed from an old manuscript. The design of reprinting it in 1641, was, to give a bad impression of the government of Charles I.; and the same was supposed to be the design of Dr. Drake in his publication. In Dec. 1585, lord Leicester embarked for the protestant Low Countries, whither he arrived in quality of governor. At this time the affairs of those countries were in a perplexed situation; and the States thought that nothing could contribute so much to their recovery, as prevailing upon queen Elizabeth to send over some person of great distinction, whom they might set at the head of their concerns civil and military: which proposition, says Camden, so much flattered the ambition of this potent earl, that he willingly consented to pass the seas upon this occasion, as being well assured of most ample powers. Before his departure, the queen admonished him to have a special regard to her honour, and to attempt nothing inconsistent with the great employment to which he was advanced: yet, she was so displeased with some proceedings of his and the States, that the year after she sent over very severe letters to them, which drew explanations from the former, and deep submissions from the latter. The purport of the queen’s letter was, to reprimand the States “for having conferred the absolute government of the confederate provinces upon Leicester, her subject, though she had refused | it herself;” and Leicester, for having presumed to take it upon him. He returned to England Nov. 1585; and, notwithstanding what was past, was well received by the queen. What contributed to make her majesty forget his offence in the Low Countries, was the pleasure of having him near her, at a time when she very much wanted his counsel: for now the affair of Mary queen of Scots was upon the carpet, and the point was, how to have her taken off with the least discredit to the queen. The earl according to report, which we could wish to be able to contradict, thought it best to have her poisoned; but that scheme was not found practicable, so that they were obliged to have recourse to violence. The earl set out for the Low Countries in June 1587; but, great discontents arising on all sides, he was recalled in November. Camden relates, that on his return, finding an accusation preparing against him for mal-administration there, and that he w^as summoned to appear before the council, he privately implored the queen’s protection, and besought her “not to receive him with disgrace upon his return, whom at his first departure she had sent out with honour; nor bring down alive to the grave, whom her former goodness had raised from the dust.” Which expressions of humility and sorrow wrought so far upon her, that he was admitted into her former grace and favour.

In 1588, when the nation was alarmed with the apprehensions of the Spanish armada, lord Leicester was made lieutenant-general, under the queen, of the army assembled at Tilbury. This army the queen went to review in person, and there made this short and memorable speech “I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field. I know already for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns: and we do assure you, on the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you. In the mean time my lieutenant-general shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble or worthy subject; not doubting but, by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and your valour in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over those enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.” In such high favour did this noble personage stand to the last: for he died this year, Sept. 4, at his house at Cornbury in Oxfordshire, while he was upon the road to Kenilworth. His corpse | was removed to Warwick, and buried there in a magnificent manner. He is said to have inherited the parts of his father. His ambition was great, but his abilities seem to have been greater. He was a finished courtier in every respect; and managed his affairs so nicely, that his influence and power became almost incredible. He differed with archbishop Grindal, who, though much in confidence of the queen, was by him brought first into discredit with her, and then into disgrace; nay, to such a degree was this persecution carried, that the poor prelate desired to lay down his archiepiscopal dignity, and actually caused the instrument of his resignation to be drawn: but his enemies, believing he was near his end, did not press the perfecting of it, and so he died, with his mitre on his head, of a broken heart. This shews the power the earl had in the church, and how little able the first subject of the queen was to bear up against his displeasure, though conceived upon none of the justest motives .*


As to his power in the state, we may form an idea of that, from the observance shewn him, when he visited Buxton Wells, by the earl of Shrewsbury, one of the ancientest peers in the kingdom; and from the sense which the queen expressed of that earl’s behaviour in the following letter, written with her own hand, which contains perhaps as high a testimony of favour as ever was expressed by a sovereign to a subject.


Our very good cousin being given to understand from our cousin of Leicester, how honourably he was not only lately received by you our cousin and the countess of Chatswovth, and, his diet by you both discharged at Buxton’s, but also presented with a very rare present; we should do him great wrong, holding him in that place of favour we do, in case we should not let you understand in how thankful sort we accept the same at both your hands, not as done unto him, but unto our ownself, reputing him as another ourself. And therefore you may assure yourself, that we, taking upon us the debt, not as his, but our own, will take care accordingly to discharge in such honourable sort, as so well-deserving creditors as ye are shall never have cause to think ye have met with an unthankful debtor, &c.

In his private life he affected a wonderful regularity, and carried his pretences to piety very high: though, to gratify his passions, there were no crimes, however enormous, which he would not commit. Poisoning was very common with him; and he is said to have been wonderfully skilled in it. He was very circumspect in his speeches, many of which are preserved in the Cabala, Strype’s Annals, and Peck’s Desiderata Curiosa; and wrote as well as any man of his time. He had a competent knowledge of the Latin tongue, and was thoroughly versed in the French and Italian. This family of Dudley, in three descents, furnished men of such capacities as are scarcely to be | equalled in history: the grandfather, the father, and the son, were all great men; but the last the greatest and most fortunate of the three, if any man can be so reputed whom flattery itself would be ashamed to style good. Yet, notwithstanding his good fortune, he had probably shared the same fate, and come to the same untimely end with them, if death had not conveniently carried him off before his royal mistress and protectress. It has been justly remarked, that notwithstanding the elaborate article, written by Dr. Campbell in the Biographia Britannica, and the farther information that may be derived concerning Leicester from subsequent writers, there still hangs a cloud on some parts of his conduct, which is probably now for ever incapable of being removed. This is particularly the case with regard to the murders ascribed to him, which rather rest upon the grounds of strong and reasonable suspicion, than the basis of direct and positive evidence. Perhaps, likewise, too indiscriminate a credit has been given to the tract, entitled, “Leicester’s Commonwealth.” On the whole, however, he must stand upon record as having been a very wicked man; and it is a poor compensation for this character, to be able to say, that, upon inquiry, his abilities appear to have been of a higher nature than has commonly been apprehended. 1


Biog. Brit. Lodge’s Illustrations, vol. I. p. 308.