Walter Raleigh

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William Segar Sir Walter Raleigh.png
Sir Walter Raleigh by William Segar
Sir William Segar Portrait of Elizabeth 'Bess' Throckmorton, Lady Raleigh.jpg
Elizabeth "Bess" Throckmorton Raleigh by William Segar 1595

In 1592, Raleigh was given many rewards by the Queen, including Durham House in the Strand and the estate of Sherborne, Dorset. He was appointed Captain of the Yeomen of the Guard. However, he had not been given any of the great offices of state. [26]

In 1591, Raleigh secretly married Elizabeth "Bess" Throckmorton (or Throgmorton). She was one of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting, 11 years his junior, and was pregnant at the time. She gave birth to a son, believed to be named Damerei, who was given to a wet nurse at Durham House, but he died in October 1592 of plague. Bess resumed her duties to the queen. The following year, the unauthorised marriage was discovered and the Queen ordered Raleigh to be imprisoned and Bess dismissed from court. Both were imprisoned in the Tower of London in June 1592. He was released from prison in August 1592 to manage a recently returned expedition and attack on the Spanish coast. The fleet was recalled by the Queen, but not before it captured an incredibly rich prize—a merchant ship (carrack) named Madre de Deus (Mother of God) off Flores. Raleigh was sent to organise and divide the spoils of the ship. He was sent back to the Tower, but by early 1593 had been released and become a member of Parliament. [27]

It was several years before Raleigh returned to favour,[ clarification needed ] and he travelled extensively in this time. Raleigh and his wife remained devoted to each other. They had two more sons, Walter (known as Wat) in 1593 and Carew in 1605. [28]

Raleigh was elected a burgess of Mitchell, Cornwall, in the parliament of 1593. [4] He retired to his estate at Sherborne, where he built a new house, completed in 1594, known then as Sherborne Lodge. Since extended, it is now known as Sherborne New Castle. He made friends with the local gentry, such as Sir Ralph Horsey of Clifton Maybank and Charles Thynne of Longleat. During this period at a dinner party at Horsey's, Raleigh had a heated discussion about religion with Reverend Ralph Ironsides. The argument later gave rise to charges of atheism against Raleigh, though the charges were dismissed. He was elected to Parliament, speaking on religious and naval matters. [29]

First voyage to Guiana

In 1594, he came into possession of a Spanish account of a great golden city at the headwaters of the Caroní River. A year later, he explored what is now Guyana and eastern Venezuela in search of Lake Parime and Manoa, the legendary city. Once back in England, he published The Discovery of Guiana [30] (1596), an account of his voyage which made exaggerated claims as to what had been discovered. The book can be seen as a contribution to the El Dorado legend. Venezuela has gold deposits, but no evidence indicates that Raleigh found any mines. He is sometimes said to have discovered Angel Falls, but these claims are considered far-fetched. [31]


Raleigh and his son Walter in 1602 WalterRaleighandson.jpg
Raleigh and his son Walter in 1602

In 1596, Raleigh took part in the capture of Cádiz, where he was wounded. He also served as the rear admiral (a principal command) of the Islands Voyage to the Azores in 1597. [32] On his return from the Azores, Raleigh helped England defend itself against the major threat of the 3rd Spanish Armada during the autumn of 1597. The Armada was dispersed in the Channel and later was devastated by a storm off Ireland. Lord Howard of Effingham and Raleigh were able to organise a fleet that resulted in the capture of a Spanish ship in retreat carrying vital information regarding the Spanish plans.

In 1597 Raleigh was chosen as member of parliament for Dorset and in 1601 for Cornwall. [16] He was unique in the Elizabethan period in sitting for three counties. [4]

From 1600 to 1603, as governor of the Channel Island of Jersey, Raleigh modernised its defences. This included construction of a new fort protecting the approaches to Saint Helier, Fort Isabella Bellissima, or Elizabeth Castle.[ citation needed ]

Trial and imprisonment

Raleigh's cell, Bloody Tower, Tower of London Bloodytower interior.jpg
Raleigh's cell, Bloody Tower, Tower of London

Royal favour with Queen Elizabeth had been restored by this time, but his good fortune did not last; the Queen died on 24 March 1603. Raleigh was arrested on 19 July 1603 at what is now the Old Exeter Inn in Ashburton, charged with treason for his involvement in the Main Plot against Elizabeth's successor, James I, and imprisoned in the Tower of London. [33]

