Sunday, April 21, 2013

Top Five Historical Couples: Day 1

5. Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley. 

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Sure, they were never married (he married someone else - twice, and she refused to marry anyone) and there's no historical confirmation that they were ever technically romantically involved, but their emotional affair was so well known that it still lives on to this day.

What's interesting about Queen Elizabeth and the Earl of Leicester is that they went through so many ups and downs in their 50-year-long relationship. They likely met as prisoners in the Tower of London, both holding their breath and hoping to avoid execution before Mary the Bloody died.

As soon as Elizabeth became Queen in 1558, she appointed Robert her Master of the Horse - literally, on the same day. There are hundreds of letters from various ambassadors telling their masters and mistresses about Elizabeth's love for her Knight of the Garter, who she gave as many favors and riches to as possible.

However, Robert was already married to Amy Robsart, so the two could not wed. Or... could they? Robert saw Amy for four days during the whole of 1559, and on a quiet afternoon in September, she was found dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs.

The court was in a quiet uproar. Everyone knew that Elizabeth would marry Robert now that he was free, but it was a scandal. It would make both of them look like murderers.

And then... they didn't. In fact, Elizabeth didn't marry anyone.

In some ways, it's remarkable that Elizabeth and Robert stayed as close as they did, especially when you consider the death of Elizabeth's mother. Anne Boleyn was beheaded by her husband on trumped-up charges because the man wished to marry someone else. Seeing a parallel? And years later, when Robert Dudley married the beautiful and intelligent Lettice Knollys, it was shortly after her late husband's death of dysentery... all the symptoms of which could also be caused by poison.

Robert screwed up a lot. Elizabeth reeeeaaaallly hated Lettice, dubbing the woman "the she-wolf" and disallowing her from court. He also had some dabblings in politics and war, most of which ended disastrously, one of which included him declaring himself King of the Netherlands. Elizabeth told him to shut the hell up, give the Netherlands back, and come home. He was also frequently in debt, which Elizabeth invariably forgave on behalf of the throne.

It's clear that Robert was a charming but power-hungry man who was often in over his head. And yet, Elizabeth undeniably loved him anyway. Throughout both of their lives they were as close as it was possible for two people in their position to be. It's very clear in their letters and actions that there was a huge amount of genuine affection between them, made all the more remarkable by the fact that they were two ruthless people obsessed with power.

A letter from the Queen to the Earl of Leicester,
referring to him as "her sweet Robert". One of
her nicknames for Robert was "my eyes", and
he would often dot the double o's in his letters
so they looked like eyes.

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