Imatges de pàgina




son;" but notwithstanding this paternal stigma, there is every ground to believe that he was born in wedlock: for it appeared by depositions afterwards taken on oath in the Star Chamber, that the Earl of Leicester had been lawfully married to his mother, the Lady Douglas Sheffield, by a clergyman, according to the form prescribed by the Church of England. But by the interest of the Lady Letitia, widow to the Earl of Essex, whom Leicester had married some time before his death, these depositions were ordered to be sealed up by the Clerk of the Court, and never more to be seen or published; whilst at the same time a censure was passed upon the deponents as having entered into a conspiracy to defame the Dowager Lady Leicester, and unjustly to entitle Sir Robert Dudley to the honours which had been enjoyed by his ancestors. The unfairness, the palpable injustice of such proceedings, filled his mind with such disgust, that he determined, as already mentioned, to abandon the country of his birth; and having obtained the King's permission to travel for three years, proceeded to Italy, where he took up his residence in the Tuscan capital with “the style of Earl of Warwick.” But having left several enemies at home, who watched every opportunity to wrest from him his princely inheritance of Kenilworth, his absence was construed into dis


affection; and a special Privy Seal being obtained for that purpose, he was commanded to return home fortbwith, But fully aware of the motive which actuated the King's advisers, and of the annoyance and mortification which awaited him, he evaded the summons, and resolved to continue in exile beyond the Alps. Advantage was immediately taken of his contumacy, and by the “ statute of fugitives,” his lands were seized in the manner already described in the survey, and the mesne profits of them applied to the King's use.

There is a romantic story told of this Sir Robert—the last of the Dudleys of Kenilworth—which mentions, that on quitting England he carried off with him the beautiful daughter of Sir Robert Southwell, in the habit of a Page.* The lady had long been the object of his admiration; but as the legal proceedings instituted against him were calculated, however unjustly, to strip him of his inheritance and degrade him in his station, the family of the lady were naturally averse to the alliance, and took all necessary precautions to break off the intimacy which had hitherto existed between the parties. Driven to the necessity of expedients, where the open and honourable profession of his attachment had been rejected with coldness or even disdain, the knight employed stratagem; and having arranged a stolen interview with the lady, had no great difficulty in persuading her to quit an ungrateful country, and with him to seek refuge in that southern land where he was sure of a welcome, and where, at least, they would be far beyond the reach of both kingly and paternal despotism. How these arguments were received by the lady may be readily understood by the fact, that, within a few days after this interview, Sir Robert Dudley, accompanied by a beautiful page, had embarked for Italy.

It is not our province to detail the adventures which befell this " Lara” of his time, and his gentle page by the way; but on their reaching the Tuscan Athens, the page had suddenly disappeared, no person of his small retinue knew how. In the venerable church of the Santa Croce, however, preparations were observed as if for some religious solemnity; and in the evening of the feast of St. George, Dudley communicated to his immediate friends and attendants, that he should that evening lead a bride to the altar, and invited them to partake of the supper which had been prepared at his quarters in the Piazza della Trinità. The mere announcement of his marriage excited no particular surprise ; for inheriting the manly figure, the courtly manners, and elegant accomplishments of his father, whom the maiden Queen

* The romance of this story is certainly not im- canon law illegal, inasmuch as, &c.,” and obtaining a proved by the fact, that the gallant knight had left papal dispensation for that purpose, espoused (Biog.] behind him one who justly claimed him as her the said Blanche Southwell at Florence, who, as well husband, namely, the Lady Alice Leigh. “But," as other members of her family, was not aware," says the author of the Baronage, “ to countenance his according to the MS., “of the Knight's previous enmarriage with Mistress Southwell, he did allege his gagement.”—ED. marriage with the said Lady Alice Leigh to be by the




of England had so “delighted to honour," it was readily surmised that some signora, with the old Etruscan blood in her veins, had made a conquest of the English knight: and yet the name of the lady was a profound secret, which puzzled as much the learned cognoscenti as it did the simple contadini, whom the rumour of “ English espousals" had drawn to the square in rout of the church. But the mystery was speedily solved; for the procession was already under the porch of the sacred temple, and on kneeling at the altar it was no difficult matter to recognize in the lovely bride, the peerless features of Blanche Southwell—the faithful page of the exiled Robert Dudley.

Having now fixed his residence on the banks of the Arno, and become master of that rank and consideration which had been denied him at home, Dudley's active mind, forgetting the splendour of Kenilworth Castle, soon began to exert its energies in an enterprise of great public utility. This was in concerting plans for the drainage of the fens and marshes in the neighbourhood of Leghorn, adjoining the Maremma; and with so much success did he prosecute his undertaking, that he raised that town from an inconsiderable fishing village, to the rank and importance of one of the most frequented seaports in Italy. Thus, out of seeming evil, disgrace, destitution, expatriation, much ultimate good was educed, not only to the country which had extended to him the rights of hospitality, but to himself and his suc

The Duke settled a handsome pension upon him. The reputation of his accomplishments, coupled with the history of his misfortunes, secured for him the highest consideration in Italy; while the Emperor of Germany, Ferdinand the Second, conferred upon him, by letters-patent, dated Vienna, March, 1620, the title of Duke; in consequence of which he resumed that of his grandfather, the attainted Duke of Northumberland, whose tragical end we have already mentioned in the earlier portion of this work. Thus elevated to the highest rank in the state, Dudley erected a magnificent palace in the city of Florence, and there spent his days in works of public utility and private beneficence. His daughters by the lady, whose romantic story we have just recorded, were all married to princes of the Empire; and at his own demisewhen he was succeeded in the same title by his eldest son Charles—a grant was obtained from King Charles the First, under the great seal of England, that his widow, the Lady Alice, should enjoy the title of Duchess for her natural life, and that her daughters should take rank and precedence accordingly.



