Robert Dudley, styled Earl of Warwick

Robert Dudley, styled Earl of Warwick

Infobox Person
name = Robert Dudley

image_size = 250px
caption = Robert Dudley, styled Earl of Warwick
birth_date = August 7, 1574
birth_place = Richmond Palace, Surrey
death_date = September 6, 1649
death_place = Florence, Italy
occupation =
spouse = Alice Leigh (1596 - ?) Elizabeth Southwell (1606 - 1631)
parents = Robert Dudley (1st Earl of Leicester) Lady Douglas Sheffield
children = Alice
Catherine Frances Anne Henry
Anthony Enrico

Robert Dudley (7 August, 1574 Richmond Palace, Surrey – 6 September, 1649 Florence) was the possibly illegitimate son of Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester. He was a privateer, navigator, shipbuilder and the author of "Dell'Arcano del Mare".

Early life

Robert Dudley was the son of the Earl of Leicester and Lady Douglas Sheffield, daughter of William Howard, 1st Baron Howard of Effingham. The Earl of Leicester is thought to have married her in 1573, but he denied it in public at the time because he feared the wrath and loss of favour of Queen Elizabeth I. He also bigamously married Lady Lettice Knollys in 1578. When Lady Douglas married Edward Stafford, also bigamously, and left for the continent with him, Leicester took his son into his household but did not have him declared officially legitimate.

Robert was enrolled into Christ Church, Oxford in 1587 with the status of "filius comitis", Earl's son. There his mentor was Thomas Chaloner, who also became his close friend.

In 1588, when the Spanish Armada threatened Britain, the 14-year-old Robert joined his father, who was commanding the army and fleet, preparing to resist a Spanish invasion. On September 4 the Earl of Leicester died. The Earl's will gave Robert a large inheritance, including his castle and estate at Kenilworth and his lordship of Denbigh and Chirk. Eighteen months later Robert also inherited from Ambrose Dudley, 3rd Earl of Warwick.

In early 1591, Dudley made a formal contract to marry Frances Vavasour with the consent of Queen Eliabeth, who wished them to wait until Dudley was older. Frances married someone else secretly later that year and was banished from court. In turn, later that year the 17-year-old Dudley married Margaret Cavendish, sister of Sir Thomas Cavendish - in whose last voyage Dudley had probably invested. Dudley was only temporarily excluded from court for this secret marriage. His father-in-law, Robert, gave Margaret two ships, "Leicester" and "Roebuck". She soon died without having children.

Expedition to West Indies

In 1594 Dudley assembled a fleet of ships, including his flagship the galleon "Beare", "Beare's Whelpe" and pinnaces "Earwig" and "Frisking". He intended to use them to harass the Spaniards in the Atlantic. The Queen did not approve of his plans because of his inexperience and the value of the ships. She did commission him as a General but insisted that he sail to Guiana instead.

Dudley recruited 275 veteran sailors, including navigator Abraham Kendal, and captains Thomas Jobson and Benjamin Wood. Dudley's fleet sailed on November 6 1594, but a sudden storm separated the ships and drove the vessels back to different ports. He sent word to the captain of the "Beare's Whelp" to join him in the Canary Islands or Capo Blanco and sailed again.

At first Dudley's trip proved unlucky - the "Earwig" sank and most of the vessels they encountered were friendly. Dudley led only one raid in the Gulf of Lagos. In December the expedition finally managed to capture two Spanish ships at Tenerife. Dudley renamed them "Intent" and "Regard", manned them with his sailors and put Captain Woods in charge. He sailed to Capo Blanco, expecting to meet the "Bearer's Whelpe" there, but it did not show up. Dudley's fleet sailed to Trinidad and anchored at Cedros Bay on January 31 1595. There he discovered an island that he claimed for the English crown and named "Dudleiana". Then he sailed to Paracoa Bay for repairs and made a reconnaissance to San Jose de Oruna but decided not to attack it.

Dudley divided his forces, sending "Intent" and "Regard" to the north. In Trinidad Dudley recruited a Spanish-speaking Indian who promised to escort an expedition to a gold mine up the Orinoco River. The expedition lead by Captain Jobson returned after two weeks - their guide had deserted them and they had struggled back. Dudley returned to Trinidad.

On March 12 Dudley's fleet sailed north, where they finally captured a Spanish merchantman. Then it sailed to Capo Roho, Puerto Rico, waited for suitable prey for some time and then sailed towards Bermuda. A storm blew the "Beare" north to near what is now New England before the fleet finally reached the Azores.

