After the previous post, it would seem likely that the limits of persecution mania and grandiose delusion had been reached in Tudor England. If they had, the second Earl of Essex, Robert Devereux, born in 1567 (when Solomon Kane was twelve), exceeded the limits. For volatility, suspicion, wishful thinking, a thoroughly bad sense of timing, moodiness and egotistical conceit, he beat Botolf, Thomas Seymour and Wyatt right from the starting gate.
It’s my theory, by the way, that Solomon Kane killed the first earl, Robert’s father, in Dublin in 1576. Solomon would have been in his early twenties by my reckoning, and that was his first notable slaying. His motive was justice. Walter Devereaux, the first earl, had carried out constant brutal atrocities against the Irish, including a massacre of unarmed men, women and children on Rathlin Island – not done by him personally, but by his command.
While Solomon regarded the Irish Papists as half-heathen savages, the slaughter on Rathlin left him aghast, the more so as he met a few of the ragged, starving survivors. One was Meve O’Brien, who later married a MacDonnal, and became the custodian of Saint Brandon’s cross. Her ghost comes from the tomb to prevent the return of Odin in REH’s “The Cairn on the Headland.” The dates given for her life are 1565-1640, so she would have been eleven when Solomon encountered her after the Rathlin massacre.
By luck or the providence of God, Kane was never suspected. Walter Devereaux had suffered from flux and griping stomach pains for days, at the time Solomon throttled him inside the walls of Dublin Castle. Rumors flew around that his bitter rival, the Earl of Leicester, had him poisoned, and it was said that physicians pronounced his death as natural by the order of highly-placed persons, to avoid political scandal. Probably they did, but neither Leicester nor natural causes were responsible. Solomon Kane did it.
Robert Devereux thus became the second Earl of Essex at the age of ten, or thereby. Apart from the title, he inherited almost nothing, neither lands nor money. A ward of the Crown, he was educated and trained for public life as a courtier, and had no choice but to try for success in the dangerous circle of place-seekers that surrounded Elizabeth I. He had charm, wit, intelligence and enthusiasm, but he was touchy, egotistical and reckless. Elizabeth was about thirty-five years older than Essex. He charmed but never deceived her, and never even came close to being more important to her than the realm of England – but he did succeed in winning her favor.
That was fortunate for him, since what estates he had were mortgaged for over twenty-five thousand pounds, an incredible sum at the time. There was an outstanding debt of his father’s to the Crown for a further ten thousand. He wasn’t the Queen’s only charming favorite; Sir Walter Raleigh was a constant rival, and the two loathed each other almost as much as Catherine Parr and the Duchess of Somerset had. When the queen showed her dislike of Essex’s sister, Dorothy Perrot, with a public slight (she ordered her confined to her room when she discovered she was a fellow houseguest) Essex furiously wrote to a friend that it was all the fault of “that knave Raleigh, for whose sake … she would both grieve me … and disgrace me in the eye of the world … ”
The monarch in current philosophy was infallible, appointed by God, the fountain of justice and truth. Therefore any petty, spiteful or unjust act must have been inspired by wicked ministers and councilors. It wasn’t thinkable, and certainly not expressible, that the monarch had been bitchy on her own unaided impulse.
Raleigh was quite an exponent of dire suspicion and belief in underhanded pernicious foes himself. All courtiers were. “The nature of man,” he said, “is such as beholdeth the new prosperity of others with an envious eye, and wisheth a moderation of fortune nowhere so much as in those we have known in equal degree with ourselves.”
The late 1580s were the time of Essex’s greatest successes. The Earl of Leicester died, and for once Essex played his courtly cards well enough to gain the prizes many desired – Leicester’s farm of sweet wine, a monopoly worth 2,500 pounds a year, and the rank of General of the Queen’s Armies. Essex led an army of 7,000 men to France in support of the new French king, Henry of Navarre (a Protestant at heart) against the invading Spaniards. Solomon Kane was a captain on the French side in that struggle, as Jack Hollinster remembers when he meets Kane in “The Blue Flame of Vengeance” (also known as “Blades of the Brotherhood.”)
For Essex, though, the French campaign proved a disaster, and he was haunted by dread that rival courtiers would replace him in the Queen’s good graces while he was absent. He shouldn’t have blamed evil rivals when he had made the offensive mistake of creating two dozen knights on his French campaign. The queen herself hadn’t dubbed that many new knights even when her subjects, aided by weather and Spanish ineptitude, had trounced the “invincible” Armada.
In 1596, Essex and his rival Raleigh were given a promising and prestigious commission, under the command of Lord Howard. They were sent to even the score for the Spanish Armada’s presumption by striking at Spain with an English fleet. They had splendid success at Cadiz, taking and plundering the city, burning four of King Philip’s greatest galleons, and catching thirty-six merchant ships with rich cargoes in the inner harbor.
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