Z W. Archer

This Sir Robert Dudley, according to Dugdale, was a man of heroic stature, "comely in feature, strong, valiant, famous at the exercise of tilting; singularly skilled in all mathematick learning, but chiefly in navigation and architecture; a rare chymist, and of great knowledge in physick, as his learned works do sufficiently manifest—especially that ‘De Arcanis Maris,' printed at Florence in 1646, and afterwards at Venice in folio, adorned with sculpture: also that of physic called 'Catholicon,' of no small esteem with the most skilful in that profession. Nor is his memory a little famous as the inventor of that powder called Cornachine-powder; touching the virtue whereof, the learned Marcus Cornachinus, of Pisa, hath written, and endeavoured to show that all corporeal diseases may be safely and suddenly cured thereby.

“Nor is it less remarkable that his merits were so highly esteemed by the grand Duke of Tuscany (Cosmo the Second), as that he allowed him an yearly stipend of little less than a thousand pounds sterling. ... Moreover, he died at a palace of the Dukes of Florence, two or three Italian miles distant from that city, in or about the year 1650. And his bodye resteth in the monastery of the nuns at Boldrone, except it be removed to the church of St. Pancras in Florence, where he raised a noble monument for his wife, with purpose to be there interred himself. Likewise he left to his sons divers curious mathematical instruments, chiefly of his own invention, of which they, making little use, have disposed of to the great Duke of Tuscany."-Dugd. Baron, Art. Leicest. vol. ii. p. 225.

Classical Associations. The narrative of the popular romance of Kenilworth hinges upon the sad fortunes of Amy Robsart, which form "a painful tissue of unvaried disappointments, distresses, and privations, closed by an unmerited and horrible death."

We have already observed that the first wife of Leicester was Amy, the daughter of Sir John Robsart, of Sheen, in Surrey; a match effected, like most of the marriages between the offspring of the great in that age, “when the parties,” says Warner, “ were very young, and resulting from plans and adjustments of their parents, rather than from their own predilection for each other.” The connexion was sanctioned by the young king, Edward the Sixth, who honoured the ceremony with his presence, and speedily advanced the bridegroom to considerable offices at court. For a few years Leicester and his wife appear to have lived together on what are called decent, if not on affectionate, terms; and though the rays of royal favour, which daily shone upon him with increasing warmth, gradually produced and embittered his regret at having matched himself with so humble a partner for life as Amy Robsart, yet he does not seem to have conceived any notion of ridding himself of this domestic burthen by violent means, till the prospect




of sharing either the Scotch or the English throne dazzled his imagination. To both of these speculations, Amy was an insurmountable obstacle; and he resolved to remove it by her immediate destruction. How this was effected is a matter of some doubt. All that we know of it is contained in the following narrations: “Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, à very goodly personage, being a great favourite to Queen Elizabeth, it was thought, and commonly reported, that had he been a bachelor or widower, the Queen would have made him her husband. To this end, to free himself from all obstacles, he, with flattering entreaties, desires his wife to repose herself at Cumnor, in Berkshire, at his servant Anthony Foster's house, who then lived in the manor house of this place; and also prescribed to Sir Varney, a promoter of this design, at his coming hither, that he should first attempt to poison her, and if that did not take effect, then by any way whatsoever to despatch her.” The poisoning scheme, Aubrey says, not succeeding, the foul instruments of Leicester's villany effected their purpose in the following manner: “Sir Richard Varney, who, by the Earl's order, remained with her alone on the day of her death, and Foster, who had that day forcibly sent away all her servants from her to Abingdon fair, about three miles' distance from this place; these two persons first stifling her, or else strangling her, afterwards Aung her down a pair of stairs, and broke her neck, using much violence upon her; yet caused it to be reported that she fell down of herself, believing the world would have thought it a mischance, and not have suspected the villany. As soon as she was murdered, they made haste to bury her, before the coroner had given in his inquest, which the Earl himself condemned, as not done advisedly; and her father, Sir John Robsart, hearing, came with all speed hither, caused her corpse to be taken up, the coroner to sit upon her, and further enquiry to be made concerning this business to the full. But it was generally thought that the earl stopped his mouth; who, to show the great love he bore to her while alive, and what a grief the loss of so virtuous a lady was to his tender heart, caused her body to be buried in St. Mary's Church, Oxford, with great pomp and solemnity. It is also remarkable that Dr. Babington, the earl's chaplain, preaching the funeral sermon, tripped once or twice in his speech, recommending to their memories that virtuous lady so pitifully murdered, instead of saying so pitifully slain.'

It is evident that the above particulars are given by Aubrey from

« AnteriorContinua »