Most of you will know the story of the
Earl of Leicester - Robert Dudley and the Elizabeth I
Queen of England in 1558. But perhaps what is so
widely known are the rumours that surrounded Robert
Dudley’s young wife, Amy Dudley, who was found dead in
mysterious circumstances at the bottom of a staircase in
her house in Oxford with a broken neck. It is not
known what Amy looked like, but the picture above was
taken from a postcard from the 1900s.
Throughout history and also at the time of her death
there has been speculation as to whether poor Amy was
pushed down the stairs, fell down the stairs by accident
or threw herself down in a fit of depression. It was
generally believed that Robert Dudley and the Queen were
lovers, so the demise of Amy could have been viewed as
fortuitous as it freed her husband Robert from an
unwanted marriage, which would mean that he was
unencumbered and available to marry Queen
However, the circumstances surrounding Amy’s death and
the gossip abounding at court at that time put paid to
this idea. In fact the Queen even put some distance
between herself and Lord Dudley, for at least a time
after his wife’s death. In 1566 Lord Cecil of the court
announced to the Privy Council that the Queen could
never marry Robert because ‘he is infamed by death of
Amy’s father was Sir John Robsart,
Sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk, and a wealthy landowner
who lived at Syderstone Hall in Norfolk and this is
where Amy spent her childhood. Amy’s initials can still
be seen on the churchyard gate and also over the
entrance to the church tower.
Amy was married to Robert Dudley, the
younger son of John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland,
on June 5th 1550 at Sheen (Richmond) Palace. Both she
and Dudley were then but 18. It was a grand occasion
with even the young King Edward VI attending the
wedding. Not much is known of Amy other than that she
was a quiet and charming young lady.
However, when Elizabeth's 1 accended to the throne in
November 1558 she made Robert Dudley Master of the Horse
and it was widely known that she greatly favoured him.So
it was that he spent more time at court with the Queen
than he ever did at his marital home with Amy. Which
probably partially explains why the Dudleys had no
children. Speculation said that had Dudley been a
bachelor at the time of Elizabeth’s succession to the
throne wedding bells would have been rung out for him
But a wife surely is of small consequence compared to a
"throne" and in March 1560 even the Spanish Ambassador
was writing about the affair between Robert and
Elizabeth and the possibility of Dudley divorcing his
wife and marrying the Queen.
Amy, who was then living in Oxfordshire and was aware of
the speculation concerning her husband and the Queen and
it is reported by her maid servant that she prayed to
God each night to deliver her from the situation.
Their home in Oxfordshire was Cumnor Place, a 14th
Century hall built by the monks of Abingdon Abbey. After
the dissolution of the monasteries Henry VIII gave
Cumnor Hall to his physician George Owen. He
subsequently leased it to Anthony Forster, a friend and
servant of Robert Dudley. The Dudleys started living
there, or rather Amy started living there in 1560.
Amy's last day on this earth was the 8th September 1560,
Amy had insisted that all her servants attend the fair
at Abingdon, which was some three miles from the Hall,
thus leaving her alone in the house. Though some say she
was not alone!
It is impossible to know what might have been going
through Amy’s mind on that day or why it was that she
emptied the Hall. It is known that she was extremely
unhappy with the state of affairs and perhaps she could
no longer bear being the cuckolded wife and held up to
ridicule both at court and throughout the land. There
were also rumours that she had breast cancer (malady of
the breast), which in those days would have inevitably
led to eventual death.
On the other hand it might be that somebody knowing that
Amy would be alone took advantage of this fact, and
trying to curry favour with Lord Dudley, threw his
unwanted wife down the stairs, thus freeing him to marry
the queen. Or perhaps Dudley himself arranged for his
wife to be done away with. Many theories have been
suggested but unfortunately we will never really know
the circumstances behind her death. Murder, accident or
suicide! What is known that when the servants returned
from the fair they found their mistress at the bottom of
the hall's staircase with a broken neck! She was then
but twenty-eight. The widowed Robert Dudley ordered
a lavish funeral. The guilty conscience of a murderer or
the remorse of a neglectful husband?
An inquest was held into the circumstances of her death
but the conclusion was that it had been an accident.
Though what legal body in their right mind would convict
the favourite of the Queen of England?
Some twenty-four years after Amy’s death a document was
produced by ‘the Catholics’ called Leicester’s
Commonwealth. A satire in which it suggested that Dudley
had indeed murdered his wife and had also murdered
others to further his career.
Even two centuries after her death there was still
speculation about Amy’s demise. For in 1770 a poem was
written by one Julius Mickle called "The Ballad of
Cumnor" which speculated on the death of Amy Dudley.
This poem is also said to have inspired Sir Walter
Scott, 1771-1832, to write "Kenilworth" in which he
claimed that her husband had indeed murdered Amy. Cumnor
Hall was pulled down in 1810.
Since her death it was claimed that her
unhappy spirit haunted Syderstone Hall and even after
the hall was pulled down, Amy’s restless spirit is said
to have moved into the Rectory across the way and
continued her haunting.