So when the 3rd Spanish Armada first appeared off the English coast in October 1597, the English fleet was far out to sea, with the coast almost undefended, and panic ensued.This further damaged the relationship between the Queen and Essex, even though he was initially given full command of the English fleet when he reached England a few days later.Essex underestimated the Queen, however, and his later behaviour towards her lacked due respect and showed disdain for the influence of her principal secretary, Robert Cecil.On one occasion during a heated Privy Council debate on the problems in Ireland, the Queen reportedly cuffed an insolent Essex round the ear, prompting him to half draw his sword on her.Sidney, who was Leicester's nephew, had died in 1586 at the Battle of Zutphen in which Essex had also distinguished himself.In October 1591, Essex's mistress, Elizabeth Southwell, gave birth to a son who survived into adulthood.Fortunately a storm dispersed the Spanish fleet - a number of ships were captured by the English and though there were a few landings, the Spanish withdrew.The Nine Years' War (1595–1603) was in its middle stages, and no English commander had been successful.
Essex led the largest expeditionary force ever sent to Ireland—16,000 troops—with orders to put an end to the rebellion.
Essex first came to court in 1584, and by 1587 had become a favourite of the Queen, who relished his lively mind and eloquence, as well as his skills as a showman and in courtly love.
In June 1587 he replaced the Earl of Leicester as Master of the Horse.
Essex performed military service under his stepfather in the Netherlands, before making an impact at court and winning the Queen's favour.
In 1590, he married Frances Walsingham, daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham and widow of Sir Philip Sidney, by whom he was to have several children, three of whom survived into adulthood.