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Castle of Kenilworth, Robert Dudley, Amy Robsart and her ghost
Amy Robsart and Robert Dudley
Robert Dudley was the fifth son of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, and his wife Jane, daughter of
Sir Edward Guildford. Robert Dudley was the 1st Earl of Leicester and his brothers, John Dudley, 2nd Earl of Warwick
and Ambrose Dudley, 3rd Earl of Warwick.
When Queen Elizabeth, in 1558, ascended England's throne Dudley's fortune rose by leaps and bounds. He was 27 at that
time and the sort of man to catch Elizabeth's attention. Dudley was in fact her favourite courtier. Dudley married Amy Robsart
when he and Amy, daughter of Sir John Robsart of Norfolk, were only 17 years of age. Amy and Dudley had at first lived very
happily together. But once back in the brilliant court of Queen Elizabeth, ambition soon killed Lord Dudley's love for the village beauty. When the Queen lavished honors upon him he lost his head and began to dream of a union with the sovereign herself
and of being crowned at Westminster as king-consort. And as far as he could see the sole obstacle was poor Amy. He began
to neglect his gentle wife. He sent her to live in a hamshackle two-story building known as Cumnor Hall (Place), about 4 miles
from Oxfort. There under the care of one Anthony Forster, a sort of dependent of Dudley and with a few servants, she dragged
out a lonely miserable life. 10 Years after the marriage, on 8 September 1560, came the climax whose exact story none can
ever know. Thomas Blount, a kinsman and hanger-on of Amy's husband, afterward wrote to Dudley. "She would not that day,
suffer any one to tarry at home, and was so earnest to have them gone to the autumn fair at Abington when any made reason
for tarrying at home she was very angry. "
Why she should have wanted the house deserted that day is not clear. But there must have been some strong reason, since
it made so gentle a woman so angry when any refused to go to the fair. The servants, trooping home from the fair at nighfall,
found Amy's dead body lying on the floor at the foot of a short spiral staircase. The supposition was that she had fallen down
the stairs and broken her neck. Was she murdered or was it suicide? Lord Robert Dudley was implicated, as having had a
hand in her death since he wanted to marry the Queen. So he began to plan and plot against her.
If she had suffered from an incurable malignant growth, as stated, it would have been a reason for suicide. In 1564 a pamphlet entitled "Leicester's Commonwealth" declared that Forster and another friend of Dudley's had flung her down the stairs.
Another version was that Anthony Forster had called her from the door falsely announcing Dudley's arrival, and that he
arranged for the stairs to collapse as she ran down to meet her husband. Another tale says that Amy was poisened and her
body laid at the foot of the staircase to give the idea of a fall. Another said he had in his train a surgeon, skilled in the use of
drugs, who made various unsuccesseful attempts to poison the unhappy lady. At last the plotters succeeded, and in 1560
Amy Robsart was killed at Cumnor Place. The story then given out was that she accidentally fallen downstairs and broken her neck. But almost nobody even at that time believed it.
There was a thourough inquiry into his wife's death. The jury returned a finding of death by mischance. This finding, as definite it was, did not silence the gossips. They pointed out that even if Dudley did not incite Forster to murder Lady Amy, she might have committed suicide. Her personal maid had said at the inquest that she had heard her mistress "pray to God to deliver her from desperation" - a desperation of which the gossips held Dudley to be the cause. To this day the nature of Amy's death is shroud-
ed in uncertainty. Dudley did not attend her funeral at St.Mary's Church, Oxford on 22 September nor visit Cumnor Place again.
Some historians believe that Dudley was not at all responsible for the tragedy. If he was, he profited little by it. Elizabeth did
not marry him. He married twice after Amy's death. He also rose to great heights at court, becoming Earl of Leicester and
receiving as a gift from Elizabeth, the castle of Kenilworth. Sir Walter Scott's famous novel "Kenilworth" reads Amy died 15
years before Elizabeth visited Kenilworth, three years before Dudley aquired the castle and four years before he became an
For many years Cumnor Place stood empty and deserted, believed to be haunted by the ghost of Amy. It was fast becoming
a ruin when it was demolished in 1810 by the Earl of Abingdon.
Ghost of Amy Robsart
Before Cumnor Place was destroyed, the ghost of Amy Robsart walked the grounds each Christmas for almost 250 years.
Her pale shape appeared near the staircase where she had died. And she returned every Christmas to stare tragically and
accusingly at all who still lived in the Hall. After the victory over the Spanish Armada, Dudley one day was returning home
through Wychwood Forest, tired and sick after battle. Without warning, the spectral shape of his wife loomed before him,
and with a great laugh his phantom wife predicted that he would be dead within 10 days. A week later it was announced at
court that Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, had died. Amy continued to haunt Cumnor Place every Christmas until the house
was demolished in 1810. Her ghost then moved to her parent's home at Syderstone Hall, so it is said.
The ghost of Amy was not alone. It is alleged that people observed frequent appearances of the ghosts of Anthony Forster
and Verney. Both Richard Verney and Forster were accused by "Leicester's Commonwealth" of complicity in Amy's murder.
West side of quadrangal Cumnor Place
The quadrangular stone building was owned by George Owen. He inherited it from his father, Dr. George Owen,
physician of Henry VIII. It was leased to Anthony Forster.
Castle of Kenilworth
The feudel glories and regal pomp of Kenilworth Castle have long since passed away. The castle, though it must be called a
ruin, is in some parts very well preserved. A castle of contradictions it always has been. A place of pomp and pageantry, a
castle of delight, and a grim fortress, a pleasure place, a king's prison and a place of suffering, where an earlier Edward II gave
up his crown and where Elizabeth I was feted with masque and tournament by Robert Dudley, the castle's lord and her own
handsome favourite. She granted the castle to him in 1563.
Kenilworth town dates back, it is said, to a time before the Norman conquest. Henry I granted it to Sir Geoffrey de Clinton, who
built the early castle about 1120, but Henry II compelled him to turn it back to the crown. It became the most important of the
great "lake fortresses" and its surrounding waters made it almost impregnable.
Castle of Kenilworth
Plan of Kenilworth Castle in 1649. Artist. Wenceslaus Hollar
2.The Swan Tower
4.The great gate-house
7.The Water tower
8. The ground betwixt the wall and the poole. There joineth upon this ground, a park-like ground, called the King's Wood, with
fifteen several coppices lying altogether, containing seven hundred and eighty-nine acres within the same; which in the Earl
of Leicester's time, were stored with red deer, since which the deer have strayed, but the ground is in no sort blemished, having
great store of timber and other trees of much value upon the same.
9.The poole. There runneth through the same grounds, by the walls of the castle, a fair pool, containing one hundred and eleven
acres, well stored with fish and wild fowl.
10.The plesance (pleasance, pleasuance)
11.A strong tower arched three stories
12.The three kitchens
15.The inner court
16.King Henry's lodgings (King Henry VIII's lodgings)
17.The White Hall
18.The Presence Chamber
19.The privy Chamber
20.S.Robert Dudley's lobby
22.The base court
25.The Gallery Tower