The Royal and Noble Lovers

The Royal and Noble Lovers: Or, the History of the Great Earl of Essex and Queen Elizabeth

Author: Unknown
Publisher: Ann Lemoine and J. Roe
Publication Year: 1806
Language: English
Book Dimensions: 7.5cm x 11.5 cm
Pages: 36
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2.R747 1806

Material History

To consider the material history of The Royal and Noble Lovers, or the History of the Great Earl of Essex and Queen Elizabeth, one must first note the most salient feature of the book—its size. It is small, measuring 11.5 cm by 7.5 cm, roughly the size of an adult hand.

The second noticeable feature of the book is its age. The book’s paper shows apparent signs of the age-related process of deterioration called foxing and is unevenly stained and discolored on all of the pages. Some pages have large, rust-colored blotches, while others have yellowing at the pages’ edges with just some light spotting. The book’s thin paper appears brittle, worn, and fragile. The book’s binding is paper, bound by white thread rather than glue. The fact that the book is old is confirmed by its publication date: 1806. Another clue is that the word “Published” is spelled with a long S.

Interestingly, the author’s name does not appear anywhere in the book. However, the publisher’s names are listed (Ann Lemoine and J. Roe), and the title page contains the printer’s name—T. Maiden. The book’s final page lists the printer’s name again. The book was sold in mass quantities, as evidenced by the text, “Sold by all the Booksellers in The United Kingdom.” Further evidence of mass production is the book’s cost: “Price Three-Pence.” The book is bound in paper, which would have been selected for cost-effective mass production rather than cloth or costly leather.

The text is closely set, each page contains many words, and the margins are narrow with little white space. The printing is not uniform on all pages, further adding to the evidence that this book was mass-produced cheaply. The book contains no readers’ markings or notations in pencil or ink.

A frontispiece illustration is prominently featured on the page immediately before the title page. The frontispiece is a full-page black pen and ink drawing titled “Royal Lovers,” and presumably the couple depicted is the Great Earl of Essex and Queen Elizabeth. The couple is clothed in non-ceremonial but elegant attire. The Queen is wearing a full-length, brocade-style skirt, long-sleeved blouse, short puffed shoulders, and contrasting insets. The blouse has a cinched, corset-style waist with a slight, scalloped peplum. Her hair is pinned under her dark, v-shaped hat, which is topped with a large white plume. The Great Earl of Essex wears long, pale tights with a long jacket. He has thick, dark hair and a mustache, and holds a hat in his right hand. The lovers look fond of each other and appear comfortable and relaxed together. She is standing on the side of a throne, leaning with her right arm, and he stands in front of her, looking at her over his right shoulder. The end of the book contains an illustration of grapes on a vine with grape leaves. The book thus begins and ends with an illustration.

Textual History

A textual history analysis examines the circumstances in which this work was published and received. Most notably, the author is unknown. It is unclear whether a series of anonymous authors collaborated on the book or whether a single author penned it. The work was printed in 1806 in London by T. Maiden for Ann Lemoine and J. Roe.

The text is a book of historical fiction, with characters based on the real historical figures of Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex. The Earl was the Queen’s favorite but unwisely planned to capture her and declare a successor. The rebellion failed. Stung by this betrayal, the Queen ordered the Earl’s execution for treason in 1601. This pocket-sized romantic text is based on these real-life events but was published more than 200 years after the Earl’s execution. As a work of fiction, literary liberties were taken to enhance the details of the private relationship between Queen Elizabeth and the Earl. Correspondence from 1565 to 1601 from the Earl’s father to the Queen survived; however, it is unlikely that the text’s author had access to this original correspondence. The tale also contains some historically accurate details; for instance, the ring the Queen gives the Earl does exist. Yet ultimately this fictional text was written to please and even scandalize readers, rather than focus on historical facts. The story arises from historical figures and events, but the focus is on two strong-minded and individualistic people in a passionate and scandalous relationship marked by stark differences in age, social position, and power.

