Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex

Walter Devereux

Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex as Earl Marshal of England, 1575
Born 16 September 1541
Died 22 September 1576
Title Earl of Essex
Tenure 1572–1576
Other titles Viscount Hereford
Known for Soldier and courtier
Nationality English
Wars and battles Plantations of Ireland
Offices Earl Marshal
Successor Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex
Spouse(s) Lettice Knollys
Issue Penelope Devereux
Dorothy Devereux
Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex
Walter Devereux
Francis Devereux
Parents Sir Richard Devereux
Dorothy Hastings
Quartered arms of Sir Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex, KG

Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex, KG (16 September 1541 – 22 September 1576), was an English nobleman and general. From 1573 until his death he fought in Ireland in connection with the Plantation of Ulster, where he ordered the massacre of Rathlin Island. He was the father of Elizabeth I's favourite of her later years, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex.


Walter Devereux was the eldest son of Sir Richard Devereux, who was created a Knight of the Bath on 20 February 1547 and died that same year, in the lifetime of his father, Walter Devereux, 1st Viscount Hereford. [1] Walter Devereux's mother was Dorothy Hastings, daughter of George Hastings, 1st Earl of Huntingdon and Anne Stafford, said to have been a mistress of Henry VIII. Through his paternal ancestry he was related to the Bourchier family, to which previous Earls of Essex had belonged:[2][lower-alpha 1] John Devereux, son of Walter Devereux who died at the Battle of Bosworth, married Cecily Bourchier, sister of Henry Bourchier, 2nd Earl of Essex.[1]


On his grandfather's death, Devereux became on 27 September 1558 the 2nd Viscount Hereford and 10th Baron Ferrers of Chartley.[3] He was entrusted with joint custody of the Queen of Scots in 1568, and appointed Lord Lieutenant of Staffordshire in 1569 (which he held through the end of his life).[3] Devereux provided signal service in suppressing the Northern Rebellion of 1569, serving as high marshal of the field under the Ambrose Dudley, 3rd Earl of Warwick and Lord Clinton.[3] For his zeal in the service of Queen Elizabeth I on this and other occasions, he was made a knight of the Garter on 17 June 1572 and was created Earl of Essex and Ewe, and Viscount Bourchier on 4 May 1572.[2][3][lower-alpha 2]

Eager to give proof of "his good devotion to employ himself in the service of her Majesty," he offered on certain conditions to subdue or colonise, at his own expense, a portion of the Irish province of Ulster. At that time, Ulster was completely under the dominion of the O'Neills, led by Sir Brian MacPhelim and Turlough Luineach, and of the Scots led by Sorley Boy MacDonnell. His offer, with certain modifications, was accepted. He set sail for Ireland in July 1573, accompanied by a number of earls, knights and gentlemen, and with a force of about 1200 men.

His enterprise had an inauspicious beginning; a storm dispersed his fleet and drove some of his vessels as far as Cork and the Isle of Man. His forces did not all reach the place of rendezvous till late in the autumn, and he was compelled to entrench himself at Belfast for the winter. Here his troops were diminished by sickness, famine and desertion to not much more than 200 men.

Intrigues of various sorts and fighting of a guerilla type followed, and Essex had difficulties both with his deputy Fitzwilliam and with the Queen. He was in dire straits, and his offensive movements in Ulster took the form of raids and brutal massacres among the O'Neills. In October 1574, he treacherously captured MacPhelim at a conference in Belfast, and after slaughtering his attendants, had MacPhelim, his wife and brother executed at Dublin. He arrested William Piers, who had been active in driving the Scots out of Ulster, and accused him of passing military intelligence to Brian mac Phelim O'Neill. Essex ordered Piers's arrest and detention in Carrickfergus Castle in December 1574, but Piers was freed and he successfully executed Brian mac Phelim O'Neill for treason.[4]

After encouraging Essex to prepare to attack the Irish chief Turlough Luineach, apparently at the instigation of the earl of Leicester, the queen suddenly commanded him to "break off his enterprise." However, she left him a certain discretionary power, and he took advantage of that to defeat Turlough Luineach and chastise County Antrim. He also massacred several hundreds of Sorley Boy's following, chiefly women and children, who had hidden in the caves of Rathlin Island in the face of an amphibious assault led by Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Norreys.

He returned to England at the end of 1575, resolved "to live henceforth an untroubled life." He was however persuaded to accept the offer of the queen to make him Earl Marshal of Ireland. He arrived in Dublin in September 1576, but died three weeks later of dysentery. It was suspected that he had been poisoned at the behest of the Earl of Leicester, who married his widow two years later. A post-mortem was carried out and concluded that Essex had died of natural causes. He was succeeded in the Earldom of Essex by his son Robert.

Marriage and issue

Dorothy and Penelope Devereux

In 1561 or 1562, Devereux married Lettice, daughter of Sir Francis Knollys and Catherine Carey. Walter and Lettice had the following children:

See also


  1. The Bourchier Earldom of Essex and Viscountancy of Bourchier became extinct with the death of Henry Bourchier in 1540. Henry’s daughter, Anne Bourchier, was repudiated by her husband, William Parr, on 17 April 1543 and her children declared bastards and incapable of inheriting. William Parr was created Earl of Essex on 23 December 1543 “with the same place and voice in Parliament as his wife’s [Anne Bourchier’s] father had in his lifetime.” Parr was attainted in 1553 whereby the Earldom of Essex and all his other honors were forfeited. William Parr died 28 October 1570 and Anne Bourchier 28 January 1570/1, and both lacked legitimate heirs causing these titles to become extinct.
  2. The titles assumed by the 1st Earl of the Devereux family are attributed to his son in the act of restoration, which recites that “the said Robert, late Earl of Essex, before his said attainder, was lawfully and rightly invested … with the name, state, place, and dignity of Earl of Essex and Ewe, Viscount Hereford and Bourchier, Lord Ferrers of Chartley, and Lord Bourchier and Louvaine.”


  1. 1 2 McGurk 2004.
  2. 1 2 G.E.C (Editor). Complete Baronetage. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984). Volume 2, pages 249-50, Bourchier
  3. 1 2 3 4 G.E.C (Editor). Complete Baronetage. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984). Volume 5, page 140, Essex
  4. O'Dowd 2008.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Charles Mosley (Editor). Burke’s Peerage & Barontetage, 106th Edition. (Switzerland: Burkes Peerage Genealogical Books,1999). Volume 1, pages 1004, and 1378
  6. Evelyn Philip Shirley. Stemmata Shirleiana. (Westminster: Nichols and Sons, 1873). page 103


Honorary titles
Preceded by
The Lord Paget
Custos Rotulorum of Staffordshire
Succeeded by
Thomas Trentham
Peerage of England
New creation Earl of Essex
8th creation
Succeeded by
Robert Devereux
Preceded by
Walter Devereux
Viscount Hereford
Preceded by
Anne Bourchier
Baron Bourchier
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