(Continued from Part One of The Deadly Edge of Love)
It’s the morning of 18th November, 1558. Robert Dudley is witnessing a miracle.
In her dying months, Queen Mary, Elizabeth’s half-sister, and daughter of Henry and Catherine of Aragon, has restored Elizabeth to the line of succession, following the failure of her marriage alliance with Charles II of Spain. Now, Mary is dead, and Dudley is watching his beloved Elizabeth, a former fellow prisoner in the Tower of London, become Queen of England.
(Above: the The Great Seal of Elizabeth I. Source )
Time seems to stand still as the Great Seal is passed to the new queen and another chapter in the story of the Tudor dynasty begins. Dudley knows that Elizabeth is weary of religious strife and will not follow her half-sister in setting family against family in her new reign–though she will protect her father’s Protestant legacy. The people know it too, as the public joy of the Royal Coronation will show.
Within the day, Dudley will be made the royal Master of Horse, a role to which he is well suited as an outstanding horseman – something he shares with Philip Sidney. The role, which controls the provision of all transport for Elizabeth, will keep him by her side as much as possible. A new life has begun for them both…
But the official position has made it difficult for them to be seen together as often as before her accession to the throne. She once said, “A thousand eyes see everything I do…” It is difficult to imagine what that does to someone’s life, let alone their love-life. Elizabeth must have faced a personal crisis at that point, for in a unique show of determination and psychological strength, she threw caution away and flaunted her relationship with her favourite by having his bedchamber moved next to hers. But Elizabeth refused to be swayed on marriage, even though Dudley, now Earl of Leicester, was a suitable match. To have married would have subjected her to the will of her husband; and her estate would have passed to him.
William Cecil, her chief minister and spymaster, wrote her a long letter in which he detailed the detrimental effect on her kingdom of such a marriage. History does not record her immediate reaction. Dudley, recognising that he might never win her hand, married Amy Robsart in 1549, keeping her away from court to protect her from the Queen.
Privately, though, Dudley and Elizabeth remained bound to each other by their early experiences, and his marriage did not diminish the time they spent together; though Elizabeth, above anyone, knew the political dangers of wrong relationships. There is no proof they were ever lovers. Perhaps it is better to grant them this: that they had a pact to love each other, but not to let their bodies share this. Were this to be true, we can imagine the agonies that both endured, and, perhaps the resolve with which she cultivated her personal myth – that she was married to England, and would thus remain a Virgin Queen.
The possibility of a deeper relationship between Elizabeth and Dudley was quashed in 1560, when Dudley’s wife, having dismissed her servants to attend a local fair, was found dead at the foot of a staircase, her neck broken. It could have been an accident, or possibly suicide, but it is unlikely to have been intervention by Dudley or Elizabeth, who both suffered damage and ridicule at home and abroad because of it. In a cruel act of fate, Amy’s death ensured that they could never marry and that they were now forced to spend less time together, though ‘less’ was relative. They devised a secret code for themselves, using the notation ‘ôô’ to indicate the nickname that Elizabeth had given him – ‘Eyes’. Even at this stage of their relationship, the Queen kept Dudley’s letters – and his portrait, in miniature – in a locked desk within her bedroom. By any measure, this was a love story to compete with the best…
As the public memories of his wife’s death faded, he made one last attempt to gain Elizabeth’s hand in marriage; staging a magnificent festival of pageantry at one of his finest homes – Kenilworth Castle. But Elizabeth refused to be swayed. Dudley was a passionate man, and, seeing that he was going nowhere with his official advances, began a relationship the one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting, Lettice Knollys, reputedly one of the best-looking women at court. Dangerously, she was also the great-niece of Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth’s mother, and therefore of royal blood… and the Queen’s cousin!
Dudley continued the relationship for three years before finding that Lettice was pregnant–and insisting that she be made an honest woman for her troubles. They married, in secret, in 1578. When the Queen learned of the ‘betrayal’ of her favourite she physically assaulted his new wife and banished her from court. Dudley was eventually forgiven but the essence of their relationship had changed.
