Amy Robsart had terrible luck. At first it seemed she had it made. She was born in 1532 to Sir John Robsart a wealthy landowner in Norfolk, and was his heiress. When she was seventeen, she met Robert Dudley one of the sons of John Dudley, the 1st lord of Northumberland. Ten months later they were married in an apparent love match. Then it started to go sour.
Robert was put in the Tower for his involvement with the plot to put his sister-in-law Jane Grey on the throne. Amy was allowed to visit at least. He was eventually released and the two lived in relative obscurity and poverty until the end of Mary I’s reign. Then Robert’s childhood friend, Elizabeth, came to the throne and he became her Master of Horse. Things were looking up, but not for Amy.
Elizabeth and Robert had always been close, but now sparks flew between them. It was clear to everyone around them, they were falling in love. However, they could not marry for several reasons, one of which was the existence of Amy Robsart. Rumors got more persistent as Elizabeth put off foreign suitors and remained single despite expectations. Amy did not come to court and everyone speculated she was ill and Elizabeth and Robert would marry as soon as she was out of the way.
Then Amy was found dead. She had been living at Cumnor Place with friends and was found at the bottom of the stairs with a broken neck under suspicious circumstances. The members of the household were away at a fair and Amy had given her servants a day off to go with them. Many theorized Amy wanted the house to be quiet in order to meet with someone. A someone who pushed her down the stairs.
There was an inquest into the death while Robert waited at Kew house. He instructed his kinsman, Thomas Blount, to use all “means you can possible for the learning of the truth” about Amy’s death. The jury returned a verdict of “death by misadventure”. However, that was not the end of it.
Rumors still ran rampant that Robert killed Amy. Even Cecil had commented to the Spanish ambassador Robert was planning on poisoning Amy. Later, Elizabeth and Dudley’s enemies published the “Leicester’s Commonwealth”, which claimed Robert had Amy murdered to marry the queen. It was claimed by some that news of her death was broken the same evening, in the Queen’s chambers, an announcement that would not have been possible to make without prior knowledge due to the time involved in relaying the tragedy from Amy’s lodgings to Robert and thenn to the Queen.
Whether or not, Robert killed Amy, her death ruined his chances to marry Elizabeth. It was a public relations disaster. He remained her favorite, but his chances of marrying her were gone; there was no way Elizabeth would persuade her council to allow her to marry a man who they were already suspicious of, when his name was linked with the unexplained death of his wife, innocent or otherwise. Robert’s name was permanently tarnished. His dreams were as broken as Amy’s neck at the bottom of the stairs.
Sources available on request