Life, Love and the Mysterious Death of Lady Amy Dudley

Ellie Webster

Over the course of the Tudor period, there were multiple scandals that rocked society

Over the course of the Tudor period, there were multiple scandals that rocked society, however none quite shook the Tudor court like the death of Amy Dudley in the latter period of 1560. Due to apprehensive circumstances of her death, she would be remembered for centuries for her suspicious and tragic demise. In the beginning, the relationship between Amy Robsart and Robert Dudley was harmonious. The two married in 1550, and it was even suggested that the marriage was a love match, or as William Cecil described it, a 'carnal marriage.' However, their time together was soon cut short after the Jane Grey scandal that Robert's family was directly involved in. Their marriage was overlooked by royal duties as well as spells of imprisonment, but Robert soon bounced back into favor upon the accession of Elizabeth I. However, his wife did not join him at the new court. It may be because of a preference of the countryside, or financial difficulties - but it may also be due to the increasing favor her husband enjoyed from the Queen. This growing affection did not come without gossip - that Amy had been left behind in the countryside, with Elizabeth's chief advisor William Cecil telling the Spanish ambassador that 'Robert and Elizabeth planned doing away with her so they could marry.' Even though, until this point, the rumors of the Queen and Robert were mere gossip, that was soon to change. On the 8th September, Lady Dudley sent all her servants away from her residence at Cumnor Place to a carnival. Little did the servants know, it would be the last time they saw their mistress. Lady Dudley was soon found at the bottom of a flight of stairs, leading from her room, with a broken neck. One of her servants traveled immediately to inform Robert of his wife's death. Robert, in response, immediately sent a messenger to arrange a thorough investigation, writing: 'As I have ever loved you, do not dissemble with me, send me your conceit and your opinion of the matter, whether it happened by evil chance or villainy.' The death deeply distressed Elizabeth. She soon sent Robert away until a verdict was given to avoid anymore scandal around him. It was said that she was 'pale, listless and irritable' and felt 'undeniable guilt.'
Life, Love and the Mysterious Death of Lady Amy Dudley
Amy Dudley

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Life, Love and the Mysterious Death of Lady Amy Dudley
A fantasy painting of Lady Amy Dudley from the 19th Century

It was questionable that Amy's headdress had remained entirely intact upon the fall

Due to the structure of the stairs, it was concluded that she had fallen from only two steps, which seemed suspicious itself. Not only this, it was also questionable that Amy's headdress had remained entirely intact upon the fall, even after the fall caused her neck to break. However, rumors of Robert and Elizabeth were not the only ones that concerned Amy. There were rumors of breast cancer as a reason for not attending court, and if this was true - it may explain her fall. In 1956, Dr. Ian Aird put forward the idea that breast cancer makes bones extremely brittle and strains walking, which may suggest that there was no foul play in Amy's sudden demise. Upon interrogation, one of Amy's maids, Pinto, confessed that they had 'heard Amy on occasion praying to be delivered from her desperation.' This may be interpreted in a multitude of ways - either as Amy's heartbreak for Robert or from her possible breast cancer. Although, it is unlikely that the fall was due to suicide. Amy was a devout Christian, and suicide would go against the faith she was dedicated to. Robert strove to make sure that his name became as clear as possible. He was told on the 14th September that there was no hint of foul play, much to Elizabeth's relief. Amy was buried at St Mary's Church in Oxford not long after her death. Rumours of her death surrounded Robert for the rest of his life. William Cecil always insinuated that Robert was involved, but he would not be the only one who believed this. Mary, Queen of Scots at one point listened o the scandal with 'grest enthusiasm' and exclaimed: 'the Queen of England is going to marry the Master of her Horses, who killed his wife to make room for her.' Amy's death left a permanent mark on Robert and Elizabeth - the two never married. After the scandal came to pass, Jones concluded that 'the matter of my Lord Robert doth greatly perplex her and [the marriage] is never likely to take place]. It can be indefinitely argued that the main reason the marriage never took place was due to the tragic and suspicious death of Lady Dudley, a case that has never ceased to confuse and bewilder.
Ancestry UK
Life, Love and the Mysterious Death of Lady Amy Dudley

Ellie Webster

Ellie Webster is a current Sixth Form student in year 12 who is studying A-Level history in the hopes of pursuing a career in history after attending university. She has previously written an article in a previous magazine (Events that Changed History, the Battle of Bosworth field) and has a love for all things Wars of the Roses and Tudor.
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