On this day in 1601 – Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, is executed

Robert Devereux, second Earl of Essex, was beheaded on 25th February 1601 after a failed attempt to overthrow Elizabeth I.

Devereux was one of the Queen’s favourites, however they had a fiery relationship, in 1598 Elizabeth refused to grant one of Devereux’s requests and as a result Devereux turned his back on the Queen. Seen as a breach of etiqutte which saw Elizabeth loose her temper and slapped Devereux, who in retaliation reached for his sword. He was soon banished from the court.

A year later he was sent to Ireland as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, forgiven by the Queen, to help stop an uprising. Devereux failed to fulfil his role y not putting a stop to the rebellion, fighting inrelevant fights and wasting the army’s funds. He also signed a truce with the leader of the rebellion, which caused concern back in England. Concerned at what was being said back in England, Devereux left his troops in Ireland and set off to England, disobeying strict orders from Elizabeth herself. He arrived at Nonsuch Palace on 28th September 1599 and stormed into the Queen’s bedchamber where she was unclothed and without her wig. Devereux was interogated by the Privy Council for five hours the following day to explain his actions. He was placed under house arrest at York House.

By August 1600 Devereux was freed but without his sweet wine monopoly, this was his main source of income. Furious at the Queen taking away his income Devereux began plotting to overthrow the Queen and government and began defending Essex House. On 8th February 1601 Devereux with a small army of just over 100 men carrying swords departed from Essex House on the Strand. They headed into the city via Ludgate Hill where a barricade was placed by a troop under the leadership of Sir John Leveson in an attempt to stop Devereux. Both sides began to fight but when Devereux’s step father, Sir Christopher Blount, was injured he soon retreated back to Essex House only to be arrested and sent to the Tower of London.

Devereux was tried on charges of treason on 19th February and found guilty. Devereux begged to be executed privately away from the baying mobs that executions bring. Standing on the scaffold before the block he removed his cap and coat before kneeling and indicting that he was ready. It took three attempts from the axemen to sever his head before his head was held up to the small audience watching.

Devereux was the last person to be beheaded within the Tower of London.

Robert Devereux

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