September 21 – Robert Dudley marries Lettice Knollys in secret

Posted By on September 21, 2022

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.

1 thought on “September 21 – Robert Dudley marries Lettice Knollys in secret”

  1. Christine says:

    Lettice or sometimes called ‘Letitia’ which is far more attractive was the daughter of Lady Catherine Cary, Queen Elizabeth’s first cousin and whom she loved devotedly, she came from a huge family and had a wonderful privileged life, but because she fell in love with the queens favourite she incurred the wrath of that queen and was henceforth banished from court forever, however in spite she kept Robert Dudley with her at court so Lettice was left fuming and miserable in their country estates, but Lettice had known of the deep love her cousin had for Robert and she knew of her jealousy and sometimes vindictive character, she chose to marry him instead of conducting a secret love affair, which maybe the queen would have forgiven her for, however one must admire this woman for her boldness and her audacity, she was also described as the most beautiful woman at court and Leicester was devastatingly handsome so they must have seemed like the golden couple, in portraits she is not unlike the queen, they both have red hair but Lettice has a rounder face, large light coloured eyes which appear a green grey and arched eyebrows a softer dimpled chin, her colouring has given rise to the myth that she was Henry V111’s granddaughter, but her longevity, (she died at the astonishingly great age of ninety one) makes that claim a rather dubious one, the old kings offspring all died very young, apart from Queen Elizabeth who was nearly seventy when she died and her older sister dying at the age of merely fourty two, ninety one is a good age today, and it was said she used to walk a mile up to the age of ninety, her secret wedding to Leicester was witnessed by a few courtiers her father, who must have quacked in his boots at the queens wrath when she discovered the affair, and Ambrose Dudley Roberts brother, Lettice may have been pregnant as breeding women had to loosen their gowns as the baby grew, and she was a proud woman she would not want her baby to be born a bastard, Leicester already had a bastard son by a lady Douglas Sheffield whose descendants are around today, and of course Francis Knolley’s would have insisted upon a marriage, but there is no proof of a baby and Lettice could simply have put on a bit of weight, but that Leicester was enamoured of his beautiful bride is proof for he dared risk the wrath of his queen and ‘dear mistress’, according to Nicola Tallis she had Lettice bought before her and boxed her ears, any nobleman and woman had to seek permission of the monarch to marry, but Lettice had dared to enter into wedlock with the queens ‘sweet Robin’, Leicester himself told the queen she had given him every reason to believe that she would not marry him he was getting old, and understandably, the man wanted to have a wife and legitimate children, logic would have told her she was unreasonable and of course within a few weeks he was back at her side once more, but the wife was an outcast, forever branded a ‘she wolf ‘ Lettice in her mind became that of a wild animal, ruining men with her filthy lusts Leicester was forbidden fruit and she had dared to take a bite of it, this was her second marriage her first husband Walter Devereux had died young in Ireland, she was thus Countess of Essex by her first marriage and then Countess of Leicester with her second, Devereux himself had been a very handsome man, she had several children with him, and her two daughters Dorothy and Penelope (who later became Lady Rich), in a joint portrait show two chestnut haired beauties, yet they both died before their mother, I loved the novel by Victoria Holt, ‘ My Enemy The Queen’ which tells the story of the love triangle between the queen Leicester and Lettice, told in her own words, she spoke of the very real passion between her and Leicester which we know must have been there, her sorrow at the death of her ‘ noble imp’, which must have severely caused her husband much heartbreak to, we do not know what the little mite died of, he was about three to four and it could have been a severe viral infection which attacked his lungs, there were no outbreaks of the sweat so it could have been anything that could have been cured today simply by antibiotics, there were no more children and after Leicester’s death his Merry Widow promptly married a young man in her household, Christopher Blount, merely six months later, there had been rumours of the couple having an affair and maybe Lettice by this time was feeling resentful of the queen keeping company with her husband all the time, she was also older than her third husband and maybe out of loneliness decided to venture into wedlock again, however her young son also names Robert and styled Lord Denbigh lies in his little tomb at the foot of his mother, who requested to lie beside her dear Lord Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester in the Collegiate Church of St Mary in Warwick, not with her third so the Earl and Countess of Leicester and one time Lady Essex with their young child, are all are joined together in death, she also outlived Elizabeth as well as Leicester and as noted some of her children, she outlived Elizabeth’s successor James 1st and saw his son Charles become king, she died on Christmas Day 1634 peacefully most likely of old age, it is sad to die on Christmas Day, a time of merriment and jollity and above all a time for families, they must have been devastated for their matriarch was no more, it was noted in her later years she looked after her family well and they all loved and respected her including her numerous grandchildren, so ended the life of one of the Tudor periods most intriguing woman, a woman who once made a powerful and terrifying queen insanely jealous, a spirited bold and very beautiful woman, Lettice Knolley’s nee Devereux Dudley and Blount really is an historical fiction novelists dream, she did have a remarkable life and keeps many people fascinated by her today hundreds of years after her death.

Please note: Comment moderation is currently enabled so there will be a delay between when you post your comment and when it shows up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.