Raleigh's trial began on 17 November in the converted Great Hall of Winchester Castle. Raleigh conducted his own defence. The chief evidence against him was the signed and sworn confession of his friend Henry Brooke, 11th Baron Cobham. Raleigh repeatedly requested that Cobham be called to testify. "[Let] my acuser come face to face, and be deposed. Were the case but for a small copyhold, you would have witnesses or good proof to lead the jury to a verdict; and I am here for my life!" Raleigh argued that the evidence against him was "hearsay", but the tribunal refused to allow Cobham to testify and be cross-examined. [34] [35] Raleigh's trial has been regularly cited as influential in establishing a common law right to confront accusers in court. [36] [37] [38] [39] Raleigh was convicted, but King James spared his life. [40]

While imprisoned in the Tower, Raleigh wrote his incomplete The Historie of the World. [41] Using a wide array of sources in six languages, Raleigh was fully abreast of the latest continental scholarship. He wrote not about England, but of the ancient world with a heavy emphasis on geography. Despite his intention of providing current advice to the King of England, King James I complained that it was "too sawcie in censuring Princes". [42] [43] Raleigh remained imprisoned in the Tower until 1616. [44] His son, Carew, was conceived and born (in 1604 or 1605) while Raleigh was imprisoned in the Tower. [45]

Second voyage to Guiana

James I's royal warrant pardoning Raleigh in 1617 Royal Pardon of Walter Raleigh.jpg
James I's royal warrant pardoning Raleigh in 1617

In 1617, Raleigh was pardoned by the King and granted permission to conduct a second expedition to Venezuela in search of El Dorado. During the expedition, a detachment of Raleigh's men under the command of his long-time friend Lawrence Kemys attacked the Spanish outpost of Santo Tomé de Guayana on the Orinoco river, in violation of peace treaties with Spain and against Raleigh's orders. A condition of Raleigh's pardon was avoidance of any hostility against Spanish colonies or shipping. In the initial attack on the settlement, Raleigh's son, Walter, was fatally shot. Kemys informed Raleigh of his son's death and begged for forgiveness, but did not receive it, and at once committed suicide. On Raleigh's return to England, an outraged Count Gondomar, the Spanish ambassador, demanded that Raleigh's death sentence be reinstated by King James, who had little choice but to do so. Raleigh was brought to London from Plymouth by Sir Lewis Stukley, where he passed up numerous opportunities to make an effective escape. [46] [47]

Execution and aftermath

Raleigh just before he was beheaded - an illustration from circa 1860 Execution of Sir Walter Raleigh.jpg
Raleigh just before he was beheaded – an illustration from circa 1860

Raleigh was beheaded in the Old Palace Yard at the Palace of Westminster on 29 October 1618. "Let us dispatch", he said to his executioner. "At this hour my ague comes upon me. I would not have my enemies think I quaked from fear." After he was allowed to see the axe that would be used to behead him, he mused: "This is a sharp Medicine, but it is a Physician for all diseases and miseries." According to biographers, Raleigh's last words, spoken to the hesitating executioner, were: "What dost thou fear? Strike, man, strike!" [48] [49]

Thomas Hariot may have introduced him to tobacco. [50] Having been one of the people to popularise tobacco smoking in England, he left a small tobacco pouch, found in his cell shortly after his execution. Engraved upon the pouch was a Latin inscription: Comes meus fuit in illo miserrimo tempore ("It was my companion at that most miserable time"). [51] [52]

Raleigh's head was embalmed and presented to his wife. His body was to be buried in the local church in Beddington, Surrey, the home of Lady Raleigh, but was finally laid to rest in St. Margaret's, Westminster, where his tomb is presently located. [53] "The Lords", she wrote, "have given me his dead body, though they have denied me his life. God hold me in my wits." [54] It has been said that Lady Raleigh kept her husband's head in a velvet bag until her death. [55] After Raleigh's wife's death 29 years later, his head was removed to his tomb and interred at St. Margaret's Church. [56] Although Raleigh's popularity had waned considerably since his Elizabethan heyday, his execution was seen by many, both at the time and since, as unnecessary and unjust, as for many years his involvement in the Main Plot seemed to have been limited to a meeting with Lord Cobham. [57] One of the judges at his trial later said: "The justice of England has never been so degraded and injured as by the condemnation of the honourable Sir Walter Raleigh." [58]


  • The Historie of the World. In five bookes (first ed. 1614). R. White, T. Basset. 1677.
  • The Discovery of Guiana. Hakluyt Society. 1848.