Low on provisions and working guns, Dudley sailed for home but met a Spanish man-of-war on the way. Dudley managed to outmanoeuvre and cripple it in a two-day battle but decided not to board it. The "Beare" arrived at St Ives at the end of May 1595 and Dudley heard that Captain Woods had taken three ships.

Intervening years

The next year Dudley joined his cousin Essex to serve as a commander of the "Nonpareil" in the "counter-Armada" that attacked Cadiz in 1596. He was later knighted for his conduct in that battle although what he did was not recorded. Shortly afterwards he married Alice Leigh, daughter of Sir Thomas Leigh.

In 1597 Dudley sent Captain Woods to China with the "Beare" and "Beare's Whelp", but they never returned.

Trying to claim legitimacy

In May 1603 Dudley silently began trying to establish his claim to the title of Earl of Leicester and the right to inherit his uncle Ambrose Dudley's estate of Warwick Castle because Ambrose had no known sons. The case ended up in the Star Chamber and became public and forced James I to create a law that made bigamy a felony.

The case included 90 witnesses for Dudley and 57 for the Countess of Leicester, the former Lady Lettice Knollys. Various witnesses contradicted each other when both sides tried to establish their claims to legitimacy. Under oath, Lady Douglas swore that Leicester had solemnly contracted to marry her in Cannon Row, Westminster in 1571 and that they were married at Esher, Surrey, in May 1573.

However, the Star Chamber rejected the evidence for Dudley, arrested several of the witnesses to the marriage and fined them for perjury or subordination. The papers of the case were impounded in the interests of "Public policy". King James ratified the judgment against Dudley and it was handed down on May 10 1605.

A new life in Italy

Dudley left England in July 1605 by Calais. His lover and cousin Elizabeth Southwell accompanied him, disguised as a page. Elizabeth was daughter of Sir Robert Southwell and Lady Elizabeth Howard, granddaughter of Charles Howard, 1st Earl of Nottingham and Katherine Carey. Both declared that they had converted to Catholicism. Dudley married her in Lyons in 1606, after they had received a Papal dispensation because they were blood relatives, and they first settled in Florence. He began to use his father's titles of Earl of Leicester and his uncle's titles of Earl of Warwick.

Dudley began to design and build warships for the arsenal of Tuscany and became a naval advisor to Ferdinand I, Grand Duke of Tuscany, of the Medici family. He received an annuity of 2000 ducats. In 1608 Dudley convinced the duke to send the privateer galleon "Santa Lucia Buonaventura" to Guiana and northern Brazil.

ale of Kenilworth

Meanwhile, Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, had taken a fancy to Kenilworth Castle, calling it "the most noble and magnificent thing in the midland parts of this realm".Wanting it, he was willing to buy it from Dudley and agreed in 1611 to pay £14,500, with Dudley to hold the office of constable of the castle for his lifetime. When Henry died in 1612, only £3,000 had been paid, and even that Dudley hadn't had, as it had been paid to an intermediary but not passed on. The new Prince of Wales, Charles, then took possession of the castle but failed to pay the balance owing. In 1621, he got an Act of Parliament allowing Dudley's wife to sell the estate to him for £4000.

Attempts of reconciliation

James I revoked Dudley's travel license in 1607. When he ordered Dudley to return home to provide for his deserted wife and family, Dudley refused. He was declared an outlaw and his estate was confiscated. He continued contacts with the English Court through Sir Thomas Chaloner, who was now a chamberlain to Henry, Prince of Wales. He corresponded with the young Prince on the subjects of navigation and shipbuilding and in 1611 tried to broker a marriage between him and Caterina, daughter the Duke Ferdinand.

Dudley also tried to reconcile with the king in negotiations that included a sale of his former estate of Kenilworth to the Prince. The deal collapsed in 1612 when both Chaloner and the Prince died.

In 1618 James I transferred the Earldoms of Leicester and Warwick to others. In 1620 Dudley convinced Grand Duchess Maria Maddalena, wife of the new duke Cosimo II, to ask her brother Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor, to recognize his claim to his grandfather's vacant claim to the title of Duke of Northumberland. James I severed all negotiations for conciliation.

