Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex

Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex

Infobox Person
name = Robert Devereux

image_size = 150px
caption = Portrait of Robert Devereux 3rd Earl of Essex
birth_date = birth date|1591|1|11|mf=y
birth_place =
death_date = death date and age|1646|9|14|1591|1|11|mf=y
death_place =
occupation =
spouse = Frances Howard Elizabeth Paulet
parents = Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex Frances Walsingham
children = One, name unknown

Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex (January 11 159114 September 1646) was the son and heir of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, the courtier and soldier from the later reign of Queen Elizabeth I. He took his father's title in 1604 when James I came to the throne. Three years earlier the previous Earl had been executed for treason after leading a rebellion against Elizabeth. However James chose to restore the family title. His mother was Frances Walsingham (1569–1631), the only daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth's spymaster.

Youth and personal life

In his youth, Essex was a close friend of Henry Stuart, Prince of Wales. Essex's marriage to Frances Howard at the age of 13 was not successful. After she began an affair with Viscount Rochester, their marriage was annulled on the grounds of his impotency. Essex claimed that he was only impotent with her, had been perfectly capable with other women and added that she "reviled him, and miscalled him, terming him a cow and coward, and beast." [Haynes, Alan: "Sex in Elizabethan England", page 129. Wrens Park Publishing, 1997 ] Their divorce was a public spectacle and it made him a laughing-stock at court. On 11 March, 1630 he married Elizabeth Paulet, daughter of William Paulet, 4th Marquess of Winchester. This marriage also failed, though not as publicly. They separated in 1631. There was a child produced from the union. However, the father was largely suspected to be her lover, Sir Thomas Uvedale.

It has recently been suggested that Essex suffered from male hormone deficiency, leading to failure to consummate his first marriage and produce an heir in his second. [Haynes, Alan: "Sex in Elizabethan England", page 131. Wrens Park Publishing, 1997 ] However, portraits of Essex show him with a prolific growth of facial hair. He also had a tendency to aggression leading to quarrels and threats of duels. Both these characteristics are counter-indicative of hypogonadism.

Political and military career: 1620-1640

In 1620 Essex embarked on what was to be an undistinguished military career prior to the start of the First English Civil War. Between 1620 and 1624 he served in Protestant armies in Germany and the Low Countries. In 1620 he joined Sir Horace Vere's expedition to defend the Palatine. In 1621 he served with Prince Maurice of Nassau. In 1624 he commanded a regiment in the unsuccessful campaign to relieve the siege of Breda. And in 1625 he commanded the failed English expedition against Cadiz. Despite the lack of distinction, this period of his life gave him a good working knowledge of continental war methods and strategies, even if most of his own experience was limited to defensive operations.

Throughout his military career he remained involved in politics. A strong Protestant, Essex had a reputation for being one of the puritan nobles in the House of Lords. When Charles I became King of England and Scotland in 1625, Essex soon became one of his critics in the English Parliament. He was friends with John Pym, one of the strongest critics of Charles in the House of Commons during the 1640 Short Parliament and its successor the Long Parliament. Despite having served in the king's army in the first Scottish Bishops' War in 1639, he was denied a command in the second, which took place in 1640. This pushed him further into the arms of the growing number of the king's opponents in parliament.

Role in starting the English Civil War: 1640-1642

In 1641, parliament passed a Bill of Attainder against the king's minister Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford who was fiercely loyal to Charles. This resulted in Strafford's execution. In an attempt at reconciliation with parliament, Charles invited Essex (who had supported the action against Strafford) and other leading parliamentarians to join his Privy Council. Essex had been appointed Captain General of the royal armed forces south of the River Trent in February and was made Lord Chamberlain in July. However the relationship between Charles and his parliament deteriorated further.

On 4th January 1642, Charles went to the House of Commons to arrest Pym and four other members for their alleged treason. Essex, among others, had tipped off the five members about what the king was planning to do. Charles was humiliated when he entered the House of Commons only to find that those who he sought to arrest had fled. In that same month Essex began to absent himself from Charles's court. In April he was dismissed from the office of Lord Chamberlain when he failed to join the king at York. His position as Captain-General of the southern forces was deemed to have lapsed.

