In the spring or summer of 1599, the Chorus of Henry V, in Shakespeare's only explicit reference to a contemporary politician, looked forward to the return of the 33-year-old Earl of Essex from his campaign in Ireland, 'bringing rebellion broached on his sword' - a light touch from which some heavy inferences have been drawn. Instead, the Earl returned in disgrace in September and was placed under house arrest. In June 1600 he was interrogated and rebuked by a special commission of statesmen and lawyers. He was released in August, but remained suspended from the exercise of his offices and was denied access to the Queen. By January 1601, when Essex House in the Strand had become a magnet to the discontented, he believed that the rivals who now commanded Elizabeth's favour were bent not only on manipulating the Queen to their advantage and the nation's disadvantage, but on his own destruction. Only a pre-emptive strike, he concluded, could save him. On Sunday, 8 February, he set out to raise the city of London as a prelude to capturing the Court, not in order to overthrow the monarch - few Tudor risings had that aim - but to restore his influence in her counsels. The ensuing fiasco was over by nightfall. By the next morning Essex was in the Tower.
LRB 10 July 2003 | PDF Download