Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects including education and creative writing.
She was an heiress, wife of a powerful Lord, and a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I; however, Amy Dudley’s most famous contribution to history was dying under mysterious circumstances.
Her death set off a scandal and had the potential of destroying a queen’s reputation, as well as ending the political career of her husband, Lord Robert Dudley. And, through it all, questions were being asked: did she die of cancer, an accident, or murder? Speculations about her death have never been resolved, even nearly 500 years after her life was cut too short.
The Lady Named Amy
In her short life, Lady Amy Robsart (her maiden name) appeared to have it all. She was a wealthy heiress from Norfolk, England who got married at the age of eighteen to the son of John Dudley, the 1st Duke of Northumberland. Her husband, Lord Robert Dudley, would eventually become part of Queen Elizabeth’s court. Her brother-in-law – Robert’s younger brother - Guilford, had married Lady Jane Grey who would eventually become queen for nine days.
Although it appeared she was living a life of wealth and privilege, she was also a pawn in one man’s quest for power. The Duke was looking to consolidate his influences in Norfolk. The marriage of his son to the daughter of a wealthy landowner in the area, Sir John Robsart, helped him accomplish this task. By all accounts, the marriage between Lord Robert and Lady Amy was an arranged marriage that only benefited the Duke.
Happier Ever After Doesn’t Last
The couple was married June 4, 1550 with the young King Edward VI in attendance. Thing, however, soon took a turn for the worst. King Edward VI died, and Robert was imprisoned in the Tower of London for fifteen months. This came as a result of his father’s action to place Lady Jane Grey on the throne.
The incoming queen, Elizabeth I, tried to do away with Lady Jane, Guilford, the Duke and Robert. Robert was condemned to death, but King Phillip II of Spain and England’s king consort interceded and spared his life. Through this crisis, Lady Amy stood by her man, visiting him – with the help of the Privy Council – during his period.
By all accounts, Lady Amy and Lord Robert had every reason to despise the new queen. And, the Queen had reasons to not trust the couple. However, events soon took a different turn.
Lord Robert became part of the queen’s court. On top of that, rumors swirled that he and the Queen were lovers. In fact, in 1559, several diplomats reported that some members of the court believed that the Queen would marry him, “in case his wife should die”.
While her husband was sparking a romance with the Queen, Lady Amy was in the midst of health crisis; she contracted an “illness of the breast” as it was called then. Today, it’s known as breast cancer.
About this time, Lady Amy did not reside in London. She had lived in various places, and by 1560, she was living in the manor house of Cumnor Place, near Abingdon in Berkshire (now known as Oxfordshire). Lord Robert spent most of his time in London.
Still, she managed to join her husband on occasions despite being ill. She came to London and to Windsor for Robert’s inauguration as a Knight of the Garter in 1559. Whether she knew about her husband’s relation with the Queen was never reported.
At the time, Lord Robert was in Windsor with the Queen. Upon receiving the news, he sent his friends to investigate her death
The year 1560 was Lady Amy’s last. She was still ill but seemed – by eye-witness account, to be recovering. On September 8 at Cumnor Place, Lady Amy gave her servants permission to attend Our Lady’s Fair at Abingdon. All but one servant, Mrs. Odingsells, and the elderly mother of the manor’s previous owner, Mrs. Owens, left for the festivities. When the servants returned, they found Lady Amy lying dead at the foot of a flight of stairs.
At the time, Lord Robert was in Windsor with the Queen. Upon receiving the news, he sent his friends to investigate her death. An inquest took place and Lord Amy’s death was ruled an accident.
How Did Lady Amy Dudley Die?
Immediately, rumors and speculation arose that Lady Amy’s death was the result of foul play. Many suspected it was Lord Robert Dudley. Rumors had it that he ordered the murder of his wife in order to marry the Queen.
Another accusation was that the Queen ordered her death. Evidence to this was a conversation Elizabeth had with the Spanish ambassador de Quadra in which she commented that Dudley’s wife was “dead or nearly so.”
The accusations that Dudley and the Queen had arranged the murder of Lady Amy may have come from a jealous court official. William Cecil, the Queen’s secretary, was wary of Dudley’s ascension to power as a possible king consort, and feared his own power would be diminished by this young upstart. Thus, Cecil may have spread rumors about the murder in order to prevent the two from marrying.
Apparently, the rumors worked to some degree. Lord Robert Dudley and Queen Elizabeth never married. Despite the coroner’s jury’s verdict that Lady Amy died of an accidental fall, he was haunted for the rest of his life by accusations that he had her killed.
He’d never reach the status of king consort, but he’d later obtain the title of 1st Earl of Leicester and one of Queen Elizabeth’s most important statesman until he decided to take on a new wife in 1578. Ten years later, Robert died. Queen Elizabeth also survived the scandal, becoming one of the most powerful monarchs of her era.
Little is known about Lady Amy’s death. However, most of the evidence points to an unfortunate accident. Even if she didn’t die from the fall, the cancer would surely have taken her. Whatever the case may be, her sudden death at age 32 could’ve had serious implication at the highest level of royalty and politics.
© 2016 Dean Traylor
CJ Kelly from the PNW on April 21, 2016:
I recently watched something on Queen Elizabeth and that's why your hub caught my hub. Fascinating time. Great hub. Shared HP, Twitter & FB.