Book Review: “The Son that Elizabeth I Never Had: The Adventurous Life of Robert Dudley’s Illegitimate Son” by Julia A. Hickey

cover260109-mediumWhen we study the life of Queen Elizabeth I, the image of a virgin queen who never married tends to come to mind. Of course, she had a man who she favored above all others, Robert Dudley, but he married several times to Amy Robsart and Lettice Knollys. It was with Lettice Knollys that Robert Dudley was able to produce his heir, aptly named Robert Dudley Lord Denbigh, who unfortunately died at a young age. Robert Dudley was left without a legitimate heir, but he did have another son, albeit an illegitimate son, also named Robert Dudley. Julia A Hickey has decided to examine the life of the illegitimate Robert Dudley in her book, “The Son that Elizabeth I Never Had: The Adventurous Life of Robert Dudley’s Illegitimate Son.”

Thank you, Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley, for sending me a copy of this book. I am always in the mood to learn about someone from the Tudor period I have never heard about before. I did not know that Robert Dudley had an illegitimate son and that he might have been married before he married Lettice Knollys, so I was excited to learn more about this mysterious son.

Hickey begins her biography about this often forgotten Dudley by exploring the origins of the Dudley family and how his father was able to rise from the ashes to become Queen Elizabeth’s favorite. I think she did a decent job explaining Dudley’s history, but Hickey tends to jump around instead of staying in chronological order with specific issues, which is a pet peeve for me. I also felt like this background information went on for a bit too long, but that might have been because I had just recently read a biography about Dudley, so most of the background information was not new to me.

Robert Dudley had fallen in love and allegedly married one of Elizabeth I’s maids of honor, Douglas Sheffield, who was Robert “Robin” Dudley’s mother. Robert Dudley would later marry Lettice Knollys to the ire of Queen Elizabeth I and had a son named Robert Dudley to add to the confusion, known as Lord Denbigh or “the noble imp.” After Robert’s legitimate son, we see the rise of Robin Dudley, as he became an explorer and trader in the silk industry. We also see Robin Dudley dealing with romantic scandals, notably leaving England, his wife Alice Leigh, and their growing family to flee to France with his mistress and future wife, Elizabeth Southwell. Robin and Elizabeth were married even though Robin never divorced Alice, thus committing bigamy and making him an enemy of the Stuarts, especially King James I.

Robin was also allegedly involved in the Essex Rebellion but only stayed in prison for a short time. He tried to gain legitimacy through a court case arguing that his parents were indeed married, but it failed spectacularly. Besides the scandals, Robin was an adventurer and deeply fascinated with navigation; his most notable work, The Secrets of the Sea, was the 1st atlas of the sea ever published. It was interesting to see how Robin’s life transformed as he worked in Italy until the end of his life and how he dealt with living during the reigns of Elizabeth and the early Stuarts in different ways.

I wanted to learn more about the early Stuart kings and the different issues that Hickey included in this book that were unfamiliar to me. Robert “Robin” Dudley lived quite a fascinating life, and I think he would have made his father Robert Dudley proud with his adventures to new lands and the book The Secrets of the Seas. Suppose you are also interested in learning more about Robert Dudley and his illegitimate son. In that case, I recommend reading “The Son that Elizabeth I Never Had: The Adventurous Life of Robert Dudley’s Illegitimate Son” by Julia A. Hickey.

Book Review: “Lady Katherine Knollys- The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII” by Sarah-Beth Watkins

51M3PWFQLjLThe children of Henry VIII have been the center of historical studies for centuries. Edward VI, Mary I,  and Elizabeth I were all considered Henry’s “legitimate” children and were able to obtain the crown of England. Henry Fitzroy was the illegitimate son of the king, but he was still able to gain titles and a good marriage before he died. They all had something in common; they were all recognized by their father, Henry VIII. However, there was another child who many believed to have been the daughter of the king. The name of this intriguing lady was Lady Katherine Knollys and her story comes to life in Sarah-Beth Watkins’ book, “Lady Katherine Knollys- The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII”.

I would like to thank Sarah-Beth Watkins and Chronos Books for sending me a copy of this great book. I have never read a biography on Lady Katherine Knollys and I found this a delight to read.

Katherine’s mother was the sister of Anne Boleyn, Mary Boleyn. For a time before Anne came into the picture, Mary was Henry VIII’s mistress. Henry VIII did have a child by another mistress, which he did declare as his own, so why did he not acknowledge Katherine as his child? Watkins offers an explanation on why Katherine was not acknowledged by the king and what her life was like:

Katherine would grow up never to be acknowledged as King Henry VIII’s daughter. Henry had every reason not to acknowledge her. He has his daughters, one already born when Katherine came into the world, and he needed no more. His denial of his affair with Katherine’s mother, Mary, would be something that would always position Katherine as a bastard. Yet Katherine joined the Tudor court as maid of honour to Queen Anne of Cleves and she went on to serve Catherine Howard as well as becoming one of Elizabeth I’s closest confidantes- cousins for definite, more likely half-sisters. Katherine lived through the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and on into Elizabeth I’s. Never far from court, she lived in a world where she would never be a princess but a lady she was born to be. (Watkins, 1).

Watkins begins her book by exploring Mary Boleyn’s life and her relationship with Henry VIII and the birth of Katherine. As Mary fell out of favor with the king, we see the rise and fall of her sister, Anne Boleyn. As Katherine grows up, we see her becoming a maid of honour for Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard, until she marries Francis Knollys at the age of 16. Katherine and Francis went on to have quite a large family. Their children included Lettice Knollys, who scandalously married Elizabeth I’s favorite, Sir Robert Dudley. Katherine spent a lot of her life serving others, never flaunting who her father might have been. The only time that Katherine’s life was in danger was when Mary I came to the throne. Katherine and Francis decided to take their family and flee abroad since they were Protestants, but they did return when Elizabeth returned. Elizabeth came to rely on Katherine as a close confidante and when Katherine did die, Elizabeth gave her an elaborate funeral.

This was my first time reading a biography about Lady Katherine Knollys and I really enjoyed it. I go back and forth whether I believe she was the daughter of Henry VIII or not, but I found it interesting to learn more about this fascinating woman. Watkins does a superb job of balancing letters, facts and an easy to understand writing style to tell the story of Lady Katherine Knollys, her family, and the life inside the Tudor court. If you want to learn more about the life of the remarkable daughter of Mary Boleyn, I highly recommend you read, “Lady Katherine Knollys- The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII” by Sarah-Beth Watkins.