Getting To Know Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (1532-1588)

Exhibition: Lord Leicester’s Warwickshire: The Life and Legacy of Robert Dudley
Exhibit runs from: Saturday,25 June 2011 - Sunday,18 September 2011

The central figure in the exhibition will be Robert Dudley (1532 – 1588), Earl of Leicester, the ambitious and flamboyant favourite of Queen Elizabeth I. Feared and envied by contemporaries, it was rumoured that he ordered the murder of his first wife, Amy Robsart.

Major events featured include the visits of the queen to Robert and his brother Ambrose (the Earl of Warwick) at Warwick Castle in 1572 and to Robert at Kenilworth Castle in 1575. Both visits were celebrated with lavish entertainments, particularly the 19 days of ‘Princelye Pleasures’ at Kenilworth, which involved water pageants, fireworks, plays, dancing and sports.

Robert Dudley left a lasting imprint on Warwickshire. Kenilworth Castle was extensively refurbished by him, with the introduction of Renaissance style buildings and landscaped gardens (including the recently recreated Elizabethan Garden). The home for military veterans he founded in Warwick still survives as Lord Leycester’s Hospital. The splendid tomb that he shares with his wife Lettice can still be seen in St Mary‘s Church, Warwick. He has also flourished as a character in fiction, beginning with Sir Walter Scott’s novel 'Kenilworth' and continuing today in historical novels and dramas.

The exhibition will showcase the Dudley heritage of Warwickshire, with displays of paintings, prints and objects drawn from local collections. It is hoped that visitors will be inspired to explore for themselves Lord Leicester’s legacy in Warwickshire and beyond.

For further details about the exhibition at Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum,

Queen Elizabeth I had granted Kenilworth Castle to her favourite, Robert Dudley, in 1563 and he spent a fortune transforming it into a luxurious palace fit to receive his queen and her court.
The queen visited him there several times on her famous summer progresses away from London. Her fourth and final visit lasted for 19 days, from 9 to 27 July 1575, the longest she had ever stayed at a courtier’s house. In her honour, Leicester built sumptuous apartments especially for her use, with large airy windows with superb views, huge fires and a whole chamber dedicated to one of the queen’s great passions – dancing. Decorated with dazzling plasterwork, hung with rich tapestries and furnished sumptuously, this would have been the summit of Elizabethan luxury. Leicester also devised the most lavish series of entertainments for the queen, and took as much care with the surrounding landscape as he had with the buildings, embellishing his park with bowers, arbours, seats and walks. He wanted Elizabeth’s privy, or private, garden to be as magnificent an outdoor space as the interiors he had created for her. Two detailed accounts of the festivities survive, one written by the poet and actor George Gascoigne, the other by Robert Langham, keeper of the council chamber door. It is from Langham, a minor official, that we have the description of the garden. Although it was designed as a privy garden, closed to all but the queen’s closest companions, one day, while the queen was out hunting, Adrian the gardener allowed Langham to sneak inside. Langham’s account is written in the form of a long letter, in a curious style which has provoked a great deal of debate. Although he cannot have visited the garden for more than a few hours, Langham left an extremely detailed description of its features. The accuracy of his account is borne out by archaeological evidence, which confirms that an eight-sided fountain once stood at the centre of the garden, just as he claims.

SIDENOTE: One of the tapestries now hanging at Kenilworth Castle is my favorite Burne Jones tapestry, The Holy Grail Tapestry is absolutely beautiful! I now have another castle to add to my list to visit!

Here's more information about Kenilworth Castle,

Please feel free to leave any comments,


Robert Parry said…
Much of the privy garden has been reconstructed in recent times, complete with that fountain! Whether they have got it entirely right, we will never know of course, but it is now open to visit.
Kimberly Eve said…
Thanks Robert. My next visit to the UK will contain lots more new places to visit!