Walter Raleigh

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Walter Raleigh
Sir Walter Ralegh by 'H' monogrammist.jpg
Portrait of Raleigh, 1588
Government offices Lord Warden of the Stannaries

Sir Walter Raleigh [lower-alpha 1] ( /ˈrɔːli,ˈræli,ˈrɑːli/ ; c.1552 – 29 October 1618) was an English statesman, soldier, writer and explorer. One of the most notable figures of the Elizabethan era, he played a leading part in English colonisation of North America, suppressed rebellion in Ireland, helped defend England against the Spanish Armada and held political positions under Elizabeth I.


Raleigh was born to a landed gentry family of Protestant faith in Devon, the son of Walter Raleigh and Catherine Champernowne. He was the younger half-brother of Sir Humphrey Gilbert and a cousin of Sir Richard Grenville. Little is known of his early life, though in his late teens he spent some time in France taking part in the religious civil wars. In his 20s he took part in the suppression of rebellion in the colonisation of Ireland; he also participated in the siege of Smerwick. Later, he became a landlord of property in Ireland and mayor of Youghal in east Munster, where his house still stands in Myrtle Grove. [2] He rose rapidly in the favour of Queen Elizabeth I and was knighted in 1585. He was granted a royal patent to explore Virginia, paving the way for future English settlements. In 1591, he secretly married Elizabeth Throckmorton, one of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting, without the Queen's permission, for which he and his wife were sent to the Tower of London. After his release, they retired to his estate at Sherborne, Dorset.

In 1594, Raleigh heard of a "City of Gold" in South America and sailed to find it, publishing an exaggerated account of his experiences in a book that contributed to the legend of "El Dorado". After Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, Raleigh was again imprisoned in the Tower, this time for being involved in the Main Plot against King James I, who was not favourably disposed towards him. In 1616, he was released to lead a second expedition in search of El Dorado. During the expedition, men led by his top commander ransacked a Spanish outpost, in violation of both the terms of his pardon and the 1604 peace treaty with Spain. Raleigh returned to England and, to appease the Spanish, he was arrested and executed in 1618.

Early life

The Boyhood of Raleigh by John Everett Millais, 1871 Millais Boyhood of Raleigh.jpg
The Boyhood of Raleigh by John Everett Millais, 1871

Little is known about Sir Walter Raleigh's birth [3] but he is believed to have been born on 22 January 1552 (or possibly 1554 [4] ). He grew up in the house of Hayes Barton [5] (in the parish of East Budleigh), in East Devon. He was the youngest of the five sons of Walter Raleigh (1510–1581) (or Rawleigh) of Fardel Manor (in the parish of Cornwood), [6] in South Devon. Raleigh's family is generally assumed to have been a junior branch of the Raleigh family, 11th-century lords of the manor of Raleigh, Pilton [7] in North Devon, although the two branches are known to have borne entirely dissimilar coats of arms, [lower-alpha 2] adopted at the start of the age of heraldry (c.1200–1215).

Arms of Katherine Champernowne, mother of Sir Walter Raleigh, impaled by the arms of her first husband, Otes Gilbert. Churston Ferrers Church GilbertImpalingChampernowne YardeHeraldicWindow ChurstonFerrersChurch.xcf
Arms of Katherine Champernowne, mother of Sir Walter Raleigh, impaled by the arms of her first husband, Otes Gilbert. Churston Ferrers Church

His mother was Katherine Champernowne, the third wife of Walter Raleigh senior. She was the fourth daughter of Sir Philip Champernowne (1479–1545), lord of the manor of Modbury, Devon, by his wife Catherine Carew, a daughter of Sir Edmund Carew (d. 1513) of Mohuns Ottery (in the parish of Luppitt), Devon, [8] . Katherine was the widow of Otes Gilbert (1513–1546/7) of Greenway (in the parish of Brixham) and of Compton Castle (in the parish of Marldon), both in Devon. (The coat of arms of Otes Gilbert and Katherine Champernowne survives in a stained glass window in Churston Ferrers Church, near Greenway.)

