Death and the Virgin
Orion; Approximately $40.00
It is hardly mere prurience wondering if the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I of England, was, in fact, a virgin during her reign; it is key to Britain’s most brilliant monarch.
It would seem, for instance, that she was besotted with Robert Dudley, on whom she showered precious gifts and favours. She made him the Earl of Leicester to the disapproval of much of her court. Its censure was understandable because both Dudley’s father and his grandfather were executed as traitors. For many years Elizabeth also allowed Dudley to hope that he might be the one taken in marriage to her royal self.
There was one inconvenient little detail in the early part of the ever-ambitious Robert Dudley’s life at court, however. He was already married. In his late teens, he took the comely seventeen-year-old, Amy Robsart, to wife. This, for the times, was considered young for both parties to marry, and prompted Lord Cecil to remark that carnal marriages always end in tears; an adage Dudley no doubt came to embrace himself.
For Death and the Virgin is about the mysterious demise of Amy Robsart, apparently from a fall down a few stairs. Author Chris Skidmore asks the questions, ‘Was Robert Dudley responsible for Amy’s death, and, if so, was the Queen party to it?’
He presents some quite persuasive evidence to the contrary. We learn about the postmortem report describing the injuries sustained by the lady, who was just 26 years old when she died. We learn that she may have suspected that she had breast cancer, and was therefore feeling suicidal. There is also the consideration that she still loved her husband and was very unhappy about his being the focus of her Sovereign’s dalliance and passion.
Not that Elizabeth could have done very much to consummate her love. The court was a treacherous place where spies and gossip flourished. Had Elizabeth and Robert physically been lovers, everyone would have known about it immediately. Remember, Elizabeth lost her own mother to rumours about her adultery with her Music master, and was very much aware that anyone’s fortune can be reversed within the blink of an eye. Also remember that the second Tudor Queen had an astute understanding of the English language. Her own use of it was precise. When Mary, Queen of Scots was delivered of her son, and the news brought to Elizabeth, the English queen said, “She is lighter of a bonny boy, and I am but of barren stock.”
Was she just guessing that her father, King Henry VIII, had blighted his only succeeding heir with sterility? He certainly had an eye for the ladies of any class, and was literally rotting with syphilis by the end of his life. Or did she actually know that she could produce no heir for the English throne and therefore pulled a magnificent con-job on her own subjects — but more especially, on those foreign princes who sought her hand to strengthen their own political power-bases?
For the key to this, you would have to go back to when Elizabeth was a mere girl herself, aged thirteen, in the household of her father’s last wife, Catherine Parr, and her new husband, Thomas Seymour. There was no doubt that in these lusty times, the young girl was an object of the affection of the Lord Admiral. So much so, that Catherine advised her not to encourage her husband, in order to protect her royal reputation. Certainly there were some scandalous rumours…
But Chris Skidmore does not engage with this rather intriguing episode in Elizabeth’s life. He is focused solely on the relationship of ER I and Robert Dudley, which lasted some thirty years. For most of those years, Dudley was practically never out of the Queen’s sight. Though probably not as worthy as Lord Cecil, Leicester was Elizabeth’s favourite, and there existed the strong possibility that he could marry her when he was free.
So why didn’t he?
I suggest that though exceedingly fond of him, Elizabeth was too much aware of the man’s character. She did not intend to be dominated by him under any circumstances, and there would have been times when Dudley would have tried to take over the throne himself if he were legally her husband. Then there is the question that the author of this excellent book has posed. Was Amy Robsart murdered? If so, by whom? There is a startling discovery at the end of Death and the Virgin, which has only come to the fore in recent years, and which throws a whole new light on this enthralling mystery. But you are going to have to discover it for yourselves. I hope you enjoy this book as much as I have.