powered by AFI
In London, in 1596, the Earl of Essex returns from his victory at Cadiz to be greeted by the admiration of Lady Penelope Gray and other ladies of the court and the jealousy of Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Robert Cecil. Queen Elizabeth, although in love with Essex, fears his thirst for power and so castigates him for the high cost of his empty victory. Proud and headstrong, Essex retreats to his ancestral home at Wonstead and refuses to return to court. His friend, Francis Bacon, seeking to reconcile the battling lovers, suggests that Elizabeth appoint Essex Master of the Ordnance in order to quell the uprising in Ireland led by the Earl of Tyrone. To serve his country, Essex returns to court where he falls victim to the intrigues of Raleigh and Cecil who conspire to drive a wedge between him and the queen by sending Essex to Ireland. Against Elizabeth's wishes, Essex leads the army to Ireland, where his pleas for help go unanswered and thus, facing suffering and death, he is forced to surrender to Tyrone. Unknown to either Essex or Elizabeth, Cecil, Raleigh and Penelope have been intercepting the lovers' letters, and so Essex returns to England, believing that he has been betrayed and abandoned by his queen. Essex and his men take the palace by storm, and although the court conspiracy is finally brought to light, Essex still refuses to subordinate himself to Elizabeth's throne and, thirsting for power, demands that she share it with him. Elizabeth refuses and orders him arrested and executed. In one final meeting, both lovers refuse to relinquish their hold on the throne, and therefore bid each other a final farewell as Essex goes to his death.