Walter Raleigh

Walter Raleigh

Infobox writer
name = Walter Raleigh

|thumb|200px|right|Portrait of Walter Raleigh, near age 32, by Nicholas Hilliard, c. 1585
bgcolour = silver
birthdate = c. 1552
birthplace = Devonshire, England
deathdate = death date|1618|10|29|df=y (aged 66)
deathplace = London, England
occupation = writer, poet, courtier, explorer

Sir Walter Raleigh or Ralegh [Many alternate spellings of his surname exist, including "Rawley", "Ralegh", and "Rawleigh"; "Raleigh" appears most commonly today, though he, himself, used that spelling only once, as far as is known. His most consistent preference was for "Ralegh". The name is correctly pronounced IPAEng|wɔːltə rɔːlɪ though in practice "rally" or even "rahly" are the usual modern pronunciations in England.] (c. 1552 – 29 October 1618), was a famed English writer, poet, soldier, courtier and explorer.

Raleigh was born to a Protestant family in Devon, the son of Walter Raleigh and Catherine Champernowne. Little is known for certain of his early life, though he spent some time in Ireland, in Killua Castle, Clonmellon, County Westmeath, taking part in the suppression of rebellions and participating in two infamous massacres at Rathlin Island and Smerwick, later becoming a landlord of lands confiscated from the Irish. He rose rapidly in Queen Elizabeth I's favour, being knighted in 1585, and was involved in the early English colonisation of the New World in Virginia under a royal patent. In 1591 he secretly married Elizabeth Throckmorton, one of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting, without requesting 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 "Golden City" 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 allegedly being involved in the Main Plot against King James I who was not favourably disposed toward him. In 1616, however, he was released in order to conduct a second expedition in search of El Dorado. This was unsuccessful and the Spanish outpost at San Thomé was ransacked by men under his command. After his return to England he was arrested and after a show trial held mainly to appease the Spanish, he was beheaded at Whitehall.

Early life

Raleigh was born in 1552, the exact month is unknown, in the house of Hayes Barton, in the village of East Budleigh, not far from Budleigh Salterton in Devon, England. He was the youngest of five sons born to Catherine Champernowne in two successive marriages. His half brothers, Sir John Gilbert, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, Adrian Gilbert, and full brother Carew Raleigh were also prominent during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I. Catherine Champernowne was a niece of Kat Ashley, Elizabeth's governess, who introduced the young men at court. (Ronald, p. 249)

Raleigh's family was strongly Protestant in religious orientation and experienced a number of near-escapes during the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary I of England. In the most notable of these, Raleigh's father had to hide in a tower to avoid being killed. As a result, during his childhood, Raleigh developed a hatred of Catholicism, and proved himself quick to express it after the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I of England came to the throne in 1558.

In 1568 or 1572, Raleigh was registered as an undergraduate at Oriel College, Oxford, but does not seem to have taken up residence, and in 1575 he was registered at the Middle Temple. His life between these two dates is uncertain but from a reference in his "History of the World" he seems to have served with the French Huguenots at the battle of Jarnac, 13 March 1569. At his trial in 1603 he stated that he had never studied law.


Between 1579 and 1583, Raleigh took part in the suppression of the Desmond Rebellions. He was present at the siege of Smerwick, where he oversaw the slaughter of Italian and Spanish soldiers after they had surrendered. Upon the seizure and distribution of land following the attainders arising from the rebellion, Raleigh received 40,000 acres (160 km²), including the coastal walled towns of Youghal and Lismore. This made him one of the principal landowners in Munster, but he enjoyed limited success in inducing English tenants to settle on his estates.During his seventeen years as an Irish landlord, frequently domiciling at Killulagh Castle, Clonmellon, county Westmeath, Raleigh made the town of Youghal his occasional home, where he was mayor from 1588 to 1589. He is credited with having planted the first potatoes in Ireland Fact|date=February 2007, but it is far more likely that the plant arrived in Ireland through trade with the Spanish. His town mansion, Myrtle Grove, is assumed to be the setting for the story that his servant doused him with a bucket of water after seeing clouds of smoke coming from Raleigh's pipe, in the belief he had been set alight. But this story is also told of other places related to Raleigh: the Virginia Ash inn in Henstridge near Sherborne, Sherborne Castle, and South Wraxall Manor in Wiltshire, home of Raleigh's friend, Sir Walter Long.

