Senate House Library treasures volume: featuring an unfortunate earl

Apologie of the Earl of Essex

MS287

MS 287 is a copy of a tract by Robert Devereux, second earl of Essex (1565-1601), addressed anonymously to Anthony Bacon (a device that enabled Essex to deny authorship), entitled:

‘To Maister Anthonie Bacon. An Apologie of the Earle of Essex, against those which falsely and maliciously taxe him to be the only hinderer of the Peace, and quiet of his Countrey.’

The text differs slightly from that of the first printed edition of 1600 (STC 6787.7) which also included a letter from Essex’s sister, Lady Rich, ‘to her maiestie, in the behalf of the earle of Essex’.

About the tract’s publication, Rowland Whyte wrote on 10 May 1600 to Sir Robert Sydney that ‘Lord Essex continues where he did: he plays now and then at tennis. An Apology written by him about the peace, is, as I hear, printed; on which he is much troubled, and has sent to the Stationers [Company] to suppress them,  for it is done without his knowledge’. On 13 May Whyte reported that ‘The Queen is offended that this Apology of peace is printed, for of 200 copies only 8 is heard of. It is said that my Lady Riches letter to her Majesty is also printed, which is an exceeding wrong done to the Earle of Essex’.

Royal displeasure was something that Essex could ill afford. In 1598 his high standing as Queen Elizabeth’s favourite had been strained by a series of disastrous enterprises. He recovered sufficiently to be appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1599, charged with destroying the rebellion led by the Earl of Tyrone. Having instead concluded a peace treaty with Tyrone, Essex was imprisoned and charged with treason on 20 March 1600. He survived that crisis, but led an abortive rebellion to unseat the queen, and he was executed on 25 February 1601.

The manuscript has a distinguished provenance. It first belonged to Sir Julius Caesar (1558-1636), a distinguished lawyer and judge who became chancellor of the Exchequer in 1606, and was master of the Rolls from 1614 to 1636. The antiquarian Horace Walpole (1719-1797) and the antiquarian and book collector Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792-1872) were subsequent owners.

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