Sir Walter Raleigh
1552 - 1618
The English statesman Sir Walter Raleigh was also a soldier,
courtier, explorer and exponent of overseas expansion, man of
letters, and victim of Stuart mistrust and Spanish hatred.
into a prominent Protestant Devonshire family, Walter Raleigh
(or Ralegh) spent time at Oriel College, Oxford, before leaving
to join the Huguenot army in the French religious war in 1569.
Five years in France saw him safely through two major battles
and the massacre of St. Bartholomew's Day. By 1576 he was in
London as a lodger (not a law student) at the Middle Temple and
saw his verses, prefixed to George Gascoigne's Steele Glas, in
print. His favourite poetic theme, the impermanence of all
earthly things, was popular with other Renaissance poets.
However, Raleigh's verse differs from theirs: for their richly
decorated quality and smoothly musical rhythms, he substituted a
colloquial diction and a simplicity and directness of statement
that prefigured the work of John Donne and the other
After 2 years in obscurity Raleigh accompanied his half brother,
Sir Humphrey Gilbert, on a voyage ostensibly in search of a
Northwest Passage to the Orient but which quickly degenerated
into a privateering foray against the Spanish. On their return
in 1579, Raleigh and Gilbert faced the displeasure of the Privy
Council. Raleigh's subsequent conduct did little to placate the
Council: he engaged in several altercations and was imprisoned
twice in 6 months for disturbing the peace. Once out of jail,
and at the head of a company of infantry, he sailed to serve in
the Irish wars.
In Ireland, Raleigh spent less than 2 years on campaign. He
helped condemn one of the leaders of the rebellion, bombed a
Spanish-Italian garrison into surrender, and then oversaw their
massacre. After some minor but well-fought engagements, he was
appointed a temporary administrator of Munster. Not satisfied,
he criticized his superiors and by the end of 1581 had been sent
back to London with dispatches for the Council, £20 for his
expenses, and a reputation as an expert on Irish affairs.
Progress at Court
Extravagant in dress and in conduct (whether or not he spread
his costly cloak over a puddle for Elizabeth to step on, his
contemporaries believed him capable of the gesture), handsome,
and superbly self-confident, Raleigh at first rose rapidly at
court. His opinion on Ireland was sought and apparently taken by
Elizabeth; when he obtained a new commission for service there,
the Queen kept him home as an adviser. He received more concrete
tokens of royal favor as well: a house in London, two estates in
Oxford, and, most lucrative, the monopolies for the sale of wine
licenses and the export of broadcloth all came from Elizabeth in
Raleigh was knighted in 1584 and the next year became warden of
the stannaries (or mines) in Devon and Cornwall, lord lieutenant
of Cornwall, and vice admiral of the West (Devon and Cornwall).
Although he was hated for his arrogance at Westminster, in Devon
and Cornwall his reforms of the mining codes and his association
with local privateering ventures made him very popular; he sat
for Devonshire in the Parliaments of 1584 and 1586.
In 1586 Raleigh succeeded Sir Christopher Hatton (newly made
lord chancellor) as captain of the Queen's Guard - his highest
office at court.
The patent under which Gilbert had led his expedition of 1578
had authorized him not merely to explore but to claim unknown
lands (in the Queen's name, of course) and to exploit them as he
saw fit. By 1582 Gilbert had organized a company to settle
English Catholics in the Americas. Although forbidden by
Elizabeth to accompany his half brother, Raleigh invested money
and a ship of his own design in the venture. After Gilbert's
death on the return from Newfoundland, Raleigh was given a
charter to "occupy and enjoy" new lands. A preliminary
expedition sailed as soon as Raleigh had his charter, reached
the Carolina shore of America, and claimed the land for the
court-bound empire builder.
At the same time, Raleigh sought to entice Elizabeth into a more
active role in his proposed colonizing venture: not only did he
name the new territory Virginia (after the Virgin Queen) but he
sponsored Richard Hakluyt's Discourse of Western Planting and
brought this great imperialistic treatise to Elizabeth's
attention. Although unconvinced, she gave a ship and some funds;
Raleigh remained at court and devoted his energies to financing
the scheme. The first settlers were conveyed by Raleigh's cousin
Sir Richard Grenville. Quarrels, lack of discipline, and hostile
Indians led the colonists to return to England aboard Francis
Drake's 1586 squadron, bringing with them potatoes and tobacco,
both hitherto unknown in Europe.
John White led a second expedition the next year. The coming of
the Armada delayed sending supplies for more than 2 years. When
the relief ships reached the colony in 1591, it had vanished.
Raleigh sent other expeditions to the Virginia coast but failed
to establish a permanent settlement there; his charter was
revoked by James I in 1603.
