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Devereux, Robert, earl of Essex


Subject Literature » Renaissance Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405194495.2012.x


Robert Devereux (1565–1601), second earl of Essex, was the most prominent courtier of the late sixteenth century, a poet in his own right as well as a leading literary patron of the period. His military exploits brought him great popular acclaim, and his spectacular fall from grace in a treasonous but ineffectual uprising sent shock waves through the country, leaving a mark upon the literary culture of the seventeenth century. Born in 1565, Essex succeeded to the earldom at the age of 10 and rose to prominence as a protégé of his stepfather, Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, eventually eclipsing Sir Walter Ralegh to become the last significant favourite of Elizabeth's reign. Essex's rivalry with Ralegh was played out in courtly poetry, the earl adopting a passionate but direct plain style that contrasted with the highly ornamental verses of his opponent ( May 1991 ). Essex adapts the amorous poetics of the Elizabethan court in poems such as ‘Change thy minde since she doth change’, a strident critique of female falsehood which bluntly announces: ‘She was false, bid her adew,/She was best but yet untrue.’ In the sonnets ‘To pleade my faith where faith hath noe reward’ and ‘The waies on earth have paths and turnings knowne’, Essex figures the unjust reward for his services to the crown in the form of a lover's complaints that reproachfully exhort his mistress to ‘Forget my name since ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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