Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, is one of the most intriguing men of the Elizabethan period. Tall and handsome, he soon becomes a ‘favourite’ at court, so close to the queen many wonder if they are lovers.
The truth is far more complex, as each has what the other yearns for. Robert Devereux longs for recognition, wealth and influence. His flamboyant naïveté amuses the ageing Queen Elizabeth, like the son she never had, and his vitality makes her feel young.
Robert Devereux’s remarkable true story continues the epic tale of the rise of the Tudors, which began with the best-selling Tudor trilogy and concludes with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
My take on the Earl of Essex was that of a man who showed incredible potential but couldn’t quite grasp it. Perhaps he failed to overcome his own deficiencies; perhaps his expectations were too high; or maybe he was just plagued by bad luck. Good looking, aggressive, and confident, he seems to have relied on his lineage and charisma to get ahead, which only worked to a certain extent. He was always chasing his opportunities, just missing the mark. A risk-taker, he often erred from lack of good judgment.
‘How dare you!’
The shout echoed, causing even the queen’s most experienced ladies to flinch. She counted off his crimes on her long fingers, her eyes blazing. ‘You wed without our consent, to a woman beneath your station, who is not well born, who failed to provide Sir Philip Sidney with an heir, then you both conspire to conceal the truth from us!’ Robert had always known this was coming, yet he’d never seen the queen so angry, and the mention of conspiracy made his heart thump in his chest. There had been a difficult conversation with Robert Cecil, who seemed to enjoy having such power over him, but had agreed to keep their great secret – for now, at least.
He kneeled before Elizabeth, begged forgiveness, and waited to learn his fate. It didn’t surprise him that someone had revealed his secret. He’d been careful at the beginning, but Elizabeth’s courtiers loved to gossip.
Although written in third person from Essex’s point of view, I couldn’t help but think the narrator’s perceptions were flawed. Essex was never at fault. It was like reading a self-deceptive first-person account. Was this deliberate? It’s certainly an interesting way to depict a less-than-heroic protagonist. It was as though Essex never took responsibility for his own actions, all the way to the end. And maybe that’s the case. The book dashed from one event to the next, possibly the way his life unfolded. If he had used a little more forethought—if he had been a little more clever—he might have landed on his feet.
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Meet Tony Riches
Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of best-selling Tudor historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the history of the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors. Tony’s other published historical fiction novels include: Owen – Book One Of The Tudor Trilogy, Jasper – Book Two Of The Tudor Trilogy, Henry – Book Three Of The Tudor Trilogy, Mary – Tudor Princess, Brandon – Tudor Knight and The Secret Diary Of Eleanor Cobham.
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