Born: ABT 1540
Died: 8 Sep 1560, Cumnor Place, Berkshire, England
Father: John ROBSART of Syderstone (Sir)
Mother: Elizabeth SCOTT
Married: Robert DUDLEY (1° E. Leicester) 5 Jun 1550, Sheen, Richmond
Amy Robsart was the only legitimate child of Sir John Robsart, Lord of the Manor of Syderstone in Norfolk, by Elizabeth the daughter of John Scott of Camberwell, Surrey - and widow of Roger Appleyard (d. 1530), Lord of the Manor of Stanfield, also in Norfolk. By her first husband, Lady Robsart had four children: John, Phillip, Anne and Frances; and, to her, the manor of Stanfield was bequeathed, with remainder to her son, John. She died in 1549.
On 5 Jun 1550, Amy Robsart married Robert Dudley at the royal palace of Sheen at Richmond, near London, at a ceremony attended by both Elizabeth Tudor and King Edward VI. Amy was about 18. It was a grand occasion, attended by the young Edward VI. Lady Amy's father settled some property on her just before (May 1650) and, at the same time, a second deed of settlement was signed by both Sir John Robsart and John Dudley making provision for Dudley. On 4 Feb 1553, John Dudley granted Hemsby Manor, near Yarmouth (Norfolk), to "Robert Dudley, Lord Dudley, my son, and the Ladie Amie, his wife". The early days of their married life were apparently spent in Norfolk, where Dudley was prominent in local affairs. He became Joint-Steward of the Manor of Rising and constable of the castle there (7 Dec 1551); Joint-Commissioner of the Lieutenancy for Norfolk (16 May 1552) and Member of Parliament for the county in 1553. However, John Dudley increasingly took Robert to court, while Lady Amy stayed at home. Here, he began currying favour and acquiring lucrative appointments, as well as property.
Little is known of Amy's character but it is said she was a quiet and charming young lady. No portrait of Amy has survived.
The marriage began happily. However, Robert was ambitious and had little interest in running country estates. He was attracted by the opportunities and glamour offered by the Royal Court. He became involved in political intrigues and in 1557 took part in a foreign military expedition.
Upon the death of the young Edward VI, Dudley aided his father and brothers in their, temporarily successful, attempt to place his sister-in-law, Lady Jane Grey, on the throne. By 26 Jul, however, the plot had collapsed and Robert was committed to the Tower. He was arraigned, attainted and sentenced to death on 22 Jan 1554. During his confinement in the Tower, the now impoverished Lady Amy was allowed to visit him. Her husband was eventually released and pardoned on 18 Oct at the end of the same year. In 1557, Amy was alone once more, when Robert accompanied his brothers, Ambrose and Henry, to Picardy. He acted as Master of Ordnance to the English army engaged in the Battle of St. Quentin, where his brother, Henry, was killed, and, for his military services, he and his surviving siblings were restored in blood by Act of Parliament (7 Mar 1558). Robert was granted his goods and the manor of Hemsby, and allowed to inherit the Robsart estate. Unfortunately, Syderstone Manor was uninhabitable. Thus Lady Amy's prospects were at least partially restored. King Felipe is said to have subsequently shown her husband some favour and was employed to carry messages between the Spanish monarch and Queen Mary.
When Queen Elizabeth came to the throne in 1558, she gave Robert a position at Court as Master of the Queen's Horse. She conferred land and other honours upon him. Courtiers noted that the Queen was attracted to Robert.
Robert and Amy had no children. Robert was now absent at Court for long periods. Amy lived for two years in Essex. They did not meet frequently. Meanwhile, Lady Amy lived, for the most part, in the country. We shall never know how much of the Court scandal reached her ears or what she thought of her husband's affair. Extant accounts, kept by her husband's stewards, show that, at the beginning of Elizabeth's reign, she was travelling about in Suffolk and Lincolnshire and paid occasional visits to Christchurch, Camberwell, and London. Her most permanent home seems to have been the house of William Hyde at Denchworth Manor, near Abingdon. Hyde was the Member of Parliament for Abingdon, had bought land from John Dudley, and was friendly with Dudley himself.
Dudley's account-books show that he frequently visited Lady Amy at Denchworth in 1558 and 1559. He did visit her for a few days at Throcking in the spring of 1559, followed by her visit to him in London for about a month. She spent large sums on dress, for which her husband's steward paid. A letter addressed, by her, to a tailor named William Edney of Tower Royal, respecting an elaborate costume is still preserved at Longleat House (Wiltshire). Another of her letters, dated 7 Aug 1559, and addressed to John Flowerdew, Steward of Syderstone, gives, in her husband's name, several detailed directions about the sale of some wool on the Siderstern estate, which had become the joint property of the couple on the death of Amy's father in 1557. The language suggests a perfect understanding between husband and wife. By Sep 1559, Amy had moved to Sir Richard Verney's house, Compton Verney, in Warwickshire, and in Dec she arrived to stay at Cumnor Place, Berkshire, which was to be her last home.