As the insurgencies in Ireland and Scotland threatened to spiral out of control, Charles strengthened his army to counter it. However parliament became increasingly afraid that this army would be used against them.

On 4th July 1642, parliament voted to create a Committee of Safety consisting of ten Members of the House of Commons and five peers, of which Essex was one alongside the Earl of Northumberland, the Earl of Pembroke, the Earl of Holland and Viscount Saye and Sele. Pym, John Hampden and Denzil Holles were the leading members of the committee from the Commons. This committee was supposed to act as a bridge between members of parliament and the armed forces supporting them in the field. At this point these armies primarily consisted of regional defence militias and city trained bands who were sympathetic to the parliamentary cause. On 12th July parliament went one step further and voted to raise an army of its own. As one of the few English nobles with any military experience, Essex was chosen to lead it. The parliamentary ordinance that was passed proclaimed Essex to be: "Captain-General and Chief Commander of the Army appointed to be raised, and of all other Forces of the Kingdom...and that he the said Earl shall have and enjoy all Power, Titles, Preheminence, Authority, Jurisdiction, and Liberties, incident and belonging to the said Office of Captain-General, throughout the whole Kingdom of England and Dominion of Wales, in as large and ample a Manner as any other General of an Army in this Kingdom hath lawfully used exercised, and enjoyed." ['July 1642: The Parliaments' Commission to the Earl of Essex to be Captain-General of their Army.', Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum, 1642-1660 (1911), pp. 14-6. URL: Date accessed: 13 April 2007.] He accepted the commission.

Role in the First English Civil War: 1642-1646

Essex had been put in a difficult position in 1642. Whilst parliament had voted to raise an army to counter the royalist one Charles was strengthening, it was collectively unsure about how to conduct it.

The parliamentary ordinance that commissioned Essex to his post of Captain-General gave him the task of "preserving the Safety of his Majesty's Person". It did not specifically instruct him to engage the king in battle as this would have been treason. It conveniently blamed the brewing troubles on those surrounding the king rather than Charles himself, specifically "the cunning practice of Papists, and malicious Counsels of divers ill-affected Persons, inciting his Majesty to raise men." It also bound Essex to, "execute the Office of Captain-General, in such Manner, and according to such Instructions, as he shall, from Time to Time, receive from both Houses of Parliament," which was inevitably going to be a constraint on his ability to command an army. All these elements were a weight on the mind of Essex. It is to his credit that he was actually able to raise an army that was capable of fighting the royalist forces in battle.

On 22nd August 1642, Charles raised his standard at Nottingham Castle. This was a symbolic declaration of war against the parliamentary army. It was clear from this point onwards that the two armies would engage in battle at some point, starting the English Civil War. However the majority of those supporting parliament were still fearful of committing treason against the king and this inhibited them in the early years of the conflict. They were also well aware that an agreement with Charles would be necessary to achieve the future settlement of the kingdom once the war was over. A republican settlement was not the objective of the parliamentary army at this point and it would not be during Essex's lifetime. This inevitably gave Charles the upper hand at first.

Royalist MPs gradually filtered away from parliament during 1642. They later joined a rival parliament set up by the king in Oxford (The Oxford Parliament). The remnants of the Long Parliament gradually split into two camps. One wished to defeat the king in battle. The other, known as the peace party, wanted to force Charles to the negotiating table rather than defeat him. Although his commitment to the parliamentary cause never wavered, Essex's sympathies lay with the peace party throughout the conflict and this undermined his effectiveness as a military leader.

The Battle of Edgehill, 23rd October 1642

Following several minor skirmishes, the first major engagement between the two armies took place at the Battle of Edgehill on 23rd October 1642. Both sides had raised impressive armies. Essex's life guard included Henry Ireton, Charles Fleetwood, Thomas Harrison, Nathaniel Rich, Edmund Ludlow, Matthew Tomlinson and Francis Russell, all of whom were to play a leading role in the civil war and its aftermath. But a degree of amateurism and bad discipline was evident on both sides during the battle and in the weeks leading up to it.

