Elizabeth I of England was crowned as Queen in 1559 at the age of 26, and reigned for more than 40 years until her death in 1603.  She was the daughter of King Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn.  Elizabeth, known as the Virgin Queen, never married which ended the reign of the Tudor dynasty and what is known as the Elizabethan Age.


Queen Elizabeth ICredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                                  Queen Elizabeth I                                                                                                                                         Wikimedia - {{PD-US}}


In this film concerning Elizabeth I, historian Chris Skidmore has re-examined the death of Robert Dudley’s wife, Amy Robsert, in order to confirm or deny the rumors surrounding that death which occurred over 450 years ago.

Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, was Master of the Horse, responsible for the royal stables, and the hunting and jousting that occurred on the royal grounds.  He was also a member of the Privy Council.  The relationship between Dudley and Queen Elizabeth worried people.  He was a surrogate husband to the unmarried queen, and she behaved like a woman in love.  All the signs of a romantic attachment were present.   

 Robert Dudley had many enemies at court and an unsavory reputation in the country at large.  His father and his grandfather had both been executed for treason, which made Dudley a controversial figure and a poor choice as a husband.  Besides that, he already had a wife.

William Cecil, Advisor to the Queen

William Cecil, Elizabeth’s chief advisor for most her reign, was her guiding light.  One of his tasks was to aid her in choosing the right husband.  Elizabeth was under pressure to marry King Philip of Spain which would insure that the Tudor house would survive if she produced an heir.  Cecil considered Robert Dudley to be his archenemy.  Elizabeth’s marriage to Dudley would surely be a disaster for him; it would end his career.  Already, people believed that Dudley and Elizabeth were married; some said that she had even had a child by him, and that the child had been hidden away.


Robert DudleyCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                                            Robert Dudley                                                                                                                                              Wikimedia {{PD-US}}

The Death of Robert Dudley’s Wife

Historian Chris Skidmore has come up with the possibility that Amy Robsart may have been assassinated in 1560.  She lived forty miles from the court and had not seen her husband in over a year.  She had no home but stayed with various servants, which was the custom in those days.  It is interesting that, on the morning of her death, she had sent away all of her servants, pleading that she wanted to be alone.  She would have cleared out the house at the request of only three persons:  her husband, Queen Elizabeth, or William Cecil.  She was found at the foot of a staircase with a broken neck, at Cumnor Place where she was then living.   Unfortunately, the staircase, where it occurred, had been torn down and the building demolished.  At the time, there was speculation as to whether she fell accidentally, was murdered, or committed suicide.  Dudley experienced inner turmoil upon hearing of the death of his wife.  He worried more about the effect on his position rather than her death.

Sir Walter Scott, in his novel entitled “Kenilworth” exploited the fact of Amy’s death to write a fictitious account of a similar fall down a staircase, which became a best seller.


William CecilCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                                          William Cecil                                                                                                                                               Wikimedia {{PD-US}}                                                

Reconstruction of the Crime

Historian Edward Impey surmised that Amy would have been given the grandest apartment at Cumnor Place, and produced a sketch of what the staircase might have looked like.  There would have been a landing so that it was not possible to fall all the way from the top to the bottom.  Most people who experience falls are elderly; Amy was still very young.  The stone steps should have revealed blood at the time.

Amy did have a malady which might have been breast cancer.  Dudley had been known to have said a year previously that he would be in a different position in one more year.  The cancer theory, however, does not fit her last weeks alive.  Two weeks prior to her death, she had written a letter to her tailor asking him to make her a velvet gown with the color of the russet dress she had recently received from him.  She was still a vital person at that time.  She may have wanted the dress for a reunion she was to have with Dudley after the year he had been at court.  The theory of suicide did not fit with the fact of a woman having a gown made.


Tudor Rose - House of TudorCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                                 Tudor Rose - House of Tudor                                                                                                                                Wikimedia {{PD-US}}

The Coroner’s Report

Historian Chris Skidmore revealed that much testimony was supposedly lost for all time, including the coroner’s report.  However, he received a document related to another search he was doing concerning people killed at that time.  Amy’s name popped up with the coroner’s quest of how she died.  It revealed that there were no marks on Amy, but there were two massive puncture wounds on her head, which indicated blows to the head.  One was the size of a thumb; the other was the size of two thumbs.  This suggested foul play.  She had done nothing to deserve to be murdered.

Who Could Have Done It?

It was hard to believe that Dudley could have done it.  The last thing he would have wanted was the accusation that he had murdered his wife.  Letters written by him at the time gave strong evidence of his innocence.  Murder would have definitely disqualified Dudley from marriage to the Queen.  The scandal was also a serious detriment to Elizabeth.  People would suspect that she had at least a hand in covering it up.  She was known to have a bad temper.  Still, she would never have risked her reputation.  William Cecil would have benefited the most from Amy’s death.  Her death achieved what he had wanted; Dudley would never be married to  Elizabeth.

Dudley’s enemies might have done it, or perhaps his henchmen took it into their own hands.  Dudley’s good fortune would insure their own rise.  Elizabeth became the Virgin Queen the moment Amy died.  She would never marry.

It Had to be Murder

All of Chris Skidmore’s research proved that it was not an accident; it was probably not a suicide.  It was most likely murder.  The culprit, however, was not ascertained.  Four centuries later, we are back to square one.  What we do know is that Amy Robsart’s death changed the course of history.  Historical research has still not determined what really happened on that fateful day.



Death and the Virgin Queen: Elizabeth I and the Dark Scandal That Rocked the Throne
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Historian Chris Skidmore's Account