On 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.
However, 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.
Without 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.”
Melancholy Knights, by Hilliard and Oliver
Goldring, Elizabeth (2014): Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and the World of Elizabethan Art. Yale University Press.