T.I.H.: The Death of Robert Dudley

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Today in history, September 4, 1588, Robert Dudley died at his home in Oxfordshire. Dudley had been of ill health as of late and was on course to Buxton in Derbyshire to “take the waters” which were said to have healing properties. Despite this, his death still came as a shock to the Queen and likely Robert himself who wrote to Elizabeth just days prior praising “your medicine and find that (it) amends much better than with any other thing that hath been given me.” The death of her court favorite and oldest friend hurt Elizabeth profoundly. While still riding high from the defeat of the Spanish Armada that summer, Elizabeth was distraught at the loss and reportedly locked herself away in her apartments for days. Only the wily Lord Burghley had the power to have her chamber door broken down and her isolation ended. His final letter was found in Elizabeth’s close possessions 15 years later just after her own death speaking to the incredible, non-traditional nature of the two. Yet, let us examine what exactly bound the two together in such a way over their decades together.

 

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(John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland.)

Robert Dudley was one of thirteen children belonging to John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland. Contrary to popular belief, the Dudley family were hardly upstarts. Edmund Dudley (Robert’s grandfather) had been Speaker of the House of Commons and President of the King’ s Council under the reign of Henry VII. However, Edmund Dudley was brought up on high treason and executed in what is often referred to as one of Henry VIII’s first acts of King. Edmund, who had been acting strictly on the orders of his King, is often seen historically as a scapegoat. His execution garnered the young King public favor. The populace was glad to see the downfall of the man who they saw responsible for the taxation under the previous regime. Despite this, John Dudley claimed his inheritance and went onto witness many pivotal happenings in the reign of Henry VIII. He served Cardinal Wolsey diplomatically, was knighted by Charles Brandon and served in the 1523 Invasion of France. He was present in the Reformation Parliament, the Pilgrimage of Grace, The Burning of Edinburgh and was elected as one of the 16 members of the regency council under Edward VI. After the execution of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector, he took over as Lord President of the Council. Rejecting the title of Lord Protector unlike his predecessor, John Dudley had a close yet respectful working relationship with the King. Seeking to bring the now teenager more into affairs of state, Edward began to exercise some of his own authority independent of the council and even of John Dudley himself.

Sadly, what we know best about John Dudley is ironically where the paths of Robert and Elizabeth merge forever. Prior to the death of King Edward VI, after a bout of illness which left the young King’s health in question, John Dudley married his second youngest son to Lady Jane Grey. Jane Grey was the daughter of Henry Grey and Frances Brandon. Frances Brandon herself was the daughter of Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor making Jane Grey the great-granddaughter of Henry VII. Fascinatingly enough, Jane Grey’s father Henry was the grandson of Thomas Grey, 1st Marquess of Dorset who was the son of Elizabeth Woodville by her first marriage. Though the bloodline is not royal, I’ve always found this interesting. Though the marriage seemed politically insignificant, that would not stand that way for long.

 

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(Edward VI’s “Device For The Succession.”)

Prior to Edward’s passing, he had worked ardently to change the act of succession and exclude his half-sisters. Whether it be Edward’s fear of a Catholic England under Mary or the work of his councilors attempting to convince the dying King of the best next step, no one can say for certain. Yet, what we do know is that Edward supervised and worked to have his “Device for Succession” legitimized despite his own father’s act of succession passed prior to Edward’s accession. Surprisingly enough, his unlikely yet Protestant cousin and the daughter-in-law of his main counselor was to take up the helm. After Edward’s death on the 6th of July, 1553, Jane Grey was proclaimed Queen days later. Yet, it wasn’t too last. Mary Tudor rose up through East Anglia. Garnering strength and Dudley was overwhelmed as was the whole of his regime.

Robert Dudley had been arrested and tossed into the Tower of London after attempting to lead a force against Mary in Norfolk. He was condemned to death along with his father and four brothers. Yet, only Guildford and John Dudley were to be executed. It was around this same period of time that Mary’s half-sister Elizabeth had been imprisoned in the Tower as well. Though the two had known one another as children in the court of Elizabeth’s father and may have even shared a tutor, this seemed the period that bonded them together best. Wyatt’s Rebellion was a direct answer to the impending marriage of Mary to Philip II of Spain. Though Elizabeth had never been directly implicated, Mary suspected her involvement and her life was at risk. Both of them narrowly escaped with their lives and the Dudley’s were restored after their support of Philip II’s forces in France in 1558. Needless to say, the circumstances of their initial meeting at such a lowly period of their lives would forge something deeper between them. Elizabeth knew she could trust the man when she was fighting but a subject in the Tower and so she knew she could trust him when she had come to her throne.

With Mary’s death and Elizabeth’s accession, Robert was remembered as was all of the Dudley family. Ambrose Dudley, as heir, received his father’s titles which had been stripped of them. Robert was made Master of the Horse on the very day that Elizabeth received the Great Seal. His rise was quick and alarming to many. As a favorite, he was recognized as one of the few men leading the country and many thought him to be a substantial threat that needed to be eliminated. Foreign suitors came and went but to the naked eye, it was obvious that Robert carried the Queen’s favor and should he not already be married, he could have even become her husband.

