Name: Lettice Knollys
Birth: JUL 1539
Death: 25 DEC 1634 in Drayton Bassett, Staffs 1
Burial: Warwick Collegiate church 1
MEM: Warwick: effigy with Robert Dudley, E of Leicester
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Change Date: 18 JUL 2011
Lettice Knollys was one of the most prominent women of the late sixteenth century in England. She was married to Walter Devereux (1541?-76), first Earl of Essex, an adventurer who undertook the colonisation of Ulster.
Essex died of dysentry in 1576 at the age of 35 and on 21 September 1578, secretly at Wanstead, Essex she married Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, as his 2nd wife, much to Queen Elizabeth's fury who reacted like a spurned lover. Thereafter Lettice was barred from court and despite an attempt by her at reconciliation with the queen in 1597 the two remained enemies.
After the death of Leicester in 1588 Lettice married Sir Christopher Blount, who was executed for his part in Robert Devereux's rebellion in 1601.
She died in 1634, aged 94.
As the daughter of Catherine Carey, Lettice Knollys was a cousin to Queen Elizabeth and resembled her a good deal. Her father, Sir Francis Knollys, was a Puritan, and the family was in exile during Mary Tudor?s reign. Lettice came to Court as a maid of honour at the start of Elizabeth?s reign and soon established herself as a girl of spirit, beauty, and ambition. She married, in 1561, Walter Devereux, Viscount Hereford, who was created Earl of Essex in 1572. By him she had Penelope, Dorothy, Robert, Walter, and Francis (d. yng).
The family seat was at Chartley in Staffordshire, but Lettice was often at Court, where a relationship developed with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (1532-1588). With Essex in Ireland from 1572 until the winter of 1575/6, Lettice lived in Durham House on the Strand, quite near Leicester House. In the summer of 1575, when they were both on progress with the Queen, Edward Arden, sheriff of Warwickshire, refused to wear Leicester?s livery for the festivities at Kenilworth because he had ?private access to the Countess of Essex.? According to one account of the incident, Arden called Leicester a whoremaster. The anonymous 1584 pamphlet known as Leicester?s Commonwealth claimed that Lady Essex was pregnant by Leicester immediately before her husband?s return from Ireland and that she had an abortion.
Another tale, this one reported by the Spaniard, de Guaras, in Dec of 1575, was that there was a ?great enmity between the Earl of Leicester and the Earl of Essex in consequence... of the fact that while Essex was in Ireland his wife had two children by Leicester.? According to de Guaras, this was openly talked of in London. When Essex returned to Ireland and died there shortly after of dysentary, the gossip-mongers insisted that Leicester had poisoned him. An autopsy proved otherwise but talk did not cease and rumour had the two lovers married soon after.
They may have gone through an earlier ceremony, but there was a secret wedding at Wanstead on Sep 21, 1578 which was witnessed by Lettice?s father, Sir Francis Knollys. She appeared to be with child at the time. Their son, Lord Denbigh, who died on Jul 19, 1584, was born in 1579.
"The Noble Impe" - the son of Leicester and Lettice named Robert who died as a child. All of Lettice's other children had been healthy, so it was a cruel twist of fate that their only legitimately-born child was not.
Lettice was at Court in Jul, 1579, with a new wardrobe that rivaled the Queen?s. When her marriage to Leicester became known, the Queen is said to have boxed her ears and banished her, saying that as but one sun lighted the sky so she would have but one Queen of England.
Away from Court, Lettice went out of her way to be mistaken for her royal cousin, riding through the streets of London in a carriage with her ladies in coaches behind her, and so forth. She planned to marry her daughter Dorothy to the King of Scotland. When the Queen heard of it, according to another Spaniard, Mendoza, she swore she would ?sooner the Scots King lost his crown? than be married to the daughter of a ?she-wolf.? She also said that if she could find no other way to check Lady Leicester?s ambition she would proclaim her all over Christendom as the whore she was and prove Leicester a cuckold. This was in 1583. The Frenchman Mauvissiere, writing at about the same time, reported that Leicester was greatly influenced by his wife and introduced her only to those to whom he wished to show special favour. On Dec 8, 1585, Leicester was sent to the Low Countries and on Jan 25, 1586 made Governor-General of the Netherlands. Lettice was making plans to join him there and set up a Court of her own when her royal cousin heard of it and forbade her departure.
At about the same time there was a rumor that Leicester was jealous of his wife?s attentions to Sir Christopher Blount (1565-1601), his Master of the Horse. The tale gained credence after Leicester died suddenly on Sep 4, 1588 and Lettice married Blount in Jul of 1589. She was fond of Blount, and she certainly knew that his love for her was a wonderful balm to her ego (like Elizabeth, she loathed growing old) but Leicester was her main connection to fame, as well as something for which Elizabeth would never forgive her. The anonymous manuscript, ?Leicester?s Ghost? claimed that Lettice and Blount had poisoned him to prevent him from killing Blount and imprisoning Lettice in Kenilworth. Leicester?s will seems to disprove this. It was written on his deathbed in the form of a letter to Lettice. After her remarriage, which angered the Queen, Lettice remained primarily at Drayton Bassett, Staffordshire, a life she deemed fit ?only for the disgraced? In 1597 her son the Earl of Essex, who had replaced Leicester as the Queen?s favorite, made several attempts to reconcile the two women. After two meetings which the Queen avoided they finally came face to face and Lettice presented her cousin with a jewel, but when she requested permission to return to Court a few days later it was refused and she was once more forbidden access to the Queen. In 1598, when Essex was sulking at Wanstead over a quarrel with the Queen, his mother wrote to advise him against imitating Leicester, who had been wont to feign illness in the hope of winning the Queen?s apology. When Essex was imprisoned in York House in 1599, Lettice was forbidden to visit him, but when he was moved to Essex House, where she had been living, she was permitted one interview. She was not, apparently, in London in Feb 1601, when he attempted to seize the Court. Her third husband was involved in the conspiracy, however, and both he and Essex were executed, Essex on Feb 25 and Blount on Mar 17.
Lettice remained at Drayton Bassett for the remainder of her life, more than another thirty years.
She lived to the age of ninety-four. She out-lived just about everyone around her: her husbands, her family, the Queen, and even the Queen's successor.
One of her great-grandchildren, Gervase Clifton, in his twenties when she died on Dec 25, 1634, wrote in an elegy that ?she was in her younger years matched with two great English peers; she that did supply the wars with thunder, and the court with stars?
Father: Francis Knollys b: ABT 1514
Mother: Katherine Mary Carey b: 1524
Walter Devereux b: 16 SEP 1539 in Carmarthen Castle, Wales
- Penelope Devereux b: ABT 1563
- Robert Devereux b: 10 JAN 1566 in Netherwood, Herefordshire
- Dorothy Devereux
Robert Dudley b: 24 JUN 1532
21 SEP 1578
in Wanstead, Essex
- Type: Web Site
Author: Jorge H. Castelli