Robert Dudley, styled Earl of Warwick

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Robert Dudley, Knight

Also Known As: "Sir Robert Dudley"
Birthplace: Richmond Palace
Death: September 06, 1649 (75)
Florence, Tuscany, Italy
Place of Burial: Florence, Province of Florence, Tuscany, Italy
Immediate Family:

Son of Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester and Douglas Sheffield
Husband of Margaret Dudley; Alice Leigh, Duchess of Dudley and Elizabeth Dudley
Father of Alice Dudley; Katherine Leveson; Douglas Dansey; Frances Kniveton; Anne Holborne and 12 others
Brother of Mary Sidney-Herbert; Edmund Sheffield and Elizabeth Butler
Half brother of Elizabeth Butler; Edmund Sheffield, 1st Earl of Mulgrave and Robert Dudley

Occupation: Explorer, cartographer, shipwright, mathematician
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Robert Dudley, styled Earl of Warwick

Sir Robert Dudley (7 August 1574 – 6 September 1649) was an English explorer and cartographer. The illegitimate son of Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, he inherited the bulk of the Earl's estate in accordance with his father's will, including Kenilworth Castle.

from Wikipedia

In 1594, he led an expedition to the West Indies, of which he wrote an account. In 1605 he tried unsuccessfully to establish his legitimacy in court. After that he left England forever, finding a new existence in the service of the Granddukes of Tuscany. There he worked as a noted shipbuilder and designed and published Dell'Arcano del Mare, the first maritime atlas to cover the whole world. He was also a skilled navigator and mathematician. In Italy, he styled himself Earl of Warwick and Leicester as well as Duke of Northumberland.

Robert Dudley, styled Earl of Warwick

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Robert Dudley (7 August 1574 – 6 September 1649) was an English engineer, sailor and cartographer, the illegitimate son of Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester. In 1594, he led an expedition to the West Indies, of which he wrote an account. In 1605 he tried unsuccessfully to establish his legitimacy in court. After that he left England forever, finding a new existence in the service of the Granddukes of Tuscany. There he worked as a noted shipbuilder and designed and published Dell'Arcano del Mare, the first maritime atlas to cover the whole world. He was also a skilled navigator and mathematician. In Italy, he styled himself Earl of Warwick and Leicester as well as Duke of Northumberland.

Early life

Robert Dudley was the son of the Earl of Leicester and his lover Lady Douglas Sheffield, daughter of William Howard, 1st Baron Howard of Effingham. When Lady Douglas married Sir Edward Stafford in November 1579, and left for the continent with him, Leicester took custody of his son. 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.[1] In 1588, when the Spanish Armada threatened England, fourteen-year-old Robert joined his father, who was commanding the army, preparing to resist a Spanish invasion. On 4 September the Earl of Leicester died.[2] The Earl's will gave Robert a large inheritance, including his castle and estate at Kenilworth and his lordships of Denbigh and Chirk, on the death of his uncle, Ambrose Dudley, 3rd Earl of Warwick .[3]

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 seventeen-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 6 November 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 Beare's Whelpe there, but it did not show up. Dudley's fleet sailed to Trinidad and anchored at Cedros Bay on 31 January 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 12 March 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 Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of 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. In 1601 he became loosely entangled in the Essex Rebellion, but was left unpunished.

Claiming legitimacy

In May 1603 Dudley was apparently told by a shadowy adventurer called Thomas Drury that his parents had been secretly married,[4] and began trying to establish his claim to the title of Earl of Leicester and the right to inherit his deceased uncle Ambrose Dudley's estate of Warwick Castle, Ambrose having died childless. The case ended up in the Star Chamber (1605) and aroused great public interest. The case included 90 witnesses for Dudley and 57 for the widowed Countess of Leicester, the former Lady Lettice Knollys. Lady Sheffield declared in writing (she did not attend the trial personally) that Leicester had solemnly contracted to marry her in Cannon Row, Westminster in 1571, and that they were married at Esher, Surrey, "in wintertime" in 1573. Yet all of the ten putative witnesses ("besides others") to the ceremony were long dead since. Neither could it be remembered, who the "minister" was, nor the exact date of the marriage.[5] The Star Chamber rejected the evidence and fined several of the witnesses. It was concluded that Sir Robert Dudley had been duped by Thomas Drury, who in his turn had sought "his own private gains".[6] King James ratified the judgment and it was handed down on 10 May 1605.[7]

A new life in Tuscany, 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 title of Earl of Leicester and his uncle's title of Earl of Warwick.

