Article Title

Thomas Heywood's The Royall King, and the Loyall Subject and the Fall of Robert Devereux, Second Earl of Essex


Kevin Lindberg


Recent studies portray England’s early modern theatre as carefully monitored by a government suspicious of subversion, but official supervision tended to be inconsistent, as demonstrated by governmental reactions to plays that seemed to allude to the controversial fall of Queen Elizabeth’s favorite Robert Devereux, 2nd earl of Essex. One play that apparently drew no official attention, despite its portraying an English monarch urged by envious courtiers to destroy an heroic Marshal and thus seeming to mirror Essex’s fall, is Thomas Heywood’s The Royall King, and the Loyall Subject. This essay examines how the play alters a novella by Matteo Bandello to draw energy from anxiety connected with a competitive politics capable of destroying a popular hero like Essex. While Bandello shows competition inciting dangerous jealousy, Heywood is more concerned with the destabilizing effects malicious courtly rivals can produce if not checked by a wise monarch. But because the play also stresses the importance of intercession, the essay notes connections between pleadings by women in Essex’s life with those of female characters in Royall King, who successfully beg for the protagonist’s life. Finally, it compares the play with other writings to see how such patterns fit with Heywood’s dramatic practice. We find that he teaches his audience to “despise and shun” the “vicious actions” of emulous courtiers, and to “admire and follow” the virtuous patience of his Marshal, the merciful intercession of his women, and the reconciliation afforded by his king.

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