Arms of Sir Walter Raleigh Raleigh OfFardell Arms.svg
Arms of Sir Walter Raleigh

Raleigh's poetry is written in the relatively straightforward, unornamented mode known as the plain style. C. S. Lewis considered Raleigh one of the era's "silver poets", a group of writers who resisted the Italian Renaissance influence of dense classical reference and elaborate poetic devices. His writing contains strong personal treatments of themes such as love, loss, beauty, and time. Most of his poems are short lyrics that were inspired by actual events. [3]

In poems such as "What is Our Life" and "The Lie", Raleigh expresses a contemptus mundi (contempt of the world) attitude more characteristic of the Middle Ages than of the dawning era of humanistic optimism. But his lesser-known long poem "The Ocean's Love to Cynthia" combines this vein with the more elaborate conceits associated with his contemporaries Edmund Spenser and John Donne, expressing a melancholy sense of history. The poem was written during his imprisonment in the Tower of London. [3]

Raleigh wrote a poetic response to Christopher Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" of 1592, entitled "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd". Both were written in the style of traditional pastoral poetry and follow the structure of six four-line stanzas employing a rhyme scheme of AABB, with Raleigh's an almost line-for-line refutation of Marlowe's sentiments. [59] Years later, the 20th-century poet William Carlos Williams would join the poetic "argument" with his "Raleigh Was Right".

List of poems

All finished, and some unfinished, poems written by Raleigh or plausibly attributed to him: [lower-alpha 3]

  • "The Advice"
  • "Another of the Same"
  • "Conceit begotten by the Eyes"
  • "Epitaph on Sir Philip Sidney"
  • "Epitaph on the Earl of Leicester"
  • "Even such is Time"
  • "The Excuse"
  • "False Love"
  • "Farewell to the Court"
  • "His Petition to Queen Anne of Denmark"
  • "If Cynthia be a Queen"
  • "In Commendation of George Gascoigne's Steel Glass"
  • "The Lie"
  • "Like Hermit Poor"
  • "Lines from Catullus"
  • "Love and Time"
  • "My Body in the Walls captive"
  • "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd"
  • "Of Spenser's Faery Queen"
  • "On the Snuff of a Candle"
  • "The Ocean's Love to Cynthia"
  • "A Poem entreating of Sorrow"
  • "A Poem put into my Lady Laiton's Pocket"
  • "The Pilgrimage"
  • "A Prognistication upon Cards and Dice"
  • "The Shepherd's Praise of Diana"
  • "Sweet Unsure"
  • "To His Mistress"
  • "To the Translator of Lucan's Pharsalia"
  • "What is Our Life?"
  • "The Wood, the Weed, the Wag"

Writing Shakespeare

In 1845, Shakespeare scholar Delia Bacon first proposed that a group of authors had actually written the plays later attributed to William Shakespeare, the main writer being Walter Raleigh. [60] [61] Later, George S. Caldwell asserted that Raleigh was actually the sole author. [62] These claims have been supported by other scholars throughout subsequent years, including Albert J. Beveridge and Henry Pemberton, but are rejected by the majority of Shakespearean scholars today. [lower-alpha 4]


Statue of Sir Walter Raleigh at Raleigh Convention Center Walter Raleigh Statue.JPG
Statue of Sir Walter Raleigh at Raleigh Convention Center

In 2002, Raleigh was featured in the BBC poll of the 100 Greatest Britons. [63]

A galliard was composed in honour of Raleigh by either Francis Cutting or Richard Allison. [64]

The state capital of North Carolina, its second-largest city, was named Raleigh in 1792, after Sir Walter, sponsor of the Roanoke Colony. In the city, a bronze statue, which has been moved around different locations within the city, was cast in honour of the city's namesake. The "Lost Colony" is commemorated at the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site on Roanoke Island, North Carolina. [65]

Raleigh County, West Virginia, is named after him. [66]

