Essex' Plot to Win the Queen

from The Marriage of Elizabeth Tudor


Alfred Dodd

Hatfield House, Hertfordshire


This is the famous portrait of the Queen at Hatfield House, home of the Cecils(Lord Burleigh and son Robert) known as the Rainbow Portrait. Elizabeth is shown as Iris, wrapped in a cloak decorated with the eyes and ears of fame. The portrait is crammed with symbolic details, suggesting Virginity, Royalty, etc. An insciption on the picture in Latin translates as "No rainbow without the sun"(suggesting the pun, No Regne Beau without son). The picture belongs to the period of 1600, the Queen is drawn as a beautiful young woman--identical to the drawing by Nicholas Hilliard. It is not known for certain who painted this portrait, but among more recent thoughts have been the name of Isaac Oliver (a pupil later a rival of Hilliard). It is also said that the Queen's face in the Rainbow Portrait is based on Hilliard's stock representation of her features. --Joan Ham, from her article The First Sacrifice, appeared in Baconiana 1978

Additonally, the eyes and ears on the dress symbolized a mute warning to everyone that the Queen watched all and heard everything.


Painting of Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex
by Marcus Gheeraerts,1596

Failing to obtain permission to see the Queen and to recover her favour, The Earl of Essex (Robert Devereux) gave himself up to the most violent rage and foolishly plotted to obtain forcible control of the Queen and Court. The attempt failed and he was placed on trial for alleged rebellion and sentenced to death. The Queen apparently dallied with the signing of the Warrant for execution; was pressed into giving her signature, and then sent to countermand it: But it was too late, the execution having been hurried on by his enemies.

Years afterwards, his enemy Sir Walter Raleigh, when going to the block, murmured to the clergyman in attendance on him that "Essex was fetched of his death by a trick."

Summoning up the circumstances which led to the alleged traitorous rebellion, Prof. Nichol says (Bacon, Vol I, p.51) :

"The Earl's conduct is altogether inexplicable. Outwardly he remained quiet at Essex House, importuning Her Majesty with romantic professions of attachment: to his more intimate friends he spoke and acted like a man who suffered under some great wrong or was goaded by the consciousness of some guilty SECRET."

The "professions of attachment" were obviously the call of the blood running alike in both their Tudor veins. It was not the sentimental rhapsody of a lover. Assume that he was the Queen's son, who could not proclaim himself as a Tudor to the world, and was being hounded by men who knew his real identity, and who had, in a sense, both the Queen and himself at their mercy, and we can understand what is to Nichol, and every other historian, an "inexplicable" problem, the guilty Secret which goaded Essex to the madness of rebellion. Over and over again at his trial he repeats that he had no intention of doing harm to the Queen, but to rescue her from the enemies who had poisoned her mind against him.

"If I had purposed anything against others than my private enemies," he said, " I would not have stirred with so slender a company."

Not only did Essex declare that Raleigh had intended to murder him, but he also said that Sir Robert Cecil, the Secretary of State whom he must have known was in receipt of a Spanish pension, had sold the SUCCESSION of the Throne to the Spaniards. It is the "Succession" which is the root of the matter; and Cecil, who was in hiding, listening behind curtains at the trial, hastily rushed into the Court to deny the story. All this is consistent with the Earl of Essex being a concealed son who was fighting for his birthright. His rebellious act was doubtless prompted by the thought that if only he could plead his cause in person to the Queen he could again win her favour. He felt that she could not resist the pleadings of her own flesh and blood.

"You sought to be Robert the First," shouted Edward Coke at the trial, " but you shall be Robert the Last."

The fiery temper of the Queen and Earl, which brought about the catastrophe, is seen in her refusal to allow him any longer an income from his monopoly of sweet wines. She tells Francis Bacon, who pleads for Essex personally:

"When horses are unmanageable, it is necessary to tame them by stinting them in the quantity of their food."

