(b Netherwood, Herts, 19 Nov 1566; d London, 25 Feb 1601). English military leader and patron. He was introduced at court by his stepfather Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, and became the favourite of Elizabeth I in her last years. He fought against the Spanish and in Ireland, a country over which he was appointed Governor-General in 1599. His frequent absences abroad and at sea may explain the fact that he seems not to have built a great country house, though he lived expensively when in London, at Essex House (destr.) on the Strand, formerly the London residence of the Bishops of Exeter. He was executed following a plot in which he had attempted to raise the citizens of London. Essex is chiefly important in the visual arts for the imagery to be found in portraits made of him; these can be interpreted in ways that encompass the late Elizabethan ideal of the courtier as both warrior and suitor. The full-length miniature by Nicholas Hilliard of a Young Man Leaning against a Tree among Roses (c. 1596; London, V&A) has been suggested as a portrait of Essex. He can be more positively identified in a series of military images: the portrait by William Segar, depicting Essex as he appeared in the Accession Day tilt of 1590 (Dublin, N.G.); Hilliard's miniature of the Queen's Knight (c. 1593–5; priv. col.; see Strong, p. 67, pl. 42); and, in what may have been a shift of patronage towards a newer, more realistic mode, the great full-length by Marcus Gheerhaerts II (c. 1596; Woburn Abbey, Beds), which shows him by the seashore in a full landscape setting. There is also a miniature by Isaac Oliver (c. 1596; London, N.P.G.).
From The Grove Encyclopedia of Northern Renaissance Art in Oxford Reference.
Subjects: Renaissance Art.