Mount Raleigh in the Pacific Ranges of the Coast Mountains in British Columbia, Canada, was named for him, [67] with related features the Raleigh Glacier [68] and Raleigh Creek [69] named in association with the mountain. Mount Gilbert, just to Mount Raleigh's south, was named for his half-brother, Sir Humphrey. [70]

Raleigh has been widely speculated to be responsible for introducing the potato to Europe, and was a key figure in bringing it to Ireland. However, modern historians dispute this claim, suggesting it would have been impossible for Raleigh to have discovered the potato in the places he visited. [71]

Due to Raleigh's role in the popularisation of smoking, John Lennon humorously referred to him as "such a stupid git" in the song "I'm So Tired" on the "White Album" The Beatles (1968). [72]

Various colourful stories are told about him, such as laying his cloak over a puddle for the Queen, but they are probably apocryphal. [73] [74] [75] The story of Raleigh's trial is included in John George Phillimore's 1850 book The History and Principles of Evidence, and his commentary on the story is included in many law school textbooks on evidence in common law countries.

The author George Garrett's historical fiction novel Death of the Fox explores Raleigh's relationships with Elizabeth I and her successor James I.

Raleigh's descendants

A statue of Raleigh in Greenwich, southeast London Statue of Walter Raleigh, Greenwich (II).jpg
A statue of Raleigh in Greenwich, southeast London

Many people claim descent from Sir Walter Raleigh, but nearly all have no basis in fact. The only authentic lines of descent are as follows:[ citation needed ]

Raleigh's only surviving child, Carew Raleigh, had three surviving children—Walter (d. 1660), Anne (d. 1708) and Philip (d. 1705).

The elder son, Walter Raleigh, was knighted in June 1660, but died two months later. He was buried at West Horsley. He left three surviving children—Elizabeth, Philippa and Anne. Philippa (who married Oliver Weekes, of Tortingdon, Sussex) and Anne (who married William Knight, of Barrells, Warwickshire) left descendants. It was Philippa Weekes' daughter, Elizabeth Elwes, who seems to have owned the main store of Raleigh memorabilia and was consulted by William Oldys in 1735 when he was writing his Life of Raleigh.

Anne Raleigh married Sir Peter Tyrrell, of Castlethorpe, Bucks. Her granddaughter, Harriet, married Francis Mann, of Kidlington, Oxfordshire, and died in 1785, leaving descendants.

Philip Raleigh championed his grandfather's cause, publishing several of his hitherto unpublished papers. He had a family of four sons and three daughters. The youngest son, Carew Raleigh, page of honour to William III, was serving as a captain's servant on HMS Bredah when he died of fever in the West Indies in 1697, aged seventeen. The second son, Lieut. Brudenell Raleigh, was also serving in the navy in the West Indies when he died of fever in June 1698, aged 22. The eldest son, Captain Walter Raleigh, Grenadier Guards, was page of honour to Queen Mary, and was killed at the siege of Schellenberg in 1704, aged 31. He was unmarried. After Walter's death, his father was granted a pension by the crown, 'in consideration of his 3 sons being slain in the late and present war'. The third son, Captain-Lieutenant Grenville Raleigh, served in the Duke of Marlborough's army throughout the War of the Spanish Succession and died of fever in 1717, while guarding the prisoners at Chester after the 1715 Jacobite rising. He had married and had two sons and a daughter, Mary. On the death of his daughter in Bath in 1783, it was noted that she was 'the only surviving descendant in the direct line of Sir Walter Raleigh'.

Of Philip Raleigh's daughters, Anne and Elizabeth both died unmarried. The eldest daughter, Frances, married William Honywood, eldest son of Sir William Honywood, of Evington Place, Elmsted, Kent and died in 1730. Her many descendants include the present Lord Mountbatten and the actor Hugh Grant. [76]

