From the very start of her reign, Elizabeth gave Robert Dudley rich gifts – indeed, he was the top recipient of her royal largesse – but it took her almost six years to give him a title. In 1561 she restored his brother Ambrose to the family Earldom of Warwick, but she tore up a patent to similarly raise Robert. The theory goes that this was a way of reassuring people that she did not actually intend to marry him, as many feared she would. But now, she had offered her favorite as a potential husband for the Queen of Scotland and she had do to something to “narrow the yawning disparity in rank” (as Anne Somerset puts it in her wonderful biography of Elizabeth).
It was a crazy idea (to suggest the man she loved to be the husband of another…), but she explained to Scottish Ambassador James Melville that “she esteemed him as her brother and best friend, whom she would have married herself had she not been determined to end her life in virginity.”
And, in fact, she was not the first in her line to come up with such a scheme: back in 1514, her father had made Charles Brandon a Duke so that he would be a suitable husband for Margaret of Savoy. Mind you, it didn’t work that time either – it only made Brandon more able to marry Henry’s own sister Mary when she was recently widowed!
Whether or not marrying Robert Dudley herself as a potential Plan B was in the back of Elizabeth’s mind, the fact remains that Elizabeth conferred the Earldom of Leicester on her favorite in a stately ceremony in Westminster Hall. And despite all the solemnity, she could not stop herself from famously tickling his cheek as he knelt before her…
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What a wonderful attention to small details that provide big insights (eg, Elizabeth’s tickle of Dudley’s cheek. Thank you!
Thank you, Pat!