The Strange Death of the Earl of Essex

Did he fall... or was he pushed? Michael MacDonald investigates the cause celebre of Arthur Capel, Earl of Essex, found with his throat cut in the Tower of London and sheds light on attitudes to suicide and the political and religious strife of Restoration England.

The 1st Earl of Essex, in a painting commemorating his appointment as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, 1672.On the morning of July 13th, 1683, Paul Bromeny, a servant of Arthur Capel, the Earl of Essex, looked for him in his rooms in the Tower of London. Essex had been arrested three weeks earlier and charged with high treason, accused of conspiring to assassinate King Charles II and the Duke of York in the Rye House Plot. The trial of his alleged co-conspirator, William Lord Russell, had just begun; his own was imminent.

Not finding Essex in the bed chamber, Bromeny concluded that he was in the close-stool closet (the toilet). The door was shut tight, and hearing nothing from the closet, he finally knocked. There was no reply. Pushing open the door and lifting the curtain, he saw Essex slumped in a pool of blood. A razor lay beside him. Bromeny immediately called to the warder who, peering through a chink in the closet door, cried out 'my Lord is fallen down sick! ' He soon realised that Essex was not sick; he was dead. His throat had been slashed; the terrible wound had severed his windpipe and almost decapitated him.

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