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The Earl of Essex’s speech

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This genuine historical resource from the National Archive is part of a speech made by the Earl of Essex at a joust in 1595. It is written in a formal poetic style to honour and flatter Queen Elizabeth I. Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, was a favourite courtier of the Queen as well as a military hero, who fell from favour and was executed for treason in 1601.


Shared learning and teaching

Before reading

  • Establish what the class know about Queen Elizabeth I.
  • Discuss how documents would have been presented in Tudor times. Explain that many have been preserved in the National Archive.

Previous learning

Children would benefit from experience of developing scripts based on improvisation; an understanding of how ideas are developed in non-fiction texts.

Key learning outcomes:

  • To identify how talk varies between formal/informal occasions (Y5);
  • To use evidence from a text to explain ideas (Y5);
  • To use drama strategies to explore themes and issues (Y5/6);
  • To group and classify words according to their spelling patterns and meanings (Y5/6);
  • To compare how writers from different times and places present experiences and use language (Y6).

Shared reading

  • Introduce the poster and ask the children to share their reaction with a partner. Can they identify any of the words in the original?
  • Invite the class to read the transcript through to themselves, then to take turns to rehearse and read a line of the speech to the class.
  • Compare the poem to a modern party political broadcast.
  • Find interesting spelling examples – eg, reign (homophone); honour (silent h); thy (archaic language).

Key questions

  • Who is Essex’s audience?
  • What is his purpose?
  • Why does he describe England as ‘seated between the old world and the new’?
  • What do you notice about the structure, rhythm, rhyme and repetition?
  • How does Essex flatter the Queen? Why does he liken Elizabeth to Atlas, from Greek mythology?
  • What qualities does he suggest the Queen possesses and how do they affect her subjects?


  • Should the speech be performed in a formal or informal manner? What would the setting have been? Perform the piece with one child reading the speech and the rest giving audience reactions. How would the speech-maker pause and use gesture to encourage reactions? Expand the speech with stage directions.
  • Hotseat someone as Queen Elizabeth to gauge her reaction. Would she be flattered by Essex’s words or see through them?
  • Hotseat someone as the Earl of Essex to try to establish his motives.

Group and independent activities

  • Use the internet to research Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex. Make notes then produce a timeline of his life.
  • Find out more about the life and character of Elizabeth I. What made her such a strong monarch? How did other subjects impress the Queen (eg, Drake and the Armada; Shakespeare and the theatre; Raleigh and exploration)?
  • Look at the final phonemes of each line. Categorise them into matching phonemes/matching graphemes (touch/such); matching phonemes/different graphemes (new/true);near phonemes (oppressed/best) and matching graphemes/different phonemes (far/war).
  • Use the activity sheet to guide information gathered during reading and ensure understanding of the text.

Links with writing

  • Rewrite the speech in the style of a modern political broadcast or TV commercial with up-to-date references.
  • Think of a modern hero or role model and write a speech or poem to extol their virtues. Present it in a clear modern handwriting style. Compare with the original document.

Useful website – from the National Archives and the Victoria & Albert Museum, has a range of resources to find out about the Tudor period.


  • Discuss Essex’s motives for making the speech. Was he genuine in his praise of the Queen? What evidence supports your argument?
  • Discuss how the speech reflects what you have found out about life in Elizabeth’s reign (eg, The Queen’s Court, exploration of the New World).