Later years

Elizabeth died of plague in 1631. Later Dudley incorporated his notes into six volumes of "The Secret of the Sea", self-published in 1646-1647. He also wrote a "Maritime Directory" as a manual for the Tuscan Navy but it was never published. He also fought the Barbary pirates.

In 1644 Charles I created Alice Duchess of Dudley for life - without significant prerogatives - and recognised Dudley's legitimacy but did not restore his titles and estate.

Robert Dudley died September 6 1649 outside Florence in Villa Rinieri. He was buried in San Pancrazio of Florence.


Dudley was a skilled mathematician and architect, master of navigation, designer of warships, and practiced in medicine, instrumentmaking and cartography. He became a skilled navigator, engineer, and chartmaker. However, like his father he acquired a reputation as a bigamist and privateer.

In addition to shipbuilding, Dudley created many projects in Livorno, including the city's breakwater and harbour fortifications, draining local swamps, and a building a palace in the heart of Florence. He also designed new galleys for Tuscany, and he wrote his memoirs of navigation and seamanship between 1610 and 1620.

Dell'Arcano del Mare (Secrets of the Sea)

Dudley wrote Dell'Arcano del Mare [] , (Secrets of the Sea), the first maritime atlas to cover the whole world. It includes a comprehensive treatise on navigation and shipbuilding and it has become renowned as the first atlas of sea charts of the world.

"Dell' Arcano del Mare" consists of six known volumes that illustrate Dudley's knowledge of navigation, shipbuilding and astronomy and it includes 130 original maps, all his own creations and not copied from existing maps, which was unusual for the period. Originally published at Florence in 1645 in the local Italian, they represent a collection of all contemporary naval knowledge. The Atlas also includes a proposal for the construction of a fleet of five rates (sizes) of ships, which Dudley had designed and described. "Dell' Arcano del Mare" was reprinted in Florence in 1661 without the charts of the first edition.

The distinctive character of Dudley's charts was influenced by the Italian baroque engraving contributed by Antonio Francesco Lucini. Later mapmakers chose not to copy Dudley's style and so it became a unique and rare relic in the history of cartography. Lucini recorded that he had spent 12 years and 5000 pounds of copper to produce the plates.

Noble title

Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor accepted Dudley as Duke of Northumberland in 1620. Dudley's third marriage, to Elizabeth Southwell, produced at least 11 potential heirs but the European title fell vacant on the death of "Ferdinando Dudley" in 1757.

Charles I created Alice (nee Leigh) Dudley (daughter of Sir Thomas Leigh and Katherine, daughter of Sir John Spencer), Duchess of Dudley for life in 1644 in a royal patent that recognised her husband's legitimacy and conferred the precedence of a duke's daughters on her surviving children.

Charles II confirmed this same royal patent in 1660, legitimising the English status of the Duke of Northumberland. Lady Alice died in 1668 or 1669 at the age of 90.


Dudley's marriage to Alice Leigh led to the birth of four children:

*Alice Dudley (born at Kenilworth Castle 1597 - May 21, 1621). She was wife to Sir Ferdinando Sutton (September 4, 1588 - November 23, 1621), son of Edward Sutton, 5th Baron Dudley and Theodosia Harrington.
*Catherine Dudley (1598 - February, 1673). She was married around 1609 to Richard Levenson.
*Frances Dudley (d. 1644) Married to Sir Gilbert Knifeton of Bradley, Derbyshire. She died without children and was likewise buried at St. Giles.
*Lady Anne Dudley, married the lawyer Sir Robert Holborne of Bradley, Derbyshire.

Dudley's affair and marriage to Elizabeth Southwell resulted in the birth of nine children:

* Henry Dudley.
* Anna Dudley (d. 1629).
* Mary Dudley.
* Carlo Dudley, Duca di Northumbria (1614 - October 26, 1686)
* Ambrose Dudley.
* Fernando Dudley.
* Teresa Dudley.
* Cosmo Dudley.
* Anthony Enrico Dudley (b. September 12, 1631).


* Raymond E. Role - "Sir Robert Dudley Duke of Northumberland" ("History Today" March 2003)
* Haynes, Alan - "Sex in Elizabethan England". Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing Limited, 1997. ISBN 0-905-778-359
* Gregory, Philippa - "The Queens Fool"

NAME= Dudley, Robert
DATE OF BIRTH= August 7, 1574
PLACE OF BIRTH= Richmond Palace, Surrey
DATE OF DEATH= September 6, 1649
PLACE OF DEATH= Florence, Italy

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