Cumnor Place had been built in the early 14h century by the monks of Abingdon Abbey. In 1546, following the Dissolution, Cumnor Place and the Lordship of Cumnor Manor had been granted by Henry VIII to George Owen (b. 1499 - d. 18 Oct 1558), his physician. Owen's son and heir William later leased it to Anthony Forster (b. 1510 - d. 1572), a friend and servant of Robert Dudley. It appears to have been a large establishment with room for separate quarters for three ladies in addition to Forster and his wife and children. One "apartment" was occupied by Mrs. Owen, identified in some accounts as William Owen's mother, the widow of George Owen, Mary Long (b. 1518 - d. 30 Oct 1578). Mary Long was the daughter of Simon Long of the Isle of Wight and Alice Huglett. She married Thomas Locke or Lok (b. 8 Feb 1514 - d. 9 Nov 1556) and by him had six children: William, Rowland, Matthew (b. 1553 - d. 1599), John, Mary, and Anne. Her sister-in-law, Rose Locke, wife of Anthony Hickman, chided Mary for keeping her husband in England after he was arrested for heresy and thus contributing to his death. Later, Rose Locke married Simon Throckmorton. Sometime between 1556 and 1558, Mary Long wed Dr. George Owen. At some point after 1558, Mary took a third husband, Sir William Allen (b. ABT 1515) who was Lord Mayor of London in 1572/3. Her son Matthew Locke married his daughter Margaret Allen (b. 1560 - d. 25 Aug 1624) on 15 Jul 1577.
The DNB entry for "Owen, George," however, identifies the occupant of Cumnor Place in 1560 as William Owen's wife. This was Anne Rawley, daughter of John Rawley of Billesby, Northamptonshire; or possibly Ursula Fettiplace, said by other sources to have married William Owen in 1558. The other gentlewoman resident, besides Lady Dudley, was a widow, Mrs. Odingsells. Some sources say she was Edith Williams, niece of John, 1st baron Williams, and wife of Edmund Odingsells. Edith was the sister of Anne, wife of Anthony Forster. Other sources identify Mrs. Odingsells as Elizabeth Hyde, widow of John Odingsells of Long Itchington and sister of William Hyde of nearby Denchworth. John Odingsells reportedly died in poverty, and his property ended up in the possession of Amy's husband. Elizabeth Hyde may also have been Edith Williams's mother-in-law, although that is conjecture.
by H.J.Ford from 'Haunted Homes and Family Legends' by J.Ingram, published in 1897.
Amy was unhappy. There was constant gossip that her husband wished to marry Queen Elizabeth. She might have been ill. She is said to have discovered a lump in her breast at about that time. In 1559, her husband was made Lieutenant of Windsor Castle, which is about thirty miles from Cumnor Place, but there does not seem to be any documentation of visits to Amy while she lived there. The following letter suggests that Amy found some pleasure in buying new clothes:
my harty comendations these shall be to desier you to take ye paynes for me As to make this gowne of vellet whiche I sende you wt suche A collare as you made my rosset taffyta gown you sente me last & I will se you dyscharged for all I pray you let it be done wt as muche speade as you can & sente by this bearar frewen the carryar of oxforde & thus I bed you most hartely fare well from comnare this xxiiij of avguste
On 8 Sep 1560, a tragic event occurred at Cumnor Place. Amy had insisted that her servants attend Abingdon Fair, leaving her alone in the house. Mrs. Odingsells refused to go, apparently because it was a Sunday, and Mrs. Owen also remained behind. But only Mrs. Owen dined with Lady Amy. Later that day she was found dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs. Her neck was broken.
Robert Dudley heard the news of his wife's death while staying with the Queen at Windsor Castle, and immediately asked a distant relative, Sir Thomas Blount, to visit Cumnor. The slightest suspicion that he’d murdered her meant he would never become the royal consort. Blount was instructed to encourage the most stringent public inquiry and to communicate with John Appleyard, Lady Amy's half-brother. All manner of rumours were soon abroad. Mrs. Pinto, Lady Amy's maid, said that she had heard her mistress "pray to God to deliver her from desperation", and, although she tried to remove the impression of suicide which her words excited, Dudley's reported relations with Elizabeth go far to account for Lady Amy's alleged depression. Thomas Lever, a clergyman of Sherburn, wrote to the Privy Council (17 Sep) of "the grievous and dangerous suspicion and muttering" about Lady Amy's death and it was plainly hinted that Dudley had ordered Anthony Forster to throw Lady Amy down the stairs. On 13 Sep, Dudley repeated to Blount his anxious need for a thorough and impartial investigation and - according to his own account - began corresponding with one Smith, foreman of the investigating jury. He added that all the jurymen were strangers to him. A verdict of mischance or accidental death was returned. Dudley seems to have suggested that a second jury should continue the inquiry, but nothing followed. On a Friday, probably 20 Sep Lady Amy's body was removed secretly to Gloucester Hall (now Worcester College), Oxford and, on Sunday, 22 Sep, was buried, with the most elaborate heraldic ceremony, in St. Mary's Church there. The Corporation and University attended officially. Dudley was absent, as was the custom, and Margery Williams the wife of the future Lord Norreys of Rycote acted as chief mourner. John Appleyard was also present. Dr. Francis Babington, one of Dudley's chaplains, preached the sermon and is said to have tripped once and described the lady as "pitifully slain".
