Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The Woman in the Shadows

Lettice Knollys was the cousin of Elizabeth I - as is perhaps obvious by the portrait above. Born a couple of years after her more famous cousin, Lettice is the forgotten woman of Tudor History despite her influence on two of the most important characters at Elizabeth's court.

Those familiar with the writing of Philippa Gregory and the TV show 'The Tudors' will be aware of Mary Boelyn nee Carey, sister of the unfortunate queen Anne (Elizabeth's mother.) Mary had a daughter called Catherine Carey, who later married Francis Knollys and gave birth to Lettice. However, it was not her closeness to Elizabeth that gave her influence. In fact it was, as often the case in Tudor history, her relationship with Robert Dudley and Robert Deverux - the two English suitors to gain the affection of the virgin queen.

Deverux was actually Lettice's son by her first husband, Walter (Earl of Essex.) He was executed in 1601 after an ill fated rebellion, ruined in part by his inability to decide what to wear! However, previous to this he had been Elizabeth's favourite in her later years. Her choice in earlier years though had fallen on Robert Dudley, the queen's childhood friend from their time in the tower and as many believe her true love. Dudley however received scorn and temporary banishment from court for his choice of Lettice as a second wife.

The point of this historical summary? Lettice Knollys is difficult to find information on and is only a footnote for most historians of the Tudor Court. I have always felt that there is far more to Lettice's role and appeal than what is commonly accepted and I intend to do keep looking for the women in the shadows.