The Earl of Essex is a title in the Peerage of England which historically dates back to the twelfth century, but is currently in the posession of the Capel family who have held it for the past three and a half centuries.

1. Mandeville

The Mandeville family most likely originated from Mandeville in Normandy, however there are a number of locations in Normandy which have place names derived from the Latin 'Magna Villa', and there has never been any indication as to which of these was the home of the Anglo-Norman Mandevilles. In any event shortly after the Norman Conquest there was a Geoffrey de Mandeville who was amongst the most significant of the king's tenants-in-chief at the time of the Domesday Book and also held the office of Constable of the Tower of London. The family however suffered something of a setback when Geoffrey's son William de Mandeville, allowed Ranulf Flambard to escape from the Tower of London early in 1101 and flee to Normandy, for which offence he was fined more than £2,200 and effectively lost three of his more valuable manors.

Nevertheless William's son Geoffrey was later created the Earl of Essex in 1140 by king Stephen for "reasons which are somewhat obscure" and around the same also seems to have recovered the family's traditional office of Constable of the Tower of London. The 1st Earl later variously supported Stephen or Matilda as the fancy took him, but later died on the 16th September 1144 as a consequence of his injuries received in battle.

This Geoffrey de Mandeville had two sons, the elder son Ernulf appears to have been excluded from consideration on the grounds of his excommunication, and the family estates into the hands of the younger son Geoffrey. This Geoffrey was granted the title Earl of Essex by king Henry I in January 1156, which might well be interpreted as being an entirely new creation of the title, but he his nevertheless commonly regarded as the second earl of his line. The 2nd Earl died without issue at Chester on the 21st October 1166, and was succeeded by his younger brother William, when went on Crusade during the years 1177 to 1178, and is also regarded as having become the Earl of Albemarle through his wife Hawise, but died without issue on the 24th November 1189.

The 3rd Earl's heir was his aunt Beatrix de Mandeville, the only sister of the 1st Earl. Beatrix was still alive at the time of her nephew's death, and it was agreed that her younger son Geoffrey de Say could stand in her place but he failed to raise the sum required to gain possession of the earldom's estates. Although Beatrix's elder son William de Say had died in 1177, he had left two daughters, the elder of whom named Beatrice married a Geoffrey Fitz Piers. Since this Geoffrey was willing and able to pay the sum of 3,000 marks to the crown for the privilege of taking possession of the Mandeville estates, he was duly recognised as the Earl of Essex.

2. Fitz Piers, Mandeville (again) and Bohun

The Geoffrey Fitz Piers in question was the son of a Piers de Lutegareshale, who later served as the Justiciar of England from 1189 until his death on the 14th October 1213. He was followed by his eldest son Geoffrey who later assumed the surname of Mandeville, and through his marriage to Isabel Fitz Robert also obtained the title of Earl of Gloucester in 1214. However this marriage was largely forced upon the 5th Earl by king John essentially as a means of extracting the sum of 20,000 marks, which later appears to have inspired him to join the rebellion against the king.

Geoffrey however died without issue on the 23rd February 1216 having been wounded whilst participating in a tournament at London, and the title passed to his younger brother William Mandeville (the earldom of Gloucester remained with Isabel Fitz Robert and eventually passed into the hands of the de Clare family.) William was one of those who supported Louis of France following king John's death, but subsequently made his peace with Henry III but later died without issue on the 8th January 1227. The 6th Earl's heir was his sister Maud de Mandeville who had earlier married Henry de Bohun, 1st Earl of Hereford, and their son Henry, the 2nd Earl of Hereford, became in addition the Earl of Essex in 1227. The Bohuns although generally known as Earls of Hereford, continued to hold both titles until the death of Humphrey de Bohun, the last of the line in January 1373.

