Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex

Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex
Walter Devereux
Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex from NPG.jpg
Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex as Earl Marshal of England, 1575
Born 16 September 1541
Died 22 September 1576
Title Earl of Essex
Tenure 1572–1576
Other titles Viscount Hereford
Known for Soldier and courtier
Nationality English
Wars and battles Plantations of Ireland
Offices Earl Marshal
Successor Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex
Spouse(s) Lettice Knollys
Issue Penelope Rich
Dorothy Percy, Countess of Northumberland
Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex
Walter Devereux
Parents Sir Richard Devereux
Dorothy Hastings

Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex, KG (16 September 1541 – 22 September 1576), an English nobleman and general. From 1573 until his death he fought in Ireland in connection with the Plantation of Ulster, where he ordered the massacre of Rathlin Island. He was the father of Elizabeth I's favourite of her later years, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex.



Walter was the eldest son of Sir Richard Devereux and Dorothy Hastings. His paternal grandfather was the 9th Baron Ferrers of Chartley, who was created Viscount Hereford in 1550. His maternal grandparents were George Hastings, 1st Earl of Huntingdon and Anne Stafford, Countess of Huntingdon. Anne Stafford is best known for having been a mistress of Henry VIII around 1510. Through both of his parents, Walter was related, albeit distantly, to the Bourchier family, to which previous Earls of Essex had belonged.

In 1561 or 1562, Walter married Lettice, daughter of Sir Francis Knollys and Catherine Carey. Lettice's maternal grandmother was Mary Boleyn, the elder sister of Queen Anne Boleyn. Like Walter's own grandmother, Mary Boleyn too had been a mistress of Henry VIII; it is up for debate whether Lettice's mother Catherine was conceived during Mary's affair with the King. Walter and Lettice had three children, a son Robert and two daughters, Penelope Devereux, Lady Rich and Dorothy Percy, Countess of Northumberland.


In 1558, Walter's grandfather died and he became 2nd Viscount Hereford and 10th Baron Ferrers of Chartley. He provided signal service in suppressing the Northern Rebellion of 1569, serving as high marshal of the field under the Earl of Warwick and Lord Clinton. For his zeal in the service of Queen Elizabeth I on this and other occasions, Walter was made a knight of the Garter and was created Earl of Essex in 1572.

Eager to give proof of "his good devotion to employ himself in the service of her Majesty," he offered on certain conditions to subdue or colonize, at his own expense, a portion of the Irish province of Ulster. At that time, Ulster was completely under the dominion of the O'Neills, led by Sir Brian MacPhelim and Turlough Luineach, and of the Scots led by Sorley Boy MacDonnell. His offer, with certain modifications, was accepted. He set sail for Ireland in July 1573, accompanied by a number of earls, knights and gentlemen, and with a force of about 1200 men.

His enterprise had an inauspicious beginning; a storm dispersed his fleet and drove some of his vessels as far as Cork and the Isle of Man. His forces did not all reach the place of rendezvous till late in the autumn, and he was compelled to entrench himself at Belfast for the winter. Here his troops were diminished by sickness, famine and desertion to not much more than 200 men.

Intrigues of various sorts and fighting of a guerilla type followed, and Essex had difficulties both with his deputy Fitzwilliam and with the Queen. He was in dire straits, and his offensive movements in Ulster took the form of raids and brutal massacres among the O'Neills. In October 1574, he treacherously captured MacPhelim at a conference in Belfast, and after slaughtering his attendants, had him and his wife and brother executed at Dublin. He arrested William Piers, who active in driving the Scots out of Ulster and accused him of passing military intelligence to Brian mac Phelim O'Neill. Essex ordered Piers's arrest and detention in Carrickfergus Castle in December 1574 but Piers was freed and he successfully executed Brian mac Phelim O'Neill for treason.[1]

After encouraging Essex to prepare to attack the Irish chief Tirlogh Luineach, apparently at the instigation of the earl of Leicester, the queen suddenly commanded him to "break off his enterprise." However, she left him a certain discretionary power, and he took advantage of that to defeat Turlogh Luineach and chastise County Antrim. He also massacred several hundreds of Sorley Boy's following, chiefly women and children, who had hidden in the caves of Rathlin Island in the face of an amphibious assault led by Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Norreys.

He returned to England at the end of 1575, resolved "to live henceforth an untroubled life." He was however persuaded to accept the offer of the queen to make him Earl Marshal of Ireland. He arrived in Dublin in September 1576, but died only three weeks later of dysentery. It was suspected that he had been poisoned at the behest of the earl of Leicester, who married his widow two years later. A post-mortem was carried out and concluded that Essex had died of natural causes. He was succeeded in the Earldom of Essex by his son Robert.

Notes and references


  1. ^ "Piers, William". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (subscription required). Retrieved September 5, 2010. 
  2. ^ Historical, genealogical, and biographical account of the Jolliffe family of Virginia 1652 to 1893 By William Jolliffe (1893) Google Books

External links

Honorary titles
Preceded by
The Lord Paget
Custos Rotulorum of Staffordshire
bef. 1573–1576
Succeeded by
Thomas Trentham
Peerage of England
New creation Earl of Essex
8th creation
Succeeded by
Robert Devereux
Preceded by
Walter Devereux
Viscount Hereford
Preceded by
Anne Bourchier
Baron Bourchier

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