Dudley designed and built 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.

Sale 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

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. In 1631, his wife Elizabeth died of plague. 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. 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 on 6 September 1649 outside Florence in Villa Rinieri. He was buried in San Pancrazio of Florence.

Dell'Arcano del Mare


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

  • Alice Dudley (born at Kenilworth Castle 1597 - 21 May 1621). She was wife to Sir Ferdinando Sutton, son of Edward Sutton, 5th Baron Dudley.
  • 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.
  • 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: (SOME REFERENCES LIST 12 CHILDREN, NOTE BY C(E)P.)

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


  • ^ Wilson p.246
  • ^ Warner p.viii
  • ^ Wilson pp.336-337
  • ^ Warner p.xli
  • ^ Warner p.xli
  • ^ Warner p.xlvi
  • ^ In the 19th century, the question of Sir Robert Dudley's legitimacy was again raised in the House of Lords, but again, it remained unresolved. Historians have had different views on the problem: Wilson p.326 believes in a marriage, Read p.23 and Adams pp.144-145 reject it, Warner p.v-ix, xxxviii-xlvii is very sceptical.


  • Adams, Simon: Leicester and the Court: Essays in Elizabethan Politics Manchester UP 2002 ISBN 0719053250
  • Haynes, Alan: Sex in Elizabethan England Alan Sutton 1997 ISBN 0905778359
  • Read, Conyers: A Letter from Robert, Earl of Leicester, to a Lady The Huntington Library Bulletin No.9 April 1936
  • Role, Raymond E.: "Sir Robert Dudley Duke of Northumberland" in History Today March 2003
  • Warner, G.F: The Voyage of Robert Dudley to the West Indies, 1594-1595 Hakluyt Society 1899 [1]
  • Wilson, Derek: Sweet Robin: A Biography of Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester 1533-1588 Hamish Hamilton 1981 ISBN 0241101492

  • ____________________


Life of Sir Robert Dudley, earl of Warwick and duke of Northumberland By John Temple Leader

Warwick Castle and Its Earls Part One By Frances Warwick DUDLEY (E. Warwick)

decendants of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester SGM Aug 1998

Life of Sir Robert Dudley, Earl of Warwick and Duke of Northumberland By John Temple Leader. Page 134

From Miscellanea Genealogica Et Heraldica Page 263

To countenance his [Robert Dudley's] marriage with Mrs Southwell he alledged that his marriage wth ye Lady Alice Leigh was by the canon Law illegal, because he had carnal knowledge of her during the life of his former wife who was sister to Mr Thomas Cavendish the famous Navigator.

Lady Sheffield was a widow when she met the Earl of Leicester. The Earl of Leicester and Lady Sheffield were married in front of well known witnesses, but their marriage was kept from public knowledge. Many reasons have been given for the public concealment, but the most likely was fear of the Queen's displeasure and Leicester's outward boast that he was privately married to Queen Elizabeth. Lady Sheffield and other witnesses later testified that they were married at her home of Esher in Surrey by a lawful minister of the church and that she was given away by Sir Edward Horsey.

Robert lived with his mother until he was about 5 years old; then she gave him up to his father upon her marriage to Sir Edward Stafford of Grafton for her protection in 1578. In her trial in 1605, she stated her life had been repeatedly threatened, and that attempts had been made to poison her and therefore she felt she needed to make a public marriage. The Earl of Leicester may have forced her into it as he himself had been living with Lady Essex for some time and used the marriage to make this relationship public. Consequently, Robert was placed in the care of Sir John Dudley, a kinsman, who lived at Stoke Newington. In the 1605 trial witnesses testified that Leicester visited Robert there.