Following a brief exchange of artillery fire, the battle began with a royalist cavalry charge led by Prince Rupert of the Rhine. A second royalist cavalry charge followed, led by Henry Wilmot, 1st Earl of Rochester. Both the right and left flanks of the parliamentarian horse were scattered. The royalist cavalry, with their eye on the baggage train, unwisely chose to pursue the fleeing parliamentarian horsemen. But Essex had kept two cavalry regiments in reserve. As the rival infantry divisions engaged in combat, with Essex fighting alongside his troops with a pike, [ [ 1642: Powick Bridge, Edgehill, Brentford ] ] the two remaining parliamentarian cavalry regiments made a devastating attack on the exposed royalist foot soldiers.

Both sides incurred heavy losses and the battle ended in stalemate after Rupert's royalist cavalry returned to stop a rout.

Both armies spent the night in the field before Essex withdrew the parliamentary army to Warwick on the next day without engaging the royalists in battle again on that site.

This battle and its aftermath portrayed the strengths and weaknesses in Essex's military mindset. His planning and leadership had allowed the parliamentarian forces to stand their ground. However his defensive caution and his unwillingness to engage the enemy led to his army being outmanoeuvered. Although Essex had begun his military preparations in London, prior to the battle Charles had been able to position his army in between the parliamentarian forces and London. This left the road to London open to Charles at the end of the battle. The king had also been able to engage Essex's army before the parliamentarians were at full strength. On the day of the battle, Essex was still waiting for the arrival of John Hampden's two cavalry regiments and most of the parliamentary artillery.

Luckily for Essex, Charles did not take much advantage of this superior position. The king chose to make an assault on London with his army at full strength, as he too was awaiting the arrival of more soldiers from around the country. This allowed Essex and his army to make a break for London via Watling Street. Essex arrived back in London to a hero's welcome on 7th November, before Charles was able to get there.

The Battle of Brentford and the Battle of Turnham Green, 12-13th November 1642

On 12th November Rupert's royalist army engaged in their first major assault in preparation for a march on London. The small parliamentarian garrison stationed at Brentford suffered heavy losses at the Battle of Brentford. The royalists proceeded to sack the town. This galvanised sentiment in the City of London against a royalist occupation.

On 13th November, Essex was able to muster 24,000 men for the Battle of Turnham Green, including the remnants of the Edgehill army and the City trained bands, as well as apprentices and militiamen from Hertfordshire, Essex and Surrey.

Charles, with much smaller forces, did not engage in battle. His army retreated with only a handful of shots fired.

Essex and Major-General Phillip Skippon were key to this display of force by placing their soldiers in effective defensive positions and by keeping up morale.

By the end of 1642, Essex’s forces were the weaker side against the royalists. But the parliamentarians had the sympathy of the Scots and there were thousands of other troops ready to join their cause around the country. The scene was set for a long conflict.

The First Battle of Newbury, 20th September 1643

After a long winter break, Essex's army captured and occupied Reading on 26th April 1643 following a 10 day siege. However progress towards the king's base at Oxford after this was slow. Some began to question the willingness of Essex to lead the parliamentarians to victory in the developing civil war. Essex remained loyal to the parliamentary cause. However he continued to sympathise with the peace party in parliament.

The fluctuating performance of his army in 1643 was in contrast to the ascendancy of the Eastern Association. This was an alliance of pro-parliament militiamen from Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire and Lincolnshire commanded by Edward Montagu, 2nd Earl of Manchester. One of their cavalry commanders was Oliver Cromwell. The Eastern Association established itself as a formidable fighting force in 1643, thanks in a large part to Cromwell's regiment, who became known as the 'Ironsides'.

Nonetheless, 1643 was a good year overall for Essex's army. In what was perhaps his finest hour, on 20th September, Essex’s forces came off as the stronger side in the First Battle of Newbury. Despite not winning a decisive victory, the parliamentarians forced the royalists to withdraw to Oxford. This gave the parliamentary army a clear road to Reading and London.

The Lostwithiel Campaign, June-September 1644

1644 saw the increasing polarisation of the parliamentary alliance between the peace party and those who wished to defeat the king in battle. In February an alliance with the Scots was consolidated with the creation of the Committee of Both Kingdoms, to which Essex was appointed. This replaced the Committee of Safety.

On 2nd July 1644, parliamentary commanders Lord Fairfax, Lord Leven and the Earl of Manchester defeated royalist forces at the Battle of Marston Moor.

