Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester. Letter to Elizabeth I. [August 3, 1588]. Folger MS X.c.126. The gift of Dorothy Rouse-Bottom.
Most of the men who hoped to marry Elizabeth were foreign royals seeking an alliance of state. But Leicester, an Englishman, was the suitor who was probably closest to her heart.
The two had first met when they were children, and the attraction seems to have been mutual. When Elizabeth came to the throne in 1558, she made Leicester Master of the Horse and a member of her Privy Council, and over the years granted him various licenses and manors that brought him great wealth.
In the early years of her reign, rumors circulated of an affair between the two, and if she had married anyone, it probably would have been him. One initial obstacle was his marriage to Amy Robsart, but she died rather mysteriously from a fall at home in 1560.
In 1578, realizing that the queen would never take him as a husband, Leicester married Lettice Knollys, countess of Essex. His friendship with the queen continued, however, as is evidenced by this letter written on August 3, 1588, one of the last he ever sent to her. It is addressed from the royal camp at Tilbury, where Leicester was organizing the defense of Britain against the Spanish Armada.
Twice in the letter he puts eyebrows over the double o in moost, and at the end, he draws two eyes by his signature. These are a kind of coded in-joke with the queen, who had once nicknamed him her “Eyes.”
A month after writing this letter, Leicester died on September 4, 1588, at about the age of 56. By then, he had had his day in the sun, riding down the lines at Tilbury with the Queen in mid-August when she reviewed her troops and gave her famous speech, “I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king.”