Amongst Raleigh's acquaintances in Munster was another Englishman who had been granted land there, the poet Edmund Spenser. In the 1590s, he and Raleigh travelled together from Ireland to the court at London, where Spenser presented part of his allegorical poem, the "Faerie Queene", to Elizabeth I.

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. Boyle subsequently prospered under kings James I and Charles I, such that following Raleigh's death, Raleigh family members approached Boyle for compensation on the basis that Raleigh had struck an improvident bargain.

The New World

Raleigh's plan in 1584 for colonization in the "Colony and Dominion of Virginia" (which included the present-day states of North Carolina and Virginia) in North America ended in failure at Roanoke Island, but paved the way for subsequent colonies.cite book |author=Markham, Jerry W. |title=A financial history of the United States |publisher=M.E. Sharpe |location=Armonk, N.Y |year=2001 |pages=22 |isbn=0-7656-0730-1 |oclc= |doi=] His voyages were funded primarily by himself and his friends, never providing the steady stream of revenue necessary to start and maintain a colony in America. (Subsequent colonization attempts in the early 17th century were made under the joint-stock Virginia Company which was able to pull together the capital necessary to create successful colonies.)

In 1587, Raleigh attempted a second expedition again establishing a settlement on Roanoke Island. This time, a more diversified group of settlers was sent, including some entire families, under the governance of John White. After a short while in America, White was recalled to England in order to find more supplies for the colony. He was unable to return the following year as planned, however, because the Queen had ordered that all vessels remain at port in case they were needed to fight the Spanish Armada. The threat of the Armada was only partially responsible for the 4 year delay of the second expedition. After England's victory over the Spanish fleet in 1588 the ships were given permission to sail. Unfortunately for the colonists at Roanoke the small fleet made an excursion towards Cuba in an attempt to capture as prizes the treasure-laden Spanish merchant ships that were reported to be proliferate in those waters at that time. White is said to have objected to this unplanned foray, but was helpless to dissuade the crews who'd been told of the enormous riches to be had by the experienced (he had previously piloted in the Americas in the service of the Spanish), Portuguese pilot hired by Raleigh to navigate the voyage.It was not until 1591 that the supply vessel arrived at the colony, 4 years later, only to find that all colonists had disappeared. The only clue to their fate was the word "CROATOAN" and letters "CRO" carved into separate tree trunks, suggesting the possibility that they were either massacred, absorbed or taken away by Croatans or perhaps another native tribe. Other speculation includes their being swept away or lost at sea during the stormy weather of 1588 (credited with aiding in the defeat of the Spanish Armada). However, it is worth noting that a hurricane prevented John White and the crew of the supply vessel from actually visiting Croatoan to investigate the disappearance, and no further attempts at contact were recorded for some years. Whatever the fate of the settlers, the settlement is now remembered as the "Lost Colony of Roanoke Island".

Later life

In December 1581, Raleigh came back to England from Ireland with despatches as his company had been disbanded. He took part in Court life and became a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I. The various colourful stories told about him at this period are unlikely to be literally true.Fragmenta Regalia.] Fuller's Worthys]

In 1584 he was knighted, and in 1585 was appointed warden of the stannaries, that is of the mines of Cornwall and Devon, Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall, and vice-admiral of the two counties. Both in 1585 and 1586 he sat in parliament as member for Devonshire.Ralegh, Sir Walter (1552?–1618), military and naval commander and author, by J. K. Laughton and Sidney Lee, Published 1896]

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, and as Lord Warden of the Stannaries of Devon and Cornwall. Raleigh was knighted in 1585." [ Raleigh] , Sir Walter", "Encyclopædia Britannica Online", 2006.] However, he had not been given any of the great offices of state. In the Armada year of 1588 he was employed as Vice Admiral of Devon, looking after the coastal defenses and military levies.

