On this day in Tudor history, 30th October 1600, Queen Elizabeth I refused to renew Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex’s monopoly on sweet wines, saying that “an unruly horse must be abated of his provender, that he may be the easier and better managed.”
It may not sound like a major event, but it was for Essex and it drove him to desperation and, ultimately, to the scaffold.
Why? What was going on? How could the queen’s refusal to renew this monopoly lead to Essex’s undoing?
Find out what was happened in 1600 and what happened next with the queen and her favourite, in today’s talk.
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.
Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, after Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger
Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, was born on this day in history, 10th November 1565, at Netherwood, Herefordshire. To commemorate the birth of this man, one of Elizabeth I's favourites, I thought I'd share this mini biography of him, along with a few videos I did.
Devereux was the eldest son of Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex, and Lettice Knollys, granddaughter of Mary Boleyn, and was a favourite of Elizabeth I. After his father's death in 1576, William Cecil, Lord Burghley, was made his guardian, and in 1578 his mother married his godfather, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.
Essex first caught the Queen's attention in 1584 when his stepfather, Leicester, brought him to court, and he was appointed Master of the Horse on his return to court after successful military service in the Netherlands with his stepfather. He was just twenty-one, and the Queen was fifty-three.
Although Robert Devereux is often described as "the darling of Elizabeth's old age", having replaced his stepfather in Elizabeth's affections after Dudley's death in 1588, Alison Plowden says that "it would probably be more accurate to describe him as one of its greatest headaches". Although Essex was dashing and charming, he was rash, ambitious, arrogant, headstrong and used to getting his own way. Unlike Dudley, Essex did not know Elizabeth as only a childhood friend or sweetheart can, and he constantly underestimated her and attempted to bully her into submission.
After a successful raid on Cadiz in 1596 during the war with Spain, Essex returned to England as a hero. His return to court caused the forming of two factions: the Devereux faction, who were seeking military profit and glory, and the opposing faction headed by Lord Burghley and his son, Robert Cecil, who were on the side of peace. Although Elizabeth loved flirting with the handsome Essex and doted on him, she sought to keep a balance between the factions, and would not always give her favourite what he wanted. This led to Essex sulking like a spoiled child, and to stormy rows between him and the Queen. Essex ignored the advice of friends like Francis Bacon, who warned him not to offend Elizabeth by seeking to be overly powerful, because he did not want to settle for 'just' being a servant like his stepfather. He wanted more. Wise counsel fell on deaf ears, and Elizabeth's attempts to tame wild-child Essex failed.
Ultimately, it was his pride and his need for recognition and power that led to his undoing. In 1599, Essex became Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, but his campaign against the Irish was unsuccessful. Essex constantly ignored the Queen's orders, acted contrary to her wishes and constantly worried about what the Cecil faction were getting up to back at court. His obsession with power led to him giving up on the Irish situation, making a truce with the Irish rebel leader (against the Queen's wishes) and returning to England without the Queen's permission. This amounted to desertion and disobedience, something which Elizabeth could not and would not tolerate. The situation was made worse on the 28th September 1599, by Essex striding into Elizabeth's bedchamber unannounced and seeing the Queen without her makeup or wig, without her "mask of youth". You can read more about this event in my article here.
On the 29th September, Essex was interrogated before the Queen's Council for around 5 hours, and the Council concluded that his truce with the Irish rebels was indefensible, and that his return to England was a desertion of duty. Essex was then put under house arrest. In June 1600, Essex appeared before a special court and was punished by being deprived of his public office and being confined to his home. However, in August, he was granted his freedom, although his sweet wines monopoly, his one source of income, was not renewed. He may well have wormed his way back into the Queen's affections if he had apologised and appealed to the Queen for mercy - after all, she had a soft spot for him and was used to his impulsive behaviour - but Essex made the fatal mistake of trying to enlist the support of the Scottish king, James VI, against Cecil's faction at court, and planning a coup for March 1601 to force Elizabeth to summon Parliament and deal with Cecil and his faction. When, on the 7th February, Essex received a message from the Queen that he was to present himself before Council, he decided to move things forward and summoned three hundred followers, telling them that Cecil and Ralegh were planning to assassinate him, and that the rising should therefore take place the next day, instead of in March.
Robert Devereux by Isaac Oliver
On the 8th February 1601, Essex, his supporters and two hundred soldiers gathered at Essex House. Essex then marched into the city crying "For the Queen! For the Queen! The crown of England is sold to the Spaniard! A plot is laid for my life!" but London's citizens remained indoors instead of joining him on his march. As his supporters deserted him, Essex was forced to give up and return home, where he surrendered after Lord Admiral Nottingham threatened to blow up his house if he did not give himself up.
