Leicester, Robert Dudley, Earl of

Biography: Statesman, courtier, soldier and favourite of Queen Elizabeth I. Born probably 1532. Educated by various schoolmasters, spoke and wrote Italian, could read Latin and French and could possible speak Latin and retained an interest in mathematics, engineering and navigation. Became friendly with Queen Elizabeth aged 8. Accompanied his father in the campaign against Ket's rebellion 1549. Knighted 1550. Served an apprenticeship in Norfolk local government, shared lord lieutenancy with his father 1552, knight of the shire for Norfolk 1551 and 1553. More interested in court, however - gentleman of the privy chamber 1551, master of the buckhounds Sept 1552, keeper of Somerset House Dec 1552, chief carver 1553. Arrested for treason for proclaiming Lady Jane Grey, Jul 1553, attainted 1554 (pardoned 1555, attainder reversed 1571). Released Oct-Nov 1554. Critical financial situation after his mother's death Jan 1555, but helped by his brothers. Suspicion remained - ordered to leave London during Mary's confinement, in flight til 1557. Went to St Quentin 1557. Close with Elizabeth I just before her accession, rumoured to have lent her money. Master of the horse Nov 1558. Granted Kew House, Surrey by the Queen Dec 1558. Relationship with Queen began to attract comment Apr 1559 - almost total emotional dependence on him, and insisted he always be present at court. Order of the garter, lieutenant of Windsor Castle 1559. Sudden death of his wife 1560 - possibly suicide, possibly a murder plot between Dudley and Eliazbeth I, but coroner's verdict was death by misadventure - haunted Dudley for the rest of his life. Now appeared to be a suitable consort for Elizabeth, although various factors against him also (e.g. father's treason, lesser birth, manner of wife's death). Granted various export licences by Elizabeth as her favourite. Privy Councillor 1562. Granted the lordships of Kenilworth, Denbigh and Chirk 1563. Earl of Leicester and baron of Denbigh 1564. Sold Kew and bought Paget Place 1570, renamed it Leicester House. Involved in making high policy 1561-1570 - issue of Elizabeth's marriage and succession was very important, also French intervention. Proposed marriage to Mary, Queen of Scots by Elizabeth I 1563-5, however Dudley was uncooperative, engineered the visit of Lord Darnley to Scotland Feb 1565, Mary and Darnley married Jul 1565. Chancellor of Oxford 1564. Clashed with the Earl of Sussex 1566. Possibly involved in Ash Wednesday plot 1569. Involved in discussions with the Duke of Norfolk over the Duke's possible marriage to Mary, Queen of Scots 1569, revealed the scheme to Elizabeth Sept 1569. Began affair with the dowager Lady Sheffield 1570 or 71, had a son 1574. Sudden rise of Christopher Hatton as possible favourite to the Queen 1572-74, this may have been jealousy at Leicester's affair with Sheffield. Began improving his estates 1570s. Intellectual and artistic patron 1570s. Protected protestant nonconformity. Married dowager countess of Essex 1578, Elizabeth was jealous, Leicester was possbly imprisoned briefly and she demanded repayment of debts putting him in financial difficulty. Came to blows with the earl of Sussex 1581. Travelled to Antwerp 1582. Crisis in Netherlands and death of his son July 1584. Publication of Leicester's Commonwealth 1584, character assassination of Leicester, gave ammunition to anti-Puritans. Governor-general of the Netherlands Jan 1586, ordered to resign by Elizabeth in Feb, but she relented. Governorship of Netherlands did not go well. Returned to England Nov 1586, back to Netherlands June-Dec 1587. Lord Steward Nov 1587. Involved in the military preparations against the Spanish Armada. Died Oxfordshire, Sept 1588, after a malarial infection.

Biography Date: 1532/3-88

Biography References: LOC; CERL; DNB;


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