Robert Devereux was the son of Lettice Knollys and her first husband, Walter Devereux, first Earl of Essex (I’ve got a post on her here if you want to read more…). Robert had strong ties to Elizabeth’s court from birth – Lettice was the granddaughter of Mary Boleyn, thus a cousin (once removed) to Queen Elizabeth. And while Lettice was banished from court after she married Robert Dudley, Dudley took his stepson under his wing and helped him win Elizabeth’s favor (indeed, Essex succeeded him as Master of the Horse in 1587).
Unfortunately, it would seem in this case that familiarity bred contempt. Queen Elizabeth “relished his lively mind and eloquence, as well as his skills as a showman and in courtly love”…but Essex did not appreciate that as he should have. He seems to have consistently valued himself above his royal patron and his choices got worse and worse as time went on…
One time, during a heated debate in the Privy Council, Elizabeth boxed his ears and he almost drew his sword on her. When he went to Ireland to subdue O’Neill, he disobeyed Elizabeth’s instructions and conferred enough knighthoods that the rebels even joked “he never drew sword but to make knights.” On his return from Ireland (against the Queen’s command), he burst into her bedchamber before she was properly wigged or gowned. She forgave him, but the Council banished him – and when he was trying to negotiate his return to court he is reported to have said of Elizabeth, “her conditions are as crooked as her carcass.” Finally, when Elizabeth refused to renew his sweet wines monopoly (the source of most of his income), he rebelled. Overestimating his popularity with the public, he tried to raise London to take her throne but not enough people followed him….His trial was swift and justice was meted out on Tower Green, making him the last person to be executed within the Tower confines.
But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. Today is the time to celebrate his birth – when things looked much brighter at Elizabeth’s’ court….For everyone.
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