Saturday, February 25, 2012

On this Day in Elizabethan History: The Execution of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex

On this day in Elizabethan history, February 25th, 1601, Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex was executed for high treason. While Essex's Rebellion was the brash act which was to seal the fate of Queen Elizabeth's last great favorite, Essex's downfall had been a long time in the making.

A portrait of Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex, painted between 1590-96 by Marcus Gheeraerts. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
 Essex had flirted and teased with the queen until she had agreed to put him in charge of a military expedition in Ireland in 1599. Queen Elizabeth hoped that the Earl, who was often a lot of talk with very little to back up his claims of worth, could use this opportunity to prove himself to her, but especially to her court, who had an increasingly low opinion of him. Essex was confident that he could conquer a territory that had been the great undoing of so many Englishmen before him. Being in charge of any campaign in Ireland was a thankless job, and many courtiers tried to avoid having to go there at all costs. Those who were appointed to certain offices in Ireland by the queen often exhausted all efforts to get out of it!

No amount of planning could prepare Essex for an Irish uprising that was so large and so damaging to the English that it was unprecedented in recent history. None the less, Essex probably could have suppressed the rebellion had he done what he had been expected to do: take his army straight to Ulster to confront the Earl of Tyrone. But instead, Essex chose to blaze his own trail, taking his men through Munster where they were ambushed by the Irish. Essex disregarded the fact that he was not a free agent and that he was sent on his mission because Queen Elizabeth had good faith in him; He made an impulsive decision that he was not authorized to make without prior approval of the crown, calling a truce with the Irish.

Elizabeth had been kept up to date on Essex's escapades in Ireland, and she was outraged at every twist and turn in the story. Essex and Tyrone actually forged some sort of a friendship, and when Essex abandoned his army and returned to court without the queen officially recalling him to her side, (a grave offence) he had the audacity to petition his benefactress on the Earl of Tyrone's behalf! This was the final straw for Elizabeth, who reprimanded him severely and had him forced into exile in within the boundaries of her realm. She did not want to look at him, nor did she want him to enjoy himself, gallivanting about with his friends.

Another portrait of Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex. Picture acquired though Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

During Queen Elizabeth and Essex's separation, more intelligence began to get back to the queen on her favorite's misdeeds. It was clear to her that she could no longer protect and defend the Earl, and he was put on trial in June of 1600. Essex was tried by his peers, and while he was not at this time convicted of any serious crime, he was dismissed of his offices and sentenced to be held under house arrest. This was an unfathomable punishment for a man who relished the spotlight, and Essex began scheming almost immediately to change his fortunes. While Essex was lucky enough to be released from his gilded cage just two months later, he tried to push his luck by attempting to win back the queen, but she refused to associate with him any more. Essex became increasingly paranoid and aggressive, and somehow he deluded himself into believing that Robert Cecil, whom he had long hated, and certain members of the previous council were poisoning Queen Elizabeth's mind against him. Essex concocted a plan to use military force against the government to remove these parties that he deemed offensive.

The Kitchner Portrait of Elizabeth I, 1580. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Contemporaries outside of Essex's circle of sycophants and modern scholars can agree that Essex's allegations had no bearing; these were the rants of a madman nursing his wounded pride. And as I have explained in previous articles, everyone who knew Queen Elizabeth, especially those members of her inner circle, knew that no one persuaded to the queen to do anything against her own will. Queen Elizabeth was a pragmatist and a master politician, who heard endless points of view and deliberated for months, sometimes years before ever making a decision. No man could influence her without her permitting it.

The Hardwick Portrait of Elizabeth I, 1592. 

Essex must have learned nothing from the Duke of Norfolk when he conspired with the Scots to enact a coup d'etat. Essex contacted King James VI and his friend Lord Mountjoy in the hopes that they would support his uprising.

A portrait of Sir Charles Blount, 8th Baron Mountjoy c.1594, by an unknown artist. Mountjoy is sporting the fashionable "peascod" style doublet, which gives the optical illusion of a trim waistline! Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

The Scottish king wisely declined, so Essex's only real comrades were his cronies, who did not have the military power or political leverage to contribute anything critical to his cause, with the exception of his friend (and Shakespeare patron) Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton. Essex and Southampton and a few supporters stormed London unsuccessfully-even the street people of London knew Essex's crusade against the queen was ill-advised. The rebels were captured and sent to the Tower.

