Primary source material leading towards a biography

This is an account of the death of Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex, of dysentery while serving as Earl Marshal of Ireland in 1576, written a few days after the event and sent to William Cecil, Lord Burghley, who was Elizabeth I’s Secretary of State. One of my projects at the moment is to research the life of the person who wrote it.

To the right honnorable my singular good L. my L. Burghley Lorde Treasurer of Englande


I RECEAVED by my nephewe your Lordships loving lettres, all written with your awne hande, which were more comfortable to me then I can expresse. I finde in themme a rule to direct me, and a piller wheron to stay me, besyds a confirmation of your accustomed favour towards me, whom your selfe hathe lifted upp from stumbling downe, wherof I and my posteritie shall alwaies cary a loving memory. I will not presume to prohibite your honor to write any thing to the Governor which youe shall thinke good for me ; but I suppose he hathe made choise of suche as he thinks fittest to be acquaynted with his platt : and therefore-using me but as tanquam vocatus, am to require no more, but his indifferency, and favorable acceptation of my best advise in the service of my Prince and Countrey.

Oh my good Lord, here I must, emong others advertyse your Lordship of the dolefull departure of Th’Erle of Essex, who ended this life to begyn a better the xxijth of September in the Castell of Dublin and felt his sycknes first at Talaghe [?Tallaght?] th’archebisshope of Dublins house, in his jorney towards Balhuglas [?Baltinglass?] to mete Th’Erle of Ormounde accompanyed with the Chauncelor, the last of August.

I was moche abowte him in the later ende of his sycknes, and behelt suche true tokynes of Nobilitie conjoyned with a most godly and vertuos mynde to the yelding upp of his breathe, as is rare to be sene.

Two daies before he died he had speche with me of your Lordship, and sayd he thoght he was borne to do you and your’s good. But nowe sayd he I must comytt the oversight of my son and all to him. He likewise spoke lovingly of my Lord of Sussex, with many other things which for prolixitie and otherwise I omytt to write. He doubted that he had bene poysoned by reason of the violent evacuation which he had, and of that suspicion acquitted this Lande, saying no not Tirrelaghe Lunnaghe him selfe wolde do no villany to his person. But upon the openyng of him, which I coulde not abyde, the Chauncelor tolde me that all his inwarde parts were sounde saving that his hart was somewhate consumed, and the blader of his gall empty. Suche as toke upon theme to be his phisicians, as Chaloner, Knell a preacher, and the Deputies phisician called Doctor Trever, applied him with many glisters, and therby filled his body full of winde which was perceyved : so as ether ther ignorance, or some violent cause beyonde ther skill ended his life. His fleashe and complexion did not decay, his memory and speche was so perfitt that, at the last yelding upp of his breathe, he cryed ‘ Cowradge, Cowradge. I am a soyldor that must fight under the banor of my Savior Christe.’ And as he prayed alwaies to be dissolved, so was he lothe to dye in his bed ; which made me to remember your Lordship’s tale of your Father.

Emong others he had care of my seconde son, which is all this while brought upp with the young Erle his son, without any chardge to me, bicause his mother was a Lenox. And required Mr Waterhouse to move your honor that he might still attende on his son and be broght upp with him, wherin I refer his case to your accustomed goodnes.

His Lordship comytted to my keping the patents of his creation and countreyes here : and made me one of his feoffees of Trust. I hope with the Deputie’s favour to turne those lands to a reasonable yere comoditie to his son.

I do sende your Lordship here inclosed the names of suche of Th’Erles servaunts as were abowte him in the tyme of his sycknes, and served him moste painfully and diligently ; for with respect I thinke them worthy the favor of all men.

It is doubted whate ende the deputie will make of this great sturr in Conaght.

From S’. Kathrins besyds Dublin, this last of September 1576.

Yor honors moste bounden during life


Dramatis personæ:

The writer of the letter: Nicholas White, Master of the Rolls of Ireland, also my 9x great-grandfather
The recipient of the letter: William Cecil, Lord Burghley, Lord High Treasurer of England
The man who died: Walter, Earl of Essex, who had led a failed colonisation expedition to Ulster a few years before and was now Earl Marshal of Ireland
Others, named:
          “Th’Erle of Ormounde“, Lord Treasurer of Ireland
          “Tirrelaghe Lunnaghe”, Turlough Luineach O’Neill, King of Tyrone who had defeated Essex
          “my Lord of Sussex”, Thomas Radclyffe, the Earl of Sussex
          Chaloner, Knell and Trever, incompetent doctors who killed the earl with too many “glysters” (ie enemas)
          “the young Erle”, Robert, Earl of Essex, who grew up to be a favourite of Queen Elizabeth’s and then was executed for leading a rebvellion against her
          Edward Waterhouse,Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant
Others, named by title:
          Sir Henry Sidney, “the Governor”/”the Deputie” (ie Lord Lieutenant of Ireland)
          Adam Loftus, “th’archebisshope of Dublin”
          Robert Dillon, “Chauncelor” of the Exchequer of Ireland
Others, not named:
          White’s nephew
          White’s second son, whose “mother was a Lenox”

The section of most general interest is the bit about the earl’s demise. Nicholas White knew about poisoning due to the circumstances of his own father’s death, and presumably his evidence that the earl’s death was due to natural causes was important and needed in London. His profession of affection and gratitude for Burghlety’s help is rather striking. The account of the doctors’ mistreatment of the earl is pretty chilling, though probably he was doomed anyway.

Edward Waterhouse, mentioned in the last paragraph, wrote a much more widely circulated account of the earl’s death and was crucial in building his son’s later reputation.

I’m confused by the references to White’s family. Other sources say that he had three sons, Andrew, Thomas and James, all by his first wife, who is recorded in genealogy only by her surname, Sherlock. (His second marriage – that we know of – was in 1587, long after this letter was written.) But here he says that the mother of his second son was a Lennox. More research needed.

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