In 1591, Raleigh was secretly married to Elizabeth "Bess" Throckmorton (or Throgmorton). She was one of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting, eleven years his junior, and was pregnant at the time of their marriage. She gave birth to a son, believed to be named Damerei, who was given to a wet nurse at Durham House; the infant does not seem to have survived, and Bess resumed her duties. The following year, the unauthorized marriage was discovered and the Queen ordered Raleigh imprisoned and Bess dismissed from court. He was released from prison to divide the spoils from a captured Spanish ship, the "Madre de Dios" ("Mother of God").

It would be several years before Raleigh returned to favour. The couple remained devoted to each other. During Raleigh's absences, Bess proved a capable manager of the family's fortunes and reputation. They had two more sons, Walter (known as Wat) and Carew.

He was elected a burgess of Mitchell, Cornwall, in the parliament of 1593.cite web|url=|title=Ralegh, Sir Walter (1554–1618)|last=Nicholls|first=Mark|coauthors=Williams, Penry|date=September 2004|work=Oxford Dictionary of National Biography|publisher=Oxford University Press|accessdate=2008-05-20]

Raleigh retired to his estate at Sherborne where he built a new house, completed in 1594, known then as Sherborne Lodge but is now extended and 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, there was a heated discussion about religion which later gave rise to charges of atheism against Raleigh. He was elected to Parliament, speaking on religious and naval matters.

In 1594, he came into possession of a Spanish account of a great golden city at the headwaters of the Caroní River, and a year later he explored what is now eastern Venezuela in search of Manoa, the legendary city in question. Once back in England, he published "The Discovery of Guiana" [Sir Walter Raleigh. [ "The Discovery of Guiana".] Project Gutenberg.] 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. Although Venezuela has gold deposits, there is no evidence Raleigh found any mines. He is sometimes said to have discovered Angel Falls, but these claims are considered "far-fetched." [ [ "Walter Raleigh -- Delusions of Guiana."] at "The Lost World: Travel and information on the Gran Sabana, Canaima National Park, Venezuela" web page. Retrieved 5 July 2008.]

Raleigh took part in the capture of Cádiz in 1596, where he was wounded. He also participated in a voyage to the Azores in 1597.

In 1597, he was chosen member of parliament for Dorset, and, in 1601, for Cornwall. He was unique in the Elizabethan period in sitting for three counties.

From 1600 to 1603, Raleigh was the Governor of the Channel Island of Jersey, and he was responsible for modernizing the defences of the island. He named the new fortress protecting the approaches to Saint Helier "Fort Isabella Bellissima", or Elizabeth Castle.

Though royal favour with Queen Elizabeth I had been restored by this time, it did not last. Elizabeth died in 1603, and Raleigh was imprisoned in the Tower of London on 19 July. Later that year, on 17 November, Raleigh was tried in the converted Great Hall of Winchester Castle for treason due to his supposed involvement in the Main Plot against King James. Raleigh conducted his defence with great skill, which may, in part, explain why King James spared his life, despite the guilty verdict. He was left to languish in the Tower of London until 1616. While imprisoned, he wrote many treatises and the first volume of "The Historie of the World", about the ancient history of Greece and Rome. His son Carew was conceived and born while Raleigh was legally "dead" and imprisoned in the Tower of London (1604).

In 1616, Sir Walter was released from the Tower of London in order to conduct a second expedition to Venezuela in search of El Dorado. In the course of the expedition, Raleigh's men, under the command of Lawrence Keymis, sacked the Spanish outpost of Santo Thomé de Guayana (San Thomé) on the Orinoco. During the initial attack on the settlement, Raleigh's son Walter was struck by a bullet and killed. On Raleigh's return to England, the outraged Diego Sarmiento de Acuña, the Spanish ambassador, demanded that King James reinstate Raleigh's death sentence. The ambassador's demand was granted.


Raleigh was beheaded at Whitehall on 29 October 1618. "Let us dispatch", he asked 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 behead him, he mused: "This is a sharp Medicine, but it is a Physician for all diseases and miseries". According to many biographers — Raleigh Trevelyan in his book "Sir Walter Raleigh" (2003) for instance — Sir Walter's final words (as he lay ready for the axe to fall) were: "Strike, man, strike!"

