Sarah Walker (Queen Elizabeth I)Anthony Rolfe-Johnson (Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex)Jean Rigby (Frances, Countess of Essex)Neil Howlett (Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy)Elizabeth Vaughan (Penelope, Lady Rich)Alan Opie (Sir Robert Cecil)Richard Van Allan (Sir Walter Raleigh)Malcolm Donnelly (Henry Cuffe)Lynda Russell (Lady-in-Waiting)Norman Bailey (A Blind Ballad Singer)Dennis Wicks (The Recorder of Norwich)Shelagh Squires (A Housewife)Alan Woodrow (Master of Ceremonies)Robert Huguenin (A Morris Dancer)Leigh Maurice (The City Crier)Pupils of Hendon School (The Children)Pupils of King's College (The Children)Pupils of Wimbledon School of English (The Children)
The Earl of Essex, Robert Devereux, is hot-blooded and jealous of anyone who might win the Queen's favour. He provokes a fight with the tournament victor, Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy, but then the Queen and her entourage arrive. She orders the two men to make up, but later she discusses the rivalry of Mountjoy and Essex with her chief adviser, Sir Robert Cecil. She admires Essex, but Cecil warns her of the political dangers of showing affection for him. He also reports that a new Armada may be on the way. Essex comes in and requests permission to go to Ireland to suppress the Tyrone rebellion. He accuses Cecil and Sir Walter Raleigh of intriguing against him. The Queen resists and sends him away. Essex complains to his wife Frances about the way Elizabeth thwarts his desire to go to Ireland. Lady Essex gives a ball at which she dresses extravagantly and looks finer than her queen, but when the ladies return from changing their dresses after a dance, Lady Essex says that her dress was stolen, and it is clear that the larger woman, Queen Elizabeth, is wearing it. Essex is furious about his wife's humiliation, but the Queen says he will be appointed Lord Deputy in Ireland. In the final act, however, Essex has failed to put down the Irish rebellion. Though Elizabeth likes him, she cannot approve his failure or his paranoia and political battles at court. The Queen orders him imprisoned, and some citizens sympathize with Essex though others declare him a traitor and call for his death. Queen Elizabeth must now ponder her relationship with Essex in order to come to the best decision.