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The Earl of Essex and Late Elizabethan Political Culture$
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Alexandra Gajda

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199699681

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199699681.001.0001

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Scholars and martialists: the politics of history and scholarship

Scholars and martialists: the politics of history and scholarship

(p.216) 6 Scholars and martialists: the politics of history and scholarship
The Earl of Essex and Late Elizabethan Political Culture

Alexandra Gajda

Oxford University Press

Essex and his followers’ attitudes to classical and historical scholarship are examined. The relationship between arms and letters was idealized in praise for Essex’s militarism, but the study of Tacitus fostered a parallel obsession with the likely repression of virtue, and the decline of states that failed to reward virtuous conduct. Readings of Tacitus by Sir Henry Savile, Essex’s mentor and translator of Tacitus’s Histories and Agricola, indicate the frameworks employed by the earl to interpret his political problems as manifestations of a state governed by a weak tyrant. Connections between Essex’s rising in 1601 and the fascination of writers and dramatists with medieval baronial revolts are also examined, especially the deposition of Richard II by Henry Bullingbrook. Noble revolts were widely condemned in sixteenth-century literature as liable to result in the deposition of monarchs. These were the frameworks invoked by contemporaries to define and interpret Essex’s rising in 1601.

Keywords:   earl of Essex, Tacitus, Sir Henry Savile, Histories, Agricola, tyrant, Richard II, Henry Bullingbrook, revolt, Essex rising

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