« PreviousContinue »
EARL OF LEICESTER.*.
THIS nobleman was the fifth son of the Duke of Northumberland,t by Jane, daughter and heiress of Sir Edward Guilford. He is supposed to have been born in the year 1582. Of his education little is known. He was knighted when young, and made Gentleman of the Bed-chamber to Edward VI. In 1550 he married Amy, the daughter of Sir John Rosbart, when as a compliment to his father the King attended his nuptials; and it is remarkable, that from early youth to his latest day he was a successful courtier. Upon the death of Edward, he engaged with his father in support of lady Jane Grey's title to the crown, and accompanied him on his expedition into Norfolk; but upon the Duke's being arrested at Cambridge, he surrendered himself
Camden's Annals, Birch's Life of Queen Elizabeth, Dugdale's Antiquities of Warwickshire, Fuller's Worthies of Surrey, Melvil's Memoirs, and Hakluyt's Collection of Voyages, &c. of the English Nation,
+ See his Life, I. 239.
at Mary's camp, and after lying for some months in the Tower, was arraigned for high treason, and adjudged to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. The lords however interceding for him with the Queen, she restored him and all his brothers. (except Lord Guildford) in blood, received him into favour, and made him Master of the Ordnance at the siege of St. Quintin in 1557.
When Elizabeth ascended the throne, as she was apt to consult her eye rather than her understanda ing in the choice of her favourites, she advanced him to one of the highest posts of honour near her person, appointing him her Master of the Horse; and such was the influence of his insinuating arts and manners, that in the second year of her reign, she conferred upon him the dignity of Privy-Councillor, and honoured him with the Order of the Garter. About the same time, likewise, he was chosen High Steward of the University of Cambridge. So many corporate offices, indeed, were conferred upon hini throughout the kingdom, that his interest became universally predominant; and the common people, to express their sense of and importance in the body politic, emphatically denominated him the heart of the court.'
Encouraged by these favours, he conceived the criminal project of getting rid of his wife, with the sanguine hope of rendering himself personally agreeable to her Majesty. The lady was accordingly sent to the house of one of his dependents in the country, where, it is said, he first attempted to have her taken off by poison: but, failing in that design, he caused her to be thrown down from the top of a stair-case.* She was at first obscurely buried, but that having given occasion' to censure, he ordered her body to be taken up, and re-interred at Oxford with: the greatest solemnity in St. Mary's Church.
The ruling passions of Dudley were, ambition and lust; and his natural accomplishments, improved as they had been by education, inspired him with the idea of gratifying both in all their extent: nor must Elizabeth herself wholly escape animadversion, as even before his wife's death, she had so far exceeded the bounds of female decorum in her conduct toward him, that at foreign courts her reputation was considerably affected by it. And after this tragical event, it was observed, that he met with a more favourable reception from her than ever. She did not, indeed, openly countenance his pretensions to her hand, but she seemed not at all displeased with the overture; only objecting, when her marriage with him was moved by the French embassador, that he was not of the royal blood, and she could not think of raising a dependent to the rank of a companion. It must be remarked how. ever, in justice to her political character, that notwithstanding this blameable partiality, which sometimes gave him a prevailing influence at the council-board, she never confided to him the general administration of affairs. There, the abilities of Cecil, as a statesman, enabled him to undermine the voluptuous Dudley, whose sensuality checked the
* For a circumstantial account of this murther, see Aubrey's * Antiquities of Berkshire. It ought to be added, however, that Aubrey was almost proverbially credulous.
progress of his ambition. With this view, the crafty secretary, under the mask of consulting her favourite's gratification, suggested to her Majesty the propriety of a match between him and Mary Queen of Scots, who was then about to form a foreign alliance. The crown of Caledonia in possession, and the right of succession to that of England, were alluring baits; and Cecil knew, that should his rival be over-earnest in the pursuit of his object, he would infallibly lose the good graces of his royal mistress. Elizabeth, whatever was her motive, gave ear to the proposal, and ordered Randolph, her embassador in Scotland, to open the matter to Mary: but that Queen, though resolved to reject the offer, fearing to come to an open rupture with her cousin, despatched Sir James Melvil to London, with instructions to evade the arrangement. The English Queen, upon this, entered on the commendation of Lord Robert Dudley; affirmed, that she would have married him herself, if she had not been determined to end her days in virginity;' and farther told Sir James Melvil, she wished that the Queen her sister might marry him, as meetest of all other with whom she could find in her heart to declare her second
person: For being matched with him, it would best remove out of her mind all fears and suspicions to be offended by any usurpation before her death; being assured, that he was so loving and trusty, that he would never permit any such thing to be attempted during her time. In the course of this curious conversation, which is given at large by Melvil in his
Memoirs,' Sir James had named the Earl of Bedford as first commissioner to be sent to Scotland, to settle all differences between the two crowns, and Lord
Robert Dudley only #s second. Elizabeth, taking fire at this, vowed she would make him a far greater earl than Bedford, and desired the embassador to stay till he should see him created Earl of Leicester and Baron Denbigh, which was accordingly done at Westminster September 29, 1564, the Queen her. self assisting at the ceremony, and helping to put on some of his robes. Not long afterward, upon the resignation of Sir John Mason, he was elected Chan, cellor of the University of Oxford.
The Earl, however, seemed now rather to decline the match, than to desire it; excused himself to the Scottish embassador from having ever entertained so proud a pretension, avowed bis sense of his own unworthiness, and entreated her Majesty would not impute to him a matter, which the malice of his enemies had devised for his destruction. Within a few days afterward, Sir James Melvil obtained his despatch, with more ample declaration of the Queen's mind, upon the subject of his em. bassy.
In the mean time the Earl of Leicester, the better to recommend himself at court, by showing his zeal in the service of his Sovereign, accused Sir Nicholas Bacon to her of having intermeddled in the affair of the succession, and assisted in the pub. lication of a book against the title of the Queen of Scots. Upon this, her Majesty was highly offended; the author, one Hales, was taken up and imprisoned; and Bacon himself would infallibly have lost his office, if Leicester could have persuaded Sir Antony Brown to accept it.
In the November following, the Earl of Bedford und Mr. Randolph on one part, and the Earl of