When he again requested the monopoly he granted to him, and was again denied contemptuously, he once more forgot himself and was guilty of "the folly and ingratitude of referring to the Queen as 'an old woman crooked in mind and body'." One can understand even mother-love, in such a nature as Queen Elizabeth, being temporarily killed by such a public utterance. Personally, I think she never forgave this bitter jibe until Essex was dead and buried. When it was too late she began to make excuses for him and gradually restored his memory with affection until at last she was seized with remorse for her own part in the tragedy.

"The strong mind of Elizabeth was evidently shaken by the conflicting passions that assailed her at this agitating period and reason tottered." (Strickland, p. 669.)
The Secret of the Last of the Tudors

It is said that Essex wore a little black bag round his neck which he destroyed, with its contents, the night before his execution. They may possibly have had some connection with his parentage. In any case, he never said anything in Court or elsewhere, or left any written record of his identity as a Tudor.

It is, however, impossible to reconcile the Queen's remorse, her brokenhearted ejaculations, her grief, which ultimately worked itself into a climax of sleepless and foodless days and nights, with the conventional story that Elizabeth and Essex were lovers. It points much more accurately to the relationship of mother and son--both Tudors, of the same fiery imperious nature.

He was executed in a portion of the Tower reserved for Royal prisoners, when, as a traitor, he ought to have been hung and quartered at Tyburn.

"After his death, the Queen was received with silence when she appeared in public, no longer with cheers, and her Ministers were insulted...the populace would seem to have behaved as if they believed him to be the Queen's own son.''( Woodward.)

The opinion of Camden, a contemporary, is that the Queen suffered the Earl to be executed because of his supposed "obstinacy in not applying to her for mercy" by not sending to her "the Ring."


That Essex possessed a ring given him by the Queen, as a Royal Talisman, is unquestionable, despite the unwarranted doubts cast upon the story by Strachey. The ring is now said to be placed on her tomb in Westminster Abbey. "Contemporary writers bear witness to the increased dejection of mind after visiting the Countess of Nottingham," says Strickland (p.695) The story is repeated in Naunton's Fragmenta Regalia. Apparently, the Queen never knew until shortly before her death that Essex had sent the ring, and that it had been prevented from reaching her.

The story runs that the Queen gave Essex a ring, with the intimation that if ever he were in difficulties of any kind, its return to her would serve as a signal of distress. She pledged her word that no matter what the danger was that threatened him, she would rescue him. When he was sentenced to death, the Queen expected him to return the ring. She played for time, hoping his pride would suffer him to unbend. The ring never came. The death warrant was signed. The Queen could not bear her pride of will to be broken even by Robert. Months later the Countess of Nottingham lay on her death bed. She sent for the Queen and told her she could not die without making to her a personal confession. When Elizabeth came to see her the Countess confessed that the ring had been given to her, in error, and that at the instigation of some of Essex' enemies (Cecil) she had suppressed it. She held it out to Elizabeth. It is said that the Queen took the dying woman by the shoulders and shook her until she was breathless, flinging her back among the bed pillows with terrible imprecations. Her last words were, " God may forgive you but I never can." She went back to her Palace to die in despair. A tragedy of false pride...... on both sides.

Mother and son were as steel and flint to each other. The sparks flashed and the fire kindled that brought Essex to the block and the Queen to a nameless agony she could not confess to anyone.

"I am tied, tied! And the case is altered with me," she moans, after learning that Robert had mutely asked for pardon. " I am tied with a chain of iron about my neck," she says, shaking her head piteously to her only confidential friend, Lord Admiral Howard. She waved the clerics from her chamber. How could she confess to them the real secret of her remorse? "Many were of opinion that her distress of mind was caused by the death of Essex," says Srickland (p.696)

Perhaps the nearest direct proof possible to obtain (apart from secret Royal Documents) is the inscription over the doorway of a small cell at the foot of the Beauchamp Tower in the Tower of London. The Earl of Essex sojourned there until his death. His real identity is told in two words:


carved by someone to commemorate the imprisonment and death of the unhappy son of Elizabeth Tudor (pronounced Tidir). "Tidir" is the Welsh form of "Tudor." The only State Prisoner to whom the inscription could apply was Robert, Earl of Essex. It must have been carved at the instigation of someone in authority and with the connivance of the Governor of the Tower.


