The Son that Elizabeth I Never Had

Julia A. Harvey is a new name to Tudor Times, but I doubt that this is the last we shall hear from her. She has a very readable style, and conveys copious, well-researched details elegantly. Her chosen subject, Sir Robert Dudley, was the son of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, Elizabeth I’s most consistent suitor – hence the title, clearly designed to catch the eye, but a little far-fetched in my view. Dudley was much loved by his father, although he denied ever having married Dudley’s mother, the queen’s relative, Douglass, Lady Sheffield. He was given an excellent education, but lived mainly with Douglass and her second husband. Fascinated by the sea from an early age, he took part in, and even led, some of the most interesting explorations of the Americas, as well as military action closer to home.

Hickey captures the essence of Dudley the man – the clever mind, the interest in engineering, the adventurous nature that led him to abandon his wife and family for a new wife and a new life in Italy. She also covers one of the central issues of Dudley’s life – the question of his legitimacy – well, without letting it dominate the work. The complexities of Douglass’ second marriage and the ongoing concern from Elizabeth’s government over Catholic sympathisers also adds texture to the work.

I have a slight hesitation over how Hickey handles the content of the pamphlet, Leicester’s Commonwealth, which she clearly recognises as virulent propaganda, inspired by religious and political enemies of the earl, yet sometimes she can’t resist hinting that some of its more scurrilous insinuations might be true.

For me, the most interesting aspect of Dudley’s life is his long career at the court of the grand dukes of Tuscany, where he became steward of the royal household and spent his retirement in writing his comprehensive book on navigation: Dell’arco del mare. For readers wanting to expand their knowledge of the late Elizabethan age, this work will be of great interest.

Tudor Times received a review copy from the publisher.