Portrait of Robert Dudley (1532-1588), 1st Earl of Leicester (1564), Master of the Horse (1558-1587), Lord Steward (1587-1588); Favourite of Elizabeth I, 1563
Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester (24 June 1532 – 4 September 1588) was an English nobleman and the favourite and close friend of Elizabeth I's, from her first year on the throne until his death. He was a suitor for the queen's hand for many years. Dudley's youth was overshadowed by the downfall of his family in 1553 after his father, the Duke of Northumberland, had failed to establish Lady Jane Grey on the English throne. Robert Dudley was condemned to death but was released in 1554 and took part in the Battle of St. Quentin under Philip II of Spain, which led to his full rehabilitation. On Elizabeth I's accession in November 1558, Dudley was appointed Master of the Horse. In October 1562, he became a Privy Councillor and, in 1587, was appointed Lord Steward of the Royal Household. In 1564, Dudley became Earl of Leicester and, from 1563, one of the greatest landowners in North Wales and the English West Midlands by royal grants. Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, was one of Elizabeth's leading statesmen, involved in domestic as well as foreign politics alongside William Cecil and Francis Walsingham. Although he refused to be married to Mary, Queen of Scots, Dudley was for a long time relatively sympathetic to her until, from the mid-1580s, he strongly advocated for her execution. As patron of the Puritan movement, he supported non-conforming preachers but tried to mediate between them and the bishops of the Church of England. A champion also of the international Protestant cause, he led the English campaign in support of the Dutch Revolt (1585–1587). His acceptance of the post of Governor-General of the United Provinces infuriated Queen Elizabeth. The expedition was a military and political failure, and it ruined the Earl financially. Leicester was engaged in many large-scale business ventures and was one of the main backers of Francis Drake and other explorers and privateers. During the Spanish Armada, the Earl was in overall command of the English land forces. In this function, he invited Queen Elizabeth to visit her troops at Tilbury. This was the last of many events he had organised over the years, the most spectacular being the festival at his seat Kenilworth Castle in 1575 on occasion of a three-week visit by the Queen. Robert Dudley was the fifth son of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, and his wife Jane, daughter of Sir Edward Guildford.
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