Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex

1 portrait matching 'Marcus the Younger'

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Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex

by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger
oil on canvas, circa 1597
85 7/8 in. x 50 in. (2180 mm x 1272 mm)
Purchased, 1974
Primary Collection
NPG 4985

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

This portraitback to top

A Venetian observer described how, after taking Cadiz, Essex had 'on this last voyage...began to grow a beard, which he used not to wear'. This portrait was painted soon afterwards and shows him as a Knight of the Garter. It may have been commissioned by Sir Henry Lee, from whose collection it descends, possibly as a pair to a similar portrait of himself (Royal Armouries, London). Lee, with Essex's help, was made a Garter Knight in 1597.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Smartify image discovery app
  • Bolland, Charlotte, The Tudors Passion, Power and Politics, 2022, p. 128
  • Bolland, Charlotte; Cooper, Tarnya, The Real Tudors: Kings and Queens Rediscovered, 2014 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 12th September 2014 to 1st March 2015), p. 129
  • Lucinda Hawksley, Moustaches, Whiskers and Beards, 2014, p. 27
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 209
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 59 Read entry

    Essex was the last favourite of Elizabeth I and organised royal entertainments in his capacity as Master of the Horse. He was confirmed as a popular hero in 1596 after taking the town of Cádiz in a pre-emptive strike against the Spanish, and was appointed Earl Marshal the following year. Described by his friend Francis Bacon as having ‘a nature not to be ruled’, Essex lost his place at court as a result of his activities in Ireland in 1599, when he failed to crush the uprising of the Earl of Tyrone. Following an unsuccessful attempt to raise a rebellion against the Queen’s ministers in 1601 he was executed for treason.

    A Venetian visitor, who described Essex as ‘fair-skinned, tall, but wiry’, recounted how, on the voyage home after the taking of Cádiz, the Earl had grown a beard ‘which he used not to wear’. Essex retained the beard as a mark of his venture and this portrait was painted soon afterwards. This portrait by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (1561/2-1632) shows him in his robes as a Knight of the Garter with the collar of the Order’s Greater George about his neck.

Events of 1597back to top

Current affairs

Philip II of Spain launches another armada against England. As in 1588, the fleet is dispersed by a storm, which is celebrated as divine intervention.
Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex is made Earl Marshall.
Charles Howard, Baron Howard of Effingham is created Earl of Nottingham.
King James VI of Scotland (later James I of England) publishes Daemonologie, an attack on witchcraft that incites a fever for witch-hunts.

Art and science

William Shakespeare writes The Merchant of Venice.
The musician John Dowland publishes The First Booke of Songes or Ayres, the most successful music publication of the period.


Philip II of Spain opens peace negotiations with Henry IV of France after his army in the Spanish Netherlands fails to defeat the forces of France or the Protestant United Provinces of the northern Netherlands.
The Japanese ruler Toyotomi Hideyoshi launches a second invasion of Korea.

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Prof. Olga Valbuena

04 February 2018, 17:56

This portrait (ca. 1597)--perhaps from 1598(?)--memorializes Queen Elizabeth I's "free gift" of £7000 worth of cochineal, the coveted red dye that Essex (with Ralegh and Howard) took from the Spanish fleet on their return from the Indies (Mexico) in the Azores.

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