Unlike what I hear about a good wine, narcissists do not age well. This is being emphasized again for me as I finish reading Alison Weir's book, "The Life of Elizabeth I".
In the latter years of her reign Elizabeth's tumultuous relationship with the Earl of Essex is laid out detail by detail in Weir's book. Essex was a young cousin of the monarch through Anne Boleyn and the step-son of the Earl of Leicester. For those who know anything about Elizabeth I you know that the Earl of Leicester was very dear to Elizabeth from before she ascended the throne until his death many years later by age and disease. There were ups and downs all throughout her relationship with the Earl of Leicester but his love and loyalty for her was supreme and unfailing despite the many falling outs he experienced with her favor.
Not so the Earl of Essex. Ambitious but lazy, aspiring to military reknown but a failure on the field, good at the courtly language of "love-making" but a decided misogynist, he rose quickly in the queen's favor in his youth due to his familial connection to Elizabeth as well as the recommendation of the Earl of Leicester. It quickly becomes evident that the young Earl of Essex perceives the queen as only the means to his ends while her affection for him was genuine.
Reading this history of Essex you see a profile of a classic malignant narcissist. Weir's very detailed and painstaking research fully exposes the base character of an evil man who, thankfully, ended badly. No, Weir doesn't describe Essex as evil. His deeds alone prove that point.
I railed in my mind against the queen's indulgence of this man as I read the book. Her patience and forgiveness seemed inexhaustible. Essex's character become more and more entrenched and dedicated to his own agenda with every granting of royal favor given him. His life was a study of a force of nature wreaking havoc and destruction in his path. He used slander and insinuations to destroy all those he perceived as his enemies. He stole the valor of others to use as his own. He was petulant and ceaselessly demanding of the queen; frequently forgetting his "place" he would treat her like an equal or even his lesser.
Finally, as the result of his own incessant demands and against the better judgment of the queen, Essex is allowed to go to Ireland to attempt to defeat Tyrone. The largest army of Elizabeth's reign was given him. The end result was a completely botched military expedition. Essex repeatedly defied all commands he was given, refused to confront Tyrone, frittered away a fortune in funds, watched his army desert and die by disease in huge numbers, and finally he deserted his own command.
You then get to see the final descent into madness through this narcissistic injury inflicted by his own abysmal failures and absolute refusal to ever take wise advice from anyone. He becomes magnified in all his character flaws. He becomes paranoid. He starts to lose his grip on reality. Objective witnesses describe him at this time as being "mad". In the swirling, churning maelstrom of his delusions of grandeur he makes one last plot which includes over-throwing the queen. By blood shed if necessary.
The "Essex Rebellion" was not his first hand-shake with treason. As he was finally being forced to actually use his army in Ireland he entered into treasonous treaty with Tyrone. Word had filtered back to the queen of Essex's attempt to save his own image as a military leader by selling out his duty to his country. He was finally exposed to the mind of the queen as the base character he was. Finally, she let herself believe the truth about him. Finally, she decided to deal firmly and without the usual mercy he was accustomed to receiving from her.
Her firm actions against Essex were meant to humble him. She did not have it out to shed his blood. She was not even pursuing getting him for treason. She just wanted to finally force him to own his crap and, for once, display some appropriate contrition and true humility. It was in the wake of a series of her decisions which ran against Essex's financial means of support and her absolute refusal to answer his non-apology letters or to see him in person which finally exposed the fullness of his malignancy.
The Essex Rebellion was born.
What I was gratified to see was how fully exposed he finally was to the mind of the queen. At this time she was near the end of her very lengthy reign. Elizabeth was an extremely merciful ruler. She hated blood shed. She had often throughout her reign refused to sign death warrants when she should have to protect her reign and her country. Mary Queen of Scots being a prime example of that. There were others throughout the years who had fully earned the condemnation of the law and the block. Her hand would tremble and refuse to sign the warrant. They would live. If she was finally forced to sign someone's death warrant it would greatly affect her. First, she would stall for months, even years. She would usually stay in her apartments the day of the execution and sometimes longer because it affected her deeply. She was very sparing with the death penalty all throughout her reign.
It was very different with Essex. This was the first time she was handed the death warrant after the trial and, without her usual equivocation, she with firm hand signed the document. For all her faults, Elizabeth was a woman of principle. Obviously, she had unequivocal evidence to her mind that his man was unredeemable and a constant threat to the health of her realm and her own life. In the many years previous her affection for Essex was real and deep. Her indulgence of him was because of her affection. He chose to see her affection as her weakness. Her discipline of him when he grossly stepped out of line was just her way of helping him maneuver back into her favor. What I am trying to emphasize is that it was a testimony to the rottenness of his character that even the merciful and indulgent queen was eventually forced to cut this malignant narcissist forever out of her life...out of her realm.
The final letters and speeches of the Earl were interesting to read. He would appear to be fully contrite and humbled only in the next sentence, or the next speech, to excuse himself by trying to implicate as many others as he could. Spreading blame he would try to minimize his own blame even while pretending to take all the blame. Such classic N behavior.
It took three blows for the ax to completely sever his head from his body, though Ms. Weir says it was likely the first blow which killed him because he body didn't move after that first blow. Can't tell you how much relief I felt to see a dangerous and malignant narcissist get what he deserved in the end. They don't usually meet such satisfying ends except in the movies.
Essex is yet another illustration that the narcissist doesn't improve with age. The success of their early schemes, the repeated indulgences of those around them, and the persistence of the narcissist's grandiosity delusions results in the hardening off of the character. There is no hope of reform for the aged narcissist.
We form our own characters by the choices we make. The older we are, the more choices we've made. The preponderance of those choices will tip the scale one direction or the other. Either we become more mature, wise and good...or we become a study in the entropy of evil. When the malignant narcissist shows their tender underbelly in an often convincing act of subservience and humility it is only to buy them another day to stab you in the back. The narcissist does not change. When the narcissist suddenly seems to change, to mellow, to back off, you believe the ruse at your own risk. They don't change. They lay in wait.
We can't send our narcissists to the scaffold, but we can cut them off. They are a constant threat to the peace and safety of your realm. If you won't let yourself know that you are in perpetual danger. All that you value and love in this world is in danger. Let yourself know this truth sooner rather than later.