Essex, by Hilliard and Oliver

Hilliard Young man amongst roses V&AOn his death, the Earl of Leicester’s mantle fell on the shoulders of his stepson, the Earl of Essex. He did not inherit a penny, but he nevertheless was his political heir and was expected to take over his court faction. Leicester’s nephew, Sir Robert Sidney, demanded as much in a letter to Essex, for the young earl was already the great favourite of Elizabeth’s later years.

Essex c.1588 by Hilliard croppedHowever, Robert Devereux was also Robert Dudley’s heir in the realm of artistic patronage. Leicester had been the friend and most important patron of Nicholas Hilliard, and Essex also became his friend and patron. In 1595 he even gave him money, the incredible sum of £140 (the cash was needed for house repairs). In 1588, the year of the Armada (and Leicester’s death), Hilliard made what is believed to be a portrait miniature of Essex, who was then about 23.

Essex also employed other artists to paint his likeness, most importantly Isaac Oliver among miniaturists. After his return as a hero from the Cadiz expedition he grew a beard.

Essex Isaac Oliver drawing

Essex by Oliver

Essex miniatureWithout his beard, Robert Devereux had been exceptionally handsome and embodied the late Elizabethan ideal of the melancholic youth. (Unfortunately, a strong streak of melancholy proved to be his undoing). A full-length oval miniature by Hilliard depicts a young man among roses, almost certainly the 21-year-old Earl of Essex as a courtier, who “wears the Queen’s colours, black and white, and is surrounded by the eglantine rose, a symbol of the Queen.”

continued at
Melancholy Knights, by Hilliard and Oliver

Goldring, Elizabeth (2014): Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and the World of Elizabethan Art. Yale University Press.

About Christine Hartweg

Hi, I'm the author of "Amy Robsart: A Life and Its End" and "John Dudley: The Life of Lady Jane Grey's Father-in-Law". I blog at
This entry was posted in paintings, Robert Dudley and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Essex, by Hilliard and Oliver

  1. sandlane says:

    Wonderful! thank you for bringing to attention these portraits of the Earl of Essex. The miniature of the young man with a rose is especially beautiful.

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