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Who was Robert Dudley?

Updated on December 3, 2016

Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester (1532-1588), was the son of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, who was executed for placing Lady Jane Grey on the throne in 1553.

Leicester was in the Tower for a time, but on Elizabeth's accession she made him her favorite and would probably have married him, had he been free. He was, however, married to Amy Robsart, whose mysterious death suggested that he had had her murdered; after this scandal Elizabeth gave up all idea of marrying him and, though he remained her favorite, she was too astute to allow him much inf1uence in public affairs. Leicester probably possessed a great deal of charm, but he was a vain, shallow, aggressive personality, without much real ability.

His sumptuous entertainment of Elizabeth at Kenilworth was in keeping with his character, but when she put him in charge of an expedition to Holland (1585) he proved to be so incapable that she recalled him.

When the Spanish invasion threatened he was captain-general of the army at Tilbury, and it may have been he who suggested to Elizabeth that she should make her famous address to the troops. He died shortly after the defeat of the armada. Leicester, whose love affairs infuriated the Queen, secretly married Lady Sheffield in 1573 and bigamously married the Countess of Essex in 1578.

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