The 2nd Earl of Essex and the history players : the factional writing of John Hayward, William Shakespeare, Samuel Daniel, and George Chapman



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, Queen Elizabeth’s last favorite and the last man she executed for treason, has been harshly treated by posterity. Given his leading role at court in what Patrick Collinson calls the “nasty nineties,” Essex has taken much of the blame for the divisive factional politics of Elizabeth’s final decade. However, leading recent efforts to salvage Essex’s reputation, historian Paul Hammer has uncovered a sophisticated bureaucracy operated by highly educated scholars and led by an intelligent, cultivated statesman. A considerable number of high-profile literary figures, moreover, willingly engaged with this ambitiously expanding Essex faction. This thesis proposes that evidence of interference by the censor and the Privy Council, sensitive to a politicized historiography promoting the Earl’s interests chiefly on London’s stages, discloses the presence of a loose, autonomous federation of authors associated with the Essex and post-Essex factions between 1590 and 1610. This thesis considers the suspected works of an eclectic group of writers bonded by their ideological affiliations with Essex’s “radical moderatism”: civil lawyer John Hayward’s prose history of The Life and Raigne of Henrie IIII (1599); William Shakespeare’s second “tetralogy” (1595-99) dealing with the same historical period; Samuel Daniel’s closet drama of the downfall of the Greek general Philotas (1605); and innovative playwright George Chapman’s double tragedy set in France, The Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles, Duke of Byron (1608). I situate these authors within the intellectual and public relations wing of the Essex circle in order to consider how they made contact with the center and with each other, and where they resided within the broader operation of the faction; what they offered and what they expected in return; how they shaped political thinking and how their dramaturgy developed as a consequence; whether they were attracted by the purse or the person; and to what extent they were artistically or ideologically motivated. In considering, finally, whether these writers worked in collaboration or alone, on message or off-the-cuff, as propagandists or political commentators, I illuminate the critically neglected role of the factional writer in early modern England.