See also

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  1. Many alternative spellings of his surname exist, including Rawley, Ralegh, Ralagh and Rawleigh. "Raleigh" appears most commonly today, but he is known to have used that spelling only once. His most consistent preference was for "Ralegh". His full name is /ˈwɔːltərˈrɔːli/ , but in practice, /ˈræli/ RAL-ee and even /ˈrɑːli/ RAH-lee are the usual modern pronunciations in England.
  2. Raleigh of Pilton: Gules crusilly or, a bend vair; arms of Raleigh of Fardell: Gules, five fusils conjoined in bend argent[ citation needed ]
  3. As ye came from the holy land is often attributed to Raleigh, but, in the words of Bullett 1947, p. 280, "it certainly existed before Ralegh arrived on the scene; Ralegh's connexion with it is largely a matter of conjecture"
  4. Kathman 2003, p. 621: "...antiStratfordism has remained a fringe belief system"; Schoenbaum 1991, p. 450; Paster 1999, p. 38: "To ask me about the authorship question ... is like asking a palaeontologist to debate a creationist's account of the fossil record."; Nelson 2004, pp. 149–51: "I do not know of a single professor of the 1,300-member Shakespeare Association of America who questions the identity of Shakespeare ... antagonism to the authorship debate from within the profession is so great that it would be as difficult for a professed Oxfordian to be hired in the first place, much less gain tenure..."; Carroll 2004, pp. 278–9: "I have never met anyone in an academic position like mine, in the Establishment, who entertained the slightest doubt as to Shakespeare's authorship of the general body of plays attributed to him."; Pendleton 1994, p. 21: "Shakespeareans sometimes take the position that to even engage the Oxfordian hypothesis is to give it a countenance it does not warrant."; Sutherland & Watts 2000, p. 7: "There is, it should be noted, no academic Shakespearian of any standing who goes along with the Oxfordian theory."; Gibson 2005, p. 30: "...most of the great Shakespearean scholars are to be found in the Stratfordian camp..."


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  69. "Raleigh Creek". BC Names/GeoBC
  70. "Mount Gilbert". BC Names/GeoBC
  71. Salaman & Burton 1985, p. 148.
  72. The Beatles (The White Album) "I'm So Tired" website. Retrieved 11 December 2014
  73. Naunton, Robert Fragmenta Regalia 1694, reprinted 1824.
  74. Fuller 1684, p. 749.
  75. 10 Historical Misconceptions, HowStuffWorks
  76. King 2019.


Further reading

  • Adamson, J.H. and Folland, H. F. Shepherd of the Ocean, 1969
  • Beer, Anna Sir Walter Raleigh and his readers in the Seventeenth Century (Springer, 1997).
  • Beer, Anna Patriot or Traitor: The Life and Death of Sir Walter Ralegh (Oneworld, 2018)
  • Hiscock, Andrew. "Walter Ralegh and the Arts of Memory." Literature Compass 4.4 (2007): 1030–1058.
  • Dwyer, Jack Dorset Pioneers The History Press, 2009. ISBN   978-0-7524-5346-0
  • Gallay, Alan. Walter Ralegh: Architect of Empire (2019), a major scholarly biography excerpt
  • Holmes, John. "The Guiana Projects: Imperial and Colonial Ideologies in Ralegh and Purchas." Literature & History 14.2 (2005): 1–13.
  • Lawson-Peebles, Robert. "The many faces of Sir Walter Ralegh" History Today 48.3 (1998): 17+.
  • Lewis, C. S. English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama, (1954).
  • Lyons, Mathew. The Favourite: Ralegh and His Queen (Hachette UK, 2011).
  • Lyons, Mathew. "Cloaked in Mystery." History Today (2012) 62.7 pp 72–72
  • Pemberton, Henry (Author); Carroll Smyth (Editor), Susan L. Pemberton (Contributor) Shakespeare And Sir Walter Raleigh: Including Also Several Essays Previously Published In The New Shakspeareana, Kessinger Publishing, LLC; 264 pages, 2007. ISBN   978-0548312483
  • Ralegh, Sir Walter, and Michael Rudick. "The Poems of Sir Walter Ralegh: A Historical Edition." (Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies/Renaissance English Text Society, 1999).
  • Stebbing, William: Sir Walter Ralegh Oxford, 1899 Project Gutenberg eText
  • Tytler, Patrick Fraser (1848). Life of Sir Walter Raleigh, Founded on Authentic and Original Documents. London: T. Nelson and Sons (published 1853). Retrieved 17 August 2008.
Walter Raleigh
Sir Walter Ralegh by 'H' monogrammist.jpg
Sir Walter Raleigh in 1588
Government offices Lord Warden of the Stannaries