4 September 1588 – Death of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester

Posted By on September 4, 2013

Robert Dudley Today is the anniversary of the death of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. He died on 4th September 1588 at his lodge at Cornbury, near Woodstock in Oxfordshire.

Why am I posting about Robert Dudley on The Anne Boleyn Files?

Because he was a man who was important to Elizabeth I, daughter of Anne Boleyn, the man she loved but could not marry.

Leicester had been suffering from a recurring stomach ailment and was actually on his way to Buxton to take the waters. Unfortunately, he never made it. He was taken ill at Cornbury and never left. The fifty-six year old Leicester left his wife, Lettice (née Knollys), and an illegitimate son, Robert, who he’d fathered with Lady Douglas Sheffield. Robert the Younger went on to become a famous explorer and cartographer.

Leicester wrote his final letter to Elizabeth I, who he’d been close to since childhood, on 28th August. It was a letter which Elizabeth kept at her bedside for the rest of her life and which she marked “His last letter”:

“I most humbly beseech your Majesty to pardon your poor old servant to be thus bold in sending to know how my gracious lady doth, and what ease of her late pains 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 that (it) amends 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. Leicester

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

Elizabeth I was devastated by the death of the man she referred to as her “Eyes”, or as “Sweet Robin”. It was reported that she shut herself in her chamber for days and refused to speak to anyone. It got so bad that her councillors had to have her doors broken down.

Leicester was buried in the Beauchamp Chapel of the Collegiate Church of St Mary’s in Warwick, the same place as his son by Lettice, Robert Dudley, Lord Denbigh, who died in 1584 aged three. Lettice joined her husband in the chapel when she was buried in 1634. Leicester’s brother, Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick, is also buried in the chapel.

Here are some photos from my visit to St Mary’s:

The tomb of Robert and Lettice Dudley

The tomb of Robert and Lettice Dudley

Looking down on Robert and Lettice Dudley's tomb

Looking down on Robert and Lettice Dudley’s tomb

The tomb of Robert Dudley, "the noble impe"

The tomb of Robert Dudley, “the noble impe”

Ambrose Dudley's tomb

Ambrose Dudley’s tomb

I loved Jeane Westin’s novel, “His Last Letter: Elizabeth I and the Earl of Leicester”. It’s fiction, but it was inspired by Elizabeth’s reaction to Leicester’s death and it explores their relationship. It’s a wonderful read. You can see my review of it on my review site – click here.

5 thoughts on “4 September 1588 – Death of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester”

  1. Laura says:

    I love it at St Mary’s Church. I’m only 10 minutes away from it. It’s always so atmospheric every time I go in there. I also find it extremely humbling knowing what these souls have been through.

    Beautiful article Claire.

  2. miladyblue says:

    The mind boggles – how much would history have changed if Elizabeth could have married her Sweet Robin?

  3. Jeane Westin says:

    Claire, how sweet of you to mention my novel His Last Letter. It is my favorite of my Tudor novels. I really lived it as I wrote it. That doesn’t always happen to writers, but when it does, it’s magic.

    Jeane Westin

  4. ellen melchiondo says:

    Claire,
    I have always had a soft spot for Robert Dudley since I saw the movie Elizabeth with Cate Blanchett. I think it was Ralph Fiennes who played Robert? I think their love for each other was real, albeit a bit confused, and yet tragic. RIP Robert Dudley.

  5. Dawn 1st says:

    Elizabeth and Robert…definitely one of the big ‘If Only, What If’ cases of all time don’t you think.
    I’m surprized they have never made a movie on these thoughts, 🙂

    It’s so sad when two people who loved each other so could not be together in the true sense, maybe they are now.

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