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Romancing the Renaissance:
the Feminization of Early Modern Culture in Twentieth Century Mass Media

English 339

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Robert Dudley, Sweet Robin
First Entry

Ariel La Reau

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester b. June 24, 1533 - d. Sept. 1588

The Dudley family produced three generations of men whose careers spanned almost the entirety of the Tudor dynasty. The three men, Edmund, John, and Robert Dudley, all had these traits in common: they were highly self-interested, concerned for their family's future and position, all possessed the ability to win over the confidence of their sovereigns, and lastly, all but "Sweet Robin" were executed for treason.

Robert Dudley was born, the son of John Dudley, in the summer of 1533 in Kent, England. He was one of thirteen children, of which seven survived. Robert grew up on the outskirts of London, and summered in the country side of his birthplace and Sussex. When he was just seventeen he was married to Amy Robsart, daughter of Sir John Robsart, of Syderstone in Worfolk. Their marriage is rumored to have been a romantic match.

However, historians widely agree, and some do not, that Robert Dudley was the intimate favorite, if not paramour, to Queen Elizabeth I. When Robert was nineteen his father, the Duke of Northumberland, had his son made one of the Gentlemen of the King's Privy Chamber to King Edward VI. This implies he spent a good deal of time at court. It is also known that he and Elizabeth shared the same tutor as young adults, although there is no evidence that they shared lessons. It is certain that the two were childhood friends.

They were also to share time in the Tower, when in 1553 there was a rebellion against Mary, the successor to Edward VI, led by John Dudley, Robert's father. Elizabeth, being a Protestant, was also suspected of having been involved in the rebellion. The shared experience of imprisonment at the very least must have cemented a bond between the two that had been growing since childhood.

Dudley was released from the tower in June 1555. In the fall of that same year he became a junior member of the new King's entourage, King Philip of Spain, whom Queen Mary had married. In January, 1557, when conflict between France and Spain arose Dudley again offered his service, raising an army for Philip. He did this in exchange for the return of his families estates, which had been withdrawn when John Dudley was executed. As his father did before him he was able to overcome their insidious family legacy and rise again to a powerful station.

In November of 1558 Queen Mary died, naming Elizabeth as her successor. On the first day of Elizabeth's reign Dudley was made Master of the Horse. In the summer of 1564 Elizabeth named him Earl of Leicester, a title that had been suggested for his father.

From this time forward there are many accounts and letters written about or to Robert Dudley. He was supposedly full of life and outrageous fun. Courtiers dubbed him the Gypsy for his dark eyes and hair. Elizabeth her self supposedly had a playful nickname, calling him "two-eyes." Many who disliked him often complained that he was arrogant. It is also well documented, by the man himself, that he loved to spend money on lavish gifts and he had many possessions.

Despite Dudley's rumored love for Elizabeth Robert was known to have also had relationships with a few ladies at court. Firstly, his first wife died in 1559. Amy Rosbart's death was one of the most celebrated mysteries of the day. Gossip had it that Dudley had her killed so he could marry Elizabeth. However, there is substantial evidence that she died of natural causes.

Years later, in 1573, Dudley married Lady Douglass Howard, widow to Lord John Sheffield. He married her in secret, not wanting to compromise his position of favor to the Queen. Later in 1578 he secretly married another woman, Lettice Knollys, who had been married to the earl of Essex, Walter Devereux. By the demands of Knolly's family this second marriage was officially acknowledged, unlike the marriage to Douglass. Ironically, Robert Dudley's only surviving male heir was born to Lady Douglass, thus he died with no successor to his name.

Robert Dudley stayed with Lettice until his death in 1588. Up until then he was also loyal to and worked continuously for his Queen, stationed abroad and in Tilbury guarding against the Spanish Armada. He died on Sept.4 of intestinal and abdominal complications.



Books about Robert Dudley:


Haynes, Alan White Bear


Jenkins, Elizabeth. Elizabeth and Leicester .1961


Kendall, Alan Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester


Maxwell, Robin. The Queen's Bastard: A Novel - , 1999.


Peck, Dwight ed. Leicester's Commonwealth: The Copy of a Letter Written by a Master of Art of Cambridge, 1584 and Related Documents.


Adams, Simon ed. Household Accounts and Disbursment Books of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, 1558-1561. ,1996


Wagner, G.F. ed. Voyage of Robert Dudley: Afterwards Styled Earl of Warwick and Leicester (Hakluyt Society Works Ser.:No 2 Vol 3


Wilson, Derek A. The bear's whelp: the autobiography of Robert Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, Earl of Warwick and Earl of Leicester in the Holy Roman Empire,


also, Sweet Robin: A Biography of Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester


Films and Television:


Elizabeth, Shekhar Kapur dir., staring Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, and Joseph Feinnes. 1999

Elizabeth R 1970.