In 1583 he was being schooled at Offington in Sussex, under the charge of his uncle Ambrose, Earl of Warwick. In 1588 he was at the University of Oxford. In the same year, he served under his father the Earl. In 1588 the Earl died on his way to Kenilworth at Cornbury. In his last will, dated Middleburgh, August 1, 1587, called his son "his base son" though he left him heir after Ambrose. It was thought that he deliberately left Robert officially illegitimate, to protect his marriage to Letice Knollys, Countess of Essex, leaving her his official and lawful wife. In 1589, his uncle Ambrose died, and he inherited Kenilworth. In 1605 he sought to have his parents marriage legitimized and went through a trial at the Star Chamber, where Leticia Knollys successfully brought all her power to bear to oppose him and won. He was bitterly disappointed, by this time age 37, and all the witnesses and evidence on his behalf were sealed by the Star Chamber. This seemed to unhinge him and decide him to leave Engalnd for good.


Robert Dudley was married first Frances Vavasour, who died young without issue. Dudley then married Alice Leigh and it was during this time he was struggling to become the legitimate heir to his father's Earldom of Leicester and his uncle's Earldom of Warwick. After losing his case, he seems to have decided to leave the King, England and Kenilworth and convert to Catholicism. He deserted his wife and daughters and fled to France with his cousin Elizabeth Southwell, age 37. Elizabeth, who was just nineteen, to avoid detection disguised herself as a male page. Their scandalous behaviour was widely noted throughout Europe and allowed King James to seize the Leicester lands. The lovers, however, found refuge in Lyons, and despite the potential bigamy, they applied as cousins for a papal dispensation to allow them to marry, which was surprisingly granted by Pope Paul V. The couple were married in Lyon in 1605. It is possible that the Catholic Church got around the bigamy issue by not recognizing Dudley's earlier Protestant marriage. The couple eventually moved to Florence, where Dudley' s naval and shipbuilding skills brought him wealth and distinction, and enabled him to build himself a palace. He became a highly respected courtier under Duke Ferdinand I, building fast ships that were sucessful in battle, and modernizing the Italian navy. He was responsible for draining the swamps near Pisa, wrote several works on navigation and continued his skill as a cartographer, which had started in the West Indies. One of his books contained charts for navigators for the entire world and is considered a milestone in naval cartograpy. He was created an Italian Duke and given a country villa by Duke Ferdinand I as a mark of his distinction. King James at one point tried to lure him back to England offering him an Earldom, but he seems to have enjoyed his life in Italy and the Court there. He corresponded with Prince Henry had decided to sell Kenilworth to him when Prince Henry died in 1612. He and Elizabeth lived happily for the rest of their lives in Italy. They had nine children, who all married into the Italian aristocracy.

Sources vary on how many children Robert had.


By Elizabeth:

1.)Carlo Dudley (recognized by the Emperor Ferdinand II as Duke of Northumberland)

2.) Ambrogio Dudley

3.) Ferdinando Dudley

4.) Teresa, Duchessa di Castiglione del Lago

5.) Cosimo Dudley

6.) Maria Christina, Marchesa Clivola

7.) Maria Magdalena, Marchesa Malaspina

8.) Antonio Dudley

9.) Enrico Dudley

10.) Anna Dudley

11.) Giovanni Dudley

By Alice:

1.) Alice Dudley

2.) Douglas Dudley

3.) Catherine Leveson

4.) Frances Kniveton

5.) Anne Dudley

Robert left England in 1606, and his estates were never returned to him. When he arrived in Florence Ferdinand I was Arch Duke; he was created Duke of Northumberland by Ferdinand II, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 1620. He was chamberlain to three successive Grand Duchesses of Tuscany. He bought a house in Florence in April 1614 where he built a palace.It was his town house until his death. Eight of his children were born there and Elizabeth Southwell died there on Sept. 10, 1631.

Robert Dudley was not buried in St. Pancras Church, Florence, but a monument was probably erected there. He did not leave a large estate in either money or land. All the brothers except Enrico, died before their father.

He did not leave his English children without means; they received his English patrimony and he left his daughters dower fees. King James I and the Star Chamber locked away all the evidence of his birth and his mothers claim that she was married to his father. He was also implicated in his father's trial, and all these reasons may have made him decide to leave England.


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Robert Dudley, styled Earl of Warwick's Timeline

August 7, 1574
Richmond Palace
September 1597
Stoneleigh, Warwickshire , England
Stoneleigh, Warwickshire, England
Stoneleigh, Warwickshire, England
Via del'Amore, Florence, Tuscany, Italy