ESSEX – Tudor Rebel: The Coffee Pot Book Club Tour.

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, is one of the most intriguing men of the Elizabethan period. Tall and handsome, he soon becomes a ‘favourite’ at court, so close to the queen many wonder if they are lovers.


The truth is far more complex, as each has what the other yearns for. Robert Devereux longs for recognition, wealth and influence. His flamboyant naïveté amuses the ageing Queen Elizabeth, like the son she never had, and his vitality makes her feel young.


Robert Devereux’s remarkable true story continues the epic tale of the rise of the Tudors, which began with the best-selling Tudor trilogy and concludes with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.


Excerpt from
ESSEX- Tudor Rebel, by Tony Riches

 Carew Castle, Pembrokeshire, May 1584

 Robert’s uncle rode at his side on the familiar road to Carew under a cloudless, cornflower-blue sky. Pale yellow primroses and purple-pink foxgloves brightened the hedgerows, and the rhythmic clip-clop of iron-shod hooves mixed with the soft bleating of spring lambs.

Behind them rode Gelly, carrying the flag of St George, and Bagot with the Essex banner. His uncle’s maidservant, Bethan, rode at the side of Robert’s Irish groom, Tom White, who drove the wagon laden with their tent, a keg of ale, freshly baked bread and oatcakes. The long lances, painted in the Essex orange and white, lashed to the side, were a clue to the purpose of their outing.

Wearing a scarlet cape over his jousting armour, Robert was appearing in public as the Earl of Essex for the first time since he’d come of age, and wished to look the part. He’d borrowed his uncle’s sword, and also wore his silver dagger at his belt.

The Carew May Day tourney attracted spectators from all over the county, and offered Robert his chance to show what he’d achieved with the long hours of practice. He smiled as he heard the lively music of fiddle players. The shrill shouts of excited children and the scent of woodsmoke from cooking fires reached them before they saw the tournament field.

His uncle turned in his saddle as they approached.

‘Remember Sir Philip Sidney’s advice.’

Robert grinned. ‘Not to kill anyone?’

His uncle smiled. ‘Whenever I believe you’ve grown from a boy to a man, you like to prove me wrong.’

‘I’ll not forget Sir Philip’s training. They’ve come for entertainment, and that’s what they shall have.’

The tournament field was decorated with banners and bunting, and the crowd cheered as Robert and his retinue paraded past the tiered viewing stands. Robert raised a hand in salute to his sister Dorothy, seated with a group of young ladies in colourful silk gowns.

One of the ladies caught his eye and smiled. She looked about his age, and he felt an unexpected frisson of attraction. He returned her smile, and saw her turn and say something to his sister. He still missed Elizabeth and had resolved to choose his own wife, and not allow a match to be forced upon him.

He made his way to the row of canvas tents in the competitors’ area, where Sir Thomas Perrot greeted him.

‘Are you ready to defend the honour of Lamphey, Lord Essex?’

Robert laughed. This was all part of the show, and he called out, over the noise of the music, so everyone could hear. ‘I trust you are ready for a new challenger, Sir Thomas!’

Gelly and Bagot hammered in the wooden pegs and soon had their tent ready, with a seat and table, and the Essex banners planted each side of the entrance. Robert handed Perseus over to Tom White to be caparisoned in orange and white. Bethan poured him a cup of ale, and he took a drink while Gelly checked the buckles on the leather straps securing his armour.

His uncle appeared at the entrance to the tent. ‘Best mount up when you’re ready. They’re waiting for you.’ He gave Robert a look of concern. ‘Take care. I’ll count it as a good result if you stay in the saddle.’

Robert mounted Perseus, who looked magnificent in his flowing caparison, reaching close to the ground. Tom led him to the grassed arena in front of the stands, where the other riders were assembled. Gelly followed as Robert’s squire, carrying the first of the long wooden lances over his shoulder, and they stopped to listen as the herald called out the rules.

Each rider will charge up to four times with lances, and only three lances are allowed. If there is no decisive winner, the judges will vote, giving points for skill and accuracy, making deductions for foul strokes.’

The order of riding had been chosen by lots, so Robert had the chance to assess his competitors while waiting his turn. Most made the mistake of riding too slowly, dipping their lance and raising it too late to make contact. The crowd didn’t seem to mind, cheering each failed pass with the same enthusiasm.

Robert was grateful his first ride was against the son of a merchant from Haverfordwest, rather than an experienced man like Sir Thomas Perrot. He rode to the end of the tilt rail and fastened his helmet. Gelly handed him his lance and wished him luck. The eye slit in his helmet meant he had to turn his head to see the herald’s signal, then he charged.

The months of rehearsal for this moment meant his lance was firmly couched under his arm. Perseus had never galloped faster, and Robert thundered down the list, repeating Sir Philip Sidney’s advice: Keep your eyes fixed on your opponent until the point of impact.

His lance struck the other rider and shattered into splinters on impact. Gelly had spent hours sawing part way through the tip, and hiding the cuts with paint. The result must have looked convincing, as the crowd erupted with a roar of applause.

Robert’s second pass was another clean hit, breaking the tip of his second lance, so now he only had one remaining. He frowned as he realised his final opponent was Sir Thomas Perrot. He’d watched as his brother-in-law unhorsed one rider and injured a second when his lance struck a glancing blow on the man’s helmet.

Gelly handed him his final lance. ‘I’ve saved the best until last.’ He smiled ‘The balance is perfect.’

Robert peered through the slit in his helmet and saw Sir Thomas signal that he was ready. Taking a firm grip on his lance, he spurred Perseus into a charge, and raced forward. The sharp crack made the crowd gasp as Sir Thomas’s lance smashed into his shoulder, twisting him backwards in the saddle.

Robert’s arm went numb, and he cursed at the shock of the impact. He dropped his lance in surrender and Gelly rushed forward to bring Perseus to a stop. Robert’s shoulder throbbed as the feeling returned, but the crowd were on their feet again, cheering. Gelly took his gauntlets and helmet, and handed Robert a cloth to wipe the sweat from his eyes.

‘Well done, my lord.’

‘I lost.’ Robert looked back to see Sir Thomas being awarded the champion’s ribbon by Dorothy.

‘That’s what I mean, my lord.’ Gelly grinned. ‘You let him win. Sir Philip Sidney would be proud of you.’

Robert rubbed his aching shoulder and smiled. He would have liked to win, but Gelly was right. This was the best result, for now, and no one would think any less of him for losing to Sir Thomas Perrot, a more experienced rider. He’d moved one step closer to competing in a royal tournament for the queen, but when the time came he would give no quarter.


Robert Devereux’s remarkable true story continues in ESSEX- Tudor Rebel, the epic tale of loyalty and love and adventure follows Robert from his youth to his fateful rebellion.

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Author Bio

Tony Riches

Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of best-selling Tudor historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the history of the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors. Tony’s other published historical fiction novels include: Owen – Book One Of The Tudor Trilogy, Jasper – Book Two Of The Tudor Trilogy, Henry – Book Three Of The Tudor Trilogy, Mary – Tudor Princess, Brandon – Tudor Knight and The Secret Diary Of Eleanor Cobham.


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