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Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex, 1572

Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex, KG (1541–22 September 1576), an English nobleman, was the eldest son of Sir Richard Devereux and Dorothy Hastings.

His paternal grandfather was the 9th Baron Ferrers of Chartley, who was created Viscount Hereford in 1550, and by his mother he was a nephew of Henry Bourchier, a former Earl of Essex. His maternal grandparents were George Hastings, 1st Earl of Huntingdon and Anne Stafford, Countess of Huntingdon. Anne Stafford is most well-known as Henry VIII's mistress in 1510. Walter Devereux succeeded as 2nd Viscount Hereford in 1558, and in 1561 or 1562 married Lettice, daughter of Sir Francis Knollys and Catherine Carey. Lettice was also the grandchild of one of Henry VIII's mistresses - Mary Boleyn, the elder sister of Queen Anne Boleyn. It is up for debate whether Catherine was conceived during her mother's affair with the King.

In 1569 he served as high marshal of the field under the Earl of Warwick and Lord Clinton, and materially assisted them in suppressing the northern insurrection. For his zeal in the service of Queen Elizabeth on this and other occasions, in 1572 he was made a knight of the Garter and was created Earl of Essex, a title which formerly belonged to the Bourchier family.

Eager to give proof of "his good devotion to employ himself in the service of her Majesty", he offered on certain conditions to subdue or colonize, at his own expense, a portion of the Irish province of Ulster. At that time Ulster was completely under the dominion of the O'Neills, led by Sir Brian MacPhelim and Turlough Luineach, and of the Scots led by Sorley Boy MacDonnell. His offer, with certain modifications, was accepted, and he set sail for Ireland in July 1573, accompanied by a number of earls, knights and gentlemen, and with a force of about 1200 men.

The beginning of his enterprise was inauspicious, on account of a storm which dispersed his fleet and drove some of his vessels as far as Cork and the Isle of Man. His forces did not all reach the place of rendezvous till late in the autumn, and he was compelled to entrench himself at Belfast for the winter. Here his troops were diminished to little more than 200 men by sickness, famine and desertions.

Intrigues of various sorts, and fighting of a guerilla type, followed with disappointing results, and Essex had difficulties both with his deputy Fitzwilliam and with the Queen. Essex was in dire straits himself, and his offensive movements in Ulster took the form of raids and brutal massacres among the O'Neills; in October 1574 he treacherously captured MacPhelim at a conference in Belfast, and, after slaughtering his attendants, had him and his wife and brother executed at Dublin.

Elizabeth, instigated apparently by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, after encouraging Essex to prepare to attack the Irish chief Tirlogh Luineach, suddenly commanded him to "break off his enterprise"; but as she left him a certain discretionary power, he took advantage of it to defeat Turlogh Luineach, and chastise Antrim. He also massacred several hundreds of Sorley Boy's following, chiefly women and children, who had hidden in the caves of Rathlin Island in the face of an amphibious assault led by Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Norreys.

He returned to England at the end of 1575, resolved "to live henceforth an untroubled life"; but he was ultimately persuaded to accept the offer of the queen to make him Earl Marshal of Ireland. He arrived in Dublin in September 1576, and three weeks afterwards died of dysentery. There were suspicions that he had been poisoned by Leicester, who married his widow two years after his death, but these were not confirmed by the post-mortem examination. The endeavours of Essex to better the condition of Ireland were a dismal failure; and the massacres of the O'Neills and of the Scots of Rathlin leave a dark stain on his reputation.

During his time in Ireland Essex also came to own large estates, including a residence at Durhamstown Castle, a small converted tower house outside Navan in County Meath.

His daughters were Penelope Devereux, Lady Rich, and Dorothy Percy, Countess of Northumberland. He was succeeded in the Earldom of Essex by his son Robert.[1]

Notes and references

  1. ^ http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~wjhonson/Royals/Dudley.jpg

External links

Honorary titles
Preceded by
The Lord Paget
Custos Rotulorum of Staffordshire
bef. 1573 – 1576
Succeeded by
Thomas Trentham
Peerage of England
New creation Earl of Essex
8th creation
1572 – 1576
Succeeded by
Robert Devereux
Preceded by
Walter Devereux
Viscount Hereford
1558 – 1576
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