The work was published in a cheap format. The text cost “Three Pence,” as noted in the printed copy. It was mass-produced, widely available to the public, and small and portable. There is no evidence of subsequent printed editions or translations of the work, and no early nineteenth-century advertisements or reviews appear to have been published. An 1882 article in the Leeds Mercury with the subtitle “A Peep at the Old Chap-Books” notes that history—and particularly “the History of the Most Renowned Queen Elizabeth and her Great Favourite the Earl of Essex”—was “standard” fare for chapbooks, though the article does not mention this particular title (1).

The Royal and Noble Lovers has not received notable scholarly attention. Yet it exists within a long lineage of fictional works that center on the relationship between the Earl of Essex and Queen Elizabeth. For instance, this relationship has inspired several operas, including Felice Romani’s Il Conte d’Essex (1833), Gaetano Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux (1837), and Benjamin Britten’s Gloriana (1953), as well as a 1912 silent film (Les Amours de la reine Élisabeth or The Loves of Queen Elizabeth) and a 1930 Broadway play (Maxwell Anderson’s Elizabeth the Queen) that then became a 1939 film (The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex).

Narrative Point of View

The Royal and Noble Lovers is narrated in the third person by an anonymous narrator who never appears in the text. The narration provides extensive and even overly detailed and picayune background information about Robert, Earl of Essex. The narrator quickly establishes that the Earl of Essex is a notable character, specifically because of his relationship with Queen Elizabeth (the Earl is Queen Elizabeth’s favorite). The narrator outlines the trajectory of the Earl and Queen’s relationship, adding small insights about how each character feels about the other, but primarily focuses on the plot. The narrator also provides input from different sources who confirm the nature of the relationship between the Earl and the Queen. The narrator includes excerpts from letters from outside observers, such as Sir Francis Bacon, who confirms the veracity of the narrator’s observations.

Sample Passgage:

On whatever her favor was founded, it was not placed undeservedly. The Earl’s courage was impetuous and heroic: to this was added, great talents for the State, great affection for literature, and protection of learned men, and the greatest zeal for the service and safety of his Mistress. (Royal and Noble Lovers 15)

The narrative is written in a lyrical style, which enhances the romantic but tragic nature of the tale between the Earl and the Queen. The narrator cleverly reveals how the Earl’s insolence and insubordinate behavior attract the Queen to him and lead to his ultimate demise. The Queen’s pattern of exasperation and quick forgiveness of the Earl’s transgressions is established early in the tale so that the Earl’s later execution is less of a surprise and more of an inevitable fate of doom. In the latter part of the tale, the narrator includes letters and advice from outside observers who warn the Earl that the Queen is in love with him and that the Earl’s insolence will be his demise. This both prepares the readers for the Earl’s untimely and tragic death and confirms the author to be a reliable narrator.


Robert, Earl of Essex, fourth son of Viscount Heresford, becomes the Earl at the age of ten. By seventeen, he is in the Court of Queen Elizabeth and quickly bestowed with honors. He is handsome, accomplished, and the son of one of her most faithful servants. He shows honor in a courageous battle and is made knight-banneret and later a horse general to fight the Spanish invasion in 1588. “From this time, he was considered the happy favorite of the Queen” (Royal and Noble Lovers 4).

This quick ascension does not humble the Earl of Essex. He is arrogant and sometimes insubordinate to the Queen, who dislikes this from her subjects. The Earl is humbled in a fight with Sir Charles, who wounds the Earl’s knee. The Queen is pleased that the Earl is put in his place but fosters a reconciliation between the men.

The Earl, still headstrong, seeks military glory without the Queen’s permission. When she finds out, she writes him an angry letter but forgives him. The Earl’s many military exploits have become well known. He develops enemies who are envious of his successes and the Queen’s favor and wish to take him down.

The Earl continues to be insubordinate to the Queen. He disapproves of one of her appointments and tells her. She boxes his ears when he turns his back on her with contempt. He shows his temper by touching his sword and vowing revenge.

The Queen banishes the Earl to a post that his rivals hope will ruin him. His enemies try to spin his acceptance of the post as ambition rather than loyalty. His letters demonstrate that he views the position as a punishment rather than a favor. He writes to the Queen, telling her he can never please her, and he tries to think holy thoughts.