Second entry

Jennifer Fitch

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester



Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester is most commonly known as a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I. However, he was much more than simply a courtier. He was very involved in the military, a noted scholar and a patron of the arts.


His accepted date of birth is said to be the same as that of Elizabeth's--September 7, 1533. However, some say that he was born on June 24, 1532. He was the fifth son of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland and Lady Jane Guildford, and the third Dudley in as many generations known for being a favorite of a Tudor mondarch. His grandfather, Edmund Dudley, was financial minister to Henry VII. Similarly, his father, John Dudley, served as Privy Councillor and Knight of the Garter to Edward Seymour, who made him Earl of Warwick. He was also appointed as Duke of Northumberland by Edward VI. Unfortunately, both his father and grandfather were eventually executed for treason. Robert's life would prove to follow a similar pattern.


Because he was a contemporary of Elizabeth, the two grew up as friends and had the same tutors. As a child, he was well educated and very close to his family, which was very large (he had nine brothers and sisters).


At seventeen years old, he married Amy Robsart on June 4, 1550. The marriage was said to be a love match. The two resided in Norfolk. Elizabeth attended the wedding.


In 1554, Robert was implicated in Wyatt's rebellion and charged with high treason. He was sentenced to death and imprisoned in the Tower of London. Princess Elizabeth was imprisoned at the same time because she was said to know Wyatt's plans beforehand. They were both placed there by Elizabeth's half-sister, the then-queen, Mary Tudor. Elizabeth was eventually released due to illness and Robert was released in October of 1554.


On November 17, 1558, Mary Tudor died and Elizabeth was made Queen of England. She appointed Robert Dudley Master of the Queen's Horse. It is said that the two were extremely close and that she highly regarded him. In fact, it is speculated that the Queen wanted to marry Lord Robert and was, in fact, in love with him. He was, certainly, one of her favorites.


Robert, like his father and grandfather before him, was extremely ambitious and may have even had designs on the Crown of England. "...Onlookers might assume that only Lord Robert's wife stood between him and the Crown" (Jenkins 51). Elizabeth appointed him Earl of Leicester and made him a member of her privy council with opposition from the other members in October of 1562.


On Sunday, September 8, 1560, Amy Robsart was found dead at the bottom of a stone staircase at Cumnor Place by servants returning from the Abingdon Fair. Leicester's known ambition for the throne and his love for Elizabeth implicated both himself and the Queen in the death of his wife. It is, perhaps, the questionable circumstances behind the death of Amy Robsart that prevented Elizabeth and Robert from ever marrying.


An illicit affair with Lady Douglass Sheffield (who was married) produced an illegitimate son on August 7, 1574. He was named Robert and eventually became Lord Denbigh.


In 1578, he lost favor with Elizabeth by marrying Letitia (Lettice) Knollys, Countess of Essex, against her wishes. It was the only time when he was truly out of favor with his Queen.


Robert Dudley was Commander of the English forces and also expressed interest in exploration, trade (including the slave trade), science and technology and classical literature. He was also a patron of the arts. He was the chief benefactor of a company of players carrying his name. In fact, he is called the "...first great English art collector" (qtd. in Haynes 199).


Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester died of malarial fever on September 4, 1588. His title of Master of the Horse went to his stepson, Robert, Earl of Essex. His land was inherited by his illegitimate son, Lord Denbigh, and his wife, Lettice. Eventually, his stepson would become the aging Queen's favorite, though he would never be as highly regarded as Leicester.


"The untimely death...of that noble earl of Leicester, is a great and general loss

to the whole land, and cannot but be generally and greatly lamented of the good

and best sort. In his life he had advanced the glory of God, and loyally served his

sovereign; he lived and died with honour, in special grace and favour of her

Majesty and the good subject" (qtd. in Haynes 200).



Works cited


Haynes, Alan. The White Bear: Robert Dudley, The Elizabethan Earl of Leicester.

London: Peter Owen Publishers, 1987.


Jenkins, Elizabeth. Elizabeth and Leicester. New York: Coward-McCann, Inc., 1961.


Rosenberg, Eleanor. Leicester: Patron of Letters. New York: Columbia University

Press, 1955.


Strong, R.C. and J.A. Vandorsten. Leicester's Triumph. London: Oxford University

Press, 1964.


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