Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex Biography

Robert Devereux Essex was the 2nd Earl of Essex, an English soldier and nobleman who was one of the favorites of Queen Elizabeth I.

Quick Facts

Birthday: November 10, 1565

Nationality: British

Famous: Soldiers British Men

Died At Age: 35

Sun Sign: Scorpio

Also Known As: Robert, Earl of Essex, Robert Devreux, 2nd Earl of Essex

Born in: England

Famous as: Political figure


Spouse/Ex-: Frances Walsingham

father: Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex

mother: Lettice Knollys

siblings: Countess of Devonshire, Countess of Northumberland, Dorothy Percy, Penelope Blount

children: 3rd Earl of Essex, Duchess of Somerset, Frances Seymour, Robert Devereux

Died on: February 25, 1601

place of death: Tower of London

Cause of Death: Execution

More Facts

education: 1583 - Trinity College, Cambridge

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Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, was an English soldier and nobleman who was one of the favorites of Queen Elizabeth I. But Devereux took the queen’s trust for granted and his later behavior towards her lacked due respect which ended their association in a tragic manner. Born as the son of Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex, he inherited the title of Earl of Essex upon his father’s death, becoming a ward of the powerful Lord Burghley. He first rose to prominence while serving as a cavalry officer against the Spanish in the Netherlands and later replaced his stepfather, Earl of Leicester, as the favorite of Queen Elizabeth I. Essex and Elizabeth had a turbulent relationship and while there were many arguments between them, Essex, with his charming manners ensured that she continued to grant him royal appointments. After serving as the commander of the force which captured Cadiz, he rose to the height of fame and was subsequently appointed to lead a mission against Spain, one that he failed to accomplish. His greatest letdown to the majesty occurred when he was sent on a mission to Ireland to defeat the rebels, but he ruined it with an unfavorable truce that humiliated the queen and the English authorities. Subsequently, he was deprived of his offices and after he tried to seize the power with an abortive coup d'état against the government, he was executed on charges of treason.

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Childhood & Early Life
  • In 1584, Robert was first introduced to the royal court and over the next three years, he became a favorite of the Queen Elizabeth I who appreciated his dynamic personality and expressiveness.
  • In 1587, he replaced the Earl of Leicester as the ‘Master of the Horse’. After Leicester's death the following year, he gained control of the late Earl's royal monopoly on sweet wines. Later, the Queen also made him a member of her Privy Council.
  • In 1589, Essex disobeyed the Queen and took part in Francis Drake's English Armada, an unsuccessful attempt to drive home the English advantage gained by the defeat of the Spanish Armada.
  • In 1591, he commanded a force sent to assist the Protestant King Henry IV of Navarre in France. Over the next few years, he spent most of his time at court in England, becoming an expert on foreign affairs.
  • In 1596, he gained reputation as one of the commanders of the force which was successful in defeating the Spanish fleet, destroying 53 merchant vessels and capturing Cadiz. The following year, during the Islands Voyage expedition to the Azores, he defied the Queen's orders and faced defeat, failing to intercept the Spanish battle ships.
  • In 1599, his greatest failure came when the Queen sent him to Ireland as Lord Lieutenant, a post which he talked himself into. He led the largest ever expeditionary force sent to Ireland with orders to put an end to the rebellion that had risen in the middle of the Nine Years War (1595–1603).
  • It was expected of his force to crush the rebellion instantly but he failed completely to accomplish the mission. He led an unsuccessful campaign against the rebels and made an unauthorized truce which some considered demeaning to the Queen and the English authorities. Subsequently, he deserted his post and returned to England to justify his decisions privately to the Queen but the damage had already been done.
  • Upon his return, he faced trial for disobedience by a special council. The Queen deprived him of his offices and placed him under house arrest. Later, he was released but was banned from the court.
  • With his political career and finances in ruins, he along with his several hundred followers attempted to raise the people of London in revolt against the Queen in February 1601. But the coup to oust the government failed miserably and Essex was forced to surrender.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • In 1590, he married Frances Walsingham, daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham and widow of Sir Philip Sidney. The couple had several children, three of whom survived into adulthood. Essex also had an illegitimate child with his mistress, Elizabeth Southwell, in 1591.
  • In February 1601, Robert Devereux Essex was tried before his peers on charges of treason. After being found guilty of treason, he was beheaded on Tower Green on February 25, 1601, and became the last person to be beheaded in the Tower of London.

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