Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex
Walter Devereux, son of Richard Devereux and Dorothy Hastings, was born on 16 Sep 1539 in Carmarthan Castle, Wales. He was the eldest son of Sir Richard Devereux and Dorothy Hastings.
About 1561, Walter married Lettice, daughter of Sir Francis Knollys and Catherine Carey. Lettice's maternal grandmother was Mary Boleyn, the elder sister of Queen Anne Boleyn, and who also had been a mistress of Henry VIII. There is debate whether Lettice's mother Catherine had been conceived during Mary's affair with the King. Walter and Lettice themselves had five children: Penelope (Jan. 1563), Dorothy (17 Sep. 1564), Robert (10 Nov. 1565), Walter (31 Oct. 1569), and Francis (born and died in 1571).
On 17 Sep. 1558 Walter's grandfather (Walter Devereux) died and he became the 2nd Viscount Hereford and 10th Baron Ferrers of Chartley on 27 Sep. 1558. He provided exemplary service in suppressing the Northern Rebellion of the Earls of Westmoreland and Northumberland in 1569, serving as high marshal of the field under the Earl of Warwick and Lord Clinton.
Following the death of his cousin, Anne Bourchier, on 28 Jan. 1571, his zealous service was rewarded by admission in March of 1571 to the titles of 6th Earl of Eu, and 4th Lord of Bourchier & Louvain by right of his great-grandmother, Cecily Bourchier. This was followed in 1572 with his creation as a Knight of the Garter, and on 04 May 1572 the 1st Earl of Essex.
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 colonize, 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, and 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 when a storm dispersed his fleet and drove some of his vessels as far as Cork and the Isle of Man. The forces did not all reach the place of rendezvous till late in autumn compelling them to entrench 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 guerrilla style fighting followed. Essex hampered by difficulties both with his deputy Fitzwilliam and with the Queen 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 him, his wife and brother executed at Dublin.
In December 1574 Essex arrested William Piers, who was active in driving the Scots out of Ulster, and confined him in Carrickfergus Castle. Piers was accused of passing military intelligence to Brian macPhelim O'Neill, but ultimately was freed. Brian mac Phelim O'Neill was successfully executed for treason.
After encouraging Essex to prepare to attack the Irish chief Tirlogh 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 Turlogh 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 only three weeks later of dysentery on 22 Sep 1576 in Dublin Castle. His body was brought back and interred at Carmarthen Castle, Wales.
It was suspected that he had been poisoned at the behest of the Earl of Leicester (Robert Dudley), 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. His wife died on 25 Dec 1631 in Drayton Bassett, Staffordshire, England.