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Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex

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Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex

Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex (10 November 1566 - 25 February 1601), favourite of Queen Elizabeth I of England, is the best-known of the many holders of the title "Earl of Essex".

He was born at Netherwood in 1566, the son of Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex and Lettice Knollys. Robert Devereux was brought up largely on his father's estate in Wales, and was educated at Cambridge. Walter Devereux died in 1576. Four years later, in 1580, Lettice married Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, long-standing favourite of the queen. Essex did military service under his stepfather before himself making an impact at court and winning the queen's favour. In 1590, he married Frances Walsingham, daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham. Frances was also the widow of Sir Philip Sidney - who had died at the Battle of Zutphen, in which Essex had distinguished himself. And furthermore, Sir Philip Sidney was the nephew of Robert Dudley (d 1588) who had been Robert's stepfather for eight years.

Essex first came to court in 1584, and by 1587 had become the Queen's favourite through his lively mind, eloquence, skills as a showman and in courtly love. Unfortunately it would be his faults in his relationship with Elizabeth that would lead to his demise. He underestimated the Queen as a woman, beleiving himself to be her equal, and his behavior towards her lacked respect when he desired something, acting as a spoilt child rather than a servant to the Crown.

After Leicester's death in 1588, he replaced him as Master of the Horse. In 1591, he was given command of a force sent to the assistance of the briefly Protestant, King Henry IV of France. In 1596, he distinguished himself by the capture of Cádiz. Unfortunately when he attempted an expedition to the Azores, he defied the Queen's orders, pursuing the Spanish treasure fleet without first putting their navy out of commission. He failed again as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, a post which he talked himself into. No one else would take on the extreme challenges that faced a commander in Ireland, as the guerilla warfare waged by the Irish could not be matched by the English. In Ireland he was charged with putting down the rebellion of Hugh O'Neill Earl of Tyrone. Rather than directly confronting Tyrone in Ulster as he had declared to the Privy Council, he took the Queen's army on insubstantial battles throughout the south of the country to the detriment of finances and morale. Further, instead of facing Tyrone in battle, he signed a humiliating truce to the detriment of England. He was recalled in disgrace to court. In all of his battles, he exibited an insatiable need to surround himself with the loyalties of military men by distributing knighthoods, which the Queen herself was extremely discriminating with. By the time he was recalled from Ireland, more than half the knights in England owed their rank to Essex. Irish rebels taunted him that "he never drew sword but to make knights." When his monopoly on sweet wines subsequently came up for renewal the Queen decided it would revert to the Crown, forcing him into penury.

Having permanently fallen out with the Queen due to his increasingly unbalanced bahaviour and ineptitude in foreign wars, Essex unwisely attempted a political coup, raising a rebellion and attempting to seize control of the city of London on February 8, 1601. He was arrested, convicted of treason, and executed at the Tower of London on February 25, 1601.

Devereux's title was inherited by his son, Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex.

The classic movie on this topic is the 1939 The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex starring Bette Davis and Errol Flynn.


Preceded by:
The Earl of Leicester
Master of the Horse
1587–1601
Succeeded by:
The Earl of Worcester
Preceded by:
Vacant
Master-General of the Ordnance
1597–1601
Succeeded by:
Vacant
Preceded by:
In Commission
Earl Marshal
1597–1601
Succeeded by:
In Commission
Preceded by:
Lords Justices
Lord Lieutenant of Ireland
1599
Succeeded by:
Lords Justices

Template:End box

Preceded by:
Walter Devereux
Earl of Essex Succeeded by:
Robert Devereux
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