Sir Walter Devereux, Illegitimate Son of the 2nd Earl of Essex

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Walter Devereux was the illegitimate, eldest son of Robert Devereux 2nd Earl of Essex born in late 1591. His mother was Elizabeth Southwell, daughter of Sir Thomas Southwell of Woodrising, Norfolk and his wife Nazareth (Newton) Southwell, who later became Lady Paget. Elizabeth was the half-sister of the Lord Admiral’s son-in-law, Robert Southwell, and a first cousin of Essex’s enemy Henry Brooke, the future 11th Lord Cobham.

By 1595 the truth of Walter’s parentage had come out, and Essex acknowledged him in a financial rearrangement to his Will dated July of 1595 where he is referred to as “Walter Devereux the base and reputed son of the said Robert Earl of Essex begotten of the body of Elizabeth Southwell.” Walter was given over to the care of Essex’s mother, Lettice (Knollys) (Devereux) Dudley, Countess of Leicester, who raised him at Drayton Bassett in Staffordshire. With the execution of his father, Robert Devereux, on Feb. 25, 1601 he found himself stripped of his main source of support. Essex’s assets had been seized, and now Walter Devereux was an even greater social pariah, the illegitimate son of a traitor.

During this period after the 2nd Earl’s execution, Walter was permitted to continue his studies at Oxford, and matriculated on Nov. 16, 1604. During this time he also apparently drew closer to his half-brother, Robert Devereux, the legal heir of the 2nd Earl and future 3rd Earl who also was suffering from these losses. Throughout the remainder of Walter’s life, he would remain a retainer of Robert, and when the title was restored in July 1603 Walter’s fortunes rose as well.

Walter Devereux’s grandmother, Lettice Dudley Countess of Leicester, wrote to Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, in 1608 to assist in arranging his marriage to “Lady Stallenge’s daughter.” This is most likely the daughter of Lady Florence Stallenge. She had two daughter’s, Margaret and Elizabeth by Sir Christopher Kenn. After he died in 1593, Florence married her second husband, Nicholas Stallenge. The daughter most likely referred to in the letter was Margaret who ended up marrying Sir William Guise in 1608, and died before 1612 after bearing him a single son and heir. Her younger sister, Elizabeth, would marry a few years later to Sir John Paulet. There is evidence that he may have married another woman, though. Years after Walter Devereux‘s death in 1641, a Dorothy Deverix died and was recorded in the Register of St. Peter, Paul’s Wharf as a widow upon her burial in the churchyard on 27 Sep 1649. There is further suggestion that about 1609 they may have had a son, John. This John Devereux was a retainer of Sir John Astley and mentioned in his Will. The Astley family was involved in staging the revels common to the nobility at this time and clearly was interconnected with the Devereux family. Walter Devereux participated in these plays and dramas as well. On February 2, 1618 he performed in “The Fairies’ Farewell: The Masque at Coleorton” at his half-sister, Frances Devereux’s marriage to Sir William Seymour.

In May of 1613 the divorce suit of his half-brother, Robert Devereux, began, and over the next several months was manipulated by the King and his powerful allies at the expense of Essex and the Devereux family’s reputation. Essex’s wife, Frances Howard, and the King’s faction forced the divorce to be granted as nullity requiring impotence to permit her remarriage to the King’s favorite. The ongoing slurs and insults drove Essex to challenge his brother-in-law, Henry Howard, on August 20 to a duel, and Walter would serve as one of Essex’s seconds. The King would not allow the duel to go forward. On September 25th the verdict of nullity was granted, and the next day the King called a special Court of Honor to stop duel. The Court interviewed the seconds including Walter Devereux, but the testimony was altered. Essex’s refused to sign the report indicating they were false. On October 11th Essex was called before the Privy Council, probably reprimanded and rebuked, but all that is known for certain was his confinement to his London residence. A Warrant was issued for Walter Devereux, and on October 13 he was imprisoned in the Fleet (London Prison) with no cause stated. In early November, Essex and Walter were released from prison, and evidently pressured to accept what had occurred. The final insult happened a few weeks later when the Howard family demanded his wife’s dowry back, and Essex was forced to sell parts of his estate and borrow money from his grandmother, Lettice the Countess of Leicester.

The two brothers were now joined more closely, and as a retainer of the 3rd Earl of Essex, Walter found himself strongly in opposition to the Stuart monarchy, and a staunch supporter of Parliament in the evolving Civil War. Through Essex’s influence, he became a courtier at the Court of James I in 1613, and was knighted at Ashby-de-la-Zouche on September 2, 1917.

