Robert Dudley, the fifth son of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, was born in 1532.
When Henry VIII died in 1547, Edward was too young to rule, so his uncle, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, took over the running of the country. When Seymour was executed in 1552, he was replaced by John Dudley. Soon afterwards Robert Dudley became a member of Edward's Privy Chamber.
Edward was suffering from tuberculosis and as his health deteriorated suddenly, and the Duke of Northumberland, tried to persuade the king to alter the succession in favour of his own daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey. She was declared queen three days after Edward's death. However, she was forced to abdicate nine days later in favour of Edward's half-sister, Mary Tudor. Robert Dudley was arrested for his part in the rebellion, but after being tried for treason he was pardoned by Mary's husband, Philip II of Spain.
Dudley fought with Philip in France but when Elizabeth became queen he returned to England. Rumours soon began to circulate that Dudley and Elizabeth were lovers. These increased after Dudley's wife, Amy Robsart, died after a fall. Dudley's enemies claimed that he had murdered his wife in order to marry the queen.
In 1563 Elizabeth gave him Kenilworth Castle and the following year he was granted the title, Earl of Leicester. Elizabeth realized that she would upset too many important people if she married Dudley. The couple remained close and Dudley became one of the queen's leading advisers.
Elizabeth believed that Mary Stuart posed a threat to her throne. To counter this she suggested that Dudley should marry Mary. Attempts were made to arrange this but in 1565 Mary married Henry Darnley, the son of Lady Margaret Douglas, the granddaughter of Henry VII.
Dudley was a strong supporter of Protestantism. In 1585 he was appointed commander of the expeditionary force to help the Dutch against Spain. Dudley later became Governor General of the Netherlands.
Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, died from a malarial infection in 1588.