On the 9th February, Elizabeth I told the French ambassador that the "shameless ingrate, had at last revealed what had long been in his mind". Her patience had been stretched beyond breaking point and she could no longer excuse her past favourite's behaviour. On the 13th February the full details of the coup planned by Essex were made public, and on the 17th February indictments were laid against Essex and his key supporters, including Henry Wriothesley, 4th Earl of Southampton. Two days later, on the 19th February, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, and his friend, Southampton, were tried at Westminster Hall by a jury of their peers. Both men were accused of high treason, found guilty and sentenced to death. Elizabeth I, in her mercy, commuted Southampton's sentence to life in prison and Essex's sentence of a traitor's death to death by beheading. On the 20th February, the Queen signed his death warrant.
Essex was executed on Tower Green on the 25th February 1601.
Taken from On this Day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway.
You’d think that the appointment of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland might be something to be pleased about, but Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, who was sworn in as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland on this day in 1599, was not at all happy. He didn’t want to be in Ireland!
The earl’s time in Ireland was to be his undoing, as the arrogant earl decided to ignore the queen’s orders and do his own thing. Oh dear! Find out what happened in today’s video.
On 25th February 1601, Elizabeth I’s former favourite, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, was executed by beheading.
In today’s video, I share an excerpt from her book “On This Day in Tudor History” about Essex’s execution, which includes his scaffold speech, before explaining how this man went from being royal favourite to traitor. Pride really did come before a fall in the case of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.
On this day in history, 28th September 1599, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, strode into Queen Elizabeth I’s bedchamber unannounced and saw the Queen without her makeup or wig, without her “mask of youth”.
Essex had been confirmed as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland on 30th December 1598 and he left England on 27th March 1599, arriving in Dublin on 14 April. His campaign against the Irish was unsuccessful. Essex had assumed that he’d be able to defeat the Earl of Tyrone and his men quickly, but as things dragged on he became disillusioned with the situation. Exhaustion, disillusionment and a fear that his enemies at court were undermining him and influencing the queen against him, led to him giving up on the Irish situation, making a truce with the Irish rebel leader (against the qqueen’s wishes) and returning to England without the queen’s permission. This amounted to desertion and disobedience, something which Elizabeth I could not and would not tolerate
Devereux rushed back to court at Nonsuch Palace to offer an explanation but ended up making things worse when he strode into the queen’s bedchamber unannounced while she was getting ready:
Lettice Knollys was born on 8 November 1543 at Rotherfield Greys in Oxfordshire. She was the eldest of sixteen children born to Sir Francis Knollys and his wife, Katherine Carey. Lettice’s mother was the daughter of Mary Boleyn, meaning that Lettice was the great niece of Anne Boleyn. She was also a kinswoman of Elizabeth I. Francis and Katherine Knollys departed for the Continent in the mid-1550s to escape the religious persecution during Mary I’s reign, but it is possible that Lettice remained with Elizabeth Tudor at Hatfield. When Elizabeth came to the throne in 1558, Francis was appointed vice-chamberlain and Katherine, who was close to the queen, was appointed a lady of the bedchamber. Lettice, now in her teens, served as a gentlewoman of the privy chamber.
On this day in history, Sunday 8th February 1601, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, his supporters and two hundred soldiers gathered at Essex House. Essex then marched into the city crying “For the Queen! For the Queen! The crown of England is sold to the Spaniard! A plot is laid for my life!”. However, the people ignored him and stayed indoors.
Essex was forced to give up after his supporters deserted him, and he surrendered after Lord Admiral Nottingham threatened to blow up his house if he did not give himself up.
Thomas Birch gives an account of the failed rebellion in his book…
At just before 8am on the 25th February 1601, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex was brought out of the Tower of London and walked to the scaffold. He was wearing a black velvet gown, black satin doublet and breeches and a black hat, which he took off as he climbed up onto the scaffold so that he could bow to the people gathered. He then made a speech acknowledging “with thankfulness to God, that he was justly spewed out of the realm”, and said:
Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, was born on this day in history, 10th November 1565, at Netherwood, Herefordshire. Devereux was the eldest son of Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex, and Lettice Knollys, granddaughter of Mary Boleyn, and was a favourite of Elizabeth I. After his father’s death in 1576, William Cecil, Lord Burghley, was made his guardian, and in 1578 his mother married his godfather, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.
Essex first caught the Queen’s attention in 1584 when his stepfather, Leicester, brought him to court, and he was appointed Master of the Horse on his return to court after successful military service in the Netherlands with his stepfather. He was just twenty-one, and the Queen was fifty-three.