Distance prevailed for a while after that, but, in the final years of Dudley’s life, their lives interlocked, again. The execution of Mary Queen of Scots devastated Elizabeth, even though the imprisoned Scottish Queen had been plotting to overthrow her rival. For a queen to execute another queen must have triggered the deepest responses in Elizabeth, not to mention setting a deadly precedent.
In a supposed fury, she raged at William Cecil, her life-long first minister and spymaster. He and Sir Francis Walsingham had, indeed, engineered Mary’s death, but Elizabeth had been far from a victim of circumstance in this execution. Cecil was removed as first minister and banished from courtly life, although there is a possibility that she presented him with the ‘deal’ that his son, Robert Cecil, would inherit his position. William Cecil. First Baron Burghley, was advanced in years and probably recognised that the arrangement was the best that could happen.
Bereft of Cecil’s presence, Elizabeth turned, again, to Dudley. He was by her side through the horror of the Spanish Armada and corresponding planned invasion from France, despite being ill. As she delivered her famous speed at Tilbury, he walked beside her horse as the troops were rallied, while she spoke those most famous words, “I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England, too.”
Dudley died, shortly after, on 4th September, 1588 at his home in Rycote in Oxfordshire. He wrote to his queen one last time before dying. She kept the letter in a locked box by her bed. The fabled Queen of England, victorious against the might of the Spanish empire was, finally, alone…
In our story, when the company arrives at NonSuch palace, they are shown into a newly-prepared room, one in which a deadly search for the truths of the age will be played out on many levels: intellectual, emotional, religious and magical. Outside of the Queen’s own mind, no-one else in the room is aware of what is to follow.
What confronts the participants in the centre of the space is a huge game board consisting of black and white squares…
Each side of the board has its own symbolism and its own champion. In our five-act magical drama, Dudley is selected by the Queen to be one of her key players. He finds that he knows many of the others present – and has been an artistic sponsor of others, such as the poet Edmund Spenser, the writer of the Faerie Queen – based on Elizabeth, herself, and newly published. What does his Queen want him to do in this complex maze of relationships and potential confrontations? The answer may tax him more than anything she has ever asked…
The Silent Eye’s spring workshop, April 2018 is: “The Jewel in the Claw’. The jewel is the emerging spirit of tolerance that Elizabeth, the self-styled virgin-queen, engendered; the claw is the nature of the forces of ignorance that still plague us in the twenty-first century every bit as much as they did in 1588, the year that the mighty Spanish Armada was defeated by a combination of English naval courage and our equally fabled weather; and Elizabeth I finally achieved a degree of security.
The Silent Eye has produced dramatic mystical workshops since its inception in 2013, but this is a break from tradition, and will stick closely to the formula of an actual Elizabethan production, letting the acts of the play tell the deeper story. There is no formal audience, of course. We, the players, play to each other, and in doing so invoke the desired depth of psychological and spiritual interaction.
If you’ve never been to such an event before, don’t be over-faced by this heady agenda. There are always new people joining us, and we take great care to ensure they are comfortable. We do not expect our ‘actors’ to learn their lines! We all read from scripts – as though doing a final rehearsal, but the atmosphere is truly electric and you will find yourself working to bring your character to the greatest life you can give them! You will also find they stay with you for years afterwards…
Above all else it is always fun; and every year, come the Sunday farewell lunch, those attending do not want to go home and end that living link with a body of experience and aspiration that they have helped create…
We can honestly say that the workshops become a living thing, formed and sustained in the minds and hearts of those attending. Come and join our ‘merry band’ and you’ll want to come back.
Places are still available for ‘The Jewel in the Claw’. 20-22 April, 2018. The average price is approximately £250, fully inclusive of all meals and accommodation. You will struggle to find a better value weekend, anywhere.
The weekend workshop will be held at the lovely Nightingale Centre, Great Hucklow, near Buxton, in the heart of the Derbyshire Dales at a wonderful time of year – the spring.
You can download the pricing and booking form here:
Other posts in this series cover:
For more information email us on firstname.lastname@example.org
Image: Composite of original artwork by the author plus a portrait of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, courtesy of Wikipedia, CC by 3.0, Public Domain.
Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via low-cost supervised correspondence courses.
His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com