MCM: Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester


The historical figure of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, is best known for being Queen Elizabeth I’s “favorite” at court. The queen showered him with titles, lands, and affection, which lead to much gossip about the two being lovers. True or not, their close relationship has been fodder for films and TV. While Leicester himself doesn’t seem to have gotten a biopic treatment, any time QEI shows up onscreen, he’s sure to be by his side, portrayed by some dashing fellow. Who should look something like this, depending on the year…

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, c. 1564

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, c. 1564

Robert Dudley, c.1576, by Nicholas Hilliard

Robert Dudley, c. 1576, by Nicholas Hilliard

Robert Dudley, c. 1586, engraving by Hendrik Goltzius

Robert Dudley, c. 1586, engraving by Hendrik Goltzius

While I have my favorite RenFaire Dudley, I enjoy different filmed versions for different reasons. So let’s review the whole lot of Leicesters and see how they stack up as Elizabethan man candy.


Leslie Banks in Fire Over England (1937)

Leslie Banks in Fire Over England (1937)

The earliest Queen Elizabeth movies weren’t so much romances as action flicks with lots of swashbuckling and derring-do, usually by pirates and/or Sir Walter Raleigh. Thus Leicester only plays the role of queen’s advisor, and Leslie Banks’ portrayal includes a lot of warning Her Majesty about things and being shocked/outraged at what happens.

Leslie Banks in Fire Over England (1937)

Flora Robson is Elizabeth to Leslie Banks’ Dudley in Fire Over England (1937).


Herbert Marshall in The Virgin Queen (1955)

Herbert Marshall and Bette Davis in The Virgin Queen (1955)

Robert Dudley’s part was pretty small here, and The Virgin Queen focused on Elizabeth’s relationship with Sir Walter Raleigh (played by Robert Todd). This is the only decent picture I can find of Herbert Marshall as Dudley!


Robert Hardy in Elizabeth R (1971)

Robert Hardy in Elizabeth R (1971)

Finally, in the best onscreen biography of Elizabeth’s life, we get the best Dudley! Robert Hardy may be known today as a character actor in period drama or as the Minister of Magic in Harry Potter, but before all that he was the shrewdly political Leicester. He showed the complexity, the frustration, and the depth of this character so well — the man who was closer to the queen than anyone else, yet always kept at an arm’s distance. Much like the historical writings, much is left unsaid in Hardy’s performance with Glenda Jackson, and yet there’s so much emotion visible.

Robert Hardy and Glenda Jackson in Elizabeth R (1971)

Robert Hardy as Dudley and Glenda Jackson as Elizabeth have a complicated relationship in Elizabeth R (1971).

Robert Hardy and Glenda Jackson in Elizabeth R (1971)

Their one kiss onscreen feels scandalous due to the reactions — including Dudley’s.

Robert Hardy and Glenda Jackson in Elizabeth R (1971)

No happy ending, but still so watchable.


Daniel Massey in Mary, Queen of Scots (1971)

Daniel Massey and Glenda Jackson in Mary Queen of Scots (1971)

Yeah, it’s kind of weird that Elizabeth’s love life gets so much screentime in a biopic about Mary, Queen of Scots. I guess this relationship shows contrast to Mary’s marriages? Sure, whatever. This is also the movie that has the two queens meeting, so not like it’s high on the historical accuracy level. The flick does get points for having Glenda Jackson as QEI though.


Joseph Fiennes in Elizabeth (1998)

Joseph Fiennes in Elizabeth (1998)

Joseph Fiennes in Elizabeth (1998)

And now, Dudley and Elizabeth are allllll about the romance. It’s not subtle, it’s a major plotline — will she marry him or won’t she? At least we get some great masque scenes and that delightful volta.

Joseph Fiennes and Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth (1998)

Joseph Fiennes is an OK Dudley for Cate Blanchett‘s fabulous queen in Elizabeth (1998).


Jeremy Irons in Elizabeth I (2005)

Jeremy Irons in Elizabeth I (2005)

Awww yisss, back to the good stuff! It takes some gravitas as an actor to play this role and not make him look like just Elizabeth’s boy-toy. Jeremy Irons is well-matched to Helen Mirren here, and they give life the middle part of Elizabeth’s reign. These two take on everything from court gossip to the Spanish Armada as a team, with Irons’ Dudley supporting her, supplicating to her, just as I can imagine the real Dudley must have.

Jeremy Irons and Helen Mirren in Elizabeth I (2005)

A believable intimate moment between Elizabeth (Helen Mirren) and Dudley (Jeremy Irons) in Elizabeth I (2005).


Tom Hardy in The Virgin Queen (2005)

Tom Hardy in The Virgin Queen (2006)

Yes, Kendra’s favorite, but he’s really just here for the snogging, you can tell. Not a lot of historical nuance on his part, and I don’t find that he can match up to Anne-Marie Duff.

