According to Paul Hyland: "Walter Raleigh senior was a squire with a few ships, a farm called Hayes Barton and two sons, George and John, to help him run his sheep on the ewe-lease and administer his cargoes." (1) As Raleigh's biographer, Mark Nicholls, points out that "the Raleighs were an old-established county family, recently traced with some caution back to the middle of the thirteenth century." (2)
Raleigh's father had inherited several properties which he had leased out. He also enjoyed considerable local power and when his two sons from his first marriage were arrested for piracy he had little difficulty in obtaining their freedom: "The sense of easy complaisance with conspiracy against the law... the power of family and its associations... was an unusual environment for an impressionable young boy." (3)
The Raleigh family was Protestant, and in May 1549, Walter Raleigh senior was badly beaten after a local woman denounced him for making "unseemly speeches concerning religion". (4) He was held prisoner in the local church before the Catholic rebellion was put down. (5) Walter Raleigh apparently moderated his views because he became deputy vice-admiral in the south-west under Queen Mary from 1555 to 1558. (6)
Little is known about Walter Raleigh's early life. He attended Oriel College but left Oxford University without taking a degree. His mother's elder sister, Katherine Ashley, was an intimate companion of Queen Elizabeth until her death in July 1565. Anna Whitelock has speculated that Ashley might have introduced Raleigh to the Royal Court. (7)
According to his own account in History of the World (1614) he served served as a volunteer in France with the Huguenot armies during the wars of religion and took part in the battle of Moncontour, in October, 1569. It appears that he returned to England after the peace of Saint-Germain-en-Laye was concluded in 1570. (8)
Walter Ray leigh published his first poem in 1576. During this period he met important figures such as Sir Francis Walsingham and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. In June 1578, his half-brother, Humphrey Gilbert, secured a patent to discover "remote, heathen and barbarous lands… not actually possessed of any Christian prince". Raleigh sailed in Gilbert's fleet as captain of the Falcon, a ship of 100 tons. Several of the ships did not return but Raleigh sailed into the Atlantic, in a vain search for plunder and adventure. Raleigh eventually returned to Plymouth in May 1579.
The records show that Raleigh got involved in many disputes. For example, he had a tennis-court quarrel with Philip Sidney in August 1579. The following year he was sent to Fleet Prison after a fight with Sir Thomas Perrot. In March 1580 he was in Marshalsea Prison after being involved in another brawl. On his release he agreed to serve in Ireland and took part in the bombardment of Smerwick where a force of Italian and Spanish adventurers had landed in support of the rebels. "After four days the besieged garrison sought mercy, surrendered, were disarmed, and then methodically slaughtered, Raleigh overseeing the butchery". (9)
Walter Raleigh arrived back in London in December 1580 and a few months later met Queen Elizabeth. According to Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall he first encountered her in the streets of the city. "One day Elizabeth was passing along the streets, and the people as usual came crowding to see her. Among them was Sir Walter Raleigh. The Queen stepped from her coach and, followed by her ladies, was about to cross the road. But in those days the streets were very badly kept, and Elizabeth stopped before a puddle of mud. She was grandly dressed, and how to cross the muddy road, without soiling her dainty shoes and skirts, she did not know. As she paused Sir Walter sprang forward. He, too, was finely dressed and he was wearing a beautiful new cloak. This he quickly pulled off and, bowing low, threw upon the ground before the Queen. Elizabeth was very pleased, and, as she passed on, she smiled at the handsome young man who had ruined his beautiful cloak to save her dainty shoes, and ordered him to attend her at court." (10)
This story first appeared in a book written by Thomas Fuller that was published in 1663. (11) It is now considered by historians to be an inaccurate account of their first meeting. The evidence suggests that they met as a result of Raleigh providing her with secret documents he had discovered in Ireland. Raleigh Trevelyan, the author of Sir Walter Raleigh (2002), argues: "The cloak episode, said to have happened at Greenwich and usually regarded as a fairy story, could easily have been true, being perfectly in keeping with Raleigh's character - an extravagant gamble on his part... The story is found in Fuller's Worthies, and it has to be admitted that no other contemporary comment has been found on such a fascinating piece of gossip." (12)
Anna Whitelock, the author of Elizabeth's Bedfellows: An Intimate History of the Queen's Court (2013) has pointed out: "Raleigh, then around thirty years of age... was strikingly attractive, six foot tall with a trimmed beard and piercing blue eyes and a love of extravagant clothes, jewels and pearls. His boldness, blatant ambition, vanity, and self-confidence all greatly appealed to the Queen... In 1583, Elizabeth granted him one of her favourite palaces, the handsome London dwelling Durham Place on the Strand.. Raleigh wooed her with poetry and they spent increasing amounts of time together, talking, playing cards and riding out. He was frequently in the Privy Chamber by day and night, and would often be at the door of the bedchamber, waiting for Elizabeth to emerge in the morning." (13)
