Happy Birthday Robert Dudley
Illegitimate son of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and his lover, Douglas Howard, dau. of William Howard, Lord Effingham. The Earl of Leicester is thought to have married Douglas in 1573, but always denied it, but Robert had been acknowledged by his father since his birth, and Leicester supervised his upbringing and education. Sir Robert entered Christ Church, Oxford, in 1587 with the status of an Earl’s son. When his father died in 1588, Robert, aged fourteen inherited substantial property under the earl’s will, included the Castle Kenilworth.
Sir Robert was a friend of Thomas Cavendish the explorer. When Cavendish died in 1593 he left two ships to his friend. Sir Robert put them to use in 1594. Although he did not win government approval for his plans, ships being valuable and his youth at the age of twenty depriving him of any experience, he managed to slip away to the West Indies and enthusiastically set about raiding Spanish shipping off Trinidad and then adventuring up the hitherto unexplored Orinoco river where he put his name to an island he discovered, calling it proudly ‘Dudleiana’. In 1596 he went with Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, and a cousin of Queen Elizabeth, to attack the Spanish at Cadiz. The English under Lord Charles Howard of Effingham, Robert’s uncle, attacked the Spanish town of Cadiz to destroy the Spanish fleet so there would not be a repeat of the Spanish Armada of 1588. It was an overwhelming success. Devereux knighted Sir Robert for his efforts. Queen Elizabeth criticized him for creating too many knights, but all was forgiven.
Sir Robert’s first wife died and he remarried Alice Leigh. He decided to reopen the question of his legitimacy supported by his mother and his step mother Lettice Knollys, the Dowager Countess of Leicester, seeking to establish his claim to the title of Earl of Leicester and the right to inherit his uncle Ambrose Dudley, earl of Warwick’s estate of Warwick Castle, Ambrose having no recorded issue. The support of his stepmother, however, may have been a mistake and doomed his efforts from the start. Under oath, Douglas swore that Leicester had solemnly contracted to marry her in Cannon Row, Westminster in 1571 and that the marriage was at Esher in Surrey in May 1573. The Star Chamber failed to pronounce against the validity of the marriage, rejecting the evidence, arresting several of the witnesses to the marriage, to fine them for perjury or subordination. The papers in the case were impounded in the interests of ‘Public policy’ to prevent the issue from being raised again. Sir Robert was ordered to pay a £100 fine.
Elizabeth Southwell had been his mistress for some time, and Sir Robert, distressed by his failure to win legitimacy, angrily decided to abandon England and asked Elizabeth to come with him.
They secretly left England, Elizabeth disguised as his page boy. When they arrived in France they became Roman Catholics and they applied for Papal dispensation to marry, from Pope Paul V, because they were cousins, the couple conveniently forgetting Sir Robert was still married to Alice Leigh. It is possible that the Roman Catholic church did not recognize the protestant wedding of Robert and Alice Leigh as being a legal wedding and therefore not binding. Sir Robert and Elizabeth were married in 1605 at Lyon, France in a Roman Catholic ceremony. When Sir Robert refused to return to England his estates were sold. Henry, Prince of Wales, bought Kenilworth Castle.
By 1613 the couple had settled in Florence where Sir Robert was to become the Chamberlain to the Duchess of Tuscany. While he was there he invented new designs of shipbuilding and drained the swamps between Pisa and the sea allowing Livorno to become a great port. He also wrote several works on navigation that gained him recognition as a navigator.
The titles held by his grandfather John Dudley who had been executed for his part in trying to usurp the throne from Queen Mary with his candidate, Lady Jane Grey, when Edward VI died. Guilford Dudley, John Dudley’s son, was the husband of Lady Jane.
The Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand II, revived the old Dudley titles of Earl of Warwick and Duke of Northumberland which permitted Sir Robert to these titles in the Holy Roman Empire.
He was also given Villa Rinieri at Castello as a reward for his services. The newly made Duke and Duchess had thirteen children who were all married into the Italian nobility. They lived happily in Italy and were buried in their adopted country with all the honors of the nobility.
Dudley should be seen as a practical man, able in mathematics, who entered into all of the technological activities that demanded mathematical expertise. He published a large book on navigation, the Arcano del mare, based in the first place on his experience as a navigator at sea. He was also involved in shipbuilding, designing several new classes of warships. Already on the expedition to the West Indies he prepared a map of Trinidad and of the coast of South America. Book 6 of his Arcano was on cartography, and it contained maps (charts for navigators) of the entire world. These maps are considered milestones in naval cartography. Dudley himself drew them up; they were not mere copies of the maps of others. The Grand Duke put him in charge of building the port of Livorno. He designed the mole for its harbor. Contemporary descriptions of Dudley emphasized his skill in architecture. The Grand Duke consulted him on all major buildings. He functioned partly as a military engineer in Tuscany, and the Arcano contained a section on the fortification of ports. He drained the swamp between Pisa and Livorno.
Dudley also developed a powder of supposedly (in the 17th century style) extraordinary medicinal power (but apparently used primarily as a purge), which made it into all the pharmacopaeias. He was involved also with instruments. About 1598 he invented and made what he called an azimuth dial, essentially similar to Oughtred’s horizontal instrument (and possibly copied from it, for Oughtred’s manuscript was around at that time).