Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester

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Portrait of Leicester with his Garter-encircled Arms, c. 1575.
Facsimile of his signature

Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, KG, PC (24 June 1532 – 4 September 1588) was an English statesman and the favourite of Elizabeth I from her accession until his death. He was a suitor for the queen's hand for many years.

Leicester's private life interfered with his court career and vice versa. When his first wife, Amy Robsart, fell down a flight of stairs and died in 1560, he was free to marry the queen. However, the resulting scandal very much reduced his chances in this respect. Popular rumours that he had arranged for his wife's death continued throughout his life, despite the coroner's jury's verdict of accident. For 18 years he did not remarry for Queen Elizabeth's sake and when he finally did, his new wife, Lettice Knollys, was permanently banished from court. This and the death of his only legitimate son and heir were heavy blows. Shortly after the child's death in 1584, a virulent libel known as Leicester's Commonwealth was circulated in England. It laid the foundation of a literary and historiographical tradition that often depicted Leicester as the Machiavellian "master courtier" and as a deplorable figure around Elizabeth I. More recent research has led to a reassessment of his place in Elizabethan government and society.


  • These my lord be good warnings to all those that be professors of the true religion to take heed in time [...] seeing it to fall out as we do, we are to look more narrowly to our present estate. We cannot but stand in no small danger except there be a full concurrence together of all such as mean faithfully to continue such as they profess.
  • So good a medycyne I have alway found exersise with the open good ayre as yt hath ever byn my best remedye ageynst those dellycate deceases gotten about yor deynty cytty of London, which place but for necessyty Lord he knoweth how sorrey I am to se yor Majesty remayne [...] Yf when season shall serve yor good determynacion may hold to spend some tyme abroade to finde the difference about and furder of from London, hit shalbe wel begonne now, but I wold God hit had byn long before put in profe, God graunt now that yow may finde much good therof, as yet for yor tyme heareafter yow may reape the benefytt of good contynuance of yor desired health. You se swette Lady with howe weighty matters I trowble yow withal.
    • From a letter to Queen Elizabeth (1573); TNA: PRO, SP 15/17/205; quoted in A. N. Wilson, The Elizabethans (2011), p. 158
  • For you must think hit ys some marvelous cause [...] that forceth me thus to be cause almost of the ruyne of my none [own] howse; for ther ys no lykelyhoode that any of our boddyes of menkind lyke to have ayres; my brother you se long maryed and not lykke to have Children, yet resteth so now in myself, and yet such occasions ys ther [...] as yf I shuld marry I am seure never to have favor of them that I had rather yet never have wyfe than lose them, yet ys ther nothing in the world next that favor that I wold not gyve to be in hope of leaving some childern behind me, being nowe the last of our howse.
  • As for me to be thought an enemye so sone to God's Church, I dare thus farr vaunt of my self, and the rather being a just and good cause I may well doe it: that there is no man I knowe in this realme [...] that hath shewed a better minde to the furthering of true religion then I have done, even from the first day of her Majestie's reigne to this [...] I take Almighty God to my record, I never altered my mind or thought from my youth touching my religion, and yow know I was ever from my cradle brought up in it.
  • I stand on the topp of the hill, where I knowe the smallest slipp semeth a fall.
  • Outwardly there is some appearance of good liking, for the messengers are very well used and her Majesty's self doth seem to us all that she will marry if she may like the person and if the person adventure without condition or assurance to come. If she then like him, it is like she will have him. [...] As for my own opinion, if I should speak according to former disposition, I should hardly believe it will take place.
  • The more I love her, the more fearful am I to see such dangerous ways taken. God of his mercy help all, and give us all here about her grace to discharge our duties; for never was there more need, nor never stood this Crown in like peril. God must now uphold the Queen by miracle: ordinary helps are past cure.
    • From a letter to Francis Walsingham (20 July 1578); TNA: PRO, SP 83/7/73 (formerly MSS. Holland); quoted in J. A. Froude, History of England, vol. 10 (1902), p. 444
  • I call to minde the good and assured affectyoune that somtyme was betwene your brother the Laird of Lyddington and me, whome I protest I loved as derely as ever I loved man not born in England, and not many in England better.
    • From a letter to John Maitland (28 July 1585), concerning Leicester's old political ally William Maitland of Lethington; A. I. Cameron, ed., The Warrender Papers, vol. 1, Scottish History Society, 3rd series, XVIII (1931), no. CXV
  • I most humbly besech your majeste to pardon your poore old servant to be this bold in sending to know how my gratious lady doth and what ease of her late paine she findes, being the chefest thinge in the world I doe prey for & for hir to have good health and longe lyfe/ for my none poore case, I contyndue still your meddycyn and finde yt amended much better than with any other thinge that hath byn given me. Thus hoping to finde perfect cure at the bath, with the contynduance of my wontyd preyer for your majesty’s most happy preservacion. I humbly kyss your foote. From your old lodging at Rycott this Thursday morning reddy to take on my Journey.
    • Letter to Queen Elizabeth (29 August 1588); TNA: PRO, SP 12/215 f.114 (Online)


  • In the afternoon we were in a barge, watching the games on the river. The Queen was alone with Lord Robert and myself on the poop when they began to talk nonsense, and went so far, that Lord Robert at last said, as I was on the spot, there was no reason why they should not be married, if the Queen pleased.
    • From a letter by Álvaro de la Quadra to Philip II of Spain (30 June 1561); J. A. Froude, History of England, vol. 7 (New York, 1881), Ch. IV
      • Cp. T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land (1922), III, 279–289:
        Elizabeth and Leicester
        Beating oars
        The stern was formed
        A gilded shell
        Red and gold
        The brisk swell
        Rippled both shores
        South-west wind
        Carried down stream
        The peal of bells
        White towers
  • What should Cicero the Senator use persuasions to Captain Catiline and his crew that quietness and order were better than hurley-burlies? Is it possible that our aspirers will ever permit any such thing, cause, or matter to be treated in our state as may tend to the stability of her Majesty’s present government? No, surely, it standeth nothing with their wisdom or policy, especially at this instant, when they have such opportunity of following their own actions in her Majesty’s name under the vizard and pretext of her defense and safety; having sowed in every man’s head so many imaginations of the dangers present both abroad and at home, from Scotland, Flanders, Spain, and Ireland, so many conspiracies, so many intended murders, and others so many contrived or conceived mischiefs as my Lord of Leicester assureth himself that the troubled water can not be cleared again in short space, nor his baits and lines laid therein easily espied, but rather that hereby ere long he will catch the fish he gapeth so greedily after, and in the meantime, for the pursuit of these crimes and other that daily he will find out, himself must remain perpetual dictator.
  • Here lies the noble warrior that never blunted sword;
    Here lies the noble courtier that never kept his word;
    Here lies his excellency that governed all the state;
    Here lies the L. of Leicester that all the world did hate.