 

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(Amy Dudley)

On September 8, 1560, Robert’s wife, Amy Dudley, was found dead at the landing of a flight of stairs. An inquest was opened immediately as the events were suspicious, strange and furthermore scandalous. Robert Dudley was nearly in constant attendance to Elizabeth at this point and for his wife to abruptly be found dead in such a manner raised many eyebrows. Especially when he seemed to be so high in Elizabeth’s favor that marriage between the two seemed not only plausible but likely should he be suddenly a bachelor. The case was reviewed by a coroner and 15 jurors who found Amy Dudley’s death to be an accident as a result of a broken neck. While some suspected suicide, others ruled out the suggestion due to Amy’s pious nature. Through the years, breast cancer has also been suggested. Yet, to this day there is no true explanation and there likely never will be. Regardless, scandal ensued and Robert’s enemies used it as a chance to stunt his political ambitions and his hopes of marrying Elizabeth. At the conclusion of his period of mourning, Robert pursued Elizabeth with complete abandon. Sabotaging all attempts by foreign suitors and limiting his own pursuits between 1561 and 1578. For 17 whole years Robert Dudley fought for the hand of his longtime friend and Queen, announcing that he “could not contemplate the queen’s marriage to anyone else… without great repugnance.”

In 1575, Robert or “Sweet Robin” as Elizabeth knew him, staged the most elaborate, expensive and longest party in Elizabeth’s honor at Kenilworth. This celebration went on for three weeks and reportedly cost £60,000. With emphasis placed on Robert’s dedication and willingness to sacrifice all of himself for his would-be brid. The wine, beer and gifts ran just as wildly as the masquerade. Robert had enlisted the help of Italian painter Federico Zuccaro for two portraits depicting both himself and Elizabeth. Within the portraits, the two were facing one another in a tradition usually held for married couples. Clearly he was laying it on thick in a last and final attempt that would not succeed. By 1578, Robert Dudley had married Elizabeth’s cousin Lettice Knollys in yet another scandal that had Lettice banned permanently from court. It had been suggested that the two had been involved for sometime and only married when Lettice became pregnant. Elizabeth was to never forgive her cousin for the happening and exhibited that infamous Tudor temper of hers. Though the marriage was to never be for one reason or another and the extent of their relationship may never be truly known to be anything more than just this, the two did truly seem to be soulmates. It is thought that Robert was the only suitor that Elizabeth truly ever entertained.

 

(Though those original portraits by Federico Zuccaro no longer exist, his drawings provide us with a glimpse of the type of symbolism employed. Notice the dog representing fidelity and ermine for purity.)

Their relationship was damaged but managed to mend following the crisis. It is thought that Elizabeth relied heavily on Robert during the proceedings of the execution of Mary Queen of Scots and for sometime after. A happening that no doubt shook the anointed Queen to her very core. Robert was of the essence once more in the coming of the Spanish Armada when he led Elizabeth’s horse during her famous speech at Tilbury. He stood beside her prepared to fight for her safety during the Armada and following her success during the celebrations. Yet, by the fall, her friend and sometimes-sweetheart was gone from this world. Dudley’s stepson Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, would attempt to fill the void. Maybe even for a moment he did. Yet, Elizabeth was mistaken to think the loyalty and good intention of stepfather laid in stepson. With the execution of Robert Devereux in 1601, Elizabeth would follow not long after with Robert Dudley no doubt in her heart and mind.

T.I.H.: The Great Fire of London.

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(The areas of white show you the extent of the fire.)

Today in history, September 2, 1666, the Great Fire of London began. It is known as the most devastating fire in London history which destroyed some 13,000 houses, 87 churches and Old Saint Paul’s Cathedral. The country’s capital inhabited some 350,000 people at the time. In addition, homes were made of pitch-soaked timber with thatched roofs and tightly packed into small quarters. The tight confines and narrow, winding streets compounded with a dry summer made London a tinderbox waiting for a spark. That spark would come from an unlikely place.

A Baker’s shop in, aptly called, Pudding Lane would go up in flames in the early morning hours of the 2nd. Thomas Farrinor, ironically the King’s own baker, had gone to bed the night of the 1st quite convinced that he had entirely put out his oven. He was wrong. Lit embers took to the firewood besides the oven and his house was engulfed momentarily. While Farrinor escaped, his bakery assistant did not. All too quickly the fire was to claim its first victim but it was just getting started. The fire, which was aided with easterly winds, spread quickly. Warehouses filled with oil, whiskey, coal and all sorts of other flammable materials burnt with reckless abandon. It is around this time that fellow Londoners began to notice the ferocity and danger of the spreading blaze and abandoned their efforts at extinguishing it. Many would run home to save their families and valuables. What could not be carried was buried.

 

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Interestingly enough, it seems evident that fires must have been quite common in central London. Samuel Pepys recorded in his diary for that day that he had been told twice of the fire and thought little of it upon both times he reviewed it. The second time he writes “About seven rose again to dress myself, and there looked out at the window, and saw the fire not so much as it was and further off” and so he returned to the plans of his day. It wasn’t until the fire had committed to its warpath did he seem to truly find interest in its severity. Pepys diary is perhaps the best firsthand account of the Great Fire which we have today though it is with curiosity that one can consider some odd intrigues. If these fires were so commonplace that a man thought it best not to get out of bed, this fire must have truly been a wonder of the day. Either that or it began at exactly the wrong place at exactly the wrong time.

“The churches, houses, and all on fire and flaming at once, and a horrid noise the flames made, and the cracking of houses at their ruin.” – Samuel Pepys.

It carried down Fish Hill and down to the Thames which acted as a natural buffer. It spread quickly leaving 436 acres destroyed in what must have been days of complete and utter hell. To put the size of the fire in perspective, London at the time was only 677 acres. That means that over 60 percent of the city was either on fire, had been on fire or was to be on fire. But how was a fire of such magnitude meant to be contained much less put out? Well, not easily as one can imagine. There were no fire companies and fire laws were just as medieval as the city they were attempting to save. A common method of this time was demolition. Demolition teams equipped with firehooks or gunpowder would create empty spaces in rows of houses and shops that could burn themselves out without fear of spreading. However, time had been wasted by the indecisive leadership of Thomas Bloodworth, the Lord Mayor of London. Whether he was used as a scapegoat or was a true culprit, we’ll leave that for history to examine. What we do know factually is that Bloodworth refused to allow the demolition of key buildings that could have controlled the fire. In fear of liability, he was later ordered to by the orders of the King himself.

 

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King Charles II answered the call of devastation with ‘with alacrity and vigour” and arrived at the heart of the city that afternoon. A campaign was organized by the privy council and soldiers/volunteers were dispatched to various points to battle the blaze. Primitive fire engines were used which were hardly functional considering the scale of the fire. At its greatest point of escalation, the Tower of London had even been threatened. It wasn’t until winds finally begun to die down that the demolition of houses and shops or firebreaks, had finally become efficient ways of containing the fire. Ultimately, the fire continued to smolder for months but it had done its damage. By result, London as the world knew it was smoke and ash. Now it was time to rebuild and wrestle with the thousands of homeless, the threat of rebellion and become the London we know all know it to be. Ironically enough, the fire did have some benefits. The bubonic plague had returned with a vengeance the year before in 1665. Though the chronicled number is around 69,000, the true number is suggested to be around 100,000. The same heat that made conditions perfect for the fire also helped the plague to spread. Yet, with the outbreak of the fire, it killed many of the rats and thus the fleas they carried. An odd silver lining perhaps but at a tremendous cost for poor Londontown.

“The hand of God, a great wind, and a very dry season” – The official inquiry into the Great Fire and its origins.

T.I.H.: The Battle of Bosworth.

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Today in history, August 22, 1485, Richard III was killed in battle at Bosworth Field. The battle of Bosworth was to be the last of the dynastic wars which had wreaked havoc on England for decades. Richard of House York had succeeded to the throne of England two years prior by some…messy means but succeeded he did! Yet, it was not to be for long. An unlikely incumbent lay in the lurch representing the House of Lancaster and seeking to make right the foul deeds which had brought down his step-uncle, Henry VI. One could only imagine that Richard and his forces of 5,000 were likely quite confident marching into that battle. Seeing it as little more than a spur of rebellion or a chance to put the Welsh upstart down Old Yeller style. Richard held 5,000 men behind his banners while Henry had French mercenaries and had collected rag-tag bands of soldiers since his arrival.

Yet, not even Richard (who many find to be well-seasoned in the art of betrayal himself) had anticipated what was to come. The Earl of Northumberland who had been charged with the holding of a third of the royal forces, did not answer Richard’s call for movement. Seeing eminent defeat, Richard opted to “either win the battle as a king, or die as one” and refused the notion of retreating. Thought to be accompanied by little more than his household men, Richard would cut down Henry Tudor’s standard bearer and unseat the standard bearer who had served under his own brother. Henry Tudor meanwhile was protected by the reserve of his vanguard and seemed to ironically want no parts of the action. Yet, he had a trick up his sleeve. Stanley forces would take note of the King separated from his army and rushed the scene. Thomas Stanley, after all, was the husband of Henry’s dearly beloved mother making Stanley Henry’s stepfather effectively. The Stanley forces surrounded Richard and his men, Richard would find his horse stuck and would be struck down by violent means even by those standards. The day was lost for the Yorkists and Richard III was no more. Henry Tudor because King Henry VII and there was no going back.