A Tudor love triangle: Elizabeth I, Lettice Knollys and Robert Dudley

When Lettice Knollys, Countess of Leicester, married Robert Dudley in 1578 without telling Elizabeth I, sparks flew in the Palace of Whitehall. Here, Nicola Tallis tells the story of the love triangle between the three Tudors

Lettice Knollys

This article was first published in the December 2017 edition of BBC History Magazine

The atmosphere within the queen’s apartments at the Palace of Whitehall was icily cold when, in late 1579, Lettice Knollys stood before Elizabeth I. The queen raged at the woman in front of her in no uncertain terms. “As but one sun lightened the Earth, she would have but one queen in England,” Elizabeth seethed, before reputedly boxing Lettice’s ears and banishing her from court.

What could Lettice have possibly done to provoke such a volcanic reaction? She had entered into a secret marriage without the queen’s consent – reason enough to provoke royal outrage. But what really fanned the flames of Elizabeth’s fury was the identity of the groom: Lettice’s husband was none other than the queen’s favourite and one time suitor, Robert Dudley. It was a betrayal that Elizabeth would never forgive.

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