On September 28, 1564 -- the same year William Shakespeare was born -- Robert Dudley became the 1st Earl of Leicester.
He quickly amassed power, fortune and property -- which all depended on her good will.
He was one of the greatest landowners in the West Midlands, which included Warwickshire (which included Stratford).
One of the obstacles for Elizabeth and Dudley in getting married was the fact that he was married already, to Amy Robsart.
On September 8, 1560 Amy Robsart Dudley fell down some stairs and died.
He was suspected of having killed her, despite the fact that he was in London at the time, and had not seen his wife for over a year, as he kept her in the country.
Dudley and the Queen were free to marry but the scandal surrounding this suspicious death of his wife prevented the Queen from marrying him.
But she did keep him close, in adjacent quarters, year after year.
He had the occasional affair.
In 1569 he had an affair with Lady Douglas Sheffield, a young widow. They had a child together, and the boy was named Robert Dudley.
On 21 September, 1578 Dudley married Lettice Knollys, who was related to Elizabeth.
It is thought that Dudley and Lettice had previously had an affair as early as 1565.
Her husband Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex had died in 1576. There were suspicions that he was poisoned, perhaps by Dudley, since Dudley was already having an affair with his wife at this point.
When Lettice gave birth to her first child by Dudley, they named him Robert. Sadly, the child died soon after.
Dudley then turned his attention to his stepson, Walter Devereux's son with Lettice, the young 2nd Earl of Essex, to advance him politically -- since Dudley considered him to be his political heir.
That son was named Robert. He was born in 1565.
When the Queen's "favourite" Robert Dudley died in 1588, she chose a new man to be her "favourite" -- Robert Devereux.
These are some of the principal actors in the theatre of Queen Elizabeth's court.
They set the stage for Shakespeare.
|Queen Elizabeth -- the figures in the background are believed to include Dudley and Lettice|
By the time he was writing his plays, finding patrons such as Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, and performing for the pleasure of the Queen herself -- the story of these people, the mysteries and scandals and allegiances, would have been more interesting than anything Shakespeare could have invented for the stage.
As I wrote my versions of Hamlet, Richard III and The Merchant of Venice, I discovered that Shakespeare did not ignore the stories of these people -- he wrote them into his plays.