The Virgin Queen


Queen Elizabeth wished to be known to the world as "The Virgin Queen," and therefore apparently wished no Tudor Successor to the Throne. Whether she actually was a virgin or not, was never disclosed by her Ladies or her Doctors after her death. Katherine Anthony, in her biography, says:

"The body was prepared for burial by here Ladies, and was not dissected and embalmed as was the rigorous custom in those days for sovereigns. Either Elizabeth had forbidden it or her Ladies forbade it on her behalf. No man touched the body of Elizabeth after she was dead. She went to the grave with her SECRET inviolate."

A moment's examination would have indicated to anyone the skin-creases of motherhood. That no one was allowed to see the nude body indicates there was a secret that even a professional embalmer might not learn lest the truth leaked out. It points to MOTHERHOOD.

Well might young Francis write to her these significant lines.....

"Who will believe my Verse in time to come
If it were filled with your most High Deserts?
...It is but as a TOMB
Which hides your life and shows not half your parts...."

Essex was executed in 1601. Hamlet, in its present form, was produced in 1602. ( Entered Stationers' Register, 1602. Printed 1603 and 1604.) Elizabeth died in 1603. There are many authorities who say that some of the characters are taken from contemporary persons and slightly disguised, Elizabeth, Burleigh, Essex, etc.

In the players Prologue, Hamlet asks,

" Is this a Prologue or the Posy of a Ring?" (i.e. the story of a Ring), which may be taken a veiled allusion to the Ring given to Essex. Francis Bacon knew all about the ring as a Talisman, and so, writing as "Shakespeare", he makes Hamlet (the Prince who cannot succeed to the Throne) say pointedly in Act V, s.2, that

"He had his Father's SIGNET in his purse", implying the author knew Essex had a Ring.

"It may be," says Robert Rice (Hamlet and Horatio), "that when Bacon introduces the Ring into the play of Hamlet, and savagely accuses the Queen of being a murderess, that he made this charge without knowing that Elizabeth had not disgracefully broken her promise to her Favourite, nor had she sent him to his death in violation of her plighted word."

This is borne out by the story as told in Shake-speares Sonnets. Francis Bacon believed that the Queen had forsworn herself when the Essex Sonnets were written. He apparently never knew that the ring had been suppressed by enemies, until after the Queen's death.

The suggestion that Hamlet is partly biographical is indicated by the following incident. When the Queen appointed Lord Montague to be Lord Deputy of Ireland, Francis Bacon said to the Queen when she asked his opinion on the appointment,

"Surely you cannot make a better change unless you send over my Lord Essex." "Essex!" she retorted. "When I send Essex back into Ireland, I will marry you."

Francis knew, and so did the Queen, that as his concealed mother she could not marry him. It was equally impossible for Essex to return to Ireland. She thus let him know her decision was definite. It was futile for Francis to plead with her further.

Now in Hamlet this very incident (which no one but Francis could have known) seems to have been made use of by "Shakespeare." It is very pregnantly served up in a new form. The author makes the Player- Queen say.....

"None wed the Second but who killed the First?," while Hamlet is looking at the Queen.

It also applies to Leicester's alleged marriage to the Queen after killing Amy Robsart,(his wife) as many thought he did.

A little later, in the Play itself, Hamlet, speaking of the murdered King, says direct to the Queen:

"A bloody Deed! Almost! as bad, good Mother,
As Kill a King and Marry with his Brother."

It seems to me that these phrases carry double meanings of a personal nature.--- Alfred Dodd





















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