robert-dudley

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“Lord Robert Dudley, Master of the Horse, and son of the late Duke of Northumberland, a very handsome young man (giovane bellissimo)….” [Paulo Tieplo, Venetian Ambassador]

“The messenger I thought to send you found himself better at ease where he is; so wanting so fit a Mercury, I send you such an one as I had of my own, only to hear of your good estate, which I pray to continue longer in this world than ever earthly prince has done.” [Robert Dudley, in a letter to Elizabeth I]

Robert Dudley + Modern AU

For your own matter I assure you I found her majesty as well disposed as ever at any time… and so, I trust, it shall always continue. God be thanked, her blasts be not the storms of other princes, though they be very sharp sometimes to those she loves best. Every man must render to her their due and the most bounden the most of all. You and I come in that rank, and I am witness hitherto [to] your honest zeal to perform as much as man can. And it cannot be but [that] it will work satisfaction, which shall be recompense to your toiling body and a great quieting of your careful mind…
— 

Robert Dudley to William Cecil, February 1573. Cited in Sweet Robin: A Biography of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester 1533 - 1588 by Derek Wilson

Whenever you will hear somebody saying that Dudley and Cecil served Elizabeth only out of fear or that they couldn’t stand her and would have gladly welcomed any other monarch, remember these lines by Robert Dudley where he affirms his belief in Elizabeth’s enduring loyalty to them and expresses conviction that they are lucky to have Elizabeth as their monarch instead of other princes.

CORRESPONDENCE SERIES 53/53

Robert Dudley to Elizabeth Tudor
29 August 1588

I most humbly beseech your Majesty to pardon your pôôr old servant to be thus bold in sending to know how my gracious lady doth, and what ease of her late pain she finds, being the chiefest thing in the world I do pray for, for her to have good health and long life. For my own poor case, I continue still your medicine and find that [it] amends much better than any other thing that hath been given me. Thus hoping to find perfect cure at the bath, with the continuance of my wonted prayer for your Majesty’s most happy preservation, I humbly kiss your foot. From your old lodging at Rycote, this Thursday morning, ready to take on my Journey, by Your Majesty’s most faithful and obedient servant,
                                                                                        R. Leicester

Even as I had written thus much, I received Your Majesty’s token by Young Tracey.

Leicester’s advice was unwelcome to the queen only when it came to her own marriage. Otherwise, she sought him out and talked confidentialy to him about important matters of state. In april 1580, for example, when the question of Philip II asserting his rights to the Portuguese throne was raised, Elizabeth “desired that no one but himself (Leicester) and Cecil should hear of it”. In 1583, she spoke with Leicester about whether or not to make a treaty or “association” with Mary and her son, James VI of Scotland. and shortly afterwards the earl wrote down his opinion  "to your self only". His advice proved to be extraordinarily influential. Counselling Elizabeth against the “association” because neither Mary nor James could be trusted, he went on to advocate the enacment, of a parliamentary statute that would state that they should “forfytt for ever what soever claym or title that they have or dow pretend to this crown”, if they ever threatened the queen’s person or realm. this commendation was to be the genesis of the Act for the Queen’s Surety. (Elizabeth I and her circle, Susan Doran)

