Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Question from Victoria - Amy Robsart and Robert Dudley's relationship

Do you believe there ever was love between Amy Robsart abd Robert Dudley when they were first married and before he became favored by the Queen. I read one account that the marriage began very happily, and another account that said it was a contractual marriage and they were hardly ever together. Thanks.

3 comments:

PhD Historian said...

The question is anachronistic because it seems to assume that marriage in the sixteenth century necessarily invloved "love," as we define it today. While "love" may have been involved at lower socio-economic levels, such as the lesser gentry and below, it seldom figured in aristocratic and noble marriages. Indeed, when it did figure in such upper-level marriages, it was usually cause for scandal (e.g.: Frances Brandon Grey's second marriage to her much younger servant, her daughter Katherine's marriage to Edward Seymour in late 1560, Henry VIII's marriages to Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour and Katherine Howard). Without some direct documentary statement from the hand of Amy Robsart or Robert Dudley to suggest otherwise, it is doubtful that the match was based on "love" rather than property and increasing Dudley's wealth. Amy was her father's sole legitimate heir, and when the marital contract was arranged, her father agreed that his entire estate would pass to her. Under English law at that time, that was legally essentially the same as passing it to Dudley himself. Dudley thus had a very great motivator, i.e., money, to wed Amy. The fact that Dudley spent so much time apart from her and that Amy never served at court mitigate against the idea that the couple were "in love." In the absence of solid evidence to the contrary, circumstantial evidence suggests it was a property-based marriage, not a "love match." Further, as one historian has noted, there is virtually no evidence of any pregnancy or miscarriage, and certainly no children. That too suggests that the couple were not close.

Arabella H. said...

Their marriage was probably a love-match! At least two of Robert Dudley's more recent biographer's agree on that. Prof.Simon Adams, the greatest expert on Dudley among academics says, it is uncertain why he married Amy, which leaves room for love (S. Adams, Leicester and the Court, Manchester UP, 2002). Robert's father was, in 1550, the mightiest adult in England, all his other children married very politically (poor Guilford), or at least very rich. Sir John Robsart was a "middling gentleman-farmer" (Adams). Amy would only inherit after both parents' death. Neither was Sir John Robsart especially rich, and the young couple were very dependent on regular gifts by Robert's father (which he could filch because of his position of power).
Robert had most probably known Amy for some ten months before they married. It was she of all the wives of the Dudley brothers who asked the Privy Council (successfully) for permission to visit her husband while he was staying in the Tower. Her letter which, according to Adams, she wrote days before Robert went to the continent to fight in 1557, betrays certainly love for her husband (she was clearly sad and angry for his departure). The often-cited letters of Robert to Blount directly after her death, in which he doesn't elaborate on his feelings, are no proof whatsoever that he had none: he would not discuss such matters with his household official. Apart from this, the letters show clearly, that he was under shock.- Ask any psychologist! Incidentally, Robert Dudley never managed to marry for money (or even position) later in his life. Presumably because of his Queen of course, he spurned all offers of princesses, of which there were quite a lot in the 1560s and 1570s. He even resisted vehemently to be married to Mary Queen of Scots! In this case, he also resisted the Elizabeth's wishes.

Anonymous said...

Dudley resisted marrying Mary because he did not wish to be essentially exiled to Scotland, for one, and for another he knew it was no great thwarting of Elizabeth's will because she did not really wish to send him.

But more specifically I want to point out that you are completely wrong that he never married again for money or position.

Firstly, your assumption that he did not remarry out of love for his first wife casts Dudley in a much kinder light than he himself admitted to. During his affair with Lady Sheffield, he explained to her that he could not marry, not even in order to beget a Dudley heir, without his "utter overthrow" and said it was for the reason that "if I should marry I am sure never to have [the Queen's] favour."

Secondly, perhaps more importantly, the most cursory search of Robert Dudley would show that he *did* marry again, this time to Lettice Knollys, first cousin once removed of Queen Elizabeth on her mother's side, in 1578. She was not rich, no, but Dudley was no worse off with her for a wife being that she was of equal rank. The match with Lettice does appear to have had some love, on her side at least, though she was permanently banned from court for marrying the queen's favorite.

At the same time, let me address a couple points about the match with Amy; I don't find the fact that there "was no evidence of pregnancy or miscarriage" as proof of the couple's feelings (or lack thereof). Just because Amy was never pregnant does not mean she and Dudley didn't take some pleasure in one another. It means only that Amy was unable to be pregnant. You pointed out that marriage was property based, as most aristocratic marriages would be. However, the main goal for getting married was still to produce heirs, to have sons to carry on the family lineage…something Dudley wished for more keenly in later life because he had not had any before. Even if the man had no feelings for Amy, he would have still at least tried to get her pregnant, and by the law of the day she had no right even to refuse him. So the lack of evidence for a pregnancy seems, all the more acutely in this case, to just argue that the couple was not able to have kids, not that they disliked each other.

"The fact that Dudley spent so much time apart from her and that Amy never served at court" does not mean there was no love between them. Rather, it points out how selfish Elizabeth was for her courtiers' attentions. There were very few wives serving at court, in fact; the only married woman, generally, were the Ladies in Waiting, and Elizabeth's well-publicized rages at her maids of honor for carrying on flirtations and romances with her courtiers further supports the fact that there was "but one mistress" at court. When Raleigh, Dudley, or any other favored man married, Elizabeth never forgave them. Christopher Hatton alone remained a bachelor, never gaining her ire for bestowing his affection or time on another woman. When a man served at court, he had to leave his wife at home; Elizabeth would not stand for competition. Dudley's marriage to Lettice was something she never forgave him for, tho she heaped most of the blame on Lettice rather than scream at Dudley for choosing a substitute woman to slake his desire for Elizabeth (Lettice looks VERY similar to her cousin when you compare their portraits).