The Secret Marriage of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and Lettice Knollys


Lettice Knollys, Countess of Essex and Countess of Leicester, was an English noblewoman who was married twice. However, when for her second marriage, she decided to marry her close childhood friend, Elizabeth Tudor's, favorite Robert Dudley, she incurred Elizabeth's hatred. A small price to pay for love, right?
Well, sadly it did not end in happily ever after but let's concentrate on just their union shall we...
*One Interesting Sidenote: Lettice Knollys was a grandniece of Anne Boleyn.

The Secret Marriage
Lettice Knollys married Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester on 21 September 1578 at around seven o'clock in the morning. Only six other people were present at the Earl's country house at Wanstead, Essex; among these were the bride's father and brother, Francis and Richard Knollys, the bridegroom's brother, Ambrose, Earl of Warwick, and his two friends, the Earl of Pembroke and Lord North. The officiating chaplain Humphrey Tyndall later remarked that the bride wore a "loose gown" (an informal morning dress), which has triggered modern speculation that she was pregnant and that the ceremony happened under pressure from her father. The marriage was, however, in planning between Leicester and his wedding guests for almost a year. While Lettice Knollys may well have been pregnant, there is no further indication as to this. The marriage date coincided with the end of the customary two-years-mourning for a widow.
Leicester a widower since 1560 had for many years been in hope of marrying Elizabeth herself, "for whose sake he had hitherto forborne marriage", as he confessed to Lord North. He also feared Elizabeth's reaction and insisted that his marriage be kept a secret. It did not remain one for long, the French ambassador, Michel de Castelnau, reporting it only two months later.  When the Queen was told of the marriage the next year, she banished Lettice Dudley permanently from court; she never forgave her, nor could she ever accept the marriage. Even Lady Leicester's movements through London were resented by the Queen, let alone summer visits to Kenilworth by husband and wife. In 1583 Elizabeth asked a Scottish diplomat whether it was true that Leicester wanted to marry his younger stepdaughter Dorothy to James VI of Scotland; when the Scot denied this the Queen became so excited about it as to say that she would rather allow the King to take her crown away than to see him married to the daughter of such a she-wolf, and, if she could find no other way to repress her ambition and that of the traitor Leicester, she would proclaim her all over Christendom for the bad woman she was, and prove that her husband was a cuckold. She said much more to the same effect.

Please feel free to leave any questions or comments,


Anonymous said…
I like Robert Dudley when I saw him in the movie Elizabeth but he should have married her not Lettice.
I like your blog you share so much information and you are so funny! Thumbalina
Hermes said…
Thanks for this. I had heard of the marraige but never knew the details.
Kimberly Eve said…
Thanks for commenting Thumbalina and your nice words.
You're welcome, Hermes. She was an interesting woman!
Anonymous said…
As the saying goes: There is no wrath like a woman scorned...or something like that. Elizabeth certainly let her feelings be known! And the rest is history.....thanks for sharing this.....gigigirl
Kimberly Eve said…
Yes, that saying, unfortunately, is true in this case. The Elizabeth I admire so, is not painted in such a good light but I can definitely identify with how she must have felt!

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