He was first summoned to Parliament as a representative of Pembroke in 1614. The ‘Addled’ Parliament sat for only 8 weeks from April 5 to June 7 and then was dissolved by James I for failing to pass any legislation. Specifically, they refused to grant him any money. He would represent Pembroke again in Parliament from 1624 to 1625 participating in the “Prince’s” Parliament.

When Essex set out with the English Expeditionary Force to the Low Countries in August of 1624, Walter accompanied him. He remained with Essex through the Winter at the Siege of Breda and shared the hardships and hand-to-hand combat occurring at the close of this action. In May of 1625 he opted to remain in the Low Countries due to disease in London, and requested payment for this extended service from the Dutch government in May of 1626. He was not present at the “Useless” Parliament in 1625 due to his overseas service.

Returning to England in July 1625, Walter was elected to Parliament for Tamworth in Staffordshire on January 20, 1626. He would hold this seat in the Commons for the rest of his life. He was appointed to the Warwickshire Committee for Peace that same year. In 1628 he is present in Parliament to support the ‘Petition of Rights’ forced on Charles I acknowledging a statement of civil rights in return for support of his finances.

On Dec. 25, 1634 Walter lost one of his main benefactors when his grandmother, Lettice, died. His family ties were further strained when in mid-1636 his half-brother, Robert Earl of Essex, became suspicious his wife was having an affair. He had left her at his sister’s house in Hertford in March of 1636 to return to his estates at Chartley where he was needed to manage his affairs. It is not clear whether Walter took it upon himself, or Robert set him the task, but by July Walter had acquired evidence of Essex’s wife’s affair with Sir William Uvedale. The Earl began to plan for a divorce, but Lady Essex then announced she was pregnant. Essex was divided on the proper course to take, but came to the conclusion that if the child was born by November 5 it was possible that he was the father. A stressful few months passed, and the child was born on November 5. A son and heir, who Essex accepted as his own. Within a few months the child died of plague and Essex’s marriage was over in all but name.

The outcome of these events appears to have also left its mark on Robert’s relationship with his brother, Walter, and they would never be as close again. In 1638, the London City Directory showed a Mr. Walter Devereux living at 38 Triggs Stairs in St. Peter, Paul’s Wharf Parish. This may indicate Walter was establishing his own residence. Of additional interest is the listing of a Mr. Devorax living on Trigg’s Lane and paying rent of 6L. This Mr. Devorax was listed as John Devorax when one of his servants was buried. This suggests a link between Walter and a John Devereux that I believe is his son.

In 1639 the First Bishops' War breaks out between Charles I and the Scottish Church. Essex participates, but unlike the previous conflict there is no record that Walter accompanied him. When Parliament is summoned by Charles I on February 20, 1940, Walter Devereux is elected to Commons for Lichfield in East Staffordshire. On April 13 the ‘Short Parliament’ begins, but is dissolved May 5 after refusing to grant the King money.

As the Second Bishops War ends in disaster, Charles I summons parliament again on September 24, and Walter Devereux is a member for Lichfield in East Staffordshire once more. The ‘Long Parliament’ begins on November 3, and Walter Devereux serves on the Ship-money Committee and is named one of the Commissioners for Staffordshire in the Scandalous Ministers Act. He continues to be active in Parliament’s cause throughout 1641 when he died unexpectedly on July 26.

As the Parliament began to prepare for military action against the King, Essex’s relationships with his family deteriorated. His mother’s second husband, the Earl of Clanricade, and his sister’s husband, Earl of Hertford, were Royalists. He was barely speaking to his wife who would soon go over to the Royalist camp. Essex was alienated from all those he had held dear only five years previously, but sensing imminent death he set his affairs in order. On August 5, 1642, Essex would revise his Will including reassigning the estates he had deeded to Walter Devereux to his sister, the Marchioness of Hereford, and his favorite nephew, Sir Charles Shirley.

As Walter Devereux had died unexpectedly, there was no Will and I have found no probate. His half-brother, Robert Devereux, made no allowance for surviving family, but this was typical of nobility at the time. In the Herbert family that were also from the same Welsh border region, there is a clear example where the legitimate brother completely excluded the illegitimate brother’s family from all inheritance of any family wealth. The possible wife of Walter, Dorothy Deverix, died as described above on 27 Sep 1649.