What Did Elizabeth and Essex Shout At Each Other?

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, was far to quick to put his hand to his sword

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, was too quick to put his hand to his sword

According to court gossip a famous scene occurred in 1598, when a handful of councillors met Queen Elizabeth I to discuss the appointment of a new Lord Deputy of Ireland. The Earl of Essex, the queen’s favourite and formerly the Earl of Leicester’s stepson, favoured another candidate than the rest, the queen included. Characteristically, Essex could not put up with this and suddenly turned his back on the queen. This amounted to an act of lèse-majesté, and Elizabeth boxed his ears and according to most biographers “bade him get him gone and be hanged”.

I was therefore surprised to read in one of the most successful biographies, Alison Weir’s Elizabeth the Queen (The Life of Elizabeth I in America), that Elizabeth shouted at the earl:

Go to the devil! Get you gone and be hanged!

The direct speech continues when Essex fumes while being dragged out of the room after having provocatively touched his sword in the queen’s presence:

I neither can nor will put up with so great an affront, nor would I have borne it from your father’s hands.1

The direct speech in the second person made me suspicious. Most of the other biographers I checked at random paraphrase the original source, citing Thomas Birch’ Memoirs Of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth, From the Year 1581 till her Death:

Upon this he put his hand to his sword, and when the admiral interposed, swore, that he neither could nor would bear such an indignity, nor would he have taken it even from King Henry VIII.2

Thomas Birch himself, who published his memoirs in 1754, quoted Elizabeth’s early biographer William Camden, who originally wrote in Latin and was later translated. That version also contains indirect speech in the third person, Essex apparently saying that “he neither could nor would put up [with] so great an affront and indignity, neither would he have taken it at King Henry the Eighth his hands.”3

1 Weir 2008 p. 434
2 Birch II p. 384
3 Guy 2016 p. 284

Birch, Thomas: Memoirs of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth. (1754).
Erickson, Carolly (1983): The First Elizabeth. Summit Books.
Guy, John (2016): Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years. Viking.
Neale, John (1992): Queen Elizabeth I. Academy Chicago Publishers.
Weir, Alison (2008): Elizabeth the Queen. Viking.



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 www.allthingsrobertdudley.wordpress.com
This entry was posted in Elizabeth I, errors & myths, sources & historians, strange facts from popular books and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.