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When he rose to power, Essex was only 21, while Elizabeth was 54. Despite the age gap, however, their relationship was a romantic one. Over the years, the story of Elizabeth and Essex has been repeated as a tumultuous romance second only to that between Elizabeth and Leicester. When Essex disobeyed her in Ireland, Elizabeth was characteristically upset about the money his delay had wasted: especially with her reserves now dwindling, Elizabeth, always thrifty, wanted Essex to attack immediately, get the invasion over with, and come home, incurring as little cost as possible. Essex, distantly related to the Plantagenet line, the Tudors' traditional opposition-family, hoped to cash in on his obscure claim to royalty with his poorly thought-out rebellion.
An old story states that Elizabeth once gave Essex a ring, saying that if he ever fell into her disfavor, he could send her the ring and receive a pardon. The story claims that he tried to send the ring in his last days, but that his enemies intercepted it, tragically preventing Elizabeth and Essex from reconciliation. Although the story has romantic appeal, there is probably little truth to it: after all, to give Essex the liberty to do whatever he wanted free of consequences was not in keeping with Elizabeth's lifelong caution and paranoia.
At the very end of her life (after 1601) Elizabeth did start to show signs of senility, though of course no one was willing to correct the Queen's mistakes. Some people suggest that her rapid decline before her death was the product of her own will--that she knew she was getting too old to rule effectively any more and thus allowed herself to die. Thus although her old age and declining health had allowed the English people to foresee her death for many months, Elizabeth's passing was nonetheless greeted with a period of great national mourning: the great Queen had ruled England with wisdom and skill for nearly half a century.
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