Levin helps define 16th century death

Carole Levin
Carole Levin

The request came via e-mail in June. Producers of a British documentary show needed an expert on Queen Elizabeth I of England and they turned to Carole Levin, professor of history and director of UNL's Medieval and Renaissance Studies program.

Levin specializes in late medieval and early modern English and European cultural and women's history, including Queen Elizabeth I. She has published several books, including "The Reign of Elizabeth I." She eagerly jumped at the chance to participate in "Mystery Files," a show that cracks open the most famous and iconic mysteries.

The program, which will air on British television this fall, will focus on the unusual death of Amy Robsart, the first wife of Lord Robert Dudley, who served on Elizabeth's court and vigorously attempted to convince the queen to marry him. The queen eventually refused, in part because of the scandal tied to Robsart's death.

As rumors swirled that Robsart had breast cancer and Dudley was waiting for her to die to marry Elizabeth, Robsart was found dead at the bottom of her staircase with a broken neck.

Whether her death in 1560 was caused by accident, murder or suicide has never been resolved, despite an inquest that ruled it an accident, Levin said.

She traveled to London in July to argue why she believed Robsart took her own life. Her interview was shot with a backdrop of a Tudor staircase inside the Sutton House, a historic, national trust building that's frequently featured in historical documentaries.

Robsart kicked everyone out of the house on the day she died and her closest maid testified that she heard Robsart praying to be, "delivered from desperation," Levin said as she ticked off the reasons behind her theory.

"My guess is that if she was possibly suffering from breast cancer, was hearing that her husband was a favorite of the queen and hadn't seen him in over a year, she was probably pretty desperate."

Producers also separately interviewed a police detective and others who backed the theory that Robsart was murdered.

It's a fascinating subject, said Levin.

"I thought it was a big honor," she said. "I was pretty thrilled."

- Jean Ortiz Jones, University Communications