Historical Figure
Lettice Knollys
History's Lettice Knollys
Biographical Information
Real Name: Lettice Knollys
Title: Viscountess Hereford

Countess of Essex
Countess of Leicester

Born: 8 November 1543
Death: 25 December 1634
Age: 91
Religion: Protestant
House: House of Boleyn
Gender: Female
Originally From: Rotherfield Greys, Oxfordshire
Parents: Francis Knollys (Father)

Catherine Carey (Mother)

Husband: Walter Devereux

Robert Dudley
Christopher Blount

Family: Anne Boleyn (Grandniece)

Elizabeth Tudor
(1st Cousin Once Removed)

Children: Penelope Rich

Dorothy Percy
Robert Devereux
Walter Devereux
Francis Devereux
Robert Dudley

Affiliations: House of Boleyn

Kingdom of England

TV Character Information
First appearance: Season Four
Portrays: Lettice Knollys

Lettice Knollys married Robert Dudley, and was an English noblewoman. Although via her marriage to Elizabeth I's favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, she incurred the Queen's unrelenting displeasure. She lived to the astounding age of 91.

Early LifeEdit

Lettice Knollys was born on 8 November 1543 at Rotherfield Greys, Oxfordshire. Her father, Sir Francis Knollys, was a Member of Parliament and acted as Master of the Horse to Prince Edward. Her mother, Catherine Carey, was a daughter of Mary Boleyn, sister to Anne Boleyn. Thus Catherine Knollys was Elizabeth I's first cousin, and Lettice Knollys her first cousin once removed. Lettice was the third of her parents' 16 children.

Sir Francis and his wife were Protestants. In 1556 they went to Frankfurt in Germany to escape religious persecution under Queen Mary I, taking five of their children with them. It is unknown whether Lettice was among them, and she may have passed the next few years in the household of Princess Elizabeth with whom the family had a close relationship since the mid-1540s. They returned to England in January 1559, two months after Elizabeth I's succession. Francis Knollys was appointed Vice-Chamberlain of the Royal Household; Lady Knollys became a senior Lady of the Bedchamber, and her daughter Lettice a Maid of the Privy Chamber.


In late 1560 Lettice Knollys married Walter Devereux, Viscount Hereford. The couple lived at the family seat of Chartley in Staffordshire. Here the two eldest of their five children, the daughters Penelope and Dorothy, were born in 1563 and 1564, respectively. Lettice Devereux returned to court on at least one occasion, in the summer of 1565, when the Spanish ambassador Diego Guzmán de Silva described her as "one of the best-looking ladies of the court" and as a favourite with the Queen. Pregnant with her first son, she flirted with Robert Dudley, the Queen's favourite. The Queen found out at once and succumbed to a fit of jealousy. The Viscountess went back to Staffordshire where, in November 1565, she gave birth to Robert, later 2nd Earl of Essex. Two more sons followed: Walter, who was born in 1569, and Francis, who died soon after birth at an unknown date.

In 1573 Walter Devereuxe went to Ireland, not to return for two years. During this time Lettice Devereux possibly engaged in a love-affair with the Robert Dudley; her whereabouts in the following years are largely unknown, though. She was present in July 1575 when Dudley entertained the Queen with a magnificent 19-days festival at the castle.

Walter Devereuxe returned to Ireland in July 1576. At Dublin, he died of dysentery on 22 September during an epidemic, bemoaning the "frailness of women" in his last words. Rumours of poison, administered by Leicester, immediately sprung up and continued.

Lettice Knollys married Robert Dudley on 21 September 1578 at around seven o'clock in the morning. Only six other people were present. The officiating chaplain Humphrey Tyndall later remarked that the bride wore a "loose gown" (an informal morning dress[23]), which has triggered modern speculation that she was pregnant and that the ceremony happened under pressure from her father. The marriage date coincided with the end of the customary two-years-mourning for a widow.

Robert Dudley—a widower since 1560—had for many years been in hope of marrying Queen Elizabeth herself. He also feared Elizabeth's reaction and insisted that his marriage be kept a secret. It did not remain one for long, when the Queen was told of the marriage the next year, she banished Lettice Dudley permanently from court; she never forgave her cousin, nor could she ever accept the marriage.