Katherine Champernowne's paternal aunt was Kat Ashley, governess of Queen Elizabeth I, who introduced Raleigh and his brothers to the court. [9] Raleigh's maternal uncle was Sir Arthur Champernowne (c.1524–1578), a Member of Parliament, Sheriff of Devon and Admiral of the West.

Walter Raleigh junior's immediate family included his full brother Carew Raleigh, and half-brothers John Gilbert, Humphrey Gilbert and Adrian Gilbert. As a consequence of their kinship with the Champernowne family, all of the Raleigh and Gilbert brothers became prominent during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I.

Raleigh's family was highly Protestant in religious orientation and had a number of near escapes during the reign of Roman Catholic Queen Mary I of England. In the most notable of these, his father had to hide in a tower to avoid execution. As a result, Raleigh developed a hatred of Roman Catholicism during his childhood, and proved himself quick to express it after Protestant Queen Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1558. In matters of religion, Elizabeth was more moderate than her half-sister Mary. [10]

In 1569, Raleigh went to France to serve with the Huguenots in the French religious civil wars. [3] In 1572, Raleigh was registered as an undergraduate at Oriel College, Oxford, but he left in 1574 without a degree. [11] Raleigh proceeded to finish his education in the Inns of Court. [3] In 1575, he was admitted to the Middle Temple, having previously been a member of Lyon's Inn, one of the Inns of Chancery. [12] At his trial in 1603, he stated that he had never studied law.[ citation needed ] Much of his life is uncertain between 1569 and 1575, but in his History of the World, he claimed to have been an eyewitness at the Battle of Moncontour (3 October 1569) in France. In 1575 or 1576, Raleigh returned to England. [13]

In 1577 and again in 1579 Raleigh made voyages with his half-brother Sir Humphrey Gilbert in attempts to find a Northwest Passage. [11] They failed to find a passage, but succeeded in raiding Spanish ships. [11]


"Raleigh's First Pipe in England", an illustration included in Frederick William Fairholt's Tobacco, its history and associations Raleigh's first pipe in England.jpeg
"Raleigh's First Pipe in England", an illustration included in Frederick William Fairholt's Tobacco, its history and associations

See Plantations of Ireland

From 1579 to late 1580, Raleigh took part in the suppression of the Desmond Rebellions. He was present at the siege of Smerwick, where he led the party that beheaded some 600 Spanish and Italian soldiers. [15] [16] In September 1584, Queen Elizabeth I had the land surveyed to be divided amongst her "Undertakers"(People she appointed to undertake supervision of colonization of the region) to colonize. [17] [18]

In 1585, Raleigh received 40,000 acres (16,000 ha) (approximately 0.2% of Ireland) in the Munster Plantation, including the coastal walled town of Youghal and, further up the Blackwater River, the village of Lismore. [17] [18]

Raleigh made the town of Youghal in Ireland his occasional home during his 17 years as an Irish landlord, frequently being domiciled at Killua Castle, Clonmellon, County Westmeath. He was mayor there from 1588 to 1589. [18] Raleigh encouraged veterans of the earlier attempts of the Roanoke Colony settle in Ireland, including Thomas Hariot and John White from the 1585 trip. (He was the governor of the 1587 trip, but returned with the delivery ship to acquire additional supplies.) Raleigh is credited with introducing potatoes to England and Ireland. [11] Potatoes would in time have an outsized role in Irish farming and culture. A potato crop failure in the 1800s would lead to the Great Famine.

Amongst Raleigh's acquaintances in Munster was another Englishman who had been granted land in the Irish colonies, poet Edmund Spenser. [17] [18] Raleigh's management of his Irish estates ran into difficulties which contributed to a decline in his fortunes. In 1602, he sold the lands to Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork, who subsequently prospered under kings James I and Charles I. [19]

New World

Engraved portrait of Raleigh Sir Walter Raleigh by Simon van de Passe (1617).jpg
Engraved portrait of Raleigh

On March 25, 1584, Queen Elizabeth granted Raleigh a royal charter authorizing him to explore, colonise and rule any "remote, heathen and barbarous lands, countries and territories, not actually possessed of any Christian Prince or inhabited by Christian People", in return for one-fifth of all the gold and silver that might be mined there. [20] [21] This charter specified that Raleigh had seven years in which to establish a settlement, or else lose his right to do so. Raleigh and Elizabeth intended that the venture should provide riches from the New World and a base from which to send privateers on raids against the treasure fleets of Spain. The charter was originally given to Sir Humphrey Gilbert who pitched the idea to Queen Elizabeth I and died at sea while attempting to accomplish it.

