Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester

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Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester

by Unknown Anglo-Netherlandish artist
oil on panel, circa 1575
42 1/2 in. x 32 1/2 in. (1080 mm x 826 mm)
Purchased, 1877
Primary Collection
NPG 447

On display in Room 1 on Floor 3 at the National Portrait Gallery

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

This portraitback to top

A reasonable number of contemporary portraits of Leicester still exist, and he was particularly interested in his own image. He is shown here in a brilliant red suit wearing the badge of the Order of the Garter. This picture was probably originally a full-length portrait and has been cut down. Some of the artist's preparatory drawing, particularly in the face, has become visible on the surface of the painting over time.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Tudor Portraits Resource Pack, p. 27
  • Smartify image discovery app
  • Bolland, Charlotte, Tudor & Jacobean Portraits, 2018, p. 62 Read entry

    As a young man, Robert Dudley supported his father's attempt to place Lady Jane Grey on the throne, and for this he was condemned to death by Mary I along with four of his brothers. Ultimately, only his father and Lord Guildford Dudley were executed, and the family was able to regain its status after Robert and his surviving brothers fought for the new English king, Philip II of Spain, at the siege of St Quentin in 1557. On Elizabeth I's accession, Robert found favour with the new queen and became a near permanent fixture at her side. The death of his wife Amy Robsart in 1560 left him free to try to marry Elizabeth, although the rumour of his involvement in his wife's death was used by those, such as William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, who sought to block the marriage. As it became clear that he was unlikely to become Elizabeth's consort, the queen proposed that he should marry Mary, Queen of Scots. Elizabeth elevated him to Earl of Leicester to make this possible, but he refused and sabotaged efforts to encourage him to marry into the European nobility. Leicester was a lavish patron of the arts, with a particular interest in portraiture. This painting has been cut down and may have been the full-length portrait 'in a sute of russet satten and velvet welted' that was listed in an inventory of Leicester's pictures at Kenilworth Castle, where he had staged extravagant entertainments in 1575 in a final attempt to win the queen's hand.

  • Bolland, Charlotte, The Tudors Passion, Power and Politics, 2022, p. 88
  • Bolland, Charlotte; Cooper, Tarnya, The Real Tudors: Kings and Queens Rediscovered, 2014 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 12th September 2014 to 1st March 2015), p. 129
  • Cannadine, Sir David (Introduction); Cooper, Tarnya; Stewart, Louise; MacGibbon, Rab; Cox, Paul; Peltz, Lucy; Moorhouse, Paul; Broadley, Rosie; Jascot-Gill, Sabina, Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits, 2018 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, USA, 7 October 2018 -3 February 2019. Bendigo Art Gallery, Australia, 16 March - 14 July 2019.), p. 105
  • Clare Gittings, The National Portrait Gallery Book of Elizabeth I, 2006, p. 15
  • Cooper, John, A Guide to the National Portrait Gallery, 2009, p. 14 Read entry

    This is an appropriately dashing presentation of Elizabeth’s favourite, with his Earl’s coronet surmounting the belt of the garter enclosing his coat of arms. This portrait may once have been full-length.

  • Cooper, Tarnya, Elizabeth I & Her People, 2013 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 10 October 2013 - 5 January 2014), p. 208
  • Cooper, Tarnya; Fraser, Antonia (foreword), A Guide to Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 2012, p. 16 Read entry

    Leicester, Elizabeth I's most famous and influential favourite, was noted for taking interest in his appearance. He is seen here in a red silk or satin suit lavishly embroidered with gold thread and he wears a matching red feather in his jewelled cap. His moustache and beard are fashionably styled for the 1570s. Dress for men in the Elizabethan period was more effeminate than in the previous generation, better suited to dancing and chivalric rituals of courtly life dominated by a queen. The large codpiece favoured under Henry VIII had all but disappeared and the hose (short trousers) became shorter, revealing the wearer's shapely legs clad in silk stockings.

  • MacLeod, Catharine, Tudor Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery Collection, 1996, p. 27
  • Ribeiro, Aileen, The Gallery of Fashion, 2000, p. 44
  • Ribeiro, Aileen; Blackman, Cally, A Portrait of Fashion: Six Centuries of Dress at the National Portrait Gallery, 2015, p. 56
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 374
  • Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, p. 192
  • Williamson, David, Kings and Queens, 2010, p. 102
  • Williamson, David, The National Portrait Gallery: History of the Kings and Queens of England, 1998, p. 104

Events of 1575back to top

Current affairs

Queen Elizabeth I declines the offer of sovereignty of the Netherlands made by William of Orange, leader of the Dutch Protestant resistance to Spanish rule.
The royal favourite Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester hosts a lavish entertainment for the Queen at Kenilworth.

Art and science

The composers William Byrd and Thomas Tallis dedicate Cantiones Sacrae (Sacred Songs) to Queen Elizabeth I after receiving a royal patent for the exclusive right to publish music.


Facing bankruptcy, Philip II of Spain suspends all payments by the Spanish crown. Don Luis de Requesens can no longer pay his troops in the Netherlands.
Akbar, Mughal Emperor of India, conquers Bengal.
The Battle of Nagashino features the first decisive use of firearms in Japanese warfare.

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