Royal Armouries

Dudley: Queen Elizabeth’s first favourite

Images

monochrome drawing of a man in armour with a hat and feather

Portrait of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Stipple engraving in black and red. From A Collection of Prints in Imitation of Drawings / Charles Rogers (1778), after a drawing by Bederico Zuccaro of 1575, and engraved by Adam (I.194)

  • monochrome drawing of a man in armour with a hat and feather

    Portrait of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Stipple engraving in black and red. From A Collection of Prints in Imitation of Drawings / Charles Rogers (1778), after a drawing by Bederico Zuccaro of 1575, and engraved by Adam (I.194)

  • monochrome photo of an armoured figure holding a wooden baton

    Greenwich armour for field and tournament. (II.40)

  • colour photo of a full-length armour decorated with engraving

    Armour of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. English, Greenwich, (II.81)

  • monochrome newspaper illustration of a line of mounted armoured figures

    ‘Interior of the Horse Armoury’, anon engraving, The Penny Magazine, 1836 © Royal Armouries 2013

  • colour photo of a full length armour with gold banded decoration

    Armour of William Somerset, used for the figure of Huntingdon from 1827. (II.83)

  • monochrome photo of armour for a horse's head decorated with a bear

    Shaffron from armour of the Earl of Leicester. About 1575 (VI.49)

Dudley: Queen Elizabeth’s first favourite

Description

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester was one of the few nobles on display in the Line of Kings who was represented in his own armour.

Dudley was one of the sixteenth century nobles introduced into the Line of Kings in 1827 after the re-display of historic armour. The re-display was co-ordinated by Dr Samuel Meyrick, the appointed armour expert for the job. Previously the Line had consisted solely of monarchs but many kings had been represented in armour not correct to the period in which they lived. Meyrick sought to amend these ‘false representations’ and he added figures of nobles in period-correct suits of armour to the Line.

These nobles were sometimes used to stand in for monarchs who could not be represented, notably the female monarchs. Lord Hastings represented the reign of Mary Tudor, and Dudley was seen as the perfect representation for Queen Elizabeth I.

Robert Dudley was a long-term favourite of the Queen, a relationship that began to attract comment from April 1559 when it was seen as a barrier to Elizabeth marrying anyone else. It is unknown if the two were ever lovers, but Dudley married twice, the first marriage took place in 1550 and the second in 1578. Dudley had a varied career, greatly assisted by his relationship with the Queen. The fact that the Board of Ordnance had within the collection a suit of armour formerly belonging to Dudley presented Meyrick with a great opportunity.

When the nobles were introduced in 1827, the Tower of London guidebook for that year described Dudley’s armour as being covered with his initials in some places and the collar of the garter in others, it also had the figure of St Michael and the Earl’s badge of the ragged staff.

In 1842 the ownership of the suit of armour was underlined by the Tower of London guidebook stating:

‘This splendid tournament suit is allowed, beyond doubt, to have belonged to the celebrated court favourite whose name is attached to it; originally it was gilt: the square-toed solleret is abandoned, and the round-toed is adopted. This suit weighs about 87lbs.’

Perhaps due to the fact that the armour was known to belong to Dudley, coupled with his connection to one of the most popular and celebrated queens to reign over England, Dudley’s armour continued to be displayed in the Horse Armoury into the twentieth century, even after other nobles had been removed.

A figure of Elizabeth I was made to represent the Queen in 1778, but this was never included in the Line of Kings and instead was associated with the display called the Spanish Armoury, said to contain the torture implements found on the ships of the Spanish Armada.

Later Elizabeth’s figure was installed in the White Tower as displays changed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The wooden head of Elizabeth I was eventually transferred to the Museum of London and has since returned on loan to the Royal Armouries for display in the White Tower again. Dudley’s armour is now on display at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds.

Related Objects

Samuel Meyrick and the Rearrangement of the Horse Armoury, about 1824-1827 Click on the title link above to find out more.

Hastings: the survivor of a coup Click on the title link above to find out more.

Lee: Queen Elizabeth I’s Champion Click on the title link above to find out more.

Thomas Allen on the New Horse Armoury display in 1828 Click on the title link above to find out more.

Themes Menu

Line of Kings