On April 27, 1584, the Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe expedition set sail from England on an exploratory mission to determine what resources were available in North America. [22] [23] They returned with two of the local inhabitants, Manteo and Wanchese, in August 1584, and reported of their findings. [21] The region (the majority of the east coast) received the name "Virginia" for the Virgin Queen Elizabeth I, which is the origin of the name of the modern day state. [11]

In 1585, he sent a militarized group to North America to set up a fort to raid Spanish ships and become the first English colony in North America. [24] [23] The voyage was led by Sir Richard Grenville and the colony on Roanoke Island was governed by Ralph Lane. [25] The colony ran out of food after clashes with the local inhabitants and eventually left with Sir Francis Drake in June 1586 after resupply attempts failed. [11] Sir Richard Grenvile arrived shortly after the Lane colony left with Drake. He left supplies and 15 men on Roanoke Island and returned to England. [26] They were never seen again.

On July 22, 1587, Raleigh attempted a second expedition, again establishing a settlement on Roanoke Island. [23] This time, a more diverse group of settlers was sent, including some entire families, [27] under the governance of John White. [28] After a short while in America, White returned to England to obtain more supplies for the colony, planning to return in a year. Unfortunately for the colonists at Roanoke, one year became three. The first delay came when Queen Elizabeth I ordered all vessels to remain at port for potential use against the Spanish Armada. After England's 1588 victory over the Spanish Armada, the ships were given permission to sail. [29]

The second delay came after White's small fleet set sail for Roanoke and his crew insisted on sailing first towards Cuba in hopes of capturing treasure-laden Spanish merchant ships. Enormous riches described by their pilot, an experienced Portuguese navigator hired by Raleigh, outweighed White's objections to the delay. [29]

When the supply ship arrived in Roanoke, three years later than planned, the colonists had disappeared. [30] The only clue to their fate was the word "CROATOAN" and the letters "CRO" carved into tree trunks. White had arranged with the settlers that if they should move, the name of their destination be carved into a tree or corner post. This suggested the possibility that they had moved to Croatoan Island, but a hurricane prevented John White from investigating the island for survivors. [30] Other speculation includes their having starved, or been swept away or lost at sea during the stormy weather of 1588. No further attempts at contact were recorded for some years. Whatever the fate of the settlers, the settlement is now remembered as the "Roanoke Colony" later known as the "Lost Colony". [31]

Raleigh himself never visited North America, although he led expeditions in 1595 and 1617 to the Orinoco river basin in South America in search of the golden city of El Dorado. These expeditions were funded primarily by Raleigh and his friends but never provided the steady stream of revenue necessary to maintain a colony in America.


Walter Raleigh's house in Blackwall Harbour by Philip Norman (before 1931) Walter Raleighs house in Blackwall Harbour by Philip Norman.jpg
Walter Raleigh's house in Blackwall Harbour by Philip Norman (before 1931)

In 1580 Raleigh went to fight in Ireland against the 2nd Desmond Rebellion. [11] In December 1581, he returned to England. [11] He took part in court life and became a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I because of his efforts at increasing the Protestant Church in Ireland. [32] In 1585, Raleigh was knighted and was appointed warden of the stannaries, that is of the tin mines of Cornwall and Devon, Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall and vice-admiral of the two counties. He was a member of parliament for Devonshire in 1585 and 1586. [19] He was also granted the right to colonise America. [32]

Raleigh commissioned shipbuilder R. Chapman of Deptford to build a ship for him. She was originally called Ark but became Ark Raleigh , following the convention at the time by which the ship bore the name of her owner. The Crown (in the person of Queen Elizabeth I) purchased the ship from Raleigh in January 1587 for £5,000 (£1.1 million in 2015). [33] This took the form of a reduction in the sum that Sir Walter owed the queen; he received Exchequer tallies but no money. As a result, the ship was renamed Ark Royal . [34]

In 1586 one of Raleigh's expeditions caught Spanish explorer Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa. Raleigh held Gamboa prisoner in his house and had long conversations with him. Gamboa passed messages to the Spanish ambassador who forwarded them to King Philip II. Raleigh wanted to defect to Spain and sell his ship the Ark. Philip refused to buy the ship, but encouraged the passing of information from Raleigh.

