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A young man, called Robert Devereux, 1565-1601, 2nd Earl of Essex


Object connections:

Collection Miniatures, Fine art
User collections Moustaches by lucinda
Gallery locationNot on display
PeopleDepiction: Devereux, Robert

Object details:

Object ID MNT0117
Description Oval miniature in watercolour in an oval gilt metal suspension frame with a scroll label beneath bearing an engraved black-lettered inscription 'ROBERT. DEVEREUX. / LAST. EARL. OF ESSEX.' There is also an inscription on the reverse 'Robt Devarex Earl of Essex'. The sitter is shown bust-length against a draped red velvet background, turned very slightly to his left but facing the viewer with the whole face and left side of his head visible. He has brown eyes, short auburn hair and a naturally curly reddish beard and slight moustache. He wears a doublet decorated with the repeated devices of coiled serpents in blue alternating with heraldic Tudor roses in yellow and blue, and a starched lace ruff over a partly gilded gorget round the neck. Despite the frame inscription, the costume and features suggest this is more likely to be Robert, 2nd Earl of Essex rather than his son Robert, the 3rd (1591-1646) - if indeed it is either. This image nevertheless clearly alludes to the sitter's role as a soldier and Elizabethan courtier in the gorget and Tudor-pattern roses of the doublet, while the serpent is a symbol of both life and wisdom. There are two near-identical miniatures of the 2nd Earl of Essex by Isaac Oliver , dated 1596-98, in the Royal Collection and National Portrait Gallery. Both show a similar but slightly longer beard and stronger moustache than in this example, but with darker and longer hair, less hooded eyes and a slight thickening in the bridge of the nose which is also more visible in larger oil portraits, notably those by Gheerhaerts (in which the beard is also longer and straighter). They also include the blue ribbon of his Lesser George (badge of a Knight of the Garter, which he became in 1588). This also appears in other portraits, but not this example. The identity of MNT0117 as Essex must therefore be considered unlikely . Robert Devereux succeeded his father Walter, the 1st Earl, in 1576 and served with distinction as a soldier under his godfather, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, against the Spanish in the Netherlands. On return in 1587 he became principal young favourite of Elizabeth I, and over following years was loaded with honours and emoluments. Essex developed vaulting ambitions to replace William Cecil, Lord Burleigh as the Queen's chief minister (d. 1598), but his success was limited to military matters, notably in joint command of the expedition against Cadiz in 1596. During this he first grew a beard, having previously been clean-shaven. It was his last major success, his subsequent conduct making him many enemies at court, though not initially weakening his position as a leading military man and member of the Queen's council. In 1599 he was sent to crush rebellion in Ireland, as Lord Lieutenant. He promised but could not deliver quick success and expressly contradicted his orders by treating with the Earl of Tyrone, the rebel leader. On being summoned home he finally alienated the Queen and was arrested, though not at first charged since his physical and mental health broke down. By late 1600, after limited confinement, he was free but out of favour and the Queen's refusal to renew his monopoly on the importation of sweet wines that October sealed his financial ruin. Early in February 1601, desperately persuading himself that the Queen was being misled by her advisers, he and the Earl of Southampton led a rebellion that tried to seize the City of London as prelude to 'rescuing' her. It was quickly routed, both were condemned to death and Essex was beheaded in the Tower of London on 25 February.
Date made Early 17th century

Artist/Maker Hilliard/Oliver School
unidentified, early 17th century
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Caird Collection
Materials watercolour; metal
Measurements Overall: 50 x 41 mm
  • A young man, called Robert Devereux, 1565-1601, 2nd Earl of Essex (MNT0117)
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