An portrait of Essex's co-conspirator Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, from1603. By John de Critz. This portrait of Southampton imprisoned in the Tower is filled with allegory and symbolism. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Essex was tried for treason. Some of his former associates, like the Lord High Admiral Charles Howard, with whom he had attacked the Spanish base at Cadiz, passed judgement on him. Queen Elizabeth had suffered the ultimate betrayal at the hands of Essex-the betrayal of a friend. She did not deliberate for long, before she signed his death warrant.

A detail from a portrait of Lord High Admiral Charles Howard. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Robert Devereux, son of Walter Devereux and the queen's cousin, Lettice Knollys, was beheaded in 1601. Southampton would survive in the Tower long enough to see the light of day again when King James VI of Scotland became James I of England as Elizabeth's successor. The Earl of Essex's son with his wife, Frances Walsingham, was disinherited, but his rights were later restored by James I; He became the 3rd Earl of Essex.

A detail of a portrait of Frances Walsingham, Countess of Essex, and her son Robert, from 1594. By Robert Peake. Frances was the daughter of Queen Elizabeth I's spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, and the resemblance between the two is uncanny around the eyes. Little Robert later became 3rd Earl of Essex. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

The Earl of Essex truly embodied the notion "pride cometh before a fall", and although he was the queen's last great favorite, they were not intimates as she and his stepfather Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester had been. Theirs was a connection of folly and flirtation, not long talks and shared minds. Sadly, Essex's only legacy is his betrayal of England's most beloved queen.

Friday, February 24, 2012

On this Day in Elizabethan History: The Death of Katherine Carey-Howard, Countess of Nottingham

A Portrait of a Lady from the English school; the subject is thought to be Katherine Carey-Howard, Countess of Nottingham, c.1595-97. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain

The date is contested, but on either February 24th or 25th,  Katherine Carey-Howard, Countess of Nottingham died in 1603, the same year as her famous relative and good friend, Queen Elizabeth I of England.

And who was this other Katherine Carey/Howard? (She is not to be confused with her aunt, Katherine Carey, Lady Knollys, who was Elizabeth I's first cousin on her mother's side via her aunt Mary Boleyn, and who was also one of the queen's few women friends, nor Katherine Howard, the ill-fated fifth wife of King Henry VIII)

A late 16th century miniature by esteemed court painter Nicholas Hilliard, reputedly of Katherine Carey-Howard, Countess of Nottingham. This may also be Elizabeth Spencer, Baroness Hunsdon, and a myriad of other candidates. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

This Katherine Carey was born around 1547. She was the eldest daughter of Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon and his wife, Anne Morgan. Henry Carey was one of the children of Mary Boleyn, the sister of Elizabeth's mother Queen Anne Boleyn. Mary Boleyn had been King Henry VIII's mistress for several years before he became infatuated with Anne, and it has often been speculated based on contemporary evidence that Henry Carey was actually an illegitimate child of King Henry, and perhaps also his sister Katherine. While there are many interesting candidates for King Henry's unacknowledged illegitimate children, there are only two that I personally believe to be endowed with Tudor blood: Henry's sister, Katherine Carey (later Lady Knollys) and Ethelreda (Audrey) Maltes of (see Mary Boleyn: The Mistress Kings). But, if indeed Katherine Carey's father was the illegitimate son of King Henry VIII, this would make her the grandchild of the iconic Tudor king. If Henry Carey was a mere cousin of Queen Elizabeth I, this still made all his children directly related to the queen on her maternal (Boleyn/Howard) side.

Henry Carey, created 1st Baron Hunsdon by Queen Elizabeth I, and father of Katherine Carey, later Countess of Nottingham. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain. 

Katherine Carey first came to court in 1560 as a gentlewoman of the privy chamber. She became a fast friend of Queen Elizabeth I. She would marry well, to Charles Howard in July of 1563. Charles Howard was the great-uncle of the queen, since he was the half-sibling of her maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Howard-Boleyn (yes, the circles of the nobility were all closely, if not incestuously intertwined). Charles rose to fame as the Lord High Admiral of England, leading the English naval forces against the Spanish Armada. He is one of a few men directly responsible for the victory over the Spaniard's attempted invasion in 1588. Charles would be created Earl of Nottingham  in 1596, and his wife therefore Countess of Nottingham; he would also be made Lord Lieutenant General of England. Howard would continue to fight against the Spaniard's, as he and the Earl of Essex would attack their base at Cadiz. Ever the loyal servant of England and Elizabeth, Charles Howard would later serve as a commissioner at the trial of his former comrade Essex, who would be executed for treason.