Humphrey de Bohun, 7th Earl of Hereford and 12th Earl of Essex died leaving two daughters as his coheirs. The eldest daughter Alianore or Eleanor married Thomas of Woodstock, the seventh and youngest son of Edward III, who received the Essex estates as his share of the Bohun riches and was therefore regarded as having succeeded as the 13th Earl of Essex, was certainly known as the Earl of Buckingham and Essex from 1377 onwards before being created the Duke of Gloucester in 1385. Thomas was subsequently killed at Calais on the 8th or 9th September 1397 on the orders of Richard II and subsequently attainted. Of Thomas's three daughters and eventual coheirs; there was Joan died unmarried on the 16th August 1400 and Isabel who became a nun, leaving Anne who married the Earl of Stafford and then took for her second husband one William Bourchier.

3. Bourchier, Cromwell and Parr

The Bourchiers were an Essex family who had first risen to prominence during the reign of Edward II (and for whose origins see Baron Bourchier). By the beginning of the fifteenth century they were represented by William Bourchier, the Count of Eu in Normandy, who married Anne, daughter of the aforementioned Thomas of Woodstock, and the only one of Thomas's daughters to have children of her own. William died in 1420 and was succeeded by his son Henry, who then succeeded as the 5th Baron Bourchier following the death of his cousin Elizabeth on the 1st July 1433. Henry became a significant figure in the government of Henry VI, and was the Treasurer of England from 1455 until October 1456 when he deserted the king and transferred his support to the Yorkists. (But then he was married to Isabel, daughter of Richard of Conisburgh and therefore sister to the Duke of York.) After the battle of Northampton he was again Treasurer from 1460 to 1462, and once more from 1471 until his death. In return for his support he was created the Earl of Essex by Edward IV on the 30th June 1461.

The 1st Earl died on the 4th April 1483, and since his son William (who had married Anne Wydville, sister of the Elizabeth who married Edward IV), had earlier been killed at the battle of Barnet in 1471 fighting for the Yorkists he was succeeded by his grandson Henry Bourchier. In many ways the timing was fortunate as the eleven year old 2nd Earl was far too young to be involved in the political events surrounding the accession and later deposition of Richard III, and therefore passed through life to the accession of the Tudor regime entirely unscathed. Unfortunately he later broke his neck after falling from a horse on the 13th March 1540 and died without male issue rendering his earldom extinct.

The 2nd Earl's only daughter and sole heir was Anne, the Baroness Bourchier in her own right, who was married at the age of ten to a William Parr, and William (or at least his mother who had negotiated the marriage) anticipated that his father-in-law's earldom would then be awarded to him in due course, but was to be disappointed when the title of Earl of Essex was granted by king Henry VIII to his chief minister Thomas Cromwell on the 17th April 1540. However Cromwell rapidly fell out of the king's favour afterwards, being attainted on the 29th June 1540 and then executed for treason at Tower Hill on the 28th July 1540.

Notwithstanding the fact that his wife deserted him in 1541, William was eventually created the Earl of Essex on the 23rd December 1543 by Henry VIII, by which time his sister Katherine Parr had become the last of the king's six wives. William was subsequently promoted to Marquess of Northampton by Edward VI, but then attainted in 1553 by Queen Mary as a result of his support for Lady Jane Grey. Although William was subsequently recreated the Marquess of Northampton by Mary's successor Elizabeth, his other titles remained under the attainder, and in any event he died without issue on the 28th October 1571 rendering his marquessate extinct together with whatever claims he may have had on any other titles.

4. Devereux

The Devereux were a prominent family from the west of England who had since 1550 held the title of Viscount Hereford. With the earldom of Essex now vacant Walter Devereux, the 2nd Viscount Hereford therefore made a claim on the title based on the fact that his grandmother was Cecille Bourchier the daughter of Henry Bourchier the 1st of the Bourchier line of Earls and on the 4th May 1572 he was granted the title.

On his death in 1576 the title passed to his son Robert Devereux who became the 2nd Earl and became one of the favourites of queen Elizabeth I, being made a Knight of the Garter as well as holding the offices of Marshal of England and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. After falling out of favour with the queen in 1599 he attempted to launch an uprising in London, failed, was taken prisoner, convicted of high treason, and executed at Tower Hill on the 25th February 1601 at the age of 34.

