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DUDLEY AND QUEEN ELIZABETH.
should die without issue. Her real intentions, however, are matter of suspicion; and those who were best acquainted with the policy of the Maiden Queen, thought that all this show was merely to try if the proposal would be accepted, and then to marry him herself with less dishonour. (See Appendix.) To give further weight to this recommendation, she advanced him to the dignity of the peerage with the title of Baron Denbigh, and the very day following, being Michaelmas-day, she raised him to the Earldom of Leicester. But the French nation esteeming it a dishonourable that such an alliance should be offered to Queen Mary, urged the Scotch authorities to decline it,-promising the nation many advantages in return, and suggesting that Elizabeth had no real intention of ever allowing the match to be carried into effect (Dugdale), a suspicion which appears to have been correctly founded. In compliment to Elizabeth, with whom Dudley was now the chief favourite, Charles the Ninth conferred upon him the Order of St. Michael. No Englishman had ever been admitted into this Order before, except Henry the Eighth, Edward the Sixth, and Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, which made the Queen“ look upon it as a considerable honour." The ambassador charged with this complimentary office was M. Rambouillet; and the Queen having selected from the noblemen of her Court the Duke of Norfolk and the Earl of Leicester—the one distinguished by his high birth, the other by her Majesty's favour—as candidates for the honour, they were invested in the Royal Chapel at Whitehall with great solemnity. But the more that honours were showered upon Leicester, the more was he exposed to the contempt of the old nobility, who felt as if their own degradation at Court was in exact proportion to his advancement. This was not disguised by the Earl of Sussex, who piqued himself much in the antiquity of his house, and could ill brook to see the Queen's favour lavished on a parvenu. “Who," said he, “is this Earl of Leicester ? He can name but two ancestors, and both were executed for treason !" This language—which was the more galling from its truth-divided the whole Court into factions; and whenever the two earls went abroad, they were attended with a large retinue of followers, armed with “swords and bucklers, with iron pikes pointing out at the bosses," insomuch that the Queen was compelled to interpose her authority, when the breach was seemingly made up. But Sussex never overcame his aversion to Leicester; and even in his last illness addressed his friends in these words : "I am now passing into another world, and must leave you to your fortunes and to the Queen's grace and goodness; but beware of the Gypsie' (meaning Leicester), for he will be too hard for you all : you know not the beast so well as I do."
Leicester, continuing to advance in favour, was one of the peers appointed for the trial of the Duke of Norfolk; and four years afterwards, when Walter, Earl of Essex, died in Ireland by "no common death,” it was much suspected that he had a hand in it; which is the more probable, as from that time he forsook his wife, the Lady Douglas Sheffield, by whom he had a son, Robert, already mentioned, and promised her much money and other advantages in case she would be content therewith, and so married Lettice, daughter of Sir Francis Knolles, and widow of the Earl of Essex, “ to whom,” says Dugdale," he had privately borne much affection before.”
The death of Essex,“ in the midst of incredible torments," was attributed to poison. Two of his own servants, Crumpton his cupbearer, and Llyod his secretary, are reported to have been confederates in the murder; and it is said that Mrs. Alice Dracot, a pious lady, whom the earl much valued, was accidentally poisoned at the same time and with the same cup, and died a few days before him. It is farther alleged that his lordship’s page, who was accustomed to taste of his drink before he gave it to him, very hardly escaped with his life, and not without the loss of his hair,' though he drank but a small quantity; and that the earl, in compassion to the boy, called for a cup of drink a little before his death, and drank to him in a friendly manner; and says he, “I drink to thee, my Robin; but ben't afraid, 'tis a better cup of drink than that thou tookest to taste when we both were poisoned.” (Secret Memoirs of the Earl of Leicester.) This report was formally contradicted by Sir Henry Sidney, the Lord Deputy of Ireland; but the suspicion of Leicester's being privy to the death of Essex was never removed; and the facts of his previous intimacy and subsequent marriage with the countess added no little strength to the charge.
When the marriage between the Queen and the Duke of Anjou was first suggested at Court, he opposed it with all his influence, public and private, and had the satisfaction of attending that prince on his hasty departure from the English Court. But on his return, the elevation at his success was not a little damped by the discovery that his marriage with the Lady Lettice had been communicated to the Queen by Simier, the French minister, in revenge of the defeated plans of the Duke of Anjou. Greatly incensed at this act of duplicity, and piqued with jealousy of the lady, Elizabeth caused the Earl to be shut up in the Castle of Greenwich, as a prelude to his being sent to the
ANECDOTES OF DUDLEY-VIEW FROM THE EAST.
Tower. Charging all these misfortunes to the conduct of Simier, he indulged the wildest passion for revenge; but the rigour of his confinement was soon moderated; the Queen relented; and the only results were greater honours, more unlimited confidence, which proved that Dudley held no secondary place in the heart of the Queen.
It was in his Castle of Kenilworth that Leicester first married Lady Essex privately; but her father, Sir Francis Knolles, being well acquainted with
his lordship's inconstancy, refused to give any credit to it unless the marriage were solemnised in his own presence. In consequence of this resolution, the ceremony was again performed at Wanstead, in presence of the said Sir Francis, the Earl of Warwick, the Lord North, a public notary, and several other witnesses. On the publication of marriage, his former wife, the Lady Douglas, in “order to secure her life from any future practices,” contracted a marriage with Sir Edward Stafford, a man of high character and reputation, and at that time her Majesty's ambassador in France. This step was peremptorily called for, as she laboured under constant apprehension of being made away with by Leicester; for it is certain, according to Dugdale, that she had already “some ill potions given to her," so that, with the loss of her hair and nails, she narrowly escaped death.
