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Royal History Mystery: What happened to Amy Robsart?

Queen Elizabeth I
By Formerly attributed to George Gower - , Public Domain, Wiki Commons

Today we’re looking at a royal history mystery involving a noblewoman of the Elizabethan age. What happened to Amy Robsart?

Amy Robsart was born in Norfolk on 7 June 1532, the only child of Sir John Robsart and his wife Elizabeth Scott. Raised in a prominent Protestant household, Amy received a fine education and was married three days before her 18th birthday to Robert Dudley, a younger son of John Dudley, the Earl of Warwick.

Dudley’s sister-in-law was Lady Jane Grey—married to Lord Guildford Dudley—and upon Edward VI’s death in 1553, she was proclaimed queen by Protestants (and by Edward VI’s will, seeking to disinherit his older sister Mary, a staunch Catholic). After nine days on the throne, Mary rode into London and took the throne with vast support, and Lady Jane and her husband were later beheaded for treason.

Robert had been thrown in the Tower of London, too, and condemned to die, though he worked for his release and was freed in 1554. He was imprisoned alongside Elizabeth Tudor—the future queen—who was being held on suspicion that she was involved in another rebellion.

When Amy’s parents died, she and Dudley inherited their estates and could begin to amass a fortune again. While Dudley was not a royal favourite during the reign of Queen Mary, they were welcomed at court as long as her husband, Philip of Spain, was there.

They had plans to retire to the country when Queen Mary died in 1558 and her younger half-sister, Elizabeth, became queen. That year, Dudley became Queen Elizabeth’s favourite and was named the Master of the Horse; this meant the two were constantly together and rumours began to spread that they were in love.

Amy was ill during this time, and the accepted wisdom was that Dudley would marry the queen should his wife die. Queen Elizabeth announced that she would not marry any foreign suitors presented to her.

Amy seems to have recovered her health and visited London for a month in May 1559—it would be the last time she ever saw her husband. Amy moved to Cumnor Place in what is now on the outskirts of Oxford in December 1559. On 8 September 1560, she was found dead at her home.

What Happened to Amy Robsart?

Amy Robsart was found at the bottom of a set of stairs at Cumnor Place. She’d reportedly sent her household staff to the Abingdon Fair at the nearby village while she stayed behind with a woman named Mrs. Owen, another resident of the house. When the household returned, they found Amy at the bottom of the stairs with a broken neck.

Her maid, Mrs. Pinto, reportedly told people that she’d heard Amy say that she would “pray to God to deliver her from desperation” before she died. Others spoke of her depression over the rumoured affair between Queen Elizabeth and her husband and painted Amy’s death a suicide. Others still thought Dudley had something to do with his wife’s death so that he could marry the queen.

At any rate, Dudley found out about his wife’s death the next day while at Windsor Castle with the queen, and urged his steward, Thomas Blount, to travel to Cumnor Place to begin an inquest. By the time Blount arrived, an inquest had already been started.

The inquest consisted of a coroner and 15 jurymen, and in 1561 issued the verdict that they considered Amy Robsart’s death an accident and said “on their oath that the Lady Amy…by misfortune came to her death and not otherwise, as they are able to agree at present.”

Cleared from wrongdoing, Dudley began the mourning process—and the court began court mourning for one month—but his reputation was tarnished by the gossip surrounding Amy’s death. Whether accident, suicide, or murder, it raised questions about the man and even if he had ever harboured dreams of marrying Queen Elizabeth, all possibility of a royal union was gone.

He became a Privy Councillor and Lord Steward of the Royal Household in later years but by 1564 was said to have realized that he would never be able to marry the queen. Eighteen years after his wife’s death he married Lettice Knollys and so infuriated the queen that he was banned from court.

Queen Elizabeth I never married.

About author

Jess is a communications professional and freelance writer who lives in Halifax and has a passion for all things royal, particularly the British Royal Family.