In episode 2 of Becoming Elizabeth, we were introduced to two young men – Robert Dudley (wearing a fetching pearl earring) and his brother, Guildford. Elizabeth is shown to already know the two brothers and she introduces them to Lady Jane Grey. Robert goes on to play an important role in episode 3 when he makes Elizabeth understand her own power as the daughter of a King, and shames her for humiliating Lady Jane. Both boys have an important role in episode 5 – they are with the King when Thomas Seymour comes to steal him away, culminating in Seymour attacking Robert – and, in episode 6, Robert goes with his father to deal with rebels in Norfolk. But who were Robert and Guildford?
*In addition to this post about Guildford and Robert, you can find my post about Robert and Elizabeth here!
Robert and Guildford were two of the thirteen children of John Dudley (who was given the title of earl of Warwick on the accession of Edward VI) and Jane Guildford. Robert is usually said to have been the couples fifth son. There are no record birth dates for any of the many Dudley chidren. However, later in his life, Robert wrote a letter giving his birthday as 24th June. Based on the evidence of a miniture portrait by Nicholas Hilliard, which gives Robert’s age as 44 in 1576, Robert is believed to have been born in 1532. This would make him just over a year older than Elizabeth. Guildford is generally said to have been born c. 1535.
There is very little evidence of the boys upbringing but it is likely that they mostly lived with their mother in Worcestershire and that they received a humanist education (this would have included rhetoric, history, poetry, philosophy, music, mathematics, languages, and physical pursuits). It is possible that Robert Dudley was one of the young noblemen educated with Prince Edward in the early 1540s – he is not listed as such but, in later life, he was good friends with the young men who are known to have been educated with the Prince. More concrete evidence of Robert’s life appears from 1549 when he accompanied his father to help suppress Ket’s rebellion in Norfolk (as depicted in episode 6). He was appointed a gentleman of the privy chamber but not until August 1551. Meanwhile, Guildford goes largely unremarked until 1552 when it is planned for him to marry Lady Margaret Clifford, daughter of the earl of Cumberland. It is highly unlikely therefore that the Dudley boys would have been waiting on Edward VI in his chamber in 1549 as shown in the attempted kidnapping scene in episode 5.
The scenes that appear in Becoming Elizabeth are, therefore, works of historical fiction that are not backed up by historical sources. However, there is some truth behind the friendship between Robert and Elizabeth. Robert Dudley would later state that he had become friends with Elizabeth “before she was eight years old” (so c. 1541). It is therefore plausible that she could have met and socialised with the Dudley brothers during Edward VI’s reign. From the perspective of the TV series, it makes sense to give Robert and Guildford a prominent role as they will play an important role in the later lives of Elizabeth and Lady Jane Grey.
(This post was updated 19/07/2022 to include more details relating to episodes 5 and 6 of Becoming Elizabeth)
Check out the rest of my Becoming Elizabeth explained posts: