Page images
[ocr errors][merged small]






Eminent Persons



UDLEY (Robert), baron of Denbigh, and earl of Lei.

cester, fon to John, duke of Northumberland, and brother to Ambrose, earl of Warwick, before mentioned, was born

about 1532; and coming early into the service and favour of king Edward, was knighted in his youth. June 1550, he espoused Amy, daughter of Sir John Robfart, at Sheen in Surrey, the king honouring their nuptials with his presence; and was immediately advanced to considerable offices at court. In the first year of Mary, he fell into the same misfortunes with the rest of his family; was imprisoned, tried, and condemned; but pardoned for life, and set at liberty in October 1554. He was afterwards restored in blood, as we have observed in the lait article of our fourth volume. On the accession of Elizabeth, he was immediately entertained at court as a principal favourite: he · was made master of the horse, installed knight of the garter, and

worn of the privy-council, in a very thort time. He obtained moreover prodigious grants, one after another, from the crown: and all things gave way to his ambition, influence, and policy. In his attendance upon the queen to Cambridge, the highest reverence was paid him: he was lodged in Trinity College, consulted in all things, requeits made to the queen through him; and, August 10, 1564, he on his knees entreated the queen to speak to the university in Latin, which she accordingly did. At court, however, Thomas, earl of Suflex, fhewed himself averse to his counsels, and trongly promoted the overture of a marriage between the queen and the archduke Charles, of Austria ; as much more worthy of such a princess, than any subject of her own, let his qualities be what they would. This was resented by Dudley, who infinuated, VOL. V.


that thefe


that foreign alliances were always fatal; that her fifter Mary never knew an easy minute after her marriage with Philip; that her majesty ought to consider, she was herfelf descended of such a marriage as by those lofty notions was decried : so that she could not contemn an alliance with the nobility of England, but must at the fame time reflect on her father's choice, and her mother's family.

This dispute occasioned a violent rupture between the two lords, which the queen took into her hands, and composed; but without the least diminution of Dudley's ascendancy, who still continued to solicit and obtain new grants and offices for himself and his dependants, who were so numerous, and made so great a figure, that he was styled by the common people “ The Heart of the Court."

To give some colour to these marks of royal indulgence, the queen proposed him as a suitor to Mary, queen of Scots; promising to that princess all the advantages the could expect or desire, either for herself or her subjects, in case the consented to the match. The fincerity of this was fufpected at the time, when the decpest politicians believed that, if the queen of Scotland had cemplied, it would have served only to countenance the preferring him to his sovereign's bed. The queen of Scots rejected the proposal in a manner that, fome have thought, proved as fatal to her, as it had done to his own lady, who was supposed to be sacrificed to his ambition of marrying a queen. The death of this unfortunate person happened September 8, 1560, at a very unlucky juncture for his reputation ; because the world at that time conceived it might be inuch for his conveniency to be without a wife, this island having then two queens, young, and without husbands. The manner too of this poor lady's death, which, was by a fall from a high place, filled the world with great consternation.

Sept. 1564, the queen created him baron of Denbigh, and, the day after, earl of Leicester, with all the pomp and ceremony ima, ginable; and, before the clofe of the year, he was made chancellor of Oxford, as he had been some time before high-steward of Cambridge. His great influence in the court of England was not only known at home, but abroad, which induced the French king, Charles IX. to fend him the order of St. Michael, then the most honourable in France; and he was installed with great solemnity in 1565. About 1572, it is supposed that the earl married Douglas, baronefs dowager of Sheffield: which however was managed with fuch privacy, that it did not come to the queen's ears, though a great deal of secret history was published, even in those days, concerning the adventures of this unfortunate lady. We call her unfortunate, because, though the earl had actually married her, and there were legal proofs of it, yet he never would own her as his wife. Some of the wits in- queen Elizabeth's court, after the carl's public inarriage with the countess dowager of Ellex, styled DUDLEY-(Robert).


these two ladies, Leicester's two Testaments; calling lady Douglas the Old, and lady Eilex the New Testament. The earl, in order to stifle this affair, proposed every thing he could think of to lady Douglas Sheffield, to make her defift from her pretensions : but, finding her obstinate, and resolved not to comply with his proposals, he attempted to take her off by poison. It is however beyond all doubt, that the earl had by her a son, Sir Robert Dudley, of whom we shall speak hereafter, and to whom, by the name of his BASE SON, he left the bulk of his fortune ; and also a daughter.