The corpse was to be buried in the local church in Beddington, Surrey, the home of Lady Raleigh. "The Lords", she wrote, "have given me his dead body, though they have denied me his life. God hold me in my wits". [Durant, Will, "The Story of Civilization"vol. VII, Chap. VI, p.158] After Raleigh's execution, his head was embalmed and presented to his wife. She died twenty-nine years later and it was returned to Raleigh's tomb at St. Margaret's, Westminster [Lloyd, J & Mitchinson, J: "The Book of General I.] Raleigh's body was finally laid to rest in St. Margaret's Church, where his tomb may still be visited today. [ Williams, Norman Lloyd. "Sir Walter Raleigh", Cassell Biographies, 1962)]

Although his popularity had waned considerably since his Elizabethan heyday, his execution was seen by many, both at the time and since, as unnecessary and unjust. It has been suggested that any involvement in the Main Plot appears to have been limited to a meeting with Lord Cobham.Fact|date=February 2007 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 Sir Walter Raleigh." [ [ Historical summary] in "Crawford v. Washington" (page 10 of .pdf file)]


Raleigh is generally considered one of the foremost poets of the Elizabethan era. His poetry is generally 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. 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. However, his lesser-known long poem "The Ocean to Cynthia" combines this vein with the more elaborate conceits associated with his contemporaries Spenser and Donne, while achieving a power and originality that justifies Lewis' assessment, and contradicts it by expressing a melancholy sense of history reminiscent of "The Tempest" and all the more effective for being the product of personal experience. Raleigh is also Marlovian in terms of the terse line, e.g. "She sleeps thy death that erst thy danger sighed". A minor poem of Raleigh's captures the atmosphere of the court at the time of Queen Elizabeth I, when he wrote a reply to Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love". Raleigh's response was "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd". Both of these poems were most probably written in the mid 1580s.