In 1588, Raleigh had some involvement with defence against the Spanish Armada at Devon. The ship that he had built, offered to sell to Spain, and later sold to the crown, the Ark Royal, was Lord High Admiral Howard's flagship. [35]


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. [35]

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, and died of plague in October 1592. 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. [36]

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. [37]

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. [38]

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 [39] (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. [40]


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. [41] 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. [19] 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 the 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. [42]

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. [43] [44] Raleigh's trial has been regularly cited as influential in establishing a common law right to confront accusers in court. [45] [46] [47] [48] Raleigh was convicted, but King James spared his life. [49]

While imprisoned in the Tower, Raleigh wrote his incomplete The History of the World . [50] 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". [51] [52] Raleigh remained imprisoned in the Tower until 1616. [53] His son, Carew, was conceived and born (in 1604 or 1605) while Raleigh was imprisoned in the Tower. [54]

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. [55] [56]

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!" [57] [58]

Thomas Hariot may have introduced him to tobacco. [59] 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"). [60] [61]

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. [62] "The Lords", she wrote, "have given me his dead body, though they have denied me his life. God hold me in my wits." [63] It has been said that Lady Raleigh kept her husband's head in a velvet bag until her death. [64] After Raleigh's wife's death 29 years later, his head was removed to his tomb and interred at St. Margaret's Church. [65] 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. [66] 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." [67]



Arms of Sir Walter Raleigh: Gules, five fusils conjoined in bend argent Raleigh OfFardell Arms.svg
Arms of Sir Walter Raleigh: Gules, five fusils conjoined in bend argent

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. [69] 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. [70] [71] Later, George S. Caldwell asserted that Raleigh was actually the sole author. [72] 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
The commemorative Roanoke Island half dollar, issued by the US in 1937, bears Walter Raleigh's portrait Roanoke half dollar obverse.png
The commemorative Roanoke Island half dollar, issued by the US in 1937, bears Walter Raleigh's portrait

In 2002, Raleigh was featured in the BBC poll of the 100 Greatest Britons. [73]

A galliard was composed in honour of Raleigh by either Francis Cutting or Richard Allison. [74]

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. [75]

Raleigh County, West Virginia, is named after him. [76]

Mount Raleigh in the Pacific Ranges of the Coast Mountains in British Columbia, Canada, was named for him, [77] with related features the Raleigh Glacier [78] and Raleigh Creek [79] named in association with the mountain. Mount Gilbert, just to Mount Raleigh's south, was named for his half-brother, Sir Humphrey. [80]

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. [81]

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). [82]

Various colourful stories are told about him, such as laying his cloak over a puddle for the Queen, but they are probably apocryphal. [83] [84] [85] 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.

In January 2014 was founded the Raleigh Rum Company in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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:

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 [86]

Anne Raleigh married Sir Peter Tyrrell, Bt. of Castlethorpe, Bucks. Their son Thomas Tyrrell, 2nd Bt. left two daughters – Christobella, who married as her third husband, Richard Fiennes, 6th Viscount Saye & Sele, but died without surviving issue in 1789. The younger daughter, Harriet, married Francis Mann, of Kidlington, Oxfordshire, and died in 1785, having had a daughter, Harriet, who married Capt. Joseph Mead and died in 1784, leaving issue. [87]

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'. [88] 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'. [89]

Of Philip Raleigh's daughters, Anne and Elizabeth both died unmarried. [90] 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. [91]

See also

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Humphrey Gilbert</span> English explorer, politician and soldier

