The Spanish War, beginning with the English intervention in the Netherlands in 1585, was the first watershed in the careers of the aspiring generation of 1560. In responding to the opportunities for quick gain and rapid advancement opened up by the war, the younger generation particularly displayed one of the key qualities of the aspiring mind--a consuming passion for "honor." The intensity of this passion as revealed under the pressure of war, and its origins, nature, and consequences form the subject of this chapter. Again, it will be useful to begin with a case history, an account of the experiences of an Elizabethan gentleman in the early years of the war with Spain. There could be no better example of the Elizabethan cavalier in search of honor in the wars than Robert Devereux, the dashing young Earl of Essex.
For clues to the character of this strange man, we should glance briefly at his childhood and upbringing. The famous Earl of Essex was apparently a quiet, studious, even shy little boy. Like many of this generation of the ruling class, Robert Devereux came from what we would probably call a broken home. Walter Devereux, the gallant first Earl of Essex, died young in 1576, leaving his title--and little else--to his nine-year-old son. The boy's mother soon remarried, taking as her second husband the Earl of Leicester, the Queen's aging, portly favorite. Robert apparently never liked his stepfather: he rejected Leicester's advice on his career; and he seems to have rejected also the latter's comparative moderation in the pursuit of high honors.1 One who knew Essex wrote that he was always bitterly jealous of his high place, adding significantly that "herein likewise as in the rest [he____________________