Wednesday 14 December 2022

Wednesday 14th December - Amy Robsart

 As we speak, the Gasman is working on our boiler so please send all thoughts and prayers as I think another day in a freezing cold house might push us all over the edge.  I'm not saying my husband is actively planning to push me down the stairs, but things are not all sunshine at Chez Walker.  That sort of reminded me of today's painting...

Amy Robsart (1877) William Frederick Yeames

The Victorians loved Amy Robsart to a level that is almost unhealthy. I blame Walter Scott and his novel Kenilworth (1821) which set the Victorians going with many of the Tudor and Elizabethan 'facts' that we still believe now.  One of these was the story of poor Amy Robsart...

Amy Robsart (1864) William Frederick Yeames

Blimey, you wouldn't want to sneeze in that frock... Amy was the only child of a rather well-to-do Norfolk family and she married the young and glam Robert Dudley when she was 17 years old. A few years later, Dudley was condemned to death under Bloody Mary, but got a grudging reprieve.  The couple lived out Mary's reign in relative poverty until 1558 when Elizabeth I took over the throne and Dudley became Master of the House. Their finances returned to a merry amount, but not all was rosy for the young couple.

Leicester and Amy Robsart at Cumnor Hall (1866) Edward Matthew Ward

Look at how happy they are! Here we see Amy looking proudly at her husband's chain of office but she's not noticed that he has set his lute to one side, suggesting that matters of love at home aren't top of his agenda right now.  He's also sat on a blood red throne, which obviously does not have great connotations. Well, Leicester rather liked being up at court, however his lovely young wife did not, possibly suffering from an illness that confined her to her home. It is now suggested that she had cancer, but who knows, only that this 20something woman was at their home at Cumnor Hall in September 1560 when disaster struck...

Amy Robsart Walking to her Death (undated) William Quiller Orchardson

This would have been a better picture if her husband had been at the top strategically placing a roller skate or a banana skin. On the 8th September 1560, aged 28 years old, Amy was found dead at the bottom of her stairs.  She had broken her neck and sustained two head injuries. There were seemingly no witnesses for poor Amy, after she sent her servants out to a fair, and her husband was at Windsor Castle with the Queen, conveniently absent.  Her death started a rumour mill that her husband, wishing to marry the Queen, had bumped off Amy, or hired someone to give her a quick shove at the top of the stairs.  The rumours had more to do with the fact that people were desperate that Dudley not become King Consort, rather than an actual belief that he did away with his missus.

Amy Robsart (undated) Thomas Francis Dicksee

When you think about all the stories we are telling this Stabvent, the romance around a pretty grotty murder/sad accident seems perverse.  Why did the Victorians latch on to Amy in particular? I find the portrayal of Queen Elizabeth during the reign of Queen Victoria very interesting as it is not always particularly flattering and you wonder if comment is being made.  At best, Queen Elizabeth is the rival to Amy, at worst, she is her murderer, and what of Robert Dudley?  The rumour mill certainly did its work if Walter Scott felt the need to tell that version of events rather than the rather duller probable truth that a woman in ill health fell downstairs and died. I grant you that is less sexy than being wanged down the stairs by a woman in a massive ruff and crown, but such is life.

Such was the influence of Scott, the Merrie England of Good Queen Bess will always be influenced by his narrative, arguably carrying on with books and films today.  In 1899, The Sketch reported on the latest theatrical interpretations of Scott's Waverley novel series, including Kenilworth. The view is of the Virgin Queen who never truly possesses any man, her jealousy, the perfidiousness and vanity of her favourites and the general folly of monarchs of the weaker sex, for whom people like Amy Robsart become collateral damage.

So did Lord Robert Dudley or Queen Elizabeth yeet poor old Amy Roberts down the stairs at Cumnor?  Doubtful because she was sickly and really all they would have had to do is wait.  Had Robert Dudley been slowly poisoning his wife and she fainted and fell downstairs?  Now, that is another matter entirely...

See you tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. Amy Robsart's death has always seemed rather convenient, but as you say, it could have been an accident or she may have thrown herself down the stairs particularly if she knew she was ill - the servants were sent out, so that may have been her idea all along. We shall never know. Of course, it could have been Amy making it seem as though she was murdered by Dudley, in order to punish him for leaving her alone so much and fawning over/having an affair with the Queen...
    Best wishes


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