In 1576 happened the death of Walter, earl of Essex, which drew upon lord Leicester many fufpicions, especially after his marriage with the countess of Essex was declared; as it was two years after. For, in 1578, when the duke of Anjou pressed the match that had been proposed between himself and the queen, his agent, believing lord Leicester to be the greatest bar to the duke's pretenfions, informed the queen of his marriage with lady Effex ; upon which her majesty was so enraged, that, as Camden relates, she commanded him not to stir from the castle of Greenwich, and would have committed him to the Tower, if she had not been difsuaded from it by the earl of Sussex. Lord Leicester being now in the very height of power and influence, many attempts were made upon his character, in order to take him down: and, in 1584, came out a most virulent book against him, commonly called " Leicefter's Commonwealth." The drist of it was to fhew, that the English constitution was subverted, and a new form imperceptibly introduced, to which no name could be fo properly given, as that of a “ Leicestrian Commonwealth.” To make this pass the better, the earl was represented as an atheist in point of religion, a secret traitor to the queen, an oppressor of her people, an inveterate enemy to the nobility, a complete monster with regard to ambition, cruelty, and luft; and not only so, but as having thrown all offices of trust into the hands of his creatures, and usurped all the power of the kingdom. The queen, however, did not fail to countenance and protect her favourite : and, to remove as much as poslible the impression this bitter performance was sure to make upon the vulgar, caused letters to be iffured from the privy-council, in which all the facts contained therein were declared to be absolutely false, not only to the knowledge of those who ligned them, but also of the queen herself. Nevertheless, this book was universally read, and the contents of it generally received for true: and the great secrecy with which it was wrote, printeil, and published, induced a suspicion, that some very able heads were concerned either in drawing it up, or at least in furnithing the materials. It is not well known what the original title of it was, but supposed to be.“ A Dialogue between a scholar, a şcoleman, and a lawyer;" though it was afterwards called " Leiceller's Com

A 2


monwealth." It has been several times reprinted, particularly in 1600, 8vo. in 1631, 8vo. the running-title being “ A Letter of ftate to a scholar of Cambridge;" in 1641, 4to. and 8vo. with the addition of “ Leicester's Ghost;” and again in 1706, 8vo. under the title of “ Secret Memoirs of Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester,” with a preface by Dr. Drake, who pretended it to be printed from an old manufcript. The delign of reprinting it in 1641, was, to give an ill impression of the government of Charles I. and the like was supposed to be the design of Dr. Prake in his publication. Indeed, it may be considered as a standing libel upon all overgrown ministers, and governments by faction.

Dec. 1585, lord Leicester embarked for the Protestant LowCountries, whither he arrived in quality of governor.

At this țime the affairs of those countries were in a perplexed fituation ; and the states thought that nothing could contribute so much to their recovery, as prevailing upon queen Elizabeth to send over fome person of great distinction, whom they might set at the head of their concerns, civil and military: which proposition, says Camden, fo much flattered the ambition of this potent earl, that he willingly consented to pass the seas upon this occasion, as being well ailured of most ample powers. Before his departure, the queen admonished him to have a special regard to her honour, and to attempt nothing inconsistent with the great employment to which he was advanced: nevertheless, she was fo displeased with some proceedings of his and the States, that the year after she sent over very severe letters to them, which drew explanations from the former, and deep submissions from the latter. He returned to England Nov. 1585; and, notwithstanding what was past, was well received by the queen. What contributed to make her majesty forget his offence in the Low-Countries, was the pleasure of having him near her, when she wanted his counsel extremely: for now the affair of Mary queen of Scots was upon the carpet, and the point was, how to have her taken off with the least discredit to the queen. The earl thought it best to have her poisoned ; but that scheme was not found practicable, so that they were obliged to have recourse to violence. The earl set out for the Low-Countries in June 1587; but, great discontents arising on all sides, was recalled in November. Camden relates, that on his return, finding an accusation preparing against him for mal-administration there, and that he was fummoned to appear before the council, he prirately implored the queen's protection, and befought her " not to receive him with disgrace upon his return, whoin at his first departure the had sent out with honour; nor bring down alive to the grave, whom her former goodnes had raised from the dust." Which expreflions of humility and forrow wrought so far upon her, that he was admitted into her former grace and favour.


« PreviousContinue »