Tom Hardy and Ann-Marie Duff in The Virgin Queen (2006)

Like anyone, even Ann-Marie Duff’s Elizabeth, is going to resist a kiss from Tom Hardy as Dudley in The Virgin Queen (2006).


Charlie Carrick in Reign (2017)

Charlie Carrick in Reign (2015-)

Obligatory Dudley is obligatory. He’s cute, I suppose, but what the frock is he wearing?

Charlie Carrick and Rachel Skarsten in Reign (2015-)

Charlie Carrick (Dudley) and Rachel Skarsten (Elizabeth) argue in Reign (2015-).



Who’s your favorite movie or TV version of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester?

29 Responses

  1. Susan Pola

    Robert Hardy. The role was well-nuanced. Mr Hardy did his research.

  2. picasso Manu

    “He’s cute, I suppose, but what the frock is he wearing?”

    *Puts on glasses*

    Well, his mother’s drapes, obviously. And there’s a couple of sofas somewhere who want their trim back.

    PS: When was the shaving razor invented again?

    • Lady Hermina De Pagan

      Is it just my age showing or is anyone else thinking of the old Carol Burnett sketch “Went with the Breeze.”?

  3. Emilym

    If you didn’t have enough reason to adore Robert Hardy, in real life he is an expert in the British longbow!

  4. Charity

    Stop it. You make me want to go have an Epic Elizabeth Marathon.

    I really need to watch Glenda Jackson’s Elizabeth again. It’s been too long.

    Where IS Robert Dudley in Reign? Not that I hang on every word, but he disappeared at some point and now she’s surrounded by … fictional dudes, I guess? I can’t even remember what happened to him, their explanation for it, nada.

    Do you watch it? I have to laugh uproariously every week. This go around, it was Elizabeth playing drinking games with some explorer dude (who looks like Fabio in a blonde wig) while a turkey ate pumpkin seeds on the table. Also, last week she had a blueberry pie made, and offered her guest drinks out of cut crystal decanters, while wearing vaguely Elizabethan clothing (if you squint real hard) and standing in a Regency room, full of Victorian furniture.

    Oh, Reign. You jest with me far too much, forsooth!

    • Trystan L. Bass

      I’ve only been watching intermittently in the latest season, so I think I’ve seen that Dudley once, at most. I was more entertained by the Reign Darnley, bec. he’s such an OTT jerk, which seems accurate, yet he’s jerky in new & unusual ways than the real Darnley. It’s just *so* Reign, hah.

      • Charity

        Yes, Darnley is cracking me up. I have a friend who knows nothing about Mary QoS so she has no idea what’s coming for Darnley… that is, if they are even REMOTELY historically correct. I shall sit back, watch, and laugh. ;)

  5. ladylavinia1932

    I thought Robert Hardy was a bit too old for the younger Dudley in the early episodes of “Elizabeth R”. But he was fine as the older Dudley.

    I enjoyed both Joseph Fiennes and Jeremy Irons’ performances as Dudley.

    • Trystan L. Bass

      I’ve always thot Glenda Jackson was a smidge off as young Elizabeth in the first episode, so that seems fair. But they both hit their stride post-coronation!

  6. Sue

    Thanks for posting this, if for nothing else for Elizabeth I from 2005. I don’t know how it flew under my radar. I absolutely adore Helen Mirren and I’ve always liked Jeremy Irons a lot, too. I’m super excited to watch this now.

  7. Susan Pola

    If you liked the opening of the Glenn Close Dangerous Liaisons, you’ll love the Helen Mirren’s Elizabeth.

  8. Peacoclaur

    Dumb question: Are Tom Hardy and Robert Hardy related or is it just a coincidence?

  9. Chang

    Is he known for wearing one earring? Even my local RenFaire Dudley wears a single earring.

  10. Janette

    Sad to see that the tremendous Robert Hardy has passed away. A wonderful Dudley, a unforgettable Siegfried and a lovable buffoon as Sir John.

    • Susan

      He also was a consummate Prince Albert in “Edward the King”, thereby playing two of England’s most famously handsome men (Look at pictures of young Albert, & then read how enraptured Victoria was over his beauty)

  11. Connybryce

    I did not like Hardy…could not see why Elizabeth would be head ofer heels with him at all. Jeremy Irons my fav by far.

  12. perditabohemia

    I found Tom Hardy’s ugly haircut and historically inaccurate clean-shaven face very distracting in The Virgin Queen. The same series also had a strange choice of hairstyle for the earl of Essex – dark, straight and greasy-looking.

    • Elizabethe

      I suspect they did it so they could age him up later, but it didn’t work for me either. They did have him grow the right mustache and beard later and look much more like Dudley should, but it’s super hard to find any stills from those scenes.