November 8, 1543 – Birth of Lettice Knollys

Lettice Knollys, Countess of Leicester, by George Gower (courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Lettice Knollys, Countess of Leicester, by George Gower (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Lettice Knollys was a well-known figure in the Tudor court, though she spent little time actually there.

Her mother, Catherine Carey, was a daughter of Mary Boleyn, born about 1524. That was near the time that Mary Boleyn was mistress to Henry VIII, and gossip claimed that the King had fathered Catherine, though he never acknowledged her or her brother Henry, born in 1526, as his children the way he did with Henry Fitzroy (of course, he was pursuing Mary’s sister at the time!). Catherine was a Maid of Honor to both Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard, then wed Sir Francis Knollys and retired from court. She returned in 1559 when her first cousin (or half-sister…) Elizabeth acceded to the throne, and was appointed Chief Lady of the Bedchamber. Acknowledged as one of the new queen’s favorites, she also secured a place for Lettice as Maid of the Privy Chamber.

Lettice quickly caught the eye of Walter Devereux, Viscount Hereford. They married in late 1560 and Lettice retired from court. She did visit from time to time, enough that in the summer of 1565, the Spanish Ambassador Diego de Silva describe her as “one of the best-looking ladies of the court.” Unfortunately, during that same visit she got herself sent away for flirting with Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester…

The affair with Leicester seems to have continued. In 1573, he sent her a present of venison from his seat in Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire – and apparently she also visited Kenilworth to hunt in 1574 and 1576 while her husband was in Ireland. Devereux, who by that point had been raised to the Earldom of Essex, was said to despise Leicester. Unfortunately, there was little he could do about it. He died of dysentery on September 22, 1576, “bemoaning the frailness of women.”

Lettice observed the traditional two-year mourning period, then on September 21, 1578 married Leicester in a secret ceremony. When the Queen discovered it two months later, Lettice was banished from court for life. She was allowed a single visit back – it occurred in 1598, after Leicester had died and before her son, who had inherited the Essex title, launched the revolt that led to his execution – but nothing changed.

Only 45 when Leicester died, Lettice married a third time: Sir Christopher Blount, a trusted friend of her late husband’s. Gossip followed this union – since the marriage took place only six months after Leicester’s death, Lettice was rumored to have poisoned Leicester so that she could be with her new lover. She claimed it was just hard to be a woman alone.

Blount was caught up in her son’s treasonous revolt against Elizabeth, so Lettice lost both of them in 1601. She herself lived on until 1634, dying on Christmas Day at the age of 91. She chose to be buried with Leicester.

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August 29, 1588 – Leicester’s Last Letter to Elizabeth I

August 29, 1588 - Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, writes his last letter to Elizabeth I. Read it on www.janetwertman.com

“His Last Letter” (public domain thanks to the National Archives and Records Administration, England) 

Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, had a long, deep, and complicated relationship. They were childhood friends, and he was one of her favorites (if not her very favorite) when she came to the throne in November 1558. Truly he was the love of her life, though she never married him. They remained close until he died.

It was just after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. Leicester’s stomach had been bothering him for some time (it is believed he was suffering from stomach cancer) and he decided to travel to Buxton to take the healing waters there. He wrote this letter shortly before his planned departure, which never occurred (he died at his house in Oxfordshire on September 4, 1588). The letter was found after Elizabeth’s death in 1603, in a small casket by her bed. She had written “His Last Letter” on it and kept it close beside her for the rest of her life.

I most humbly beseech your Majesty to pardon your poor old servant to be thus bold in sending to know how my gracious lady doeth, and what ease of her late pains she finds, being the chiefest thing in this world I do pray for, for her to have good health and long life. For my own poor case, I continue still your medicine and find it amends much better than with any other thing that hath been given me. Thus hoping to find perfect cure at the bath, with the continuance of my wonted prayer for your Majesty’s most happy preservation, I humbly kiss your foot. From your old lodging at Rycote, this Thursday morning, ready to take on my journey, by your Majesty’s most faithful and obedient servant.

R. Leicester

Even as I had writ thus much, I received Your Majesty’s token by Young Tracey.

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