Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex

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Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex (11 January 1591 – 14 September 1646) was an English Parliamentarian and soldier during the first half of the seventeenth century. With the start of the English Civil War in 1642 he became the first Captain-General and Chief Commander of the Parliamentarian army, also known as the Roundheads. However, he was unable and unwilling to score a decisive blow against the Royalist army of King Charles I. He was eventually overshadowed by the ascendancy of Oliver Cromwell and resigned his commission in 1646.


Youth and personal life

Robert Devereux was the son and heir of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, the courtier and soldier from the later reign of Queen Elizabeth I. His mother was Frances Walsingham (1569–1631), the only daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth's spymaster.

The 2nd Earl led an unsuccessful rebellion against Elizabeth in 1601. He was subsequently executed for treason and the family lost its title. However King James I chose to restore it after he became King of England. In 1604, Robert Devereux became the 3rd Earl of Essex. The young earl became a close friend of Henry Stuart, Prince of Wales, who was three years Essex's junior.

Essex was married at age 13 to 14-year old Frances Howard; he was then sent on a European tour from 1607 to 1609, apparently without having consummated the marriage. Meanwhile, his wife began an affair with Robert Carr,Viscount Rochester, a favorite of King James I. After Essex's return, Frances sought an annulment on the grounds of impotence. Essex claimed that he was only impotent with her and had been perfectly capable with other women, adding that she "reviled him, and miscalled him, terming him a cow and coward, and beast."[1] The divorce was a public spectacle and it made Essex a laughing-stock at court. The annulment was granted on 25 September 1613, and Frances Howard married her lover, who had been made 1st Earl of Somerset, on 26 December 1613. Three years later the Somersets were tried by a panel of Lords for their part in the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury; Essex sat as a juror in the trial of his former wife and pressed the King to send her to the scaffold.[2] Both were condemned to death, but the sentence was never carried out.

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