Elizabeth Raleigh

Last updated

Elizabeth "Bess" Throckmorton, Lady Raleigh, by Sir William Segar, dated 1595 William Segar Elizabeth Trockmorton.jpg
Elizabeth "Bess" Throckmorton, Lady Raleigh, by Sir William Segar, dated 1595
Walter Raleigh and son Walter 1602 WalterRaleighandson.jpg
Walter Raleigh and son Walter 1602

Elizabeth, Lady Raleigh (néeThrockmorton; 16 April 1565 – c. 1647) was an English courtier, a Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber to Queen Elizabeth I of England. Her secret marriage to Sir Walter Raleigh precipitated a long period of royal disfavour for both her and her husband.



Elizabeth, known also as "Bess", was the daughter of the diplomat Sir Nicholas Throckmorton and Anne Throckmorton (née Carew). Bess and her brother Arthur were courtiers to Elizabeth I. Bess is said to have been intelligent, forthright, passionate, and courageous. In due course, she and Raleigh, at least 11 years her senior, fell in love.

In her book, The Life of Elizabeth I (1998), the British author and historian Alison Weir states Throckmorton and Raleigh's first child was conceived by July 1591, the couple were married "in great secrecy" in the autumn of 1591, and their son was born in March 1592. The boy was christened Damerei, after Sir Walter's claimed ancestors, the D'Ameries. Damerei is believed to have died of the plague during infancy.

Weir states that Queen Elizabeth first became aware in May 1592 of the secret marriage and of Damerei's birth, despite Bess and Sir Walter's denials. The couple had married without royal permission, but, significantly, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, was in on the secret and acting as godfather to the Raleighs' son. Once the queen found out, she first placed Bess and Raleigh under house arrest, then sent them to the Tower of London, in June 1592. Raleigh was released from the Tower in August 1592 and Bess in December 1592, at which time she joined her husband at Sherborne Castle, his Dorset estate. Elizabeth expected the couple to sue for pardon, but they refused to, and Raleigh remained out of favour for five years.

The couple remained devoted to each other, although, according to Weir, Bess proved to be a domineering wife. Anna Beer, Lady Raleigh's biographer, offers a different perspective, pointing out that due to Raleigh's frequent absences, whether on expeditions, diplomatic duties, or in prison, Bess had to shoulder an unusual level of responsibility for a woman of her time.

The Raleighs’ second son, Walter, was born in 1593 at Sherborne. The couple's third son was born in January 1605, by which time Raleigh was again a prisoner in the Tower of London. Named Carew, which was both Bess' mother's maiden name and the name of one of Raleigh's brothers, he was christened within the walls of the Tower in the church of St Peter ad Vincula. After Raleigh's execution in 1618, Bess worked tirelessly to re-establish her late husband's reputation and, in 1628, saw a Bill of Restitution restore the Raleigh name 'in blood', which allowed her one surviving son to inherit.

Bess is said to have had her husband's head embalmed and to have carried it around with her for the rest of her life, although the only documented reference to Raleigh's head is from the day of his execution, when it was noted that Lady Raleigh and her ladies left the scene carrying Sir Walter's head in a red bag. An account from 1740 claims that, after Bess' death, Raleigh's head was returned to his tomb in St Margaret's, Westminster. [1] However, even if this were true, it remains unclear where Raleigh's body was buried: it may have been released to Bess, as per her request, or even sent to Exeter, where his parents were buried.

Through both her parents, Bess had connections to Henry VIII. Her father, Nicholas Throckmorton, was the cousin of Henry's sixth wife, Queen Catherine Parr. Anne Carew, Elizabeth's mother, was the daughter of Nicholas Carew and Elizabeth Carew née Bryan. Nicholas had been a close friend of Henry's, from childhood until his execution in 1539.

In her aforementioned book, Weir alleges that Elizabeth Carew had earlier been Henry VIII's mistress, and that he had given her jewels that should technically have belonged to the queen when the queen gave birth to her son. However, there exist no contemporaneous references to a possibility that any of Elizabeth's children were fathered by Henry.

Fictional depictions

Bessie Throckmorton is a major character in Edward German's operetta Merrie England (1902).

Norah Lofts in her 1936 fictionalized biography of Walter Raleigh, Here Was a Man, depicted a full-fledged love triangle, with the two Elizabeths - the Queen and the much younger Lady in Waiting - fiercely competing for Walter Raleigh's love and deeply hating each other. There is no clear historical evidence that things went that far. In later parts of the book, Elizabeth Raleigh is depicted as trying to get Walter to leave the court and live quietly with her at Sherborne, and feeling neglected and abandoned when he returned to the Queen's favor, and as loyally standing by him during his disgrace under King James and voluntarily sharing his twelve years of imprisonment in the Tower.

