Earls Of Essex. I. See Cromwell, Thomas. II. Walter Devereux, first earl of Essex of his name, born in Carmarthenshire, Wales, about 1540, died in Dublin, Sept. 22, 1576. He succeeded his grandfather early in the title of Viscount Hereford, and recommended himself to Queen Elizabeth by his bravery in suppressing the rebellion of the earls of Northumberland and Westmoreland in 1569. For this service he received the garter and the earldom of Essex. In 1573 he undertook an expedition, in company with other noblemen and gentlemen, for subduing and colonizing a portion of Ulster in Ireland; but in its prosecution he was subjected to many trials and disappointments. He was obliged to make peace with O'Neal, when, by continuing the war, he had the fairest prospects of driving him out of the country. He was also required to give up his command just as he had almost expelled the invading Scots from the western islands of his territory. Harassed with his difficulties, he retired to England, but was again induced to return, with the title of earl marshal of Ireland and the promise of support and assistance. As these promises were but poorly kept, he was overcome with grief, and the agitation of his mind threw him into a fatal dysentery.
There was suspicion of poison, which was not diminished by the marriage, soon after, of his countess to the earl of Leicester. III. Robert Devereux, son of the preceding, second earl, born at Netherwood, Herefordshire, Nov. 10, 1567, executed Feb. 25, 1601. He succeeded to his title in his 10th year, and in 1577 was sent by his guardian Lord Burleigh to Trinity college, Cambridge, where he took the degree of master of arts. He appeared at court in his 17th year, and soon captivated Elizabeth. In 1585 he accompanied the earl of Leicester to Holland, and displayed his personal courage in the battle of Zutphen. In 1587 he was appointed master of the horse, and in the following year the queen created him captain general of the cavalry, and conferred on him the honor of the garter. He succeeded Leicester as prime favorite, and his attendance was constantly required at court. In 1589, when an expedition against Portugal was undertaken by Drake and Norris, Essex secretly followed the armament, and joined it on the coast of Portugal. Though he had departed without the permission of the queen, he was quickly reconciled with her after his return, and at once assumed a superiority over Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Charles Blount, the rival competitors for royal favor.
He was challenged by Blount and wounded in the knee, and the queen is said to have expressed her gratification that some one had taken him in hand, as otherwise there would be no ruling him. In 1590 he married the daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham, the widow of Sir Philip Sidney, and in the following year had command of a fruitless expedition in Brittany against the Spaniards. When in 1596 alarm was excited by the hostile preparations in the Spanish harbors, he was joined with Lord Admiral Howard in command of the expedition against Cadiz. The intrigues of the Cecils caused him to be coolly received on his return; but he quickly recovered favor. Two subsequent expeditions which he conducted against Spanish shipping met with little success. The queen received him with reproaches, and he retired to Wanstead; nor would he be pacified by her acknowledgment that the charges against him were unfounded, but after a long negotiation he accepted the office of hereditary earl marshal as indemnity for the promotion that had been given to his rivals.
In 1598 he quarrelled with the queen about the appointment of deputy in Ireland, and when she boxed him on the ear for turning his back to her in presence of her ministers, he swore that he would not endure such an affront even from Henry VIII. himself, and withdrew from court. Only a formal reconciliation was ever effected. In 1599 the province of Ulster was in rebellion, and Essex accepted the lord-lieutenantcy of Ireland. His campaign resulted only in a temporary armistice. He returned in haste, and retired from his first audience with a cheerful countenance, but was immediately ordered to consider himself a prisoner in his own house. After months of hesitation, he at length conceived the plan of forcibly banishing his enemies from her majesty's council. At the head of a force of about 300 men he made his way into London, but was disappointed in expecting the people to rise in his favor; he took refuge in Essex house, where he was besieged and forced to surrender. He was committed to the tower, tried for treason, condemned, and executed, the queen reluctantly signing the warrant. He was an accomplished scholar, and a patron of literature. He erected a monument to Spenser, gave an estate to Bacon, and was the friend of Wotton and other men of learning.
IV. Robert Devereux, son of the preceding, third earl, born in London in 1592, died there, Sept. 14, 1646. He succeeded to his title in 1603, and in his 15th year was married to Lady Frances Howard, who was a year younger. He proceeded to the university and thence to the continent, while his wife remained at court, and numbered Prince Henry and Rochester (afterward earl of Somerset) among her admirers. In 1613 she obtained a divorce, and was soon after married to Rochester. Essex led a solitary life in his country house, till in 1620 he raised a troop and served in the wars of the Netherlands. He was engaged in several campaigns abroad, and as vice admiral commanded a fruitless expedition sent by England against Spain. His second marriage also resulted unhappily and in a divorce. At the outbreak of the civil war he was appointed lord general by the parliament, laid siege to Portsmouth, and was proclaimed a traitor by Charles. He fought against the king at Edge-hill (1642), captured Reading (1643), and advanced into Cornwall, but met with a succession of disasters which forced his army to capitulate. He escaped in a boat to Plymouth, and went to London, where a parliamentary deputation waited on him in honor of his faithful services.
He again raised a corps, but ill health soon obliged him to quit his command. As early as 1644 he suspected Cromwell of a design to erect a new government. He therefore urged his impeachment before the house of lords, and Cromwell took revenge by proposing the "self-denying ordinance," by which members of both houses were excluded from all offices, whether civil or military. This measure having passed, Essex ceased to be a parliamentary general, but for his services £10,000 per annum was voted to him out of the sequestered estates of the loyalists. - The title expired with him, and was revived in 1661 in favor of Arthur, second Baron Capel, in whose family it still remains.