A detail from a portrait of Charles Howard, c. 1620 by Daniel Mijtens. By this time, Charles was remarried after the death of his first wife Katherine Carey-Howard,  to Elizabeth Stuart, 2nd Countess of Moray, who was more than 5 decades his junior. Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales could count Elizabeth Stuart as an ancestor! Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

While many women left the Queen's service after marriage to retire to domestic life, Katherine Carey-Howard stayed on at court, a testament to her close bond with the queen. While serving Queen Elizabeth, Katherine held several positions: She became both Mistress of Robes and Mistress of Jewels, which were both positions of great trust because it meant dealing with the queen's expensive and beloved collection of fine gowns and baubles. She and her husband would entertain Elizabeth twice at their home, a great honor, first in 1585 and again in 1587. For her retirement, Queen Elizabeth honored her friend by granting her the manor house in Chelsea in 1591. It was an emotionally significant property for Elizabeth I to give, as this was where she had spent time as a young girl in the Queen Dowager Katherine Parr's household after her father's death. Katherine Carey-Howard and the Lord High Admiral would have five children together:

1. Frances. Frances' first marriage was to Henry FitzGerald, the 12th Earl of Kildare (Ireland). Her second marriage was to Henry Brooke, 11th Baron Cobham. Frances and her second husband had a lovely family, and their family portrait is one of my favorite depictions of Elizabethan domestic life (see below). Her mother-in-law, Frances Newton, is the woman seated in the picture. By all accounts, Cobham was a good man, but no great statesmen, and he often floundered in court politics. Baron Cobham would take part in a rebellion in opposition to James Stuart's rule in England, called the Main Plot, which attempted to use military force to remove James and place Arabella Stuart on the throne. He would be imprisoned in the Tower for his involvement. Old and sick, he was released out of courtesy in 1618, dying later in poverty. Frances witnessed her husband's tragic fall, and did not die herself until 1628.
2. William, 3rd Baron Howard of Effingham (1577-1615)
3.Charles Howard, 2nd Earl of Nottingham (1579-1642)
4. Margaret. Margaret married Sir Richard Leveson, and died having had no children.
5. Elizabeth. Elizabeth Howard was a Maid of Honor of Queen Elizabeth I. Her first marriage was to Sir Robert Southwell, with whom she had several children. One of these children, a daughter also named Elizabeth, was the lover and eventual third wife of the charismatic explorer Robert Dudley, the illegitimate son of Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester and Lady Douglas Sheffield (whom Leicester may or may not have married). Elizabeth Howard's second marriage was to John Stewart, 1st Earl of Carrick. 

Katherine Carey-Howard's daughter Frances and her husband Henry Brooke, Baron Cobham and their "blended" family. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

When Katherine died, Queen Elizabeth was reportedly devastated at the loss of one of her closest friends. The queen reportedly experienced a "deep melancholy, with conceit of her own death", and also began complaining "of many infirmities suddenly to have overtaken her" (Kenny, 256). Elizabeth always grieved bitterly for the death's of those that she was close to, often taking to bed and speaking to know one for days, or weeks, as it was in the case of the Earl of Leicester. Elizabeth's profound display of grief for Katherine was undoubtedly exacerbated, as the above quotes imply, by her self-awareness that her own life, and her reign, were coming to a close.

But there is another reason that Elizabeth might have been so troubled to see her friend die; according to legend, Katherine confessed a deathbed secret to the queen. Supposedly, the disgraced Earl of Essex sent a ring with a messenger to Katherine's sister, Lady Scrope. Lady Scrope was an Essex sympathizer, and the Earl hoped that she would intercede with the angry queen on his behalf, bearing the gift in his stead. When the messenger mistook the Countess of Nottingham for her sister, Katherine kept the ring for herself, as she did not like Essex, and did not wish to see the queen soften in her resolve against him. When the ax fell on Essex's treasonous head, it was too late for Katherine to confess her deception to the queen. When Katherine felt the heavy hand of death and her own immortal judgement awaiting her, she told the queen everything. This is where the now famous quote, "May God forgive you; I never can!" supposedly came from, as Queen Elizabeth cried out in sorrow.

