Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Ladies of Robert Cecil

Robert Cecil
Robert Cecil is probably best known for smoothly paving the way for James to take the throne of England after Elizabeth's death. He is usually portrayed as a cold and unctuous hunchback, who cares only for his own advancement, often at the expense of others. One contemporary source described him as,
"A slight, crooked, hump-backed young gentleman, dwarfish in stature, but with a face not irregular in feature, and thoughtful and subtle in expression, with reddish hair, a thin tawny beard, and lear, pathetic greenish-colored eyes, with a mind and manners already trained to courts and cabinets, and with a disposition almost ingenuous..."
However, I have a bit of gossip for you today which might paint a new picture of Cecil for you. How about one of him as the lover?

Shocking, I know. However, there is strong evidence that Cecil had at least two affairs with notable ladies at the Tudor and Stuart court.

The first is Katherine Knyvet, Countess of Suffolk. Katherine was known at court for her great beauty. She was also known to be a bit of a trollop. Her string of affairs were said to have included Robert Cecil. Her husband, Sir Thomas Howard, Earl of Suffolk, seems to have turned a blind eye to the affairs, though she used his influence to gain favors for her lovers. Katherine bore twelve children, all of whom her husband claimed as his. No one may ever know if they all were or not.

Katherine Knyvet
Katherine was marred by small pox in 1619, yet she continued to hold great influence at court. Her husband served as the King's Treasurer until 1619 when he and Katherine were tried for misconduct, including accepting bribes. They were found guilty (with Katherine taking the majority of the blame) and banished from court.

As stated before, there is little evidence to support an affair with Robert Cecil. However, considering she was one of the most notorious women of James' court, and Robert one of the most despised, it is no surprise the two were linked.


Lady Audrey (sometimes referred to as Ethelred) Walsingham, was wife of Thomas Walsingham and Mistress of the Robes to Queen Anne of Denmark. She was a close friend of the Cecils, which sparked rumors that she and Robert had an affair. In 1608, William Cecil (Robert's son) and Katherine Howard (Katherine Knycert's daughter) were married in Audrey's lodgings.  She was well liked, with the continuation of Marlowe's Hero and Leander by George Chapman being dedicated to her.


Unfortunately, there is little evidence that Robert Cecil had affairs with these two women. However, they had some sort of relationship, enough so to incite rumors. With the description above, I wouldn't be surprised if he did have affairs. He was certainly an intelligent and charming man, which would have certainly made him attractive, even if he had a slight physical deformity. If affairs did take place, I would like to know how he became entangled with two so very different women as Katherine and Audrey. 
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