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Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex

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Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex

attributed to studio of Nicholas Hilliard
watercolour and bodycolour on vellum, circa 1595
9 3/4 in. x 8 in. (248 mm x 203 mm)
Accepted in lieu of tax by H.M. Government and allocated to the Gallery, 1994
Primary Collection
NPG 6241


Detail of the face showing the strokes of a w…
Detail of letters from the Earl's motto DUM F…
The figure of Victory on the armour.
Detail of the figure holding the Earl's horse…
The under-drawing is visible in infra-red lig…

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1619), Miniature painter. Artist associated with 34 portraits.

This portraitback to top

This portrait was probably painted to celebrate Essex's role in the Accession Day tilt of 1595. He is depicted wearing elaborate armour on which is embroidered his impresa of diamonds within a circle. The battle scene beyond may refer to his command of the cavalry at Flushing in the Netherlands at the start of his career.

Related worksback to top

  • NPG 2494: Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork ()

Linked publicationsback to top

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1595back to top

Current affairs

The Nine Years War begins in Ireland. The Earl of Tyrone leads an uprising against the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I. He appeals to the Catholic Philip II of Spain for assistance.
Spanish ships land in Cornwall sparking fears of a new Armada. They burn Penzance and Mousehole but then flee.
The Jesuit poet and Catholic martyr Robert Southwell is executed for treason. His Saint Peter's Complaint and Other Poems is posthumously published.

Art and science

Sir Walter Ralegh sets out on a voyage to Guiana (now Venezuela) to find the mythic land of 'El Dorado' where there was said to be large amounts of gold. His search is unsuccessful.
Sir Francis Drake sails for the West Indies.
William Shakespeare writes Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream at about his time.
Portrait of the poet and clergyman John Donne is painted at about this time.


Battle of Fontaine-Française- Henry IV of France defeats the Spanish army and the remnants of the French Catholic League under Charles, Duke of Mayenne.
Sigmund Báthory, Prince of Transylvania and Michael the Brave, Prince of Wallachia defeat the Ottoman army at the Guirgevo (in present-day Romania).
Mehmed III succeeds Murad III as Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.

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William Heap

10 October 2017, 20:32

I have made an addition to the previous post.

A closer examination of the background is necessary. The large encampment with artillery, earthworks and a gabion in the background of the portrait suggest their presence at a siege. There are three pieces of artillery and a gunner depicted in fortified positions. A sapper’s tool used for digging trenches is perhaps also visible. Mounted horsemen are present in the background on the left as well as pikemen behind the encampment. The evidence leads us to either Gournay or Rouen during his campaign in France; that is to say, 1591. It could be asked why Essex would choose Rouen as it was ultimately a failure. There are two possibilities: either the portrait was painted during the siege or he saw Rouen as something to celebrate. In another well-known engraving by Thomas Cockson, the siege of Rouen does appear next to his moment of glory at Cadiz. As for the artist, Nicholas Hilliard, he had previously visited France 1576-79. On this occasion he painted the 'freebooter' Sir Anthony Mildmay (Cleveland Museum of Art 1926.554) in a similar 'on campaign' pose.
Finally, we have one other item linking this portrait to the campaign in France. Essex is also wearing a white sash (perhaps bearing fleurs-de-lys) on his right arm as well as white crests in his helmet and his horse. White was the colour adopted by Henri IV.

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