A detail of a portrait of Robert Devereaux, the Earl of Essex c.1590, by Marcus Gheeraerts. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

While I think Elizabeth may have said this iconic quote at another time, about something else, it is unlikely that it pertained to Katherine, the Countess of Nottingham. Katherine was not even at court in the days leading up to the Earl of Essex's execution.

Katherine Carey-Howard, Countess of Nottingham, was interred at Chelsea three days before Queen Elizabeth was interred at Westminster Abbey. May they both rest in peace.


Weir, Alison. Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings. New York: Ballantine Books, 2011. Print.

Kenny, Robert W. Elizabeth's Admiral: The Political Career of Charles Howard, Earl of Nottingham. 1536-1624. Print.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Elizabethan Fact of the Day: Elizabeth and her Guinea Pigs

UPDATE: In further proof, National Geographic cites new evidence that may support the claim that Guinea Pigs were bred as "curiosity pets" in the Elizabethan Age. Read the article HERE.

A detail from a 1615 painting by Jan Brueghel the Elder, depicting two multicolored Guinea Pigs doing what they do best: nibbling veggies! Image courtesy of lierne via Flickr.

I am always delighted to discover anything new pertaining to Elizabeth I. Recently I came across an authority on Guinea Pigs, who wrote a chapter in her book on their history. She  has found evidence to validate something I have long suspected, based on other contemporary clues from the late 16th century: Queen Elizabeth I had Guinea Pigs! This information comes courtesy Virginia Parker Guidry's book Guinea Pigs: Practical Advice for caring for your Guinea Pig.

I myself have long been a lover of Guinea Pigs, whom are more accurately called Cavy's-I think they are the most underrated "pocket-pet" on the market today, and any time I get the opportunity to sing their praises, like they "sing" for me every morning, I will do so!

GP's are not your typical rodent-they are plucky, verbal (with a series of elaborate trills, squeaks and purrs to alert you of their various needs), cuddly, affectionate, and extremely smart! And every piggy that I have ever had the pleasure of knowing or owning has had their own distinct personality.

One of my piggles, Annabelle, whom I call "Annabelly" due to her tendency to lie on her side or back and push out her big belly so that I can rub it-she loves it, and I will sometimes do it for a half an hour, or until she falls asleep! 

I am about to begin click-training with my most recent pair of piggles, Avery and Annabelle. My heart melts for my "A-Team" on a daily basis, so I am not surprised that even the most authoritative of sovereigns succumbed to their charms! I like to think that Queen Elizabeth benefited from a nice cuddle-session with a trilling Guinea Pig after the end of a long day deliberating with her Privy Council. I doubt, however, that she ever had to clean a pig cage herself! ;)

The Ermine Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, by William Segar. Elizabeth is depicted with an ermine on her sleeve (a member of the weasel family, along with ferrets, a domesticated form of polecat used for hunting), representing her royal birth. Unfortunately, there is no Guinea Pig Portrait!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Elizabethan Quote of the Day: Elizabeth's "unruly horse"

"An unruly horse must be abated of his provender*, that he may be the easier and better managed."-Queen Elizabeth I, 1600.

Provender-fodder for livestock, originating in 13th century Middle English.

After a series of disappointing mismanagement's within his appointed office, and an unchecked ego, Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex was due for a sharp reprimand, though his own inflated perception of himself did not allow him to see that the walls of his own design were closing in around him. His monopoly on sweet wines, which Elizabeth I had granted in 1590 for ten years, come up for review in 1600. After several years of giving her last favorite the benefit of the doubt, the queen had grown tired of Essex's behavior. The charismatic bravado that had once entertained her and made her feel carefree in her rare moments away from state business, had now grown to an intolerable, and dangerous level. 

A miniature portrait of the Earl of Essex, by Nicholas Hilliard. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Elizabeth decided to put Essex in his place, saying the above quote before she revoked his monopoly on sweet wines. The "unruly horse", of course, is Essex, and the "provender" is his monopoly. This was a prudent decision of the queen's, not only to send a strong message to Essex about his pride, but also due to the fact that he had now amassed a financial debt somewhere around 16,000 pounds. I agree with David Loades, who in his book Elizabeth I: A Life supposes that Elizabeth did in fact know of Essex's money troubles when she revoked his monopoly, although we cannot ever know for sure (Loades, 277).