If the court gossip, reported by the Spanish Ambassador, is to be credited, Dudley, in his desire to marry the Queen, had talked of divorcing or of poisoning his wife many months before she died. De Quadra, indeed, wrote home, at the time that the news of her death reached London (11 Sep), that "They [ie. the Queen and Dudley] were thinking of destroying Lord Robert's wife... They had given out that she was ill, but she was not ill at all; she was very well and taking care not to be poisoned... The Queen, on her return from hunting [on 4 Sep], told me that Lord Robert's wife was dead or nearly so, and begged me to say nothing about it".
According to this statement Dudley and the Queen conspired to murder Lady Amy, but this terrible charge is wholly uncorroborated. Lady Amy's death undoubtedly removed the chief obstacle to the marriage of the Queen with Dudley, and the influential persons at court, who were determined that Elizabeth should not take this disastrous step, naturally exaggerated the rumours of Dudley's guilt in order to disqualify him from becoming the Royal consort. Nicholas Throckmorton, the English Ambassador in Paris, frequently reported, to Cecil, that Dudley was universally credited on the Continent with the murder of his wife, but this was Throckmorton's invariable preface to an impassioned protest against the proposed marriage of the Queen with her favourite. On 30 Nov, the Queen told one of her secretaries that the verdict of the jury left no doubt that Amy had died accidentally and Sir Henry Sidney, Dudley's brother-in-law, in the following Jan, assured the Spanish Ambassador that the malicious rumours were totally unfounded. Cecil, although no friend to Dudley, came to the conclusion that they could not be supported. In 1567, the charge of murder was revived by John Appleyard, who declared that the jury was bribed but, on being examined by the Privy Council, he made an abject apology and confessed that he had wilfully slandered Dudley because he had been disappointed in not receiving greater gifts from his brother-in-law.
In 1584, the story adopted by Sir Walter Scott in 'Kenilworth' was first published in a libel on Dudley usually known as 'Leicester's Commonwealth'. There, Anthony Forster and Sir Richard Verney of Compton Verney in Warwickshire, one of Dudley's private friends, were said to have flung Lady Amy downstairs. But none of the statements in this libel deserve credit. There is no ground for connecting Verney in any way with the tragedy.Many of Robert's enemies at Court and abroad claimed that he had had Amy murdered. He was known to be a very ruthless man. These claims were never proved but Robert's reputation was stained by the scandal. When in 1566 Lord Cecil gave reasons to the Privy Council for the Queen not marrying Robert, he gave as one reason 'He is infamed by delh ofhis wiff'. In 1572 however Elizabeth created him Earl of Leicester and gave him positions of considerable power.
The year after the tragedy, Anthony Forster bought the Lordship of Cumnor and Cumnor Place. Under the patronage of Robert he became M.P. for Abingdon. When he died in 1572 he left Cumnor Place to Robert, who soon sold it to Lord Norreys. Anthony Forster's tomb is in the chancel.
A superstition concerning Amy's ghost persisted for many years. It is said that nine parsons came from Oxford to lay her restless ghost in a nearby pond, which never froze thereafter. Cumnor Place was said to be haunted. It is certainly true that the owners chose not to live there, letting it to tenants so that it gradually became a ruin.
In 1770 Julius Mickle, printer at the University Press, wrote a poem entitled 'The Ballad of Cumnor Hall', telling the sad tale of Amy. This was later read by Sir Walter Scott and it inspired him in 1820 to write a novel called 'Kenilworth'. His account of Amy's death in Cumnor was fiction and inaccurate; nevertheless the book was a best-seller and led many people to visit Cumnor. Alas, the remains of Cumnor Place had been pulled down in 1810.
The cause of Amy's death remains a subject of historical speculation and research.
Further Reading :
D.Wilson 'Sweet Robin' 1981.
Peggy Inman 'Amy Robsart and Cumnor Place' Cumnor Hist.Soc. 1998
AD.Bartlett 'Cumnor Place', Berks , Parker 1850
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