Dudley, Sir Robert, As He Was Called Here, And As He Was Styled Abroad Earl Of Warwick And Duke Of Northumberland

was son of Robert earl of Leicester by the lady Douglas Sheffield, and born at Sheen in Surrey, in 1573. His birth, it is said, was carefully concealed, as well to prevent the queen’s knowledge of the earl’s engagements with his mother, as to hide it from the countess of Essex, to whom he was then contracted, if not married; but this latter assertion is surely doubtful, as the countess of Essex was not a widow until 1576 (See Devereux, Walter.) Sir Robert, however, was considered and treated as his lawful son till the earl’s marriage with the lady Essex, which was about 1578: and then he was declared to be only his natural issue by lady Douglas. Out of her hands the earl was very desirous to get him, in order to put him under the care of sir Edward Horsey, governor of the Isle of Wight; which some have imagined to have been, not with any view to the child’s disadvantage, for he always | loved him tenderly, but with a thought of bringing him upon the stage at some proper time, as his natural son by another lady. He was not able to get him for some time: but at last effecting it, he sent him to school at Offingham in Sussex, in 1583, and four years after to Christ Church in Oxford. In 1588 his father died, and left him, after the decease of his uncle Ambrose, his castle of Kenilworth, the lordships of Denbigh and Chirk, and the bulk of his estate, which before he was of age he in a great measure enjoyed, notwithstanding the enmity borne him by the countess dowager of Leicester. He was now reckoned one of the finest gentlemen in England, in his person tall, well-­shaped, having a fresh and fine complexion, but red-haired; learned beyond his age, more especially in the mathematics; and of parts equal if not superior to any of his family. Add to all this, that he was very expert in his exercises, and particularly in riding the great horse, in which he was allowed to excel any man of his time.

His genius prompting him to great exploits, and having a particular turn to navigation and discoveries, he projected a voyage into the South-seas, in hopes of acquiring the same fame thereby, as his friend the famous Thomas Cavendish of Trimley, esq. whose sister he had married: but, after much pains taken, and money spent, the government thought it not safe for him to proceed. Afterwards, however, he performed a voyage, setting out Nov. 1594, and returning May 1595; an account of which, written by himseh, is published in Hackluyt’s collection of voyages. At the end of Elizabeth’s reign, having buried his wife, he married Alice, the daughter of sir Thomas Leigh. He then began to entertain hopes of reviving the honours of his family; and in 1605 commenced a suit, with a view of proving the legitimacy of his birth. But no sooner had the countess dowager notice of this, than she procured au information to be filed against him and some others for a conspiracy; which was such a blow to all his hopes, that, obtaining a licence to travel for three years, which was easily granted him, he quitted the kingdom: leaving behind him lady Alice Dudley his wife, and four daughters. He had not been long abroad, before he was commanded back, for assuming in foreign countries the title of earl of Warwick; but refusing to obey that summons, his estate was seized, and vested in the crown, during his natural life, upon the statute of fugitives. | The place which sir Robert Dudley chose for his retreat abroad, was Florence; where he was very kindly received by Cosmo II. great duke of Tuscany; and, in process of time, made great chamberlain to his serene highness’s consort, the archduchess Magdalen of Austria, sister to the emperor Ferdinand II. with whom he was a great favourite. He discovered in that court those great abilities for which he had been so much admired in England: he contrived several methods of improving shipping, introduced new manufactures, excited the merchants to extend their foreign commerce; and, by other services of still greater importance, obtained so high a reputation, that, at the desire of the archduchess, the emperor, by letters-patent dated at Vienna March 9, 1620, created him a duke of the holy Roman empire. Upon this, he assumed his grandfather’s title of Northumberland; and, ten years after, got himself enrolled by pope Urban VIII. among the Roman nobility. Under the reign of the grand duke Ferdinand II. he became still more famous, on account of that great project which he formed, of draining a vast tract of morass between Pisa and the sea: for by this he raised Leghorn, from a mean and pitiful place into a large and beautiful town; and having engaged his serene highness to declare it a free port, he, by his influence, drew many English merchants to settle and set up houses there. In consideration of his services, and for the support of his dignity, the grand duke bestowed upon him a handsome pension; which, however, went but a little way in his expences: for he affected magnificence in all things, built a noble palace for himself and his family at Florence, and much adorned the castle of Carbello, three miles from that capital, which the grand duke gave him for a country retreat, and where he died Sept. 1639.

Sir Robert Dudley was not only admired by princes, but also by the learned; among whom he held a very high rank, as well on account of his skill in philosophy, chemistry, and physic, as his perfect acquaintance with all the branches of the mathematics, and the means of applying them for the service and benefit of mankind. He wrote several things. We have mentioned the account of his voyage. His principal work is, “Del arcano del mare,” &c. Fiorenze, 1630, 1646, fol. There is a copy in the British Museum, dated 1661, and called the second edition. This work has been always so scarce, as seldom to | have found a place even in the catalogues that have been published of rare books. It is full of schemes, charts, plans, and other marks of its author’s mathematical learning; but is chiefly valuable for the projects contained therein, for the improvement of navigation and the extending of commerce. Wood tells us, that he wrote also a medical treatise, entitled “Catholicon,” which was well esteemed by the faculty. There is still another piece, the title of which, as it stands in Rushworth’s Collections, runs thus: “A proposition for his majesty’s service, to bridle the impertinency of parliaments. Afterwards questioned in the Star-chamber.” After he had lived some time in exile, he still cherished hopes of returning to England: to facilitate which, and to ingratiate himself with king James, he drew up “a proposition, as he calls it, in two parts: the one to secure the state, and to bridle the impertinency of parliaments; the other, to increase his majesty’s revenue much more than it is.” This scheme, falling into the hands of some persons of great distinction, and being some years after by them made public, was considered as of so pernicious a nature, as to occasion their imprisonment: but they were released upon the discovery of the true author. (See Cotton, Sir Robert). It was written about 1613, and sent to king James, to teach him how most effectually to enslave his subjects: for, in that light, it is certainly as singular and as dangerous a paper as ever fell from the pen of man. It was turned to the prejudice of James I. and Charles I.; for though neither they, nor their ministers, made use of it, or intended to make use of it, yet occasion was taken from thence to excite the people to a hatred of statesmen who were capable of contriving such destructive projects. Lastly, he was the author of a famous powder, called “Pulvis comitis Warwicensis,” or the earl of Warwick’s powder, which is thus made: “Take of scammony, prepared with the fumes of sulphur, two ounces; of diaphoretic antimony, an ounce; of the crystals of tartar, half an ounce; mix them all together into a powder.

When he went abroad, he left his wife and four daughters at home, and prevailed upon a young lady, at that time esteemed one of the finest women in England, to bear him company in the habit of a page. This lady was Mrs. Elizabeth Southwell, the daughter of sir Robert Southwell, of Woodrising in Norfolk whom he afterwards married bv | virtue of a dispensation from the pope. In excuse for this gross immorality, we are told that the lady’s conduct was afterwards without exception; that she lived in honour and esteem, and had all the respect paid her that her title of a duchess could demand, and that sir Robert loved her most tenderly to the last, and caused a noble monument to be erected to her memory in the church of St. Pancrace at Florence, where her body lies buried, and he by her. He had by this lady a son Charles, who assumed the title of earl of Warwick, and four daughters, all honourably married in that country. It is very probable, that this marriage might prove a great bar to his return to England; and might be also a motive to the passing so extraordinary a law as that was, by which lady Alice Dudley was enabled to dispose of her jointure during his life. 1


Biog. Brit. Park’s edition of Royal and Noble Authors.