Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex was put on trial at York House on 5 June 1600.
|Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex|
The Queen had decided that an assembly of men should investigate Essex’s recent actions which had so displeased her.
Essex had been her “favourite” for years. During the 1590’s there was no one else who received so much favor from Elizabeth.
|Essex in Ireland|
The Queen gave him the command he wanted, but instead of defeating the enemy, he was such a poor general that the Irish outflanked him, and he had to make a truce.
|Queen Elizabeth I |
Not only did he have a very large army, 16,000 troops, but there were rumors that he wanted to enlist the help of Irish soldiers, and some Welsh soldiers, too.
There is no full record of the trial. It is unclear what all of the charges were against Essex, and what the verdict was.
Why wasn't Essex tried in the Star Chamber, which was used regularly in Elizabeth's reign?
I think Elizabeth and her Privy Council wanted Essex to have something more public for Essex, and since Star Chamber trials were held in secret, and without witnesses, the Queen decided to do it this way.
This reminds me of the pillory, which is like the stocks -- a convicted criminal was punished by publicly humiliating them.
I think what happened to Essex was a pillory, but instead of putting him on the street, they humiliated him indoors, with a crowd of the most powerful men in London.
Edwin Abbott Abbott may be onto something when he wrote that “the proceeding was intended, not only to lead the Earl into submission, but also to surprise him into an avowal of faults of which he was not guilty.”
They accused him of many things, and while he feared that he would ultimately be found guilty of treason, there is no record of that being the charge nor the verdict.
He was found guilty, but of what exactly?
|Essex in 1596|
He was sentenced to house arrest.
There are more questions than answers in this strange episode of Essex's life and Elizabeth's reign.
It would be less than a year later that he would lead a rebellion.
It is still unclear what he was rebelling against.
It is plausible that he was rebelling against the Queen.
It is also plausible that he was just trying to get rid of some of the Queen's councillors, like Robert Cecil -- some of the same men that were pillorying him at the York House trial of 5 June 1600.
There are more questions than answers for the Essex Rebellion.
But it is a strange and important time in the history of England, and it is important since the Queen, Robert Cecil, Essex and the Essex Rebellion have everything to do with Shakespeare's writing his masterpiece Hamlet.
David B. Schajer
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