The causes of Tudor Rebellions from 1485-1601

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Essex 1601

The Earl of Essex had developed to be Elizabeth's favourite courtier. He had gained a reputation as a heoric figure fighting duels winning himself many admirers. While a famous aristocrat he was hort on cash. He attempted to rule the court and rival Cecil which turned the queen against him. It reached a head when Essex turned his back on the Queen following an argument. The Queen slapped him and as a result Essex felt he had been publically shamed. He was sent from court and as a result he lost his influence at court. In 1598 William Cecil died and so as a result Essex was able to return to court however with mounting debts he needed royal support so he accepted his appointment as Lord Lieutenant in Ireland. His future career depended on his success in Ireland.
Unfortunately for Essex his military failures weakened his position and his absence from court allowed his enemies to work against him. In a last desperate attempt to regain his position he burst into Elizabeth's bedchamber. In summer 1600 it became even worse as he was charged with treason on the grounds that he had conspired with Spain and the Pope. The charges were unfounded but Essex was becoming increasingly vulnerable and this was made clear when Elizabeth refused to grant his sweet wine monopoly.

Political factions were central to the cause of this revolt. His star was falling and he resented the influence that Robert Cecil had at court. Essex planned a show of noble force believing it would lead the Queen to readmit him to court and to her favour. Essex gambled on his political strength and popularity as a factional leader - It failed!

Faction/ personal – many of Elizabeth’s trusted old councillors died around 1590, leaving her with few trustworthy servants. The earl of Essex had enjoyed a meteoric rise to Elizabeth’s favour after the death of her favourite Leicester, but he pushed it too hard. He declared himself ‘not of a nature to be ruled’, and having turned his back on Elizabeth, half drew his sword when she boxed his ears. With war against Spain and rebellion in Ireland and bad harvests eating at Elizabeth’s funds, there was a lack of available patronage for the factions, and Robert Cecil’s faction was pushing Essex for power at court – vicious rivalry ensued. Essex’s disastrous expedition to Ireland led to him returning, defeated in 1599. He alleged that Cecil has undermined his campaign, and stormed into Elizabeth’s rooms, mud splattered and uninvited. He was imprisoned for a year where he ineptly plotted with those gentlemen and nobles kept out of office by Cecil’s faction, and with reckless deserters from his Irish army, encouraged by the London mob. In 1600, he was persuaded to throw himself on the Queen’s mercy and was allowed to live under house confinement in Essex House, but deprived of the monopoly of sweet wines and faced with financial ruin, and close to a nervous breakdown, he decided to risk rebellion. Cheyney blames Elizabeth’s jealously for Essex’s popularity. Elton blames Essex for acting as an over mighty subject, rejecting the idea that it was due to bastard feudalism – ‘there was nothing territorial about Essex’s power; he was no feudal lord.’ Fletcher: ‘Essex had articulated real anxieties: the court was seen as increasingly corrupt, and Elizabeth was not only keeping silent about the succession, but withholding power from the aristocratic younger generation’.

In Feb 1601, the privy council, which could no longer ignore the plotting, ordered Essex to attend it to answer charges. Essex arrested the four councillors who came with the message, and with a crowd of 200 gentlemen, armed only with swords, went into the streets shouting that Cecil, Raleigh etc were aiming to murder Essex. No one moved, and riot petered out. Essex went home and later surrendered with the Earls of Southampton and Rutland.

Although Elizabeth was old and superficially unpopular in London, and Essex had the support of the prominent young nobles and some Londoners, he never had a chance of seizing power, and the Londoners who barred their doors to him knew that, Essex was too unstable, Cecil was too calculating and powerful, and Elizabeth too established with the Tudor name and 42 years of success as Queen.
But Fletcher writes: ‘Although he failed to win any wider support, this was profoundly serious as it was the first attempt to challenge government in the capital for nearly half a century’

Essex was executed; most of his followers were heavily fined. The ruin of Essex and his faction left Cecil in a dangerously powerful position as the only factional leader: ‘Little Cecil trips up and down, he rules both court and crown’ went the rhyme of the day. James VI of Scotland had used Essex as his confident, but now Cecil was free to establish himself in the good graces of James, the most likely successor to Elizabeth. Essex was leader of the war party in fighting the Spanish and Irish – now there was a move to peace, led by Cecil. Elizabeth was left depressed and eventually losing the desire to live. The corruption of the patronage system by Essex, and the dominance of Cecil, continued to affect politics in James’ I reign: political instability let to the Catholic dominated Main, Bye and Gunpowder plots.

No comments:

Post a Comment