Here we have Paul Hannah’s latest look at British history and some of its more unlikely mysteries.    Read on and see what you think.

Henry VIII’s daughter,  Princess Elizabeth Tudor was 25 years old and
under house arrest at Hatfield when she heard the news of her sister
Mary’s death, an event that instantly transformed her into Elizabeth I
– the most powerful woman in the world. She wasted no time in setting
her kingdom to rights.

The reign of Bloody Queen Mary was marked by little else than judicial murder of protestants, her father, the great Henry VIII had emptied the treasury. So there was much to do.

Elizabeth I

Even before she travelled from Hatfield to London to formally claim
the crown, she appointed Lord Robert Dudley as her Master of Horse.
And from that moment on she made sure that he was often by her side so
much that he was almost her shadow until the day he died.

Dudley was wellborn, handsome, a clever and witty companion – all the
things that Elizabeth loved in a man. The one thing she didn’t like
about him was that he was well and truly married. Most of the English
nobility and many in Europe too, believed that it wasn’t a matter of
whether Elizabeth should marry, it was only a question of who. After
all, it was seen as unnatural for a woman to be placed above men as
they were not mentally and constitutionally capable of such high
office and great responsibilities. The Spanish, the Hapsburgs and even
the hated French sent emissaries to Elizabeth’s court to arrange a
marriage that she neither asked for nor truly wanted. The problems of
choosing the right husband had little to do with whether she liked the
prospective groom, they were mostly political. If she chose a foreign
prince to marry, the other crowned heads of Europe would be  worried about the alliance that would be automatically created. Even choosing a local nobleman could upset the delicate balance of power that surrounds the throne. I suspect the main reason Elizabeth never married was because few, if any men of the day could play second fiddle to a woman, let alone a Elizabeth contrived to stay single.

Robert Dudley

To refuse a foreign prince directly would have caused offence so Elizabeth played hard-to-get and gave vague and uncommitted answers when pressed. And all the time, these emissaries and local hopefuls looked upon Dudley as a serious threat to their plans. After all his marriage could be annulled by a simple act of Parliament, as Elizabeth’s father King Henry VIII had shown.

Amy Dudley

Amy Robsart was nearly 18 when she married Dudley on the 4th of June
1550. Their early married life went well enough, it was probably a
love-match and as such raised some eyebrows at court. Some three years
later he was implicated in treason under Queen Mary and imprisoned at
the Tower of London. He was there for less than a year and she was permitted to visit for at least some of the time. On his release the pair had been stripped of their incomes and had no way to pay off their considerable debts. They lived off the generosity of both of their families until Queen Mary died and Elizabeth saw to it that he, as Master of Horse, shot up in both power, income and influence.

The price Elizabeth exacted was that Amy was not to live at court but
Dudley must and so she lived at one of the three houses her  husband now owned. For the next 10 years he became very wealthy and Amy became more and more pushed into the background. The couple hardly ever saw each other as he was often at court doing Elizabeth’s bidding for months at a time and she was hidden away in the country. Doubtless, Elizabeth was infatuated with Dudley and he at least could see himself sitting beside her on the throne of England. But as much as Amy was out of sight she could not be far out of mind and as his lawful wife, she was a serious obstacle in his plans. By this time Amy was probably suffering from breast cancer and Dudley’s numerous enemies thought he would just bide his time for the disease to take its course, after which he could make his move for power.

On the morning of Sunday September 8, 1560 Amy was home at, Cumnor
Place, Oxfordshire. There was to be a fair in their village on that day and Amy surprised her servants by insisting that they all take the day off and go and enjoy themselves. Some gave objections, saying that it wasn’t entirely proper to go to a fair on a Sunday, but Amy would hear none of it and she was left in the house alone.

She was never seen alive again.

Her body was found at the foot of a flight of stairs, her neck broken
but no other injuries were evident.

When Elizabeth heard the news she was visibly shocked and saw instantly that this would be a great scandal both at home and abroad.
She wasted no time in setting up an inquiry to look into the circumstances of the death and both she and Dudley impressed upon the commissioners that they wanted a fair, impartial and comprehensive investigation into the truth of the matter. The result came down somewhat predictably, as accidental death and specifically clearing Robert Dudley of any part in her death. Of course this did not stop tongues wagging and the rumours and innuendo followed Dudley for the rest of his life. Elizabeth, showing a rare concern for what others may think, temporarily banished Dudley from court

There are several competing explanations for her death:

1. Elizabeth ordered it. This is probably the most unlikely of all of the possibilities. She was far too clever and astute politician to think that she could get away with it. Further, is not at all clear whether she actually wanted to marry Dudley or anyone really. It speculated that she had a fear of childbirth and she also feared being in a position where a man could be placed above her.

2. Dudley ordered it. All of Dudley’s trusted men and retainers were at court at the time, but it is possible that he found someone else he could trust to do the deed but again, he was a very clever man and must’ve known that this would have created a huge storm of scandal and all of the fingers would be pointed at him. And still we have the difficulty of Amy’s apparent cooperation in her murder by sending away all potential witnesses.

3. Suicide. Even though England was nominally Protestant at the time,
the idea of suicide being a mortal sin ran strongly through the society of the day. Amy would be aware that the church frowned upon suicide and she would not even be buried in consecrated ground. A representation of the popular attitude towards suicide can be found in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Ophelia drowns in suspicious circumstances and it was all the King and Queen could do to have her buried with any religious ceremony at all. As painful as dying of breast cancer can be, particularly without modern medicine, Amy would have been much more afraid of burning in hell forever than she would be of the slow death of breast cancer.

4. Accident. There is a complication of metastasized cancer that can render bones brittle and easily broken. Merely falling onto a hard floor would be enough in some circumstances to break a woman’s neck, let alone a trip and fall down a flight of stairs. The volume of clothing high born women of the day wore would explain the absence of bruises and make it more likely she could have tripped.

5. William Cecil. Cecil was Elizabeth’s primary advisor for most of her reign. There is no doubt that he was a loyal and faithful servant of the Crown and numerous documents attest to this. Cecil didn’t like Dudley, and he thought that a relationship between Dudley and the Queen was politically damaging and would not further the interests of Elizabeth’s reign and the realm of England. He would have known that the scandal would force a separation between the two (which it did for at least some time) and hopefully damage the relationship permanently.

Thus Cecil could be killing three birds with one stone He could get Elizabeth away from Dudley, have her married safely off to a foreign prince and have England guided by a man at last. Cecil administered and set up under Walsingham England’s first intelligence service and has shown himself to be ruthless in ways Elizabeth could not be. But again, none of this explains why Amy dismissed the servants, and why she was so insistent that they all should go and leave her alone.

Further, Europe at the time had few eligible protestant Princes for Elizabeth to marry and Cecil would be terrified of a catholic at the helm of England’s great ship of state.

6. It was a foreign inspired and funded, catholic plot to discredit Elizabeth, topple her from the throne and install a catholic king in her place. This may seem far fetched, but Elizabeth’s successor James I, was almost killed by a Spanish catholic plot some 45 years later.

So what do you think? How did Amy Dudley die?

Copyright: 2018 Paul Hannah

One Response

  1. I was fascinated by the Dudley mystery. Thanks Paul, you’ve driven me back stop the history books. Great read!

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