Изображения страниц

house, then Secretary for Ireland, in which country his father expired, had the immediate direction of his person and estate, which though not a little injured by his predecessor's public spirit, was still very considerable; and his popularity at court was so remarkable, that according to that gentleman's assertion, there was no man so strong in friends as the little Earl of Essex.'


In 1578, when he was about twelve years of age, Lord Burghley placed him at Trinity College, Cambridge, under the care of Dr. Whitgift the master, subsequently Archbishop of Canterbury. Here he first began to apply himself to learning with uncommon assiduity; and, in a short time, he surpassed all his noble contemporaries.

In 1582, having taken the degree of M. A. he left the University, and retired to his own house at Lambsie in South-Wales, to which he gradually became so much attached for it's rural quiet, that it was with difficulty he was prevailed upon to leave it.

His first appearance at court was in the seventeenth year of his age. Thither he carried with him, among other powerful recommendations, a fine person, a polite address, and an affability which procured him numerous friends. Neither must it be forgotten that his mother, not long after his father's death, had married the Queen's favourite, the celebrated Earl of Leicester. At first, however, he showed great reluctance to avail himself of his step-father's interest, being disgusted at the nuptials which opened his way to it; but in the end, by the persuasion of his friends, he was so far reconciled to him, that toward the close of the year 1585 he accompanied him to Holland,


with the title of General of the Horse. In this quality, he gave the highest proofs of personal courage in the battle of Zutphen; and, for his gallant behaviour upon that occasion, was created by Leicester a Knight-banneret.

On his return to England, it quickly appeared that the Queen not only approved, but was desirous also of rewarding, his services; for upon Leicester's advancement in 1587 to the office of Lord-Steward, Essex succeeded him as Master of the Horse. The following year, when her Majesty assembled the army at Tilbury for the defence of the kingdom, and gave the command of it under herself to Leicester, she created Essex General of the Horse; and, soon afterward, conferred upon him the Order of the Garter.

The death of Leicester, which happened in the same year, placed him on the pinnacle of prosperity. He had, now, no rival near the throne: on the contrary, Burghley, the chief person in power, was his patron and his friend. From this time, the Queen showed a decisive partiality in his favour, which so perverted his better judgement, that he occasionally gave way to sallies of arrogance and vanity even in her presence, till the following incident administered a check to his presumption: Sir Charles Blount, a very handsome young man, having distinguished himself at a tilting-match, her Majesty sent him a chess-queen of gold enamelled, which he fastened upon his arm with a crimson ribbon. Essex under an impulse of jealousy cried out, with affected disdain, "Now, I perceive, every fool must have a favour." For this affront, Blount challenged Essex :

[ocr errors]

they met in Marybone-Park, and the Earl was disarmed and wounded in the thigh. The Queen, far from being displeased at the disgrace of one who had called in question her judgement, affirmed with an oath, that it was fit some one or other should take him down, otherwise there would be no ruling him.' However, she reconciled the rivals, who to their honour continued friends as long as they lived.

In 1589, Sir John Norris and Sir Francis Drake undertook an expedition for the purpose of restoring Don Antonio to the crown of Portugal. This the Earl regarded as an action too glorious for others to perform, while he himself remained only an idle spectator. He, therefore, followed the fleet and army to Spain; and having joined them at Corunna, prosecuted the rest of the expedition with great vigilance and valour.* But he incurred the Queen's displeasure, by having gone without her express leave. On his return, however, he soon re-established himself in her good graces; nor was it long, before he obtained new and substantial marks of her recovered favour, in grants of very considerable value.

About this time, he incurred an additional risk of her regard, by a private (and, as it was then conceived, inconsiderate) match with Frances, only daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham and widow of Sir Philip Sidney, which her Majesty affected to consider as in some measure derogatory from the

* Among other proofs of his chivalrous spirit, while skirmishing in the neighbourhood of Lisbon, he by sound of trumpet challenged the governor, or any person of equal quality with himself, to single combat.

honour of the house of Essex; and, though for the present this business passed unnoticed, it was probably not quickly forgotten.

In 1591, Henry IV. of France having demanded fresh assistance from Elizabeth, though he had already a body of her troops in his service, she despatched Essex with four thousand men, a small train of artillery, and a competent fleet, into Normandy; where it was proposed, that he should join the French army, in order to undertake the siege of Rouen. The French King, however, neglected to perform the conditions upon which the succours were sent; though Essex, at his request, made a long and hazardous journey to his camp, in order to concert measures for giving the Queen satisfaction.

Upon his return from this journey, Essex, in order to sustain the spirit of his officers, conferred on many of them the honour of knighthood: a circumstance, with which Elizabeth was highly offended. In many excursions, which he made from his camp to the very walls of Rouen, though he fearlessly exposed his person, he always came off unhurt; but he was much blamed for his temerity, his younger brother Walter, then in the flower of his age, being slain in one of these rash exploits.

The winter-service harassing the troops, who were now engaged in the siege of that city, Essex, not a little provoked, solicited leave of Henry to proceed in his own manner, promising to storm the place with the English forces. But the King, unwilling to let his allies plunder one of the richest towns in his dominions, refused his request. Upon this Essex, still more irritated, resolved to quit a station, where no renown could be acquired. Before he set off how

ever, he challenged M. Villars, governor of Rouen, to single combat; and, on his refusing to fight, having consigned the command of his troops to Sir Roger Williams, an officer of courage and experience, he embarked for England, where his presence was now become necessary, from the efforts of his enemies to injure him in his royal mistress' regard. These impressions, indeed, he succeeded in removing; but both in this and the succeeding years, partly from the loftiness of his temper, and partly from the artifices of those who envied his greatness, he encountered various causes of chagrin.

A treasonable book, written abroad by a Jesuit, with a view to create dissension in England about the succession, had been published under the name of Doleman. This work, by a refinement in malice, was dedicated to the Earl of Essex, in order to create him trouble; and it's object was, for a short time, apparently accomplished: but his popularity raised him so many friends, that the artifice was speedily detected, and it's contrivers incurred the contempt which they deserved.

Ambitious of military fame, Essex was uneasy without it. This made him solicit the command of the land-forces, sent out with the fleet under Drake and Hawkins against the Spanish colonies in 1594; but Elizabeth absolutely refused him, in terms however manifesting a degree of personal interest in his safety, which exposed her to defamation. She told him, " She loved him, and her realm, too much to hazard his person in any lesser action than that, which should import her crown and state, and therefore willed him to be content.' She gave him likewise a warrant for four thousand pounds, notwithstanding her usual

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][merged small]
« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »