The great Kenilworth booze-up: how to party like it's 1575





It's gone down as the social event of the age – Robert Dudley's three-week bash for Elizabeth I. Now new documents reveal just how lavish it was.

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If you want to marry the Queen, you have to know how to party. At least, that seems to have been the Earl of Leicester's thinking more than 400 years ago.

Almost no one in England had a good word to say about Robert Dudley, one of the most colourful figures from the years when Elizabeth reigned – apart from the monarch herself, and other women who fell for him. In the eyes of the court, he was a murderer, a schemer, and an adulterer. When he died, soon after the defeat of the Spanish Armada, it was said that there was more rejoicing in England over Dudley's end than over the humiliation of the Spaniards.

But for all his faults, he was a charmer with a remarkable knack for cajoling titled ladies to join him between his expensive, monogrammed sheets. If there was one man that Elizabeth really fancied in all her self-denying life, it was Robert Dudley.

And he certainly knew how to party. The bash he threw in Kenilworth Castle, near Coventry, in the summer of 1575 failed in its political objective – to ensconce him as the most powerful man in England – but it lived on in the memory of Tudor partygoers as indelibly as the Woodstock festival has lingered in the recollections of old hippies. It set the standard for every other lavish party thrown for the remaining 28 years of Elizabeth's reign. Other rich aristocrats tried to do a Kenilworth, but nobody did it quite like the Earl of Leicester.

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