Raleigh in culture

*In the 1948 short, "Fiddlers Three", starring The 3 Stooges, Shemp references Raleigh's final words by saying "It's sharp medicine, but a sure cure for all diseases" about the axe that is being sharpened in preparation for their execution.
*The 1955 film, "The Virgin Queen", starring Bette Davis, Richard Todd, and Joan Collins, dramatizes the relationships between Queen Elizabeth I, Raleigh, and his wife.
* The 1963 historical novel "The Grove of Eagles" by Winston Graham is told from the point of view of a younger Devon man who admires Raleigh, accompanies him on his 1596 expedition to Cadiz, but eventually abandons him due to loving an opportunistic woman who correctly senses that Raleigh's fortunes are sinking.
* In the Beatles song "I'm So Tired", from the band's 1968 "White Album", John Lennon invokes Scouse slang to attack Raleigh's role in popularising tobacco: "Although I'm so tired, I'll have another cigarette / And curse Sir Walter Raleigh, he was such a stupid git!"
* A quotation from Walter Raleigh serves as the motto of Nevile Shute's 1927 novel "So Disdained", and is also the source of its name.
*Sir Walter Raleigh appears as a secondary character (bass) in Benjamin Britten's 1953 opera "Gloriana".
*Raleigh, North Carolina, takes its name from Sir Walter. The Hayes Barton neighborhood takes its name from his birthplace. There are other cities and towns in the New World named "Raleigh", and a misspelling of it in Rolla, Missouri. In the namesake city, Raleigh, North Carolina, there is also a neighborhood called Budleigh.
*Raleigh County in southern West Virginia is named for Sir Walter Raleigh.
*There is a noted brand of American pipe tobacco called "Sir Walter Raleigh".
*Raleigh is mentioned in "Gyasi Went Home", a single by Canadian rock/reggae band Bedouin Soundclash from the album "Sounding a Mosaic".
*Sir Walter Raleigh's fictional autobiography is the subject of Robert Nye's novel "The Voyage of the Destiny".
*In February 2006, a bronze statue of Raleigh by sculptress Vivien Mallock was unveiled in the Devonshire village of East Budleigh. Costing some £30,000, it was a source of controversy as it had been part-funded by the British American Tobacco company.
*The title of his comedy "History of the World, Part I" by Mel Brooks is a reference to Raleigh having finished only the first volume of his "The Historie of the World" at the time he was executed.
*Raleigh plays an important part in Anthony Burgess's novel "A Dead Man in Deptford" in which he is suggested as one of the persons who might have been responsible for the murder of Christopher Marlowe.
*In the second series of the television program "Blackadder", in the episode "Potato", Raleigh is portrayed by Simon Jones.
*Raleigh is the subject of a chapter in William Carlos Williams' historicist essay titled In the American Grain (1925). Other chapters in the book are devoted to Hernán Cortéz, Juan Ponce de Leon, Hernando De Soto, Samuel de Champlain, and figures of American culture and politics.
*Raleigh's name is mentioned in the Brobdingnagian Bards song [ "If I Had a Million Ducats"] (a parody of "If I Had A Million Dollars" by Barenaked Ladies).
*In the 1996 film "The Rock", Sean Connery's character John Mason mentions Raleigh's name, along with Alcmene and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, as men who have been "wrongfully imprisoned", thus suggesting that his fate is very much like theirs.
*A chapter from V. S. Naipaul`s book, "A Way in the World", includes a literary account of Raleigh's San Thome adventure, partly from the perspective of a mestizo servant captured during the raid on the Spanish settlement.
*Raleigh's relationship with Bess Throckmorton and Elizabeth I is portrayed in the 2007 film, "" starring Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth I, which is a sequel to "Elizabeth" (1998). Clive Owen stars as Raleigh.
*In the musical "Mack & Mabel" (1974), Sir Walter Raleigh is used as a comparison to the character Mack Sennett by Mabel Normand in the reprise of "I Won't Send Roses;" music and lyrics by Jerry Herman.
* George Garrett wrote a novel about Raleigh: "Death of the Fox"
* In Sid Meier's video game "Colonization" Raleigh leads the English expedition to the New World (if the player doesn't change the name)
*A painting of Sir Walter Raleigh as a young boy hangs in the bedroom of Saleem Sinai, protagonist of Salman Rushdie's "Midnight's Children".

Notes and references


*Adamson, J.H. and H.F. Folland, "Shepherd of the Ocean", 1969.
* Fuller, Thomas. "Angolorum Speculum or the Worthies of England", 1684.
* Lewis, C.S. "English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama," 2004.
* Naunton, Robert. "Fragmenta Regali" 1694, reprinted 1824.
* Nicholls, Mark and Penry Williams, ‘Ralegh, Sir Walter (1554–1618)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
*William Stebbing, M.A.: "Sir Walter Ralegh." Oxford, 1899 [ Project Gutenberg eText]
* Trevelyan, Raleigh. "Sir Walter Raleigh", 2003.
* Ronald, Susan. "The Pirate Queen: Queen Elizabeth I, her Pirate Adventurers, and the Dawn of Empire." Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 2007. ISBN 0-06-082066-7.
* The Sir Walter Raleigh Collection in Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

External links

* [ Sir Walter Raleigh Lodge, R.A.O.B.]
* [ Sir Walter Raleigh's Grave]
* [ Biography of Sir Walter Raleigh at]
* [ Sir Walter Raleigh at the Fort Raleigh website]
* [ Quotes attributed to Sir Walter Raleigh]
* [ Poetry by Sir Walter Raleigh, plus commentary]
* [ Searching for the Lost Colony Blog]
* [ Robert Viking O'Brien & Stephen Kent O'Brien, "Discovery of Guiana" essay, "Yearbook of Comparative and General Literature"]
first=Patrick Fraser
author-link=Patrick Fraser Tytler
title=Life of Sir Walter Raleigh, Founded on Authentic and Original Documents
publisher=T. Nelson and Sons

Texts by Raleigh

*gutenberg author| id=Raleigh,+Walter,+Sir | name=Walter Raleigh
** [ Project Gutenberg edition of "The Discovery of Guiana"]
* [ "Worldly Wisdom" from "The Historie of the World"]

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