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Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester

by Nicholas Hilliard
watercolour on vellum, 1576
1 3/4 in. (44 mm) diameter
Purchased with help from the Art Fund, the Pilgrim Trust, H.M. Government and an anonymous donor, 1961
Primary Collection
NPG 4197


Detail of the sitter's face showing the strok…
Detail of the right eye, marked out in thin s…
Detail of the left eye, marked out in thin st…
Detail of the carefully painted inscription i…

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1619), Miniature painter. Artist associated with 34 portraits.

This portraitback to top

This miniature was painted the year after Leicester hosted an elaborate entertainment for the queen on his estate at Kenilworth.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Bonhams (Firm), The Merchiston Collection of fine portrait miniatures, the property of Mrs Eleanor Hamilton. Wednesday, 25 November 2009, 2009, p. 4
  • Cooper, Tarnya, Elizabeth I & Her People, 2013 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 10 October 2013 - 5 January 2014), p. 83
  • Gittings, Clare, The National Portrait Gallery Book of The Tudors, 2006, p. 23
  • MacLeod, Catharine; Rab, MacGibbon; Button, Victoria; Coombs, Katherine; Derbyshire, Alan, Elizabethan Treasures: Miniatures from Hilliard and Oliver, 2019 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 21 February - 19 May 2019), p. 46
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 374
  • Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, p. 194
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 52 Read entry

    The fifth of thirteen children of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, the courtier Robert Dudley was Elizabeth I’s only serious English suitor. Their relationship was a defining one in both their lives. Made Master of the Horse at her accession, Dudley joined the Privy Council in 1562 and was created Earl of Leicester and Baron Denbigh in 1564. He was later Governor-General of Elizabeth I’s army against the Spanish in the Netherlands.

    This miniature, which gives Leicester’s age as forty-four, was painted the year after the magnificent festivities he staged for the Queen at his estate in Kenilworth. The care with which Hilliard (c.1547–1619) has delineated the sitter’s features and ruff is suggestive of the Earl’s noted interest in his appearance. It must have been painted before Hilliard left for France in September 1576 and is one of four miniatures of Leicester attributed to this artist. Leicester’s patronage, or perhaps Hilliard’s continued desire for it, is reflected in the artist’s naming many of his children after members of the Earl's family.

  • Walker, Richard, Miniatures: 300 Years of the English Miniature, 1998, p. 20 Read entry

    Hilliard or his studio was also responsible for the miniatures of three of her favourites - Robert Dudley, Water Ralegh and Francis Drake.

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1576back to top

Current affairs

Parliament presents Queen Elizabeth I with a petition complaining of ecclesiastical abuses.
The member of Parliament Peter Wentworth is imprisoned for attacking royal interference with Parliamentary freedom of speech.
The explorer and privateer Martin Frobisher sets out to find a Northwest passage to the Far East. He becomes the first European to visit Baffin Island, Canada.

Art and science

The actor and theatre manager James Burbage builds the Theatre, the first permanent playhouse in England, at Shoreditch, London.
The composer Thomas Whithorne writes the earliest known autobiography in English.


Pacification of Ghent - an alliance between the Protestant northern and Catholic southern provinces of the Netherlands to collectively fight for the expulsion of Spanish troops from their territories.
The Spanish army serving in the Low Countries mutinies and sacks the city of Antwerp.
Death of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian II and succession of his son Rudolf II.

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