• Kristin Bundesen, PhD

Anne Russell Dudley, Countess of Warwick

Anne Russell Dudley, Countess of Warwick (b. 1548/9 – d. 1604)

Anne Russell Dudley, Countess of Warwick was considered to be so important that in 1599 her ill health was reported in Venice as useful diplomatic and business news. If she was incapacitated, a valuable cog in the wheel of court business would be missing.  Her gender did not bar her from participating in military, domestic, foreign or church affairs.  Unfortunately, her papers were destroyed after her death so documentation of her influence is constructed second hand. Her adoring niece, Anne Clifford, who as a young girl attended court with her aunt, wrote that the countess was ‘more beloved and in greater favor with the queen than any other woman in the kingdom’.

Anne, the daughter of Francis Russell, 2nd Earl of Bedford and his wife Margaret St. John, was eleven years old at Elizabeth’s coronation. Although she is frequently named as a maid of honor and then subsequently a lady of the Bed Chamber, she was an unpaid attendant to the queen and not one of her official staff members.

In 1565 aged 16, she married Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick, in the Queen’s Closet followed by three days of contests and celebrations. Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and the bride’s father arranged the marriage as an alliance between two prominent Protestant dynasties. Ambrose had no surviving children from his first two marriages and there were no surviving children from this one much to the dismay of the Dudleys who had hoped there would be an heir for the Warwick earldom. The nearest kin Robert Sidney, second son of her sister-in-law Mary Sidney eventually inherited the Warwick estate. The lack of children meant that Anne could take up virtual residence at court without the interruptions of pregnancies. This near constant attendance served her and her family well as she could manage quite a bit of business from the center of the kingdom. She maintained her own couriers, especially useful for staying up to date on foreign affairs.  Letters from the Signet Office are known to have been sent via her couriers indicating the trust placed in the Countess’s independent network. She maintained a secret correspondence with a member of George Carey, Lord Hunsdon’s, train while he was sent on embassy to Hesse as well as with the Landgrave himself. She also corresponded with members of the household of William of Orange. In 1582, Francis Walsingham, the queen’s secretary and spy master attempted to persuade Elizabeth that William of Orange deserved her support because he was a godly man. An unnamed lady in attendance pointed out that William was not so godly as he had an illegitimate child.  It seems likely this lady was Anne who frequently attended the queen when she received ambassadors. In 1586, she raised a military troop of her own to send to her brother-in-law Robert Dudley earl of Leicester innthe Low Countries.  She was motivated to involve herself in Irish affairs not only to maintain Dudley influence but also to protect the reputation of her brother, William Russell, who was appointed Lord Deputy for Ireland in 1594. She was involved with daily administration of Irish affairs, including new commissions for the army officers and recommending solders to serve there. The Countess was infamously diligent in lawsuits over land, wardships, appointments and investments. Anne counter-sued the queen for the lands claimed by her widowed sister-in-law, Lettice Knollys, Countess of Leicester thus preventing them from returning to Lettice. Apparently counter-suing the queen did not damage Anne’s standing with her or her ability to support a wide patronage network.  A lawsuit that lasted for years was her pursuit of the wardship and inheritance of her nephew, the heir to the Bedford title and estates. She was an energetic supporter of Puritan divines and petitioners side by side with Dr. Dee the mathematician and astrologer as well as less secular work by Lok.  The most oft quoted reason, petitioners sought her support was her nearness to the queen. Her husband wrote that she ‘should be given better treatment ‘considering she hath spent the chief part of her years both painfully, faithfully, and serviceably without any kind of wage’.  She was at court when Elizabeth I died. Further reading: The Diaries of Lady Anne Clifford, ed. D. J. H. Clifford (1990) P. Collinson, The Elizabethan puritan movement (1967) Merton, C. ‘The women who served Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth: Ladies, gentlewomen and maids of the privy chamber, 1553-1603’ unpublished PhD thesis (Trinity College, Oxford, 1992)