Sir Humphrey Gilbert was an English adventurer, explorer, member of parliament and soldier who served during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and was a pioneer of the English colonial empire in North America and the Plantations of Ireland. He was a maternal half-brother of Sir Walter Raleigh and a cousin of Sir Richard Grenville.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Richard Grenville</span> English politician, soldier and explorer (1542–1591)

Sir Richard Grenville, also spelt Greynvile, Greeneville, and Greenfield, was an English privateer and explorer. Grenville was lord of the manors of Stowe, Cornwall and Bideford, Devon. He subsequently participated in the plantations of Ireland specifically the Munster plantations, the English colonisation of the Americas and the repulse of the Spanish Armada.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ralph Lane</span> 16th-century English politician and explorer

Sir Ralph Lane was an English explorer of the Elizabethan era. He helped colonise the Kingdom of Ireland in 1583 and was sheriff of County Kerry, Ireland, from 1583 to 1585. He was part of the unsuccessful attempt in 1585 to colonise Roanoke Island, North Carolina. He was knighted by the Queen in 1593.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Arthur Champernowne</span> 16th-century English politician

Sir Arthur Champernowne was an English politician, high sheriff and soldier who lived at Dartington Hall in Devon, England.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">George Carew, 1st Earl of Totnes</span>

George Carew, 1st Earl of Totnes, known as Sir George Carew between 1586 and 1605 and as The Lord Carew between 1605 and 1626, served under Elizabeth I during the Tudor conquest of Ireland and was appointed President of Munster. He was an authority on heraldry and the author of Carew's Scroll of Arms 1588, Collected from Churches in Devonshire etc., with Additions from Joseph Holland's Collection of Arms 1579.

Events from the 1580s in England.

Sir Carew Raleigh or Ralegh was an English naval commander and politician who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1586 and 1622. He was the elder brother of Sir Walter Raleigh.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Elizabethan Sea Dogs</span> Group of privateers

The Sea Dogs were a group of English privateers and explorers authorised by Queen Elizabeth I to raid England's enemies, whether they were formally at war with them or not. Active from 1560 until Elizabeth's death in 1603, the Sea Dogs primarily attacked Spanish targets both on land and at sea, particularly during the Anglo-Spanish War. Members of the Sea Dogs, including Sir John Hawkins and Sir Francis Drake, also engaged in illicit slave trading with Spanish colonies in the Americas.

Simon Fernandes was a 16th-century Portuguese-born navigator and sometimes pirate who piloted the 1585 and 1587 English expeditions to found colonies on Roanoke island, part of modern-day North Carolina but then known as Virginia. Fernandes trained as a navigator in Spain at the famed Casa de Contratación in Seville, but later took up arms against the Spanish empire, preying upon Spanish shipping along with fellow pirate John Callis. Charged with piracy in 1577, he was saved from the hangman's noose by Sir Francis Walsingham, becoming a Protestant and a subject of the Queen of England. In 1578 Fernandes entered the service of Sir Humphrey Gilbert and later Sir Walter Raleigh, piloting the failed 1587 expedition to Roanoke, known to history as the "Lost Colony".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sir George Chudleigh, 1st Baronet</span> English landowner and politician

Sir George Chudleigh, 1st Baronet, of Ashton, Devon, was an English landowner and politician, who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1601 and 1625. He had close family connections to a group of Devon Presbyterians, including Sir William Strode.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bernard Drake</span> English nautical captain

Sir Bernard Drake of Ash in the parish of Musbury, Devon, was an English sea captain. He himself refuted any familial relationship with his contemporary the great Admiral Sir Francis Drake, as their dispute concerning armorials reveals. In fact, Sir Bernard Drake's grandparents John Drake V 1474-1554 and his wife Margaret were also the grandparents of Sir Francis Drake; Sir Bernard being descended from an older son and Francis descended from a younger son.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wingina</span>

Wingina, also known as Pemisapan, was a Secotan weroance who was the first Native American leader to be encountered by English colonists in North America. During the late 16th century, English explorers Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe explored the region inhabited by Wingina, detailing conflicts between Wingina's tribe, the Secotan and a rival tribe known as the Neusiok. When English colonization of the region began, relations between the colonists and the Secotan quickly broke down. On 1 June 1586, in an effort to gain more stocks of food for the fledgling colony, Sir Ralph Lane led an attack on the Secotan; Wingina was decapitated during the attack by one of Lane's men.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Philip Amadas</span> 16/17th-century English captain and explorer of North America

