The Essex's Rebellion


Elizabeth relied more and more on a small clique of advisors; the Cecils, , Lord Burghley and his son Robert, controlled the Privy Council and the treasury. Meanwhile, those on the outs coalesced around the dashing figure of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex. Leicester, the Queen's favorite, was dead and Burghley, her principal adviser, was a growing old. Why should he not fill the place of both and dominate the court?

Failing against Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone, he conceived the treasonable idea of using the young gallants in his train to force Elizabeth to ruin the Cecils and to give him predominance at court. He returned against orders. Thomas West, Lord de la Warr, (later first Governor of Virginia) was thought to have abandoned Ireland with Essex and accompanied him back to London to confront Queen Elizabeth.

Elizabeth's fondness for her young favorite turned swiftly to anger. She had sent him to Ireland to put down the rebellion but the rebels were still in the field. Essex was kept under house arrest for nearly a year as he had fled his Irish command. He was then deprived of his offices. The final impetus for rebellion came strangely enough when Elizabeth refused in a fit of pique to renew Essex's patent for sweet wines, a considerable 50,000 pound source of income, and took the patent herself. He had spent months of imprisonment brooding over the injustice with which he had been treated and after his release, he gathered a band of discontented gentlemen around him to plan some violent action which should restore their fortunes. Essex would also try to persuade Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy, who had replaced him as commander in Ireland, to bring the army over from Ireland in support of his coup d’etat.

There was talk of armed rebellion and at the Globe Theater, the plotters arranged for Shakespeare's Richard II to be performed on 7 Feb 1601, sponsored by the Earl of Essex. Richard II is, of course, the tragic history of a monarch who lost his throne because his listened to evil advisers. The council learned what was going on and called Essex' bluff by summoning him to appear before them. His game was up. On the morning of the 8th, the Queen sent Edward Somerset, Earl of Worcester; the Lord Keeper Egerton; the Lord Chief Justice Sir John Popham and Sir William Knollys, to Essex House. The Earl invited them to his library, but the crowd swarmed up the stairs behind them, crying 'Kill them! Kill them!' Essex locked the four councillors in the library, and left Francis Tresham with two others to guard them, while he and the rest of his supporters marched through London.

During the Earl's march, William Parker attempted unsuccessfully to prevent a herald accompanying Thomas Cecil, Lord Burghley, from proclaiming Essex a traitor, his men only driving them away after the proclamation had been read. While trying to make his way back to Essex House with the others, he fell into the river Thames and nearly drowned.

Soon after the Sunday sermon at St Paul's Cross, Essex leads a 300-strong band of noble followers and their armed men from Essex House through Ludgate and into the City, shouting, 'Murder, murder, God save the Queen!' and 'For the Queen. For the Queen'. Claiming that England is being sold to the Spanish, Essex hopes that Londoners will rally to help him in his bid to restore himself to royal favour. He was wearing his normal clothes rather than armour, to signify his pacefull intentions.

The Earl expected that the Sheriff of London, Sir Thomas Smythe, using his position as captain of the trained bands, to raise the city in his support. Essex had often mentioned that Smythe could bring him 1,000 loyal men when he needed them. It was claimed by witnesses that Smythe visited Essex House on the evening of the 7th, that he had also reiterated his loyalty to the Earl through Edward Bromley, and that he knew of the rising by 5 o'clock on the Sunday morning at the latest. Essex went to Smythe's house in Fenchurch Street. The Earl was perspiring so much that he asked for a clean shirt. A number of people saw Essex's arrival at Smythe's house and observed them talking in the street outside. Some of these claimed that the Sheriff urged Essex to go and seize Ludgate and Aldgate, where he would send him arms very shortly. When pressed about the meeting with Essex at his house an incident witnessed by many he told them that he merely passed on a message from the Lord Mayor, Sir William Rider, and then left home by the back door. The city of London did not rise at Essex's urging. A force under Sir John Levenson occupiedLudgate, and every one of London's seven gates were locked. Around two o'clock in the afternoon, realising that they were overcome without fighting, Essex abandoned his remaining followers and fled to Queenhithe, where he took a barge to his house, only to find that Sir Ferdinand Gorges had realeased his hostages and returned with them to Whitehall. Realising hispredicament, Essex burned dozens of incriminating papers

The Earl of Nottingham led the forces that defeated the rebellion at Essex´s House. They surrounded the house and trained their cannon upon it, demanding he give himself up. Essex clambered up on to the roof and brandished his sword, 'I would sooner fly to heaven', cried. Nottingham replied he would blow the house up then. Essex had no choice but to come out, just after ten in the evening, and surrender his sword. He asked that his chaplain, Abdy Ashton, remain with him. Before long, eighty-five rebels had been rounde up and taken into custody.

Within ten days he was condemned for treason and within another week, he was beheaded. There was a great sympathy for him but the people knew he deserved his fate. The Cecils were left supreme.

