Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (1532-1588) 1587c.

Sir William Segar, Studio of fl.1585 - 1633

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (1532-1588), Sir William Segar, Studio of
Oil on oak panel
16th Century
22 x 18 inches 55.7 x 45.6 cm
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This portrait is a studio version of a type produced by Sir William Segar c.1587 (Hatfield House), at a time when Leicester was commanding the anti-Spanish forces in the Netherlands. Although the painting may have been produced back in England it is most probable that Segar met the Earl in the Low Countries, since the painter was present with the expedition in his capacity as a Herald.

The Earl is by now an old man, after the vigour of younger images such as that by Stephen van der Meulen (Wallace Collection), but the strength of character and aristocratic hauteur are still readily apparent. This portrait is datable to the period of another of the Queen's and Favourite's disputes, in which the Dutch had awarded him the title of Supreme Governor of the Netherlands. The Queen was appalled by Leicester's presumption in accepting this dignity and with the remark ''My dogs wear my collars,'' compelled him to give it up. In this portrait he is bearing distinctions of the Queen''s gift only: the blue riband of the Order of the Garter and the white wand of an Officer of the Household.

Robert Dudley was a younger son of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. He was early brought into the society of Edward VI and Princess (later Queen) Elizabeth. Knighted at an early age, Dudley married Amy Robsart in 1549 and received preferment from the crown. Upon Edward''s death (1553), he aided his father in the plot to place Lady Jane Grey upon the throne, was sent to the Tower of London, and condemned to death. He was later released, pardoned, and, after military service in France, restored to his rights (perhaps through the intervention of Mary I's husband, Philip II of Spain). On the accession of Elizabeth (1558), Dudley was made master of the horse and later a privy councillor. Within a year he was acknowledged as her favourite and as her most probable choice for a husband. His wife's mysterious death in 1560 darkened his reputation. He then proposed (1561) to Philip II to restore Roman Catholicism in England in return for Philip''s endorsement of Dudley''s marriage to Elizabeth. By 1563, Elizabeth seems to have realized the impracticality of marriage with Dudley, but her personal feeling toward him did not change, and he remained in a position of influence at court. She offered his hand to Mary Queen of Scots and, to facilitate this scheme, created him Earl of Leicester (1564), but the plan was halted by Mary''s marriage to Lord Darnley. Leicester married secretly in 1573 and in 1578 (perhaps bigamously) wed the countess of Essex, an act that led to a temporary estrangement from Elizabeth. From about 1564, Leicester was leader at court of the Puritan party, which desired war with Spain. In 1585 he was named commander of an expedition to help the United Provinces of the Netherlands against Spain. His military efforts were undistinguished, and he enraged Elizabeth by accepting (1586) the title of governor of the Netherlands. He was finally recalled in 1587. Upon the approach of the Spanish Armada (1588), Leicester was appointed captain general of the armies, an office he exercised during the invasion threat. Leicester died of a fever very shortly afterwards, to the Queen''s very great sadness.
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