The Tudor Society

8 February – The Queen’s favourite rebels

On this day in Tudor history, 8th February 1601, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex and Queen Elizabeth I's former favourite, did a rather foolish thing and raised a rebellion against the queen and her council.

Spoilers: It didn't go well and he ended up being executed as a traitor.

Find out exactly what happened in today's talk.

Also on this day in Tudor history, 8th February 1587, Mary, Queen of Scots was executed at Fotheringhay Castle. You can find out more in last year’s video:

Further videos on Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex:

Thomas Birch’s “”Memoirs of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth: From the Year 1581 Till Her Death”, Volume II, can be read at, see pages 462 to 468.

Also on this day in history, 8th February:

  • 1545 – Death of Sir John Arundell of Lanherne at the home of his nephew, Richard Roscarrock of Roscarrock, in St Endellion, Cornwall. He was buried at St Columb Major. Arundell had fought against the Cornish rebels in 1497 and served Henry VII and Henry VIII as receiver of the duchy of Cornwall from 1508 until 1533.
  • 1608 – Death of Nicholas Bond, clergyman and President of Magdalen College, Oxford, from 1590. He was buried in the college chapel.
  • 1614 – Burial of John Bracegirdle, poet, at St Mary's Church, Rye, in Sussex. He is known for his 1602 “‘Psychopharmacon, the mindes medicine, or, The phisicke of philosophie”, a translation of the work of Anicius Manlius Torquatus Severinus Boethius into English blank verse.


On this day in Tudor history, Sunday 8th February 1601, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, Queen Elizabeth I’s former favourite, gathered at his home, Essex House in London, with his supporters and two hundred soldiers. They then marched into the city with Essex crying “For the Queen! For the Queen! The crown of England is sold to the Spaniard! A plot is laid for my life!”

Essex believed that he had enemies at court, like the faction led by Robert Cecil, who were trying to bring him down, and so his aim was to seize control of the royal court, the Tower of London and the City, and remove his enemies from power.

Thomas Birch gives an account of rebellion in his book “Memoirs of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth: From the Year 1581 Till Her Death”, Volume II, which is based on original papers from Anthony Bacon and other documents. I’ll give you a link to read it. He also shares this letter written by Robert Cecil, Secretary of State, to Sir George Carew, Lord President of Munster:

“Sir George Carew,
Because I am not ignorant, that greatest accidents are most subject to be misreported by such, as are either in passion or ignorance, I have thought it very fit, with all convenient speed to acquaint you with a most dangerous attempt, which hath happened on Sunday last, wherein both her majesty's own person and the usurpation of this kingdom was openly shot at. By this proclamation the proceedings of this earl of Essex will appear, and therefore I shall only need say this unto you, that I think, by that time my letters shall come unto you, both he and the earl of Southampton, with some others of the principals, shall have lost their heads, I send you the note of most of them, that were in open action with, them. If the queen had not put herself in strength that very morning and barricaded Charing-cross and other places of the back parts of Westminster, their resolution was to have been at court by noon: whereof when they understood, they put themselves into London, and from thence (hoping to have been followed by the city) they resolved to come back; but being repulsed at Ludgate by a stand of pikes, and the city holding fast for the queen, they and some fifty of their complices ran to the water, and put themselves into Essex-house, which the earl had furnished with all manner of warlike provisions, and then defended them-selves till towards six o'clock in the evening; at which time the lord admiral sent unto them, that if they would not yield, he would blow up the house, which he might have done sooner, but that the lady Essex and the lady Rich were within it. Whereupon, notwithstanding their great batteries, they all yielded to her majesty's mercy. Thus you have a true relation of this dangerous accident, unto which I will only add this, that even when a false alarm was brought to the queen, that the city was revolted with them, she never was more amazed than she would have been to have heard of a fray in Fleet-street. And thus much for this time I thought good to let you know till farther opportunity, committing you to God's protection.
Your loving and assured friend,
From the court at Whitehall,
Feb. l0, 1600. R O. CECIL.”

The letter is dated February 1600, rather than 1601, and that's because the Tudor new calendar year did not begin until Lady Day on 25th March.

As Cecil states, Essex’s Rebellion was a complete failure. The citizens of London did not come out and support him, instead, they ignored him and his men and stayed indoors. His supporters deserted him, and Essex finally surrendered after Lord Admiral Nottingham threatened to blow up Essex House if the earl did not give himself up. Birch records that Essex and his friend and fellow rebel, Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, were taken first to Lambeth Palace, the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, due to stormy weather preventing them from travelling on the River Thames to the Tower of London, but were taken to the Tower as soon as was possible. The other rebels were “committed to the public prisons”.

Essex was executed for treason on 25th February 1601. I’ll give you links to my videos on his execution and his troubled time in Ireland, which led to his undoing.

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8 February – The Queen’s favourite rebels