6. The Mysterious Death Of Amy Robsart
Months before Elizabeth was crowned queen in 1558, rumors flew that she was about to take her relationship with Robert Dudley to the next level and marry her new Master of the Horse. The only trouble was that Dudley already had a wife, Amy Robsart. So, on September 9, 1560, when 28-year-old Amy was found dead of a broken neck at the bottom of a short and shallow staircase in Cumnor House, Oxfordshire, suspicion that Dudley killed his wife was inevitable. The ensuing scandal ended any matrimonial plans Elizabeth and Robert may have had.
It is one of the most intriguing historical whodunits. Aside from murder, suicide or an accident were proposed as solutions. Amy had been overheard praying for deliverance from her desperate situation and may have been suicidal. On the day of her death, Amy ordered that she be left alone and sent her servants away. But Amy also just ordered a new velvet gown for herself—hardly indicative of a mind contemplating suicide, some argue. It has been suggested that in 1560, Amy was suffering from breast cancer, which might have triggered a skeletal collapse, which sent her tumbling down the stairs. The staircase itself was problematic. It was laid out in such a way that a wall would have prevented a falling body from landing at the bottom.
A recently discovered coroner’s report, however, may point to murder. It describes two wounds on Amy’s head, possibly from blows struck before she fell down the stairs. Her husband Robert is the prime suspect, but Dudley reacted to Amy’s death with shock and consternation and immediately ordered an investigation. If not Dudley, was it possible that Elizabeth herself ordered it? Or was it someone else out to frame or discredit Dudley—someone like William Cecil, his chief rival at court? Amy would obey all three—Dudley, Elizabeth, or Cecil—had any one of them asked her to clear the house of witnesses to make way for the killer.
One thing is for sure: The coroner’s report has only deepened the mystery, and it will be debated for years to come.