September 21 – Robert Dudley marries Lettice Knollys in secret

On this day in Tudor history, Sunday 21st September 1578, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the queen’s favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, married Lettice Devereux (née Knollys), daughter of Lady Catherine Knollys (née Carey), the queen’s cousin.

The couple married in secret at Leicester’s house. So secret was the marriage that the earl only told his chaplain and his friends the day before.

Leicester would have known that his marriage was going to invoke the queen’s wrath, but he went ahead…


On this day in Tudor history, on Sunday 21st September 1578, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, married Lettice Dereveux (née Knollys).

The wedding took place between 7 and 8 o’clock in the morning at Leicester’s house at Wanstead in Essex.

Leicester’s chaplain, Humphrey Tindall officiated, and the guests at this secret and private ceremony included Sir Francis Knollys, father of the bride; Richard Knollys, the bride’s brother; Leicester’s brother, Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick; and Leicester’s friends, Henry Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, and Roger North, 2nd Baron North. So secret was the wedding that North didn’t know about it until Leicester invited him the previous evening after dinner, and Tindall was only asked to officiate the day before the wedding. Leicester told Tindall that “he had for a good season forborne marriage in respect of her majesty’s displeasure and that he was then for sundry respects and especially for the better quieting of his own conscience determined to marry the right honourable Countess of Essex.” However, he also advised Tindall that the marriage needed to be kept secret because of the risk of “great damage of his estate” if word got out. Leicester had not informed his friend the queen of his relationship with her first cousin once removed and the woman she had dubbed “the she-wolf”
Tindall described the bride as wearing a “loose gown”, which has led to people thinking that the marriage was a shot-gun wedding, but either she wasn’t pregnant or she went on to lose that baby, because she isn’t recorded as giving birth to Leicester’s son, Robert, Lord Denbigh, until June 1581. Sadly, little Robert died in 1584. A tomb to “the noble impe”, as he is called on his tomb, can be seen in the Beauchamp Chapel of the Collegiate Church of St Mary, Warwick.

Leicester and Lettice remained married until Leicester’s death on 4th September 1588. Leicester was buried in the same chapel as his little son, and Lettice joined him in a joint tomb there when she was buried in 1634.

In celebration of this wedding anniversary, let me give you some facts about Lettice Knollys:

  • Lettice was born on 8th November 1543 at Rotherfield Greys in Oxfordshire.
  • She was the third of possibly sixteen children born to Sir Francis Knollys and his wife, Catherine Carey.
  • Her maternal grandmother was Mary Boleyn, sister of Queen Anne Boleyn.
  • Lettice’s mother and father were favourites of Queen Elizabeth I and served her loyally, Francis as a privy council and Catherine as the queen’s chief lady of the bedchamber. Lettice went to court in her teens and became a maid of honour to Elizabeth.
  • In late 1560, she married Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Hertford and later 1st Earl of Essex, of Chartley Castle. The couples children included Penelope, Dorothy and Robert, who became 2nd Earl of Essex and is known for being a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I and being executed by her in 1601.
  • Lettice’s first husband, Walter, died in September 1576 in Ireland. He had gone there as Earl Marshal of Ireland.
  • In 1589, Lettice married Sir Christopher Blount, a soldier who was 12 years younger than her.
  • Lettice died on 25th December 1634 aged 91.

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