In February 1601, some six years after the first performance of Richard the Second, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, led a poorly planned (and even more poorly executed) coup d’etat against Queen Elizabeth. He was arrested, tried and convicted for treason, and then executed by beheading (according to legend, it took three strokes to separate the head from the trunk).
The rebellion took place on February 8. The day before, members of the rebellion paid the Chamberlain’s Men (Shakespeare’s theater group) to perform Richard the Second at a private performance.
Were they hoping Elizabeth would abdicate in the same fashion as Richard? Did Essex see himself as a kind of Bolingbroke?
We don’t know, but we do know Elizabeth saw herself as Richard. According to reports, she later told her historian William Labarde, “I am Richard II, know ye not that?”