Philip Amadas (1550–1618) was a naval commander and explorer in Elizabethan England. Little is known from his early life, but he grew up within a wealthy merchant family in southwestern England. Amadas was instrumental in the early years of the English colonisation of North America. He served alongside Arthur Barlowe in the 1584 exploratory voyage to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Leaving on 27 April 1584, he captained the Bark Ralegh with Simon Fernandes as his master and pilot on the voyage. Fernandes is best known for his controversial decision to maroon the colonists of the infamous "Lost Colony" on Roanoke Island in 1587. The voyage of 1584 determined Roanoke Island as the location for the future colonies under the leadership of Sir Walter Raleigh. For his role in the Roanoke voyages of 1584 and 1585, Amadas was nominated Admiral of Virginia by Raleigh in 1585. When he returned to England to report their findings, the Queen named the country after herself, Virginia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Newfoundland expedition (1585)</span>

The Newfoundland Expedition also known as Bernard Drake's Newfoundland Expedition was an English naval expedition that took place during the beginning of the declared Anglo-Spanish War in the North Atlantic during summer and autumn of 1585. The area of conflict was situated mainly in an area known as the Grand Banks off present day Newfoundland. The aim of the expedition was to capture the Spanish and Portuguese fishing fleets. The expedition was a huge military and financial success and virtually removed the Spanish and Portuguese from these waters. In addition the raid had large consequences in terms of English colonial expansion and settlement.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Raleigh's El Dorado expedition</span> English military and exploratory expedition

Raleigh's El Dorado expedition, also known as Raleigh's first voyage to Guiana, was an English military and exploratory expedition led by Sir Walter Raleigh that took place during the Anglo-Spanish War in 1595. The expedition set out in February 1595 to explore the Orinoco River on the northeast tip of South America in an attempt to find the fabled city of El Dorado.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Watts' West Indies and Virginia expedition</span>

Watts' West Indies and Virginia expedition also known as the Action of Cape Tiburon was an English expedition to the Spanish Main during the Anglo–Spanish War. The expedition began on 10 May and ended by 18 July 1590 and was commanded by Abraham Cocke and Christopher Newport. This was financed by the highly renowned London merchant John Watts. The English ships intercepted and dispersed Spanish convoys capturing, sinking, and grounding many ships off the Spanish colonies of Hispaniola, Cuba, and Jamaica. Despite losing an arm, Newport was victorious and captured a good haul of booty. A breakaway expedition from this discovered that the Roanoke Colony was completely deserted and which gave the name The Lost Colony.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Roanoke Island, North Carolina, half dollar</span> United States commemorative coin

The Roanoke Island, North Carolina, half dollar is a commemorative coin issued by the United States Bureau of the Mint in 1937. The coin commemorated the 350th anniversary of the Roanoke Colony, depicting Sir Walter Raleigh on one side, and on the other Eleanor Dare, holding her child, Virginia Dare, the first child of English descent born in an English colony in the Americas.

The Gilberts of Compton were a noted Anglo-Norman family of knightly class, having seats at both Compton Castle and Greenway Estate, Devon, England. They were prominent in the British colonization of the Americas during the Elizabethan era.



  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. 149–151: "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. 278–279: "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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  87. Her son was Rev Francis Mead, rector of Candlebury, Lincs. His great aunt, Lady Saye and Sele, left him £2000 and all her plate in her will.
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  90. Anne was unmarried when William Oldys published his life of Raleigh in 1736, when she would have been in her 60s. She died in 1743. There is a memorial to Elizabeth Raleigh in the church at Cheriton, Kent – her sister, Frances Honywood, lived at nearby Enbrook Manor. Elizabeth died in 1716, aged 42.
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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).
  • Bevan, Bryan. The Great Seamen of Elizabeth I (Robert Hale, 1971).
  • 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.