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Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester

Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, by Unknown artist, 1587 - NPG 6989a - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester

by Unknown artist
silver medal, 1587
1 5/8 in. (41 mm) diameter
Purchased, 2014
Primary Collection
NPG 6989a

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This is a rare example of a medal commissioned by Leicester to distribute among his followers and expresses his displeasure at having to depart from the Netherlands. The reverse shows a sheepdog leaving his flock with inscriptions that can be translated as 'Unwillingly I forsake ... not the flock, but the unthankfull.'

Related worksback to top

  • NPG 6989b: Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester (reverse)

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Bolland, Charlotte, Tudor & Jacobean Portraits, 2018, p. 99 Read entry

    Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester championed the Protestant cause in continental Europe as well as in England. He formed a close relationship with Prince William of Orange, the leader of the Dutch revolt against Spanish Habsburg rule in the Netherlands. Prince William was assassinated in 1584, and the following year Antwerp fell to the Spanish forces led by the Duke of Parma; this prompted Elizabeth I|mp1452) to send English soldiers to the Netherlands in support of the Dutch cause. Leicester led, and partly financed, the expedition and, shortly after his arrival, was offered the post of Governor-General of the United Provinces. This had the potential to make Elizabeth I ruler of the region, but he accepted without the queen's consent. Placed in an impossible position between the expectations of his queen and those of the Dutch politicians, he resigned his command in 1587. Leicester commissioned this medal to distribute among his followers as an expression of his disappointment at having to depart from the Netherlands. The front of the medal incorporates a portrait of Leicester in armour, while the reverse shows a sheepdog leaving his flock, with the inscriptions INVITUS DESERO and NON GREGEM SED INGRATOS ('Unwillingly I forsake … not the flock, but the unthankful').

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Current affairs

Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots for conspiring to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I. Elizabeth signs the death warrant of her cousin with considerable misgivings.
Queen Elizabeth I forces Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester to resign his post as Governor-General of the Netherlands.
Sir Francis Drake sacks the Spanish port Cadiz thereby forcing Philip II of Spain to postpone his planned invasion of England by a year.

Art and science

First performance of Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine the Great.
The property developer Philip Henslowe builds the Rose Theatre in Southwark, London.
The Protestant reformer John Knox's History of the Reformation in Scotland is published posthumously.


Birth of Virginia Dare, the first English child to be born in America. She is granddaughter to John White, the governor of the second colony to be established on Roanoke Island (in present-day North Carolina, USA).
Pope Sixtus V calls for a Catholic crusade against England to depose the Protestant Queen Elizabeth.

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