There were also gifts of a charitable nature which Dudley was obliged to make. The rich were always enjoined to help the needy. As the Queen’s first subject and the patron general of Puritans, he had to give a lead. Evidence of his generosity abounds. Scores of protégés and admirers applauded his “compassion on the distressed”, his succour of “poor, friendless suitors”, his “setting forth of God’s glory and help of such as were unfeigned professors thereof”, and his “charitable alms unto the poor”. In addition to such casual disbursements of largesse, he made two provisions of a more permanent nature. He paid for the education of two scholars at University College, Oxford, and in his will bequeathed some of his Welsh lands for the maintenance of this charity in perpetuity. The other was the establishment of a foundation which still survives and bears his name: the Hospital of Robert, Earl of Leicester in Warwick (now officially called “Lord Leycester Hospital, Warwick”). Poverty and vagrancy were grave problems in Elizabeth’s England and ones which regularly exercised the government. The poor laws enacted by parliament sought to control poor relief in three ways: to differentiate between the genuinely needy and “sturdy beggars”; to restrict the movements of jobless people; and to encourage to force each parish to care for its own destitute inhabitants. It was fully in line with this official thinking that, in 1571, Robert obtained an Act of Parliament permitting him “to establish one hospital within the town of Warwick or within the town of Kenilworth … for the finding, sustentation and relief of poor, needy and impotent people”. Probably Robert already had in mind the location of his foundation for, in the same year, he persuaded the burgesses of Warwick to grant him the fourteenth-century Guildhall and other buildings adjacent to the West Gate. The hospital provided food and shelter for twelve poor brethren who were in the charge of a master. The recipients of this charity were drawn from the town or, failing that, from the counties of Warwickshire and Gloucestershire. Preference was given to men “maimed or hurt in the wars, in service of the Queens majesty”. Dudley endowed it with lands producing an annual income of £ 200 and provided in his will for the continuance of this income.
—  Sweet Robin: A Biography of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester 1533 - 1588 by Derek Wilson

For years, went on Leicester, he had been content to be “a bond man” to the queen, and only when he was “aquytted and delyvered” of hope of marriage, had he wed another. He therefore did not deserve “so great displeasure”. Royal displeasure hit him financially too. Elizabeth demanded early repayment of an outstanding loan of £5,000 and also stayed the suit for an exchange of some lands that she had previously agreed to. Elizabeth left no record of her emotions on hearing the news, but we can easily surmise that she felt betrayed, as a woman, by his marriage and, as a sovereign, by his deceit. Reminding her principal courtier how much he owed to her favour, and of the consequences of losing it, was therefore both a private act of revenge and a political necessity.

Over the next year, Elizabeth’s relations with Leicester were changeable and unpredictable. In february 1580, one of the earl’s correspondents congratulated him on “the bettering and good successe of your lordship’s owne affayires and condicon”. However, that very same month, his “affairs” dipped again when Elizabeth was told (possibly by Simier) that Leicester had, some years before, contracted to marry Lady Sheffield. Such conduct, she may have judged, was shabby and untrustworthy. But of course, had this union taken place, the earl’s marriage to Lettice would be bigamous, an outcome far from unwelcome to the queen. In the end, not witnesses or documentary proof could be produced to show that Leicester was bound to Douglas, and so Elizabeth had to accept that the recent marriage to Lettice was legal. By the spring of 1580, the storm of Elizabeth’s anger seemed to have blown over. In may, she “stayed” Leicester’s journey to Wilton, the home of his niece Mary, and demanded that he remain at court; later that month, he accompanied the queen to Nonsuch, apparently on very good terms with her. In june, she granted him the office of keeper of the New Forest. Yet, towards the end of july 1580, Leicester bemoaned the fact that he had “less of her majesty’s wontyd favour than I take comfort to think of”, and in exasperation exclaimed “the hartes of princes are in the handes of god”. Then, in late August, Elizabeth good temper towards him returned. However, it was only with the death of his 3 year old son on 19 july 1584 that Elizabeth fully forgave Leicester for his marriage. On hearing the news from Sir Christopher Hatton, she expressed her sorrow and wished the grief stricken earl comfort, “even from the bottom of her heart”. Afterwards she wrote him a personal letter of condolence that unfortunately has not survived. (Elizabeth I and her circle, Susan Doran)

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I most humbly beseech your Majesty to pardon your pôôr old servant to be thus bold in sending to know how my gracious Lady doth and what ease of her late pain she finds, being the chiefest thing in this world I do pray for, for her to have good health and long life. For my own poor case, I continue still your medicine and find it amend much better than with any other thing that hath been given me. Thus hoping to find perfect cure at the bath with the continuance of my wonted prayer for your Majesty’s most happy preservation I humbly kiss your foot, from your old lodging at Rycote this Thursday morning, ready to take on my journey, by your Majesty’s most faithful and obedient servant, 

R. Leycester.  

Even as I had written thus much I received your Majesty’s token by young Tracy.