Some time before the arrival of Simier with overtures from the Duke of Anjou, Leicester had engaged Astley, one of the Queen's bedchamber, to search out her disposition towards him, and had met with an unfavourable answer. For when he was covertly recommended to her Majesty for a husband, she replied in a passion—"Do you think that in choosing a husband I should be so regardless of my character, so unmindful of my royal dignity, as to prefer my servant whom myself have raised, to the greatest princes of Christendom ?” These words being reported, were thunderbolts to the Earl of Leicester; who now perceived that, should he interpose in the affair of the French match, his opposition would be construed to proceed from interested motives, and might be a means to promote rather than prevent it. He therefore chose to withdraw himself from public view, to counterfeit sickness and retire to his chamber; and there, under pretence of taking physic, he became a voluntary prisoner.
In 1585, he was made Justice-eyre of all the Forests south of Trent. He received a commission for levying five hundred men to be sent into Holland; and three weeks afterwards, he was constituted Lieutenant and Captain-General of the whole army designed for the service of the United Provinces against the Spaniards, and the same year took the command in person. In little more than a year, however, many grave charges were brought against him by the States for having abused his authority, and neglected the due performance of the high trusts reposed in him. Greatly mortified at these complaints, which, besides wounding his vanity, had a tendency to weaken his influence at Court, he affected disgust at the injustice inflicted upon him, and made his last will and testament at Middleburg, as a preparation for his retiring altogether from the public service. The contents of this will, dated the 1st of August, 1587, have been already mentioned.
On his return to England, he found that the complaints lodged against him by the Dutch had so moved the Queen's displeasure, that he was constrained to humble himself to his royal mistress, and with tears to beg of her, that, having sent him thither with power, she would not receive him back with disgrace; that whom she had raised from the dust, she would not bury alive !" The Queen was moved by this strain of courtly pleading, and the influence of the favourite became greater than ever. The last public service in which Leicester was engaged was with the army at Tilbury, when the Spanish Armada was expected to make a landing, and when the Queen, in addressing the troops, did him honour in these terms: “In the meantime, my Lieutenant-General shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble or worthy subject; not doubting but by your obedience to my General, by your concord in the camp, and by your valour in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over the enemies of my God, of my kingdoms, and of my people.” But, notwithstanding her Majesty's commendation, there was no opportunity for his lordship to exert his abilities; for the Spanish army never landed on the English shore—the elements performed all the service which was to have devolved on Leicester.
Having thus concluded his public career, he designed to spend the remainder of his days in his Castle of Kenilworth, on which he had continued to expend all the resources of art; but, taken suddenly ill of a fever at
LEICESTER'S DEATH-EPITAPH— PORTRAIT.
Cornbury Park, in Oxfordshire, he there closed his earthly account, on the 4th of September. From Cornbury Park his remains were conveyed with much pomp to Warwick, and there interred, in our Lady's Chapel, adjoining the choir of the Collegiate Church, where a very noble monument was erected to his memory, with the following inscription :-
Deo VIVENTIUM S.
Spe Certa Resurgendi In Christo Hic Situs Est Illustrissimus Robertus Dudleyus, Johannis Ducis Northumbriæ, Comitis Warwicki, Vice-Comitis Insulæ, &c., Filius Quintus, Comes Leicestriæ, Baro Denbighiæ, Ordinis Tum S. Georgii Cum S. Michaelis Eques Auratus, Reginæ Elizabethæ (Apud Quam Singulari Gratia Florebat) Hippocomus Regiæ Aulæ, Subinde Seneschallus, Ab Intimis Conciliis; Forestarum, Parcorum, Chacearum, &c. Citra Trentam Summus Justificarius; Exercitus Anglici A Dicta Regina Elizabetha Missi In Belgio, Ab Anno MDLXXXV. Ad Annum MDLXXXVII. Locum Tenens Et Capitaneus Generalis; Provinciarum Confederatarum Ibidem Gubernator Generalis Et Præfectus, Regnique Angliæ Locum Tenens Contra Philippum II. Hispanum, Numerosa Classe Et Exercitu Angliam Anno MDLXXXVIII. Invadentem. Animam Deo Servatori Reddidit, Anno Salutis MDLXXXVIII., Die Quarto Septembris. Optimo Et Charissimo Marito, Mestissima Uxor Leticia, Francisci Knolles Ordinis S. Georgii Equitis Aurati, Et Regiæ Thesaurarii, Filia, Amoris Et Conjugalis Fidei Ergo Posuit.
It is said that the Earl died much in the Queen's debt, and that her Majesty caused his goods to be sold at a public sale, that payment might be made; for “ however favourable,” says her biographer, “she might have been in all other respects, the Queen is observed never to have remitted the debts that were owing to her treasury.”
The generally received account is, that his death was occasioned by his having swallowed a draught of poison, which had been designed by him tor another person: a just stroke of retribution for the lives which—as there were strong grounds to suspect—had been cut short by his employment of the like means. In a curious manuscript copy of the information given by Ben Jonson to Drummond of Hawthornden, as abridged by Sir Robert Sibbald, Leicester's death is ascribed to poison administered as a cordial by his Countess, to whom he had given it, representing it to be a restorative in any faintness, in the hope that she herself might be cut off by using it. It may be here added, that the following satirical epitaph on Leicester occurs in Drummond's Collections, but is "evidently,'' says Scott, “ not of his composition :"