The Earl leaves his post without permission to burst in on the Queen. Upon seeing the Earl, the Queen is both angry and tender with him but ultimately demotes him, making him even more rebellious. The Earl attempts to engage others in his grievances but cannot muster outside support. His enemies paint him as a danger to the Queen. The Earl is imprisoned, tried, and his enemies finally take the Queen’s favorite and execute him by her command.

After the Earl dies, we learn of others’ views of the relationship between the Earl and the Queen. The Queen’s affections for the Earl are well known. However, he tries to master her affections rather than win them over. However, the Queen shows her favoritism openly. When the Earl is sick, the Queen visits him and orders his broth and belongings. He is unafraid to wear a nightgown in her presence. He dances with her at parties. Many agree that she is in love with the Earl.

Sir Francis Bacon advises the Earl before his imprisonment that he does not understand the depths of the Queen’s affections for him nor the appropriate execution of his proper role. The Queen is fiercely protective of the Earl at times, including having the King nearly strike her Ambassador after he reports negatively to the Queen about the Earl. She both resents and is charmed by the Earl’s boldness. She demotes him—but then tears up when the Earl is sick and has him nursed tenderly. The narrator notes, “Royal Favor is not romantic; it is extravagant, not gallant” (Royal and Noble Lovers 12). However, the Queen shows jealousy when the Earl shows affection for other women. “Her Majesty was wont to accuse the Earl of obstinacy, and that he would not be ruled; but she would bridle and stay” (Royal and Noble Lovers 13).

The Queen confuses the Earl with her tenderness and haughtiness. In retaliation, he insults her as being old with a deteriorating mind. (The Queen is incensed because she is accustomed to believing the flattery of her Court.) Vindictive even after his death, the Queen commands a sermon sullying his reputation. It is said his arrogance is mainly because the Queen inflates it. Had she not, “he would have made one of the bravest Generals,” according to the narrator (Royal and Noble Lovers 18). He has a generous heart, and his death makes her sorrowful.

In a twist, the Countess of Nottingham, on her deathbed, tells the Queen that the Earl on his deathbed tried to return a ring the Queen had given him that would have allowed him a pardon. Instead, the Countess gives it to one of the Earl’s enemies. The Queen is wracked with distress and shakes the dying Countess.

After the Earl’s death, an account is written about the catastrophe. Two powerful factions in the Court of England exist: the Earl of Sussex and Sir Robert Cecil. Essex is brave and popular but envied. Cecil is crafty and uses his enemies’ mistakes against them. The courtiers prefer Cecil’s ways. Essex befriends the King of Scots while Cecil seeks favor with the Queen.

The Earl does not perform well militarily in Ireland. The Queen has the Earl tried for his conduct in Ireland and for leaving without permission. He struggles with thoughts of revenge and encourages the King of Scots to take up arms against England. The King refuses, and the Earl attempts to assault the throne out of desperation. No man will take up this folly with him, and he surrenders. The Queen struggles with having him executed, but in the end, she relents.

The Earl of Monmouth recounts that the Queen grieves so deeply over the Earl’s death that she cannot eat or sleep. She refuses all medical treatment and finally dies. The King of Scots is chosen to succeed her. The Earl of Monmouth rides to tell him and brings a blue ring to confirm that he is the true messenger. After the Earl is admitted as a gentleman to the King’s bedchamber, the King later departs for London.


“BYGONE LITERATURE: A Peep and the Old Chap-Books.” Leeds Mercury, no. 13716. 25 Mar. 1882. British Library Newspapers, =bookmark-BNCN&xid=d1420a86. Accessed 17 April 2024.

The Royal and Noble Lovers: Or, the History of the Great Earl of Essex and Queen Elizabeth. Ann Lemoine and J. Roe, 1806.

Researcher: Isabel Landau

How to cite this page:

MLA: “The Royal and Noble Lovers.” Project Gothic, University of Virginia, 2024,