Robert Dudley (7 August, 1574 Richmond Palace, Surrey – 6 September, 1649 Florence) was the possibly illegitimate son of Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester. He was a privateer, navigator, shipbuilder and the author of Dell'Arcano del Mare.
Robert Dudley was the son of the Earl of Leicester and Lady Douglas Sheffield, daughter of William Howard, 1st Baron Howard of Effingham. The Earl of Leicester is thought to have married her in 1573, but he denied it in public at the time because he feared the wrath and loss of favour of Queen Elizabeth I. He also bigamously married Lady Lettice Knollys in 1578. When Lady Douglas married Edward Stafford, also bigamously, and left for the continent with him, Leicester took his son into his household but did not have him declared officially legitimate.
Robert was enrolled into Christ Church, Oxford in 1587 with the status of filius comitis, Earl's son. There his mentor was Thomas Chaloner, who also became his close friend.
Sir Robert Dudley's Dell'Arcano del Mare is the earliest printed sea atlas to cover the entire world, and the first made by an Englishman, and the first to use the Mercator projection. It collects all the naval knowledge of its time. It was first published in Italian at Florence in 1645, then again in 1646 in three folio volumes, and which is remarkable for its inclusion of a proposal for the construction of a navy in five rates which Dudley designed and described. It was reprinted in Florence in a two volume folio edition in 1661 without the charts of the first edition.
The distinctive Baroque style of Dudley's charts, is attributable to the elegant engraving of Antonio Francesco Lucini.
Dell'Arcano Del Mare covers the southern and western coasts of the Isthmus of Panama from Nicaragua south to the Colombian coast at Cape Francesco. To the westwards the Cocos Island is shown and "Las Gualapagus e. vicino del Equinozio": an early reference to the Galápagos Islands.