A 16th century portrait of Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex. Essex was the son of  Lettice Knollys, who was one of the 14 children of Elizabeth I's beloved cousin Katherine Carey-Knollys. Lettice boldly married Elizabeth's confidante and only true romantic interest, Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester. When Leicester's biological son tragically died young, he adopted Devereux as his heir. Essex's great-grandmother was therefore Mary Boleyn, the sister of Elizabeth's mother, Queen Anne Boleyn. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

The month's ahead were to bring about the end of the Earl and some of his cronies, for their ill-planned and executed rebellion against the queen. While Essex would claim that his intent was not malicious, and that he only wanted to "free" the queen from her  ill-advisers, like Robert Cecil, whom he hated, his claim was transparent to those about him: Essex's Rebellion was a personal vendetta for a man with wounded pride, and not about alleged corrupt advisement of the queen. 

And anyone who knew Elizabeth, especially those intimates on her Privy Council, knew that know one could ever manipulate or influence the queen to do anything against her will! Elizabeth's judgement was always final, and the ax fell on Essex's head for his twice-fold treason: a personal and political betrayal.


Loades, David. Elizabeth I: A Life. London: Continuum, 2006.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Look what Bess has Been up to! (Ahem, Grace O'Malley...)

I wanted to share with all of my valued readers what I have been up to! I am very pleased at the success of my most recent project at work, which is not so much a personal success but a collaborative effort with all the wonderful, talented people I work with!  True Stories of Women Pirates is a proud moment for the women in my department, and at the risk of sounding nineties cliche, I am going to say it: Girl Power! You can all read about it HERE.

For my solo Grace O'Malley program next month, I will have had made an historically accurate 16th century gown so that I am properly attired as the Irish Pirate Queen! 16th century Irish clothing is very different from Elizabethan clothing (and much simpler, may I add!) but there are very few remnants in existence today, which makes accurate construction difficult. Thankfully, those talented seamstresses at Reconstructing History have provided a very good, well researched pattern of the 1560's Shirone Gown!

I will share pictures of it when it is all done!



Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men...(and bloggers)

Dearest readers,

I have missed you all so very much! I had big plans this week to post two major articles, but of course I should never have dared to hope that this would actually happen, as I am the embodiment of Murphy's Law, and everything that can go wrong, will.

This week I moved to my new abode (to be closer to my place of work. I love my job, and I would probably live at the museum if I could, but I think that constitutes as loitering) had a surgery, and had two very prominent cable companies (I am not naming names) throw several unexpected curve balls that have prevented me from re-connecting to the Internet. I write this sullen blog-post to you now at that greatest of public institutions, the library. I would like to share with you what I have been working on, so that you can have something to look forward to in the weeks ahead. I cannot wait to share my work with you!

Many of you this week likely celebrated Valentine's Day-I had intended to post an article examining the relationship between Elizabeth Tudor and Robert Dudley on the 14th, but since I had no access to the Internet, I had no way of typing it into Blogspot.

Secondly, on the 18th we have the anniversary of the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots. I was diligent in my re-examination of the personal, political and spiritual ramifications of this event in Elizabeth's reign, and as I cannot foresee having Internet by the 18th, the sharing of that article will have to wait as well.

Also, one of my Twitter followers/blog readers @RebeccaHoyt has become interested in the Prince Tudor/illegitimate child of Elizabeth I theory, most recently explored in that already infamous film, Anonymous (why, Rhys Ifans, why!?!). I was flattered when she asked me for my opinion, and I gave it (I do not subscribe to the theory for a number of reasons) and I forwarded her to my two articles on the Earl of Oxford. Her inquiry has inspired me to write an article on the Prince Tudor theory, detailing the arguments for and against it. I am brainstorming a way to approach this most dangerous of conspiracy theories in an impartial light. I want to thank you, @RebeccaHoyt for the motivation!

I am still editing both the Elizabeth/Dudley and the Mary Queen of Scots drafts, and tying up a few loose ends, but I hope to share them with you as soon as time (and Internet access) allow. The upcoming month of March is a big one for me and my co-workers at the museum; This year I will be running not one, but several Elizabethan/16th century programs that I look forward to with every fiber of my being, so I will do my best to balance the blog with my program preparations.

I hope by now you realize that have not forgotten about you; I feel so honored that you continue to read my blog and share in celebrating Elizabeth's life with me. My commitment to this most impressive of monarch's will prevail until the day I die, so you can look forward to many more articles on this blog in the future!