Towards the end of her reign in 1601 Elizabeth faced a threat from one of her own Privy Councillors, Robert Devereux, the second Earl of Essex. By this time Elizabeth was growing old and she had no heir or husband. The country had been at war with Spain and there was rebellion in Ireland. Added to which there was growing unrest in the country as a whole due to high taxes and bad harvests.
Essex was one of Elizabeth’s closest companions. He was much younger than her and had been brought up by one of Elizabeth’s favourites, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Essex was exceptionally charming and he flattered the queen which won her affection. However, Essex was also proud, reckless and extravagant and very different from his step-father, Dudley. In 1587 Elizabeth made Essex her Master of Horse, a court position that had been held by Robert Dudley. As the Queen’s Master of Horse Essex had the opportunity to spend time in the company of the queen. He became a Privy Councillor in 1593 and led a successful expedition to attack the Spanish port city of Cadiz, returning to England a hero in 1596.
However, their close relationship deteriorated:
Even though the rebellion was the greatest crisis of Elizabeth’s final years the Privy Council stood with the queen and made sure that Essex was not successful. Essex was the victim of his own stupidity as he believed that he could get his own way by a show of force. He was arrogant enough to believe that Elizabeth would forgive him for anything.