The University of South Wales hosted a conference titled “Representing the Tudors” in mid-July, 2015. Hank Dobin delivered a talk on “The Lore of the Ring”–offering both a survey and analysis of the apocryphal tale of the Essex ring.
The basic story is this: in happier times, Elizabeth gives Essex a ring, pledging to forgive him–no matter how grievous his offense–if he sends to her for pardon. In the Tower awaiting execution, the desperate Essex attempts to send the ring to the Queen, but it falls into the hands of the Countess of Nottingham, his enemy, and the ring is never delivered. Two years after Essex is executed, the dying Countess confesses to the Queen, who famously exclaims “God may forgive you, but I never will!” The Countess expires on the spot, and Elizabeth–out of rage, grief and regret–spirals into her final decline and death only a month later.
Over 400 years, this ahistorical story has been told and retold in plays, fiction, operas, images, and film. Dobin’s talk traced the doubtful provenance of the tale, its proliferation on the continent and in England, and its many variants in an effort to understand the fascination and function of re-imagining history in this way.