Simultaneously, Essex pursued his campaign to conquer the West Country. This was a strange move and it was made against the advice of the Committee of Both Kingdoms. There was some sympathy for the parliamentary cause in Devon and Dorset. But in Cornwall there was practically no support for the parliamentarians at all.

Although the campaign started well, Essex's army were forced to surrender in September at Lostwithiel after they were outmanoeuvred by the royalists. The Earl himself escaped in a fishing boat to avoid humiliation. He left the task of surrendering to Skippon.

End of military career

The Lostwithiel campaign proved to be the end of Essex's military career. His army participated in the Second Battle of Newbury on 27th October. However the Earl was sick in Reading during the battle.

His conduct in the West Country had frustrated Cromwell, who had participated in the parliamentary victory at Marston Moor with the Eastern Association. Cromwell had also become embroiled in a feud with the Earl of Manchester, who was still his superior officer in the Eastern Association. Essex and Manchester remained sympathetic to the peace party, whilst Cromwell had emerged as the leading voice in the campaign to fight a more aggressive war against Charles. Following a month of parliamentary arguments between Manchester and Cromwell, with the former speaking in the House of Lords and the latter making his attacks in the House of Commons, the scene was set for a showdown.

On 19th December 1644 the first Self-Denying Ordinance was approved by the House of Commons. This proposed that all members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords be barred from exercising military commands. This was rejected by the Lords on 13th January 1645. However on 21st January the Commons passed the New Model Ordinance. This was a proposal to create a united parliamentary army. It was approved by the Lords on 15th February. Over a month of negotiations ensued between the Commons and the Lords concerning who was going to command this army.

On 2nd April, Essex and Manchester gave way and resigned their commissions. The next day a revised Self-Denying Ordinance was approved by the House of Lords. This discharged members of both Houses from military commands but did not reject the possibility of their future reappointment. Although Essex still had many supporters in parliament, he had enough opponents to block his re-emergence as a military leader at this stage.

These reforms led to the creation of the New Model Army led by Sir Thomas Fairfax, son of the victorious Lord Fairfax at the Battle of Marston Moor. Cromwell was swiftly appointed to the post of Lieutenant-General, Fairfax's second-in-command.

Death and funeral

For the rest of his days Essex was associated with the emerging presbyterian faction in parliament. One of his last political battles was his involvement with a plan to build up Edward Massey’s Western Association into an army capable of counter-balancing the New Model Army. Massey had been one of the few parliamentary commanders to retain an independent commission when the New Model Army was formed. However this plan failed when parliament disbanded Massey’s army in October 1646.

The Earl of Essex died in September 1646 without an heir. The earldom died with him, until it was revived in 1661 for Arthur Capel. His death not only weakened the presbyterian faction in parliament, it also began the decline of the influence of the nobles who supported the parliamentary cause.

His death led to a large display of mourning. Parliament contributed £5000 to the expenses of his funeral and he was buried in Westminster Abbey. For the occasion the chancel of the Abbey was draped in black from floor to ceiling and a funeral effigy of the earl dressed in scarlet breeches, a military buff-coat and parliamentary robes was erected beneath a catafalque designed by Inigo Jones. This was left standing after the ceremony until a poor farmer from Dorset hacked it down on the grounds that an angel had told him to do so. [Woolrych, Austin: "Britain in Revolution 1625-1660", page 348. Oxford University Press, 2002 ] The effigy was restored but Charles II ordered that it be taken down during the Restoration.



*Haynes, Alan. "Sex in Elizabethan England". Groucestershire: Sutton Publishing Limited, 1997. ISBN 0-905-778-359
*Snow, Vernon F. "Essex the Rebel: Life of Robert Devereux, Third Earl of Essex, 1591-1646". Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1970 ISBN 0-8032-0719-0
*Woolrych, Austin: "Britain in Revolution 1625-1660". Oxford University Press, 2002
* [°%20E.%20Essex)] Accessed July 31, 2007

External links

* [ British Civil Wars site]


NAME= Devereux, Robert, 3rd Earl of Essex
DATE OF BIRTH= January 11, 1591
DATE OF DEATH= September 14, 1646

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