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,
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:
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.