The list of those involved in Essex’s Rebellion is impressive. His sister, Lady Rich, her lover Lord Mountjoy; Henry Wriothesley; Earl of Southampton, Roger Manners, Earl of Rutland and his brothers Francis and George, Edward Russell, Earl of Bedford; Robert Radcliffe, Earl of Sussex; William, Lord Sandys; Edward, Lord Cromwell; Sir Christopher Blount, Sir Edward Maria Wingfield, Ferdinand Gorges, Sir Thomas Smythe, Sir Edwin Sandys, Sir Gillie Merrick,  John Littleton of Hagley, Sir Charles Danvers, William Parker, (later Lord Mounteagle),  and Henry Cuffe.

Amount the handful who supported Essex either openly or covertly were the seven Catholics mentioned here: Robert Catesby, Thomas Winter, John and Christopher Wright, Thomas Percy, John Grant and Francis Tresham. Robert Catesby, even though he had been previously arrested on suspicion in 1596 during an illness of Queen Elizabeth - a stomach complaint at first diagnosed as a catholic attempt to poison her - was imprisoned after being wounded during the short battle at Essex house. He was released later on payment of a fine of £3000. Francis Tresham only escaped a charge of treason by a bribe of £1000 to Lady Catherine Howard. In addition, some payment was probably given to Egerton and the Lieutenant of the Tower, Lord Thomas Howard, before the pardon could be procured. Records of Sir Thomas Tresham indicate the reverberation of Francis' incarceration. He was forced to sell a number of properties in order to come up with the £2000 fine. It has also been questioned whether he assisted in paying some of Robert Catesby's fine also. The others were fined lesser amounted depending on the degree of participation with Essex.

The Earl of Bedford escaped capture by two servants that had followed him into London, "their purpose to withdraw the Earl of Bedford from that company; as soon as they could get opportunity they got the Earl away, and carried him off by water". Bedford was fined £10,000 for his implication in the rebellion. The Earl of Sussex "had a letter from Essex, and would, it is thought, have been one (a traitor), had he not been out of town, and so come to late". Sussex was committed to Sir John Stanhope's house on suspicion of being involved.

William Parker gave himself up with the others after the siege at Essex House, and wrote a letter to Sir Robert Cecil on 13 Mar 1600 hoping to obtain mercy. "My conscience tells me that I am in no way guilty of these Imputations and that mearley the blindness of ignorance led me into these infamous errors". This letter, along with his confession that was used to help convict the Earl of Essex, perhaps earned him his life. He was released in Aug, however, he was fined the enormous sum of £8,000, leading some to speculate that he became a government spy at this point.

Confined to the Tower on 9 Feb 1601, Cromwell found himself in the company of the Earls of Essex, Rutland and Southampton. On 5 Mar 1601 Lord Cromwell was brought for trial with Lord Sandys in Westminster Hall, fined £3000, and placed under house arrest

Sir Francis Manners was soon released in custody of his great-uncle, Roger Manners, at Enfield, and when Rutland was released from the Tower, he and his train were sent by the Council to Uffington in the custody of Manners. This custodianship was a great trial to Roger Manners. He asked Cecil that if Elizabeth would not allow Rutland to go to his own house, that he himself might go about his own affairs. Rutland’s longer stay was, he said, almost impossible, all his provisions proportioned for six weeks being spent, especially wood and firing, which were not procurable. Also he had heard that exception was taken at Court to Rutland’s hunting and hawking. They were, however, very private, and with only a few of his servants in his company. Rutland was fined £30,000 for his involvement.

At the trial Francis Bacon contributed heavily to his former patron's conviction. Elizabeth, after some hesitation, signed the death warrant, and Essex was executed on Tower Hill less than a month later, while his old rival, Sir Walter Raleigh – who is captain of the Guard – looks on.

More a failed demonstration than a rebellion, this is the era's last attempted coup. The fall of Essex enabled Robert Cecil to establish good relations with James VI, and Cecil ensured the peaceful succession to the English Crown upon Elizabeth's death in 1603.


Belloc, Hillaire: Elizabeth: Creature of Circumstance

Duchein, Michel: Elisabethe Iº d´Anglaterre

Erickson, Carolly: The First Elizabeth

Huddleston, Sisley: Isabel de Inglaterra

Jenkins, Elizabeth: Elizabeth the Great

Kenny, Robert W.:  Elizabeth's Admiral. the Political Career of Charles Howard Earl of Nottingham 1536-1624
Marshall, Rosalind K.: Elizabeth I

Neale, J.E.: Queen Elizabeth

Routh, C.R.N.: Who´s Who in Tudor England (Who´s Who in British History Series, Vol.4)

Smith, Lacey Baldwin: Treason in Tudor England: Politics and Paranoia

Somerset, Anne: Elizabeth I

Starkey, David (Ed.): Rivals in Power: Lives and Letters of the great Tudor dynasties

Strachey, Lytton: Elizabeth and Essex : A Tragic History

Weir, Alison: The life of Elizabeth I

Williams, Neville: All the Queen´s men

Williams, Penry: The Later Tudors: England 1547-1603

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