On September 29, 1564, Robert Dudley was made the Earl of Leicester. It was a title that was arranged earlier in the year but not because Elizabeth I loved him so much. This title was simply a way to make him more suitable to marry her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots. Why did Elizabeth want to do this? Was Dudley receptive of the idea?
Robert Dudley Made Earl of Leicester: A Title to Make Him Suitable for Marriage
On September 29, 1564, the steps were taken to make Robert Dudley a suitable husband for Mary, Queen of Scots. But was he happy about this? What did he do to avoid marrying her?
Robert Dudley and Elizabeth I
Elizabeth and Robert became friends while in the Tower of London. That relationship grew into love throughout the years.
Robert Dudley and Elizabeth I met some time before she became Queen of England. During Mary I’s reign, Lady Elizabeth Tudor was locked away in the Tower of London. Mary feared there would be rebellions against her, using her half-sister as a way to depose her. It was an uneasy and difficult time for the younger Tudor daughter.
At the same time, Robert Dudley was held in the Tower. The Dudley name should sound familiar to Tudor history fans. He was an older brother of Guildford Dudley, making him Lady Jane Grey’s brother-in-law. After Mary I deposed her as queen, the whole Dudley family found themselves traitors and many were locked in the Tower of London. Robert avoided his brother’s, father’s and sister-in-law’s fate and kept his head.
Robert and Elizabeth were both in the Tower of London around the same time and became friends. Robert was lucky to receive a pardon from Mary I and Elizabeth was released from the Tower under house arrest.
Elizabeth never forgot her time in the Tower and her friendship with Robert. When she became queen, he quickly rose in power and as her favourite courtier. It is possible that she loved him enough to marry him—and he certainly loved her—but that was never to be.
Learn More About Robert Dudley
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Robert Dudley to Marry Mary, Queen of Scots
Robert Dudley didn't want to marry Mary, Queen of Scots and took steps to help her make what he considered the right choice.
Another thing that stopped the marriage between Robert and Elizabeth was he was already married, to Amy Robsart. King Edward VI was present at the wedding and it was definitely a love-match. However, his close relationship with Elizabeth soon became a problem. While Robert as a favourite of the queen, his wife wasn’t. Robert was to remain at the queen’s side and that left Amy on her own. There were rumours that Robert caused Amy’s death in 1560 but there was never any evidence to support this. Amy was found at the bottom of the stairs with a broken neck and there were rumours he pushed her. However, it is possible that it was an accident.
Amy’s death should have opened the chance for Elizabeth to marry the man she loved but she chose to remain a spinster. Instead, Elizabeth decided to try and arrange a marriage between him and her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots.
Mary was a controversial queen. She had been Queen Consort of France for a short time and was raised as a catholic. By the time she returned to Scotland, the country had reformed and become protestant. However, the people were happy to have her as queen; she listened to her protestant government. It was her later marriage to Henry Stuart, her cousin and another catholic, that caused some problems. When he was murdered in February 1567, Mary was at the centre of the plot.
Mary had a strong claim to the English throne, which threatened Elizabeth. There were still Catholics in England who wanted a Catholic monarch and Mary, Queen of Scots was their choice. Elizabeth knew this. When she returned to England from France, before her marriage to Lord Darnley, Mary wanted to make a deal with her cousin: she wanted to be named Elizabeth’s heir.
Elizabeth knew that Mary was the best choice of heir. While Henry VIII didn’t want the Scottish line through his older sister, Margaret, to become English monarchs, the Grey line—through Henry’s younger sister’s line—had been tainted after the events of Lady Jane Grey. However, Elizabeth didn’t want the country to go back to being Catholic. She had worked hard to bring the two religions together in a way that suited her reformist views. The best option was for Mary to marry a Protestant Englishman; someone Elizabeth trusted. Robert Dudley was her first choice.
Robert Dudley Becomes Earl of Leicester
Elizabeth knew that Robert didn't have the title to marry her cousin, so took the steps to make it possible.
Robert wasn’t happy with his marriage prospects. Neither was Mary for that matter. The marriage would prevent some foreign powers influencing the Scottish and English thrones and Mary’s Protestant advisors were for the marriage. Elizabeth made it clear that this was the only way Mary would ever be acknowledged as Elizabeth’s heir.
The problem was that Robert wasn’t suitable. He didn’t have a title fit to marry the Queen of Scotland. Elizabeth decided to make him Earl of Leicester for this purpose. It finally happened on September 29, 1564, and it looked like the marriage to go ahead. There were hints that more titles would follow, to keep the Scottish happy. By the start of 1565, Mary seemed to warm to the idea.
However, Robert wasn’t happy. He made it clear from the beginning that he wasn’t suitable for this marriage. It’s strange that he would consider himself suitable to marry Elizabeth, the Queen of England, but not suitable to marry Mary. As a way to get himself out of the proposal, he arranged for Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, to meet Mary and become her choice of husband.
It worked in Robert’s favour. Mary, Queen of Scots chose Darnley to be her husband. This upset Elizabeth and many of the Scottish people. Darnley was a Catholic and Mary wasn’t marrying to improve her prospects but out of love. It wasn’t suitable for the Queen of Scotland. Elizabeth made it clear that she was unhappy.
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Robert Dudley Remained Hopeful to be Elizabeth I’s Husband
Robert knew that Elizabeth would never marry but it didn't stop him was hoping that she would change her mind.
Robert kept hope that he would become the husband of the English queen. However, from eight-years-old, Elizabeth had made it clear that she would never marry. It is possible that her father’s actions had caused this view. When she was eight, she would have seen the rise and fall of Kathryn Howard, which would have distorted her view of marriage, love and men. There were later things that happened in Elizabeth’s life that could have reinforced those views.
Even though he knew Elizabeth didn’t want to marry, he remained hopeful that she would choose him. He failed to realise that Elizabeth wanted to make Robert happy. By him marrying Mary, he would have one day become King of England. This was possibly her way of making up for the fact that he would never marry her—the woman he loved.
Robert Dudley did end up remarrying and not to someone Elizabeth wanted. During the summer of 1565, Robert started flirting with another cousin of Elizabeth, Lettice Knollys. Elizabeth was jealous but it didn’t stop the relationship from growing. However, he also had a relationship with Lady Douglas Sheffield and they had a child together, named Robert Dudley. It took the death of Lettice’s father in 1576 for Robert to bring an end to his affair and marry Lettice Knollys in secret. Elizabeth found out nine months later and was furious. Robert was often humiliated by the queen after this and Elizabeth never accepted his choice of wife.