Devereux was a courtier and soldier, famous for his charm and his position as royal favourite in the court of Elizabeth I.
Robert Devereux was born on 10 November 1566, the son of Walter Devereux, first earl of Essex, and Lettice Knollys. When he was nine his father died, and Robert inherited the title of earl. He became a ward of the powerful Lord Burghley. Essex's mother married Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, favourite of Elizabeth I.
Essex first attained prominence by fighting against the Spanish in the Netherlands in 1586, and distinguished himself at Zutphen where his cousin, Sir Philip Sidney, was killed. Four years later Devereux married Sidney's widow. By this time he had replaced his stepfather in the affections of the ageing queen. Essex and Elizabeth had a tempestuous relationship and there were many quarrels but his charm ensured that she continued to grant him royal appointments.
In 1589, Essex disobeyed the queen and joined the English Armada - an unsuccessful attempt to drive home the advantage gained by the defeat of the Spanish Armada the previous year. In 1591, he commanded a force sent to assist the Protestant Henry of Navarre in France.
In 1596, Essex became a national hero when he shared command of the expedition that captured Cadiz from the Spanish. The following year, he failed in an expedition to intercept the Spanish treasure fleet off the Azores. In 1599, at his own request, Essex was appointed lord lieutenant of Ireland and sent to put down a rebellion by the earl of Tyrone. After an unsuccessful campaign Essex concluded an unauthorised truce with Tyrone and then returned to England to try and explain his conduct to the queen. She deprived him of his offices and placed him under house arrest.
Politically and financially ruined, Essex attempted to raise the people of London in revolt against the government. This ended in failure. Essex was tried and executed for treason on 25 February 1601.
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