Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Devereux, Robert, 2nd Earl of Essex, son of preceding, was born in Herefordshire, 10th November 1567. He entered at Cambridge when but ten years of age, and at fourteen received the degree of Master of Arts. In 1585 he distinguished himself in the Low Countries: he was soon taken into the greatest favour by Elizabeth, was kept constantly near her, and advanced to the highest offices of state.

In 1590 he privately married the widow of Sir Philip Sidney, greatly to the Queen's annoyance. His brilliant exploit of the taking of Cadiz and destruction of the Spanish fleet in 1596 raised him high in the popular estimation; but the misfortunes attending the expedition of next year somewhat prejudiced the Queen against him. A quarrel ensued. She used insulting language towards him, and he put his hand to his sword, declaring that he neither could nor would put up with such an affront. A few months later he was induced to proceed to Ireland (having been appointed Lord-Lieutenant a year previously) to take the field against Hugh O'Neill. He landed 15th April 1599, with an army of 20,000 foot and 2,000 horse, or, as the Four Masters have it, "with much wealth, arms, munition, powder, lead, food, and drink; and the beholders said that so great an army had never till that time come to Ireland since the Earl Strongbow and Robert FitzStephen came in former times with Dermot MacMurrough, King of Leinster."

Having issued proclamations of pardon to such as would come in and submit to Elizabeth, and having garrisoned Newry, Dundalk, Drogheda, Wicklow, Naas, and other towns, he marched south-west at the head of 8,000 of his best troops, in direct contravention of his orders, which were, to proceed immediately against O'Neill in Ulster. The Kavanaghs, O'Mores, and O'Conors, say the Four Masters, "made fierce and desperate assaults and furious irresistible onsets on him in intricate ways and narrow passes, in which both parties came in collision with each other, so that great numbers of the Earl's people were cut off by them." With the Earl of Ormond, he laid siege to Cahir, then held by Thomas Butler, an adherent of O'Neill and Desmond. The siege was tedious, and the garrison did not surrender until the castle was breached by heavy artillery brought up from Waterford. From Cahir he proceeded to Limerick and into Desmond, by Adare and Askeaton, where he lost many men by an attack made by the Earl of Desmond. He then retraced his steps to Kilmallock, and proceeded south to Fermoy, Lismore, Dungarvan, and Waterford, and thence into Leinster.

He met a severe defeat from the native chiefs in an ambush into which he was drawn at the "Pass of the Plumes," near Timahoe, in the Queen's County. The expedition was without much result, and he returned to Dublin at the end of July, having lost nearly half his army. On the 15th August 1599 a detachment of English troops under Sir C. Clifford, Governor of Connaught, was defeated with much loss in the Curlew mountains, near Boyle, by the O'Rourkes and O'Donnells. Early in September Essex marched against Hugh O'Neill, with 1,300 foot and 300 horse. They met and had a conference on the 7th at Anaghclint, now Aclint, on the Lagan, between Monaghan and Louth. Essex was charmed by O'Neill's frank and open bearing, and a peace was concluded between them. When Elizabeth was informed of this transaction, she wrote an angry letter to Essex, full of upbraiding, whereupon he precipitately threw up his command, and hurried across to London. The Queen received him at first in a friendly manner, but shortly afterwards ordered him to be detained prisoner in his own house. The particulars of his subsequent plots against Government, and his execution on 25th February 1601, do not come within the scope of this work.

The Earl is described as "brave, eloquent, generous, and sincere; proud, imprudent, and violent, his fate is a lesson. Endowed with talents and qualities that placed him far above the majority of men, his unrestrained and ungoverned passions ruined himself and some of his dearest friends, and brought on them the traitor's doom." He was a poet, a scholar, and an able speaker. The locality of the "Pass of the Plumes" has probably been identified by the Rev. John O'Hanlon in a paper read before the Royal Irish Academy, and that of Essex's conference with O'Neill, by a writer in Notes and Queries, 4th Series. His son, the 3rd Earl, the well-known Parliamentary general, resided for a time in the north of Ireland upon the family estates, and in 1631 built the Castle of Carrickmacross.

Sources

102. Devereux, Earls of Essex; Lives and Letters: Walter B. Devereux. 2 vols. London, 1853.

134. Four Masters, Annals of Ireland by the: Translated and Edited by John O'Donovan. 7 vols. Dublin, 1856.

174. Ireland, History of, Lectures on the: Alexander G. Richey. 2 vols. Dublin, 1869-'70.

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