Discover how one of Warwick's top visitor attractions is inextricably linked to Queen Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth I – far more than an acquaintance?

Discover how one of Warwick’s Top Visitor Attractions, The Lord Leycester, is inextricably linked with Queen Elizabeth I.

Whilst The Lord Leycester is famous for being the philanthropic legacy of Robert Dudley and therefore the link to Queen Elizabeth I who held him in such high regard and fondness are obvious.  The relationship between the Queen and The Lord Leycester is far more intertwined than just an acquaintance …

Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley:

On 17th November 1558 Elizabeth I ascended the throne ushering in the first Elizabethan age.

At just 25 Elizabeth I began a 45 year reign regarded highly and fondly as a “glorious time” in England’s history.

Her decision to “live and die a virgin”, made during a speech to parliament in 1559 was put to the test by her affection for Robert Dudley, our founder, but was ultimately upheld when Amy Robsart, Dudley’s first wife, died in suspicious circumstances on 8th September 1560. A scandalous marriage was far too great a risk for the stability of her reign (and you could argue, her life).

How is Elizabeth I linked to The Lord Leycester?

The Lord Leycester is inextricably linked to Elizabeth I not only since its inception as an almshouse and philanthropic venture but also in ensuring its future after Dudley’s passing.

Robert Dudley, the “Great Favourite”, obtained permission from the Queen herself (via an Act of Parliament) to found an almshouse in either Warwick or Kenilworth.  Not only a demonstration of his power and influence but also providing him with a permanent memorial to his status and a great honour to whichever town was chosen.

Having acquired the buildings from the town burgesses Dudley wasted no time utilising the buildings for his almshouse, and as a result the buildings we have today are still as they were when used by the Guilds and when providing rooms for the boys grammar school before Dudley’s ownership.

Widely acknowledged to be an ambitious man, Dudley’s involvement in philanthropic ventures, not least his support of the Tudor Poor Laws and his personal commitment to founding almshouses, would have stood him in good favour with the Queen.  His lifelong interest in philanthropy is evident as he expressed the wish in his will that Lettice might continue his good work and found an almshouse for women,  although Lettice decided against this course.

When Robert Dudley died in 1588 the patronage of the Lord Leycester passed to Ambrose Dudley (his brother and Earl of Warwick).  Ambrose then died two years later in 1590 and there was a period of uncertainty as to who the next Patron would be. Robert Dudley had never planned for this and this made the business of establishing the hereditary peerage quite challenging.

Not only was the Queen involved in the creation of the almshouse she was also involved in ensuring its longevity and success.

It would seem that the Queen herself took on the role of patron for a time as the earliest surviving patent of admission from 1591, stating Richard Dereham should have the next vacancy as a Brother, “for his faithful service in the wars and his many hurts and maims received there” is signed by Queen Elizabeth I herself. This was usually the Patron’s job and so it could be argued that Elizabeth herself was acting as Patron for a period of time.

The future resolved:

King James I was crowned in 1603, after the death of Elizabeth and at this point Robert Dudley’s illegitimate son by his lover Douglas Sheffield (also called Robert Dudley) stepped forward and claimed to be a legitimate heir to the Patronage of the Lord Leycester. Lettice Knollys (Robert Dudley the first’s widow) and Robert Sidney (nephew of Robert Dudley the first by his sister Mary Dudley) quashed this claim – seemingly leaving the Hospital without a Patron again.

This issue was finally rectified when King James I named Robert Sidney (son of Mary Dudley) as the new Earl of Leicester in 1618. This title (presumably helped enormously by his blood relation to Robert Dudley) confirmed Robert Sidney as Patron of the Hospital, this patronage has been passed down through the Sidney family to this day and is held by Viscount De L’Isle CVO MBE.

So it is that without Queen Elizabeth I’s agreement Dudley would never have founded The Lord Leycester and without her involvement after his passing maybe this incredible legacy, that has stood the test of time for over 450 years, would have been lost to the annals of history.

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