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The Arrival of Elizabeth I at Kenilworth Castle
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The Arrival of Elizabeth I at Kenilworth Castle

Circa 1875

Measurements: Measurements: 22cm (8.75in) x 23cm (9in) x 15cm (6in)

£2100

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Silvered bronze, parcel-gilt equestrian figure group depicting the Virgin Queen being received by her suitor and favourite Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester (1532-1588). Mounted on its original ebonised base inset with ivorine label of Elkington & Co. Ltd., Birmingham.

This unusual historicist sculptural group was produced by the Birmingham art founders and electroplaters Elkington & Co., to commemorate Elizabeth I’s celebrated visit to nearby Kenilworth Castle, seat of Robert Dudley, who came closer than any other suitor to marrying the Queen with a three-week long marriage proposal that was to be the culmination of fifteen years’ effort.

On Saturday 9 July 1575, at about 8pm, Elizabeth I arrived on horseback at Kenilworth Castle, the Warwickshire power base of her long-time favourite Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. As the queen passed through the castle gates, along the tiltyard and into the outer courtyard, she was met by actors reciting speeches of welcome and bearing symbolic gifts, including the keys to the castle. Trumpeters saluted her and when, at last, Elizabeth reached the inner courtyard, dismounted her palfrey and made her way to her chamber, there was a peal of guns that could, it was said, be heard for 20 miles. For nearly three weeks the queen, her ladies-in-waiting and leading courtiers were housed at the castle and entertained by Dudley with diversions ranging from music, masques and dancing to tilting, hunting and bear-baiting. Elaborate banquets at which guests consumed up to 40 barrels of beer and 16 barrels of wine per day were punctuated by fireworks displays and, on at least one occasion, the gyrations of an Italian acrobat. In the words of the French ambassador, nothing “more magnificent” had been seen in England “for a long time”.

The stage upon which these splendours unfolded was Kenilworth itself: Dudley had lavished a reputed £60,000-worth of building works in anticipation of the queen’s visit. Known as the ‘princely pleasures’, the July 1575 festivities have gone down in history as the longest, most expensive party of Elizabeth’s 45-year reign. Contemporaries described Dudley as the man who knew Elizabeth best and exercised the greatest influence over her. The two shared many interests, including riding and hunting. But theirs was also an attraction of opposites: the queen was indecisive; Dudley impulsive. The pair met as children at the court of Henry VIII. It is unclear when exactly friendship blossomed into romance, though a turning point seems to have occurred between 1550, when Dudley married Amy Robsart, and November 1558, when Elizabeth ascended the throne. Certainly, the Queen’s decision to appoint Dudley Master of the Horse raised eyebrows. Not only did the post come with lodgings at court but it also required its holder to lift the Queen on and off her horse.


 

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