In the film The Virgin Queen (1955), Elizabeth Throckmorton (referred to as Beth Throgmorton in the film) is portrayed by Joan Collins, Queen Elizabeth by Bette Davis.

Elizabeth Throckmorton is the subject of Rosemary Sutcliff's novel Lady in Waiting (1956). Sutcliff usually refers to her as "Bess".

She is mentioned in Elizabeth Goudge's "Towers in the mist" (1936), set in Oxford in 1566, also as Bess. This is anachronistic as she would have been only an infant at the time.

She appears briefly in A Dead Man in Deptford (1993), Anthony Burgess' speculative fictional account of the life of playwright Christopher Marlowe.

Elizabeth "Bess" Throckmorton, portrayed by Abbie Cornish, was a featured character in the film Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007). This sequel to Elizabeth (1998) focuses on the relationships of Elizabeth I (Cate Blanchett) and Bess with Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen), and shows Bess and Raleigh marrying prior to the Spanish Armada (1588), though in fact the couple married in 1591. [2]

She appears briefly in Deborah Harkness' novel Shadow of Night (2012) as Queen Elizabeth's lady-in-waiting and Walter Raleigh's lover.

Elizabeth Throckmorton, played by actress Phoebe Thomas, appears in the BBC 2 three-part drama documentary series Armada: 12 Days to Save England (2015) as lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth (Anita Dobson), whom the Queen calls 'Bess'. One scene shows the Queen's jealousy of Bess when she realises, from seeing her wearing a brooch, that Bess has a male admirer unknown to the Queen. Another scene shows the Queen's paranoia about the great danger she feels she is in while the Armada is attacking England, with the Queen forcing Bess to taste her food to check for poison. [3]

Related Research Articles

Elizabeth I Queen regnant of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until 24 March 1603

Elizabeth I was Queen of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death on 24 March 1603. Sometimes called the Virgin Queen, Gloriana or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the last of the five monarchs of the House of Tudor.

Walter Raleigh English aristocrat, writer, poet, soldier, courtier, spy and explorer

Sir Walter Raleigh , also spelled Ralegh, was an English landed gentleman, writer, poet, soldier, politician, courtier, spy and explorer. He was a cousin of Sir Richard Grenville and younger half-brother of Sir Humphrey Gilbert. He is also well known for popularising tobacco in England. Raleigh was one of the most notable figures of the Elizabethan era.

Lady Arbella Stuart

Lady Arbella Stuart was an English noblewoman who was considered a possible successor to Queen Elizabeth I of England. During the reign of King James VI and I, she married William Seymour, 2nd Duke of Somerset in secret. King James imprisoned William Seymour and placed her under house arrest. When she and her husband tried to escape England, she was captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London, where she died at age 39.

<i>Elizabeth: The Golden Age</i> 2007 film by Shekhar Kapur

Elizabeth: The Golden Age is a 2007 biographical period drama film directed by Shekhar Kapur and produced by Universal Pictures and Working Title Films. It stars Cate Blanchett in the title role and is a fairly fictionalised portrayal of events during the later part of the reign of Elizabeth I, following up on Kapur's 1998 film Elizabeth, also starring Blanchett. The film co-stars Geoffrey Rush, Clive Owen, Jordi Mollà, Abbie Cornish, and Samantha Morton. The screenplay was written by William Nicholson and Michael Hirst, and the music score was composed by A. R. Rahman and Craig Armstrong. Guy Hendrix Dyas was the film's production designer and co-visual effects supervisor, and the costumes were created by Alexandra Byrne. The film was shot at Shepperton Studios and various locations around the United Kingdom.

Francis Throckmorton

Sir Francis Throckmorton was a conspirator against Queen Elizabeth I of England in the Throckmorton Plot.

Nicholas Throckmorton 16th-century English diplomat and politician

Sir Nicholas Throckmorton was an English diplomat and politician, who was an ambassador to France and later Scotland, and played a key role in the relationship between Elizabeth I of England and Mary, Queen of Scots.