Robert Devereux's son, another Robert Devereux, was allowed to inherit the title in 1604 becoming the 3rd Earl. This second Robert was a noted supporter of Charles I until 1642, when he changes sides and supported the Parliamentarian cause becoming commander in chief of the Parliamentary Army until the passing of the Self-denying Ordinance in April 1645. He died however on the 14th September 1646 without male heirs and the title of Earl of Essex became extinct. (But not, incidentally that of Hereford which passed to a distant cousin - see Viscount Hereford.)

5. Capel and Capell

Arthur Capel, 1st Baron Capel was a supporter of Charles I and was executed in 1649 along with the king. His son another Arthur Capel, was rewarded for his father's loyalty by being made Earl of Essex in 1661 by the restored Charles II. The younger Arthur enjoyed a career in government serving as both a privy councillor and a Lord Lieutenant of Ireland but became increasingly suspicious of the Roman Catholic tendencies of the Stuart monarchs. He was eventually implicated in the Rye House Plot of June 1683 and imprisoned in the Tower of London. It was there on the 13th of July that he was discovered with his throat cut; an apparent suicide possibly motivated by his desire to avoid attainder and the consequent loss of the family's estates.

He was succeeded by his son William, followed by his son William Anne Holles in 1743 and his son George. The 5th Earl George Capel died without issue and was succeeded by his brother Arthur Algernon Capell, whose son in turn, predeceased him, so that the 7th Earl, George Devereux de Vere Capell was his grandson. The 8th Earl Algernon George de Vere Capell succeeded his father, and was later succeeded by his son Reginald George de Vere Capell the 9th Earl.

The 9th Earl died in 1981 without heirs or indeed any apparent immediate male relatives. There appeared to be two possible claimants to the title; one an American grocer by the name of William Jennings Capell, the other also a grocer and former Post Office clerk by the name of Bob Capell. Robert Edward de Vere Capell, to give him his full name, was eventually able to demonstrate that his great-grandfather was an older brother of his rival's great-grandfather and thus after eight years prove his claim to the title.

Bob Capell died on the 5th June 2005 and was succeeded by his only son Paul, a retired teacher and former deputy headmaster of Skerton County Primary School who had apparently made little use of his courtesy title of the Viscount Malden. Residing in a two bedroom bungalow called 'Lindisfarne' in the village of Caton near Lancaster, the current Earl of Essex is a sixty-one year old bachelor. The heir to the title is therefore the aforementioned William Jennings Capell from Yuba City, California, who unfortuantely does not appear to have any sons or obvious male heirs thus raising the possibility that the title will become extinct within the course of time.


(The first four earls appear to have spelt Capel with one 'l', the fifth took the name of 'Capel-Coningsby', but from the sixth earl onwards the family name has been Capell with two 'ls'.)


THE EARLS OF ESSEX

MANDEVILLE

FITZPIERS/MANDEVILLE

BOHUN

PLANTAGENET

BOURCHIER

CROMWELL

PARR

DEVEREUX

CAPEL/CAPELL


SOURCES

  • THE ENGLISH PEERAGE or, a view of the ANCIENT and PRESENT STATE of the ENGLISH NOBILITY London: (1790) see
    http://www.genuki.org.uk/big/eng/History/Barons/
  • The 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica entries for
    ESSEX, EARLS OF
    See http://1911encyclopedia.org/index.htm
  • Mandeville and Fitzpiers genealogy at
    http://www.stirnet.com/HTML/genie/british/mm4ae/mandeville1.htm
  • Capel genealogy at
    www.stirnet.com/HTML/genie/british/cc4aq/capell01.htm
  • Royal Genealogy information held at University of Hull see
    http://www.dcs.hull.ac.uk/public/genealogy/royal
  • RoyaList Online at http://www.royalist.info/royalist/index.html
  • Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)
  • http://www.burkes-peerage.net/sites/Contents/book/UK/FHP/Peerage/fhp-ESSEX.asp
  • See also the sources for Robert Edward de Vere Capell, 10th Earl of Essex

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