Becoming Elizabeth Explained: Robert Dudley and Elizabeth Tudor

*Spoilers for Episode 7*

Over the course of Becoming Elizabeth, we have seen a growing friendship between the Lady Elizabeth and Robert Dudley. In episode 7, it is proposed that Elizabeth be married to a Danish Prince. On her way to meet the delegation at court, she is intercepted by Robert Dudley who suggests they run away together. He declares his love for her and asks if she returns his feelings. She denies loving him and refuses to go with him. But did Robert Dudley ever really ask Elizabeth to run away with him?

A man dressed in a sixteenth century stands on a flight of stone steps. He has dark brown hair and a cut on the side of his face. He is looking intently a woman standing on the steps below him. Her back is to the camera, she is wearing a dark blue headdress trimmed with pearls.
Robert Dudley intercepts Lady Elizabeth, Becoming Elizabeth, Starz

As I wrote in an earlier post, we know very little about the childhood of Robert or Guildford Dudley. Robert starts to appear more concretely in the historical record from the summer of 1549 when he went to Norfolk as part of his father’s army, sent to suppress Ket’s rebellion. It is generally thought that it was during this expedition that he met Amy Robsart (as shown in episode 6 of Becoming Elizabeth). Robert and Amy married on 4 June 1550. There was no particular benefit to the marriage, either in terms of political influence or wealth, and is believed to have been a love match.

So where was Elizabeth in this? The only mention of their childhood friendship came in 1566 when Robert told a French diplomat that he had been friends with the Queen since before she was eight. He also claimed that she had told him she never wished to marry, both as a child and when she had come of age (a sentiment that is somewhat echoed in this episode as she begs her brother not to arrange a marriage for her).

The scene between Elizabeth and Robert in Becoming Elizabeth is therefore an invention. However, it serves to foreshadow their relationship during her reign. The love triangle between Queen Elizabeth, Robert Dudley, and the death of Amy Robsart has achieved almost mythological status. However, we don’t actually know that Elizabeth and Robert ever had a physical relationship. We do know that they flirted, danced and rode together, and that they were emotionally dependent on one another. We also know that contemporaries believed that they were having an affairs; rumours were spread widely at court and amongst the general public. This is hardly suprising given that Elizabeth insisted that Robert be in near constant attendance on her at court while his wife lived in the country. When he was away, she insisted on regular letters. Robert hosted Elizabeth at Kenilworth Castle on four separate occasions in the 1560s and 1570s, building a whole new building range to accommodate his Queen.

Leicester’s Buildings at Kenilworth Castle, erected for Queen Elizabeth I

Depsite their obvious affection for one another, there were numerous reasons why they were unlikely to ever marry, especially after Amy Robsart’s death in mysterious circumstances in 1560. Robert and Elizabeth’s relationship was also not without disagreements and restiveness. Frustrated at the Queen’s demands on him, Robert had an affair with Douglas Sheffield, Lady Sheffield, in the early 1570s, and married Lettice Devereux, the widowed countess of Essex, in 1578. Nonetheless it endured largely uninterrupted from her accession until his death on 4 September 1588.

Check out the rest of my Becoming Elizabeth Explained posts:

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