Nicholas Vaux, 1st Baron Vaux of Harrowden

Nicholas Vaux, 1st Baron Vaux of Harrowden was a soldier and courtier in England and an early member of the House of Commons. He was the son of Lancastrian loyalists, Sir William Vaux of Harrowden and Katherine Penyson, a lady of the household of Queen Margaret of Anjou, wife of the Lancastrian king, Henry VI of England. Katherine was daughter of Gregorio Panizzone of Courticelle, in Piedmont, Italy which was at that time subject to King René of Anjou, father of Queen Margaret of Anjou, as ruler of Provence. He grew up during the years of Yorkist rule, and later served under the founder of the Tudor dynasty, Henry VII.

Wyatts rebellion 1554 popular uprising in England

Wyatt's Rebellion was a popular uprising in England in 1554, named after Thomas Wyatt, one of its leaders. The rebellion arose out of concern over Queen Mary I's determination to marry Philip of Spain, which was an unpopular policy with the English. Queen Mary's overthrow was implied in the rebellion, although not expressly stated as a goal.

Merrie England is an English comic opera in two acts by Edward German to a libretto by Basil Hood. The patriotic story concerns love and rivalries at the court of Queen Elizabeth I, when a love letter sent by Sir Walter Raleigh to one of Queen Elizabeth's Ladies in Waiting, Bessie Throckmorton, ends up in the hands of the Queen. Well-known songs from the opera include "O Peaceful England", "The Yeomen of England" and "Dan Cupid hath a Garden".

Dorothy Percy, Countess of Northumberland

Dorothy Percy, Countess of Northumberland was the younger daughter of Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex by Lettice Knollys, and the wife of Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland.

Margaret Bryan, Baroness Bryan was lady governess to the children of King Henry VIII of England, the future monarchs Mary I, Elizabeth I, and Edward VI, as well as the illegitimate Henry FitzRoy. The position of lady governess in her day resembled less that of the popular modern idea of a governess, more that of a nanny.

Nicholas Carew (courtier) 16th-century English politician

Sir Nicholas Carew KG, of Beddington in Surrey, was an English courtier and diplomat during the reign of King Henry VIII. He was executed for his alleged part in the Exeter Conspiracy.

Elizabeth Carew née Bryan was an English courtier and reputed mistress of King Henry VIII. A daughter of Sir Thomas Bryan and Margaret Bourchier, Elizabeth became the wife of Henry VIII's close friend Sir Nicholas Carew, an influential statesman who was eventually executed for his alleged involvement in the Exeter Conspiracy. Her brother, Sir Francis, a member of the Privy Chamber and one of the king's closest friends, was responsible for sitting in the jury that convicted his sister's husband, who was sentenced to death, and thus reduced her to penury.

Elizabeth Tilney, Countess of Surrey

Elizabeth Tilney, Countess of Surrey was an English heiress and lady-in-waiting to two queens. She became the first wife of Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey.

George Throckmorton 16th-century English politician

Sir George Throckmorton of Coughton Court in Warwickshire, England, was a Member of Parliament during the reign of King Henry VIII.

Robert Throckmorton English politician and courtier

Sir Robert Throckmorton, KG, of Coughton Court in Warwickshire, was a Member of Parliament and a distinguished English courtier. His public career was impeded by remaining a Roman Catholic.

<i>Lady in Waiting</i> (novel)

Lady in Waiting is a historical novel by Rosemary Sutcliff and first published in 1957.

Walter Raleigh in popular culture

Sir Walter Raleigh was an English gentleman, writer, poet, soldier, courtier, spy, and explorer, well known for popularising tobacco in England.

Sir Nicholas Throckmorton or Carew was an English landowner and politician who sat in the House of Commons in two parliaments between 1601 and 1622.

Sir Thomas Perrot was an Elizabethan courtier, soldier, and Member of Parliament. He campaigned in Ireland and the Low Countries, and was involved in the defence of England against the Spanish Armada. He was imprisoned several times, on one occasion to prevent a duel with Sir Walter Raleigh, and on another occasion because of his secret marriage to Dorothy Devereux, a Lady-in-waiting to the Queen, and sister of the Queen's favourite, the Earl of Essex. Perrot's only daughter, Penelope, married Sir Robert Naunton, author of Fragmenta Regalia, which claimed that Perrot's father, Sir John Perrot, was an illegitimate son of Henry VIII.


  1. Llyod, J; Mitchinson, J. The Book of General I.[ page needed ]
  2. Kapur, Shekhar (Director) (2008). Elizabeth: The Golden Age.
  3. BBC 2. 12 Days to Save England (DVD ed.). ASIN   B012DUER8A.

Further reading