Lettice Dudley continued to style herself Countess of Essex for several years into her new marriage. She lived very discreetly, often with her relatives at the Knollys family home in Oxfordshire. In February 1580 she was expecting the birth of a child there. For the birth of Robert's heir, Robert, Lord Denbigh, in June 1581, she moved to Leicester House on the Strand. A further advanced pregnancy was reported in September 1582 by the French ambassador, yet the outcome is again unknown. The next year Lettice Dudley became officially resident at Leicester House, and Elizabeth was once again furious with the Robert.

Robert Dudley had been close to the Knollys family since the early 1550s; several of her brothers had been in his service and his marriage only enhanced his relations with them. To his four stepchildren he was a concerned and generous stepfather. The three-year-old Lord Denbigh died suddenly on 19 July 1584. His death shattered the dynastical hopes of the House of Dudley.

In 1585 Dudley led an English expedition to assist the rebellious United Provinces against Spain. He incurred Elizabeth's wrath when he accepted the title of Governor-General in January 1586—what had especially kindled her fury was a tale that the Lettice Knollys was planning to follow her husband to the Netherlands. At this same time the Earl was giving his wife authority to handle certain land issues during his absence, implying they had no plans to meet in Holland.

The Earl returned to England in December 1586, but was sent again to the Netherlands in the following June—to the grief of his wife. Robert Dudley eventually resigned his post in December 1587. The Countess was with him when he died unexpectedly, possibly of malaria, on 4 September 1588 at Cornbury Park, Oxfordshire.

Lettice Dudley was left a wealthy widow. Robert Dudley's will appointed her as executrix and her income from both her husbands' jointures amounted to £3,000 annually. However, her jointure was to suffer greatly from paying off Robert Dudley's debts, which at some £50,000 were so overwhelming that she was advised to decline the responsibility of dealing with her husband's financial legacy.

In March or April 1589 the Countess married Sir Christopher Blount, a relatively poor Catholic soldier 12 years her junior, who had been the Earl of Leicester's Gentleman of the Horse and a trusted friend of his.

Still banished from court, she saw no point in returning to London without being reconciled to Elizabeth. In December 1597 she travelled to London, staying at Essex House from January till March 1598, and seeking a reconciliation with Elizabeth. At last a short meeting was granted in which the Countess kissed the Queen and "the Queen kissed her", but nothing really changed.

In this context she claimed that Blount, in the process of paying off Robert Dudley's debts, had squandered her jewels and much of her landed wealth. The death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603 meant some form of rehabilitation for the Countess; the new monarch, James I, not only restored her grandson, the third Earl of Essex, to his father's title and estate, but quickly cancelled the rest of her debts to the Crown, almost £4,000

Throughout her life, Lettice Knollys cared for her siblings, children, and grandchildren. Until their respective deaths in 1607 and 1619, her daughters Penelope and Dorothy were her closest companions. Still walking a mile a day at nearly 90, she died in her chair in the morning of 25 December 1634, aged 91. Widely mourned as a symbol of a by-gone age, she wished to be buried "at Warwick by my dear lord and husband the Earl of Leicester with whom I desire to be entombed". Her request was respected and she came to rest in the Beauchamp Chapel of Collegiate Church of St Mary, Warwick, opposite the tomb of her son, young Lord Denbigh.


  • Had been a close friend with Princess Elizabeth since childhood.
  • At 17 she married Walter Devereux, Viscount Hereford, who in 1572 became Earl of Essex.
  • When her husband left for Ireland in 1573 she became involved with Robert Dudley when she was 30, however they had met years earlier when she was 22.
    • Robert Dudley did marry Lettice Knollys but not for another 17 years, on 21 September 1578, at age 35.
  • Died at age 91, on Christmas Day in 1634.

Family TreeEdit

John Dudley
Jane Guildford
John Dudley
Ambrose Dudley
Lettice Knollys
Robert Dudley
Amy Robsart
Guildford Dudley
Lady Jane Grey
Mary Dudley
Katherine Dudley
Robert Dudley
Sir Robert Dudley
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