Retirement from Court
Raleigh played a minor role in the defeat of the Spanish Armada
in 1588. He organized the Devon militia and was a member of
Elizabeth's War Council but did not participate in the naval
battle. When he returned to court, he clashed with Elizabeth's
new favorite, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex. After the Privy
Council halted an incipient duel between them, Raleigh left for
Ireland, where he cultivated his estates and the friendship of
his neighbour, the poet Edmund Spenser, whom he introduced to
Elizabeth in 1590.
The next year Raleigh was to have gone to sea in search of the
Spanish plate fleet, but again Elizabeth refused permission.
Grenville, who went in his stead, was trapped by Spanish
galleons, and Raleigh raised a new fleet to avenge his cousin.
At sea finally, he was immediately summoned back by Elizabeth.
Upon his tardy return he was imprisoned in the Tower, for the
Queen had discovered his alliance with Elizabeth Throgmorton,
one of her own maids of honour. (Raleigh later married Elizabeth
Throgmorton.) After the return of an enormously wealthy prize
taken by Raleigh's sailors, and after Elizabeth took an
inordinate share of the profits, she permitted the Raleighs to
go to their estate of Sherborne in Dorset.
Forbidden access to the court, Raleigh devoted time to study and
speculation about the nature of matter and the universe. During
this time he sat in Parliament, joined the Society of
Antiquaries, assisted Hakluyt in preparing his Voyages, and
joined Ben Jonson and Shakespeare at the Mermaid Tavern in
By the end of 1594 Raleigh had regained enough of Elizabeth's
favour to obtain her consent for a prospecting expedition to
Guiana (Venezuela). From this he brought back many samples of
gold ore and a belief in the existence of a rich gold mine.
In 1596 Raleigh and his rival Essex led a brilliantly successful
raid on Cadiz, and he seemed to have finally placated Elizabeth.
He was readmitted to court, continued to serve in Parliament,
was given a monopoly over playing cards, held more naval
commands, and became governor of the island of Jersey, where he
proved again to be an excellent administrator. With Essex's
execution for treason, Raleigh's place as favourite seemed
secure. But the Queen herself was near death, and Raleigh's
enemies lost no time in poisoning the mind of James Stuart, her
heir apparent and successor, against him.
Upon James I's accession, Raleigh was dismissed as captain of
the guard, warden of the stanneries, and governor of Jersey. His
monopolies were suspended, and he was evicted from his London
house. Soon after, he was implicated (falsely) in a plot against
James and, upon being committed to the Tower, tried to commit
suicide. A farcical trial before a special commission at
Winchester at the end of 1603 resulted in a death sentence,
followed by a reprieve and imprisonment in the Tower for 13
James stripped Raleigh of all his offices and even took
Sherborne on a technicality to give to his own favourite, Robert
Carr. The remainder of his property was restored, and Raleigh
was well treated: his family joined him in a large apartment in
the Bloody Tower; his books were brought as well. Raleigh
attracted the sympathy and friendship of James's eldest son,
Henry, who sought his advice on matters of shipbuilding and
naval defense. Raleigh dedicated his monumental History of the
World, written during this period of imprisonment, to the
prince. Henry protested Raleigh's continued incarceration but
died before he could effect his release.
From 1610 on, Raleigh, aware of James's need for money, sought
permission to lead another search for the gold mine of his
earlier Guiana voyage and at last got his way. Freed early in
1616, he invested most of his remaining funds in the projected
voyage. The expedition, which sailed in June of the following
year, was a disastrous failure. No treasure and no mine were
found, and Raleigh's men violated James's strict instructions to
avoid fighting with Spanish colonists in the area. Still worse,
during the battle with the Spaniards, Raleigh's older son,
Walter, was killed.
Upon his empty-handed return Raleigh was rearrested; James and
Sarmiento, the Spanish ambassador, wished him tried on a charge
of piracy, but as he was already under a sentence of death, a
new trial was not possible. His execution would have to proceed
from the charge of treason of 1603. James agreed to this course,
and Raleigh was beheaded on Oct. 29, 1618.
JACANA HOME PAGE
CLASSIC VIDEO CLIPS
JACANA ASTRONOMY SITE
JACANA PHOTO LIBRARY |
OLD MAUN PHOTO GALLERY |
MAUN PHONE DIRECTORY
FREE FONTS |
PIC OF THE DAY
GENERAL LIBRARY |
MAP LIBRARY |
HOUSE PLANS LIBRARY
MAUN E-MAIL, WEBSITE & SKYPE LIST
BOTSWANA GPS CO-ORDINATES
MAUN SAFARI WEB LINKS |
FREE SOFTWARE |
JACANA WEATHER PAGE
JACANA CROSSWORD LIBRARY |
JACANA CARTOON PAGE |
This web page was last updated on:
15 December, 2008