The Death of Amy Robsart Dudley

To start Elizabethan Intrigue week, I felt it only right to chose an event from the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign.    The death of Amy Robsart Dudley is a Tudor age mystery that remains technically unsolved to this day.   Amy Dudley was the wife of Robert Dudley, the Queen’s master of the horse, and eventually Earl of Leister.   Robert Dudley is best remembered as the man that was likely the love of Elizabeth I’s life!    

The death of his first wife is a matter of great intrigue because had she not died in a way that could be ruled murder, Dudley was believed to have been in a position to get a divorce (to then hopefully marry Elizabeth I).    Her demise being such a mystery (that could not be solved) made it impossible for Elizabeth to marry Robert (or her Robin, as she called him) since she could not attach herself to the scandal.

The facts of the case are rather simple.   Amy Robsart was found dead at the bottom of a staircase on September 8, 1560.    She died in Cumnor Palace, and according to Robert Dudley his wife had retired there for her health.   She lived completely separate from her husband, and had sent the servants away that morning.    The death inquest found that she had a broken neck, and two wounds on her head.   Rumors that she had been violently ill (and near death) had circulated at court for the time leading up to her death.    

The question is whether or not she was murdered.    Many contemporaries theorized that she was either pushed down the stairs, or poisoned (making her weak enough to fall).   The official inquest acquitted Robert Dudley of any culpability in his wife’s death.    However, many people in the court still continued to believe that he had murdered his wife.

The incredible Sir Walter Scott novel Kenilworth brought renewed attention to this case in the nineteenth century!    In modern times historians largely believe her death to have been either a result of breast cancer, or a suicide.   While there is not much (if any) historical history to the CW show Reign, the writers chose to utilize the suicide theory.    They did so in a typically dramatic way, she committed suicide in order to blacken her husband’s reputation, so that he could not divorce her, or even chose to marry Elizabeth after her death.    I know that many history buffs dislike the show for its utter lack of historical accuracy, but I find it good fun (and a guilty pleasure).    The handling of the Elizabeth, Dudley, and Amy triangle was not completely insane (as it was based in actual theories that historians have, with the suicide).    The story of Amy Robsart Dudley was also utilized in the historical novel The Forgotten Sister by Nicola Cornick.    I throughly enjoyed this book, especially as it also incorporated a reincarnation element!

I hope you have enjoyed this overview of the death of Amy Robsart Dudley.   Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is the cover of The Forgotten Sister.   I found the image on

Further Reading

  • Death and the Virgin: Elizabeth, Dudley, and the Mysterious Fate of Amy Robsart by Chris Skidmore
  • Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott
  • Reign (2013-2017)
  • The Forgotten Sister by Nicola Cornick 

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