In April 1584, Raleigh informed Thomas Egerton, the solicitor-general, that: "It hath pleased her Majesty to bestow the leases of Scotney and Newland, lately granted unto her from All Souls College in Oxford, upon me." (14) Raleigh was short of money and immediately sold the leases. Scotney, for example, was worth over £100 annually. It is claimed that he needed the cashflow to maintain the impression of status and wealth he had not yet achieved. (15)
In May 1583 Raleigh received a patent for the sale of wine and the licensing of vintners. (16) This meant that anyone who wished to sell wine had to pay Raleigh an annual fee of £1 for the right to do so. Raleigh promptly sublet it to a man named Richard Browne for £700 a year. This significantly undervalued the grant since within a few years Browne was contriving to extract some £1,100 a year. (17)
The following year the traveller Leopold von Wedel, recounting a visit to the English court, offered further insight into the relationship. Chatting with her courtiers, Queen Elizabeth pointed "with her finger at his face, that there was smut (dirt) on it, and was going to wipe it off with her handkerchief; but before she could he wiped it off himself". Von Wedel commented that his reaction suggested that Raleigh enjoyed an intimate relationship with the Queen. (18)
In 1584 Walter Raleigh obtained a patent for the formation of an American colony. (19) Raleigh sought practical advice from Thomas Harriot, the mathematician and astronomer, and Richard Hakluyt, a lecturer in geography at Christ College. In 1585 Raleigh sent out an expedition of four ships and two pinnaces, with 600 men, under Sir Richard Grenvill. Although Raleigh himself never went to Virginia, he was the mastermind behind this expedition. (20)
A settlement was established on Roanoke Island. Grenville returned to England to obtain supplies for the colonists. During this period the colonists relied heavily upon a local Algonquian tribe. However, after a raid led by Ralph Lane, this food source came to an end. This created serious problems for the colonists and many died from starvation. (21)
Sir Francis Drake arrived at Roanoke on 9th June 1586. According to John Sugden, the author of Sir Francis Drake (1990) he discovered that there were only 105 colonists left alive: "Lane's men were largely soldiers, not artisans and farmers. They were interested in exploring, but lacked the skills and knowledge to form a sustainable community, and to provide for themselves they badgered the natives for food... Understandably, the Indians had begun to resent the colonists." Drake agreed to take the colonists back to England. (22)
Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, became very jealous of Queen Elizabeth's relationship with Walter Raleigh. Robert Lacey has argued that Dudley could not "hope to compete with Raleigh on his own terms, and so he brought to Court his stepson Robert, whose youth and good looks could jostle with the attractions of other young rivals". (23)
Elizabeth was greatly impressed with Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex. It has been claimed that "captivated within a few weeks by his gaiety, wit and high spirits, she became besotted with him" and "they were soon inseparable". One of his servants recorded that "nobody near her but my Lord of Essex, and at night my Lord is at cards or one game or another with her, that he cometh not to his own lodging till the birds sing in the morning." (24)
The Queen, who was now in her early fifties, demanded his constant attendance and "would dance with no one else" and insisted he went hunting with her. "Elizabeth's dislike of retiring to bed before dawn exhausted her entourage, but the young earl tirelessly kept her company. After an evening at the theatre they would return to the palace and play interminable hands of cards." (25)
In July 1587, Elizabeth and Essex were visiting North Hall, the home of Ambrose Dudley, the 3rd Earl of Warwick. Just before they arrived they had an argument about his sister, Dorothy. Essex accused Elizabeth of acting to disgrace him and his family honour "only to please that knave Raleigh". He then went on to pour out his pent-up jealously of Raleigh. Elizabeth responded by complaining about the behaviour of his mother, Lettice Knollys Devereux. (26)
That night he wrote to a friend about the incident: "It seemed she (Elizabeth) could not well endure anything to be spoken against him (Walter Raleigh)... She said there was no such cause why I should disdain him. This speech troubled me so much... I did let her see whether I had cause to disdain his competition of love, or whether I could have comfort to give myself over to the service of a mistress that was in awe of such a man... In the end I saw she was resolved to defend him, and to cross me. For myself, I told her, I had no joy to be in any place but loath to be near about her when I knew my affection so much thrown down, and such a wretch as Raleigh highly esteemed of her." (27)
The following morning Essex decided to leave the Queen's service and travel to Europe. However, as he rode towards the port of Sandwich, he was overtaken by Robert Carey, one of Elizabeth's courtier's, with a message commanding him to return to court. Essex had been forgiven and on the death of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, in September, 1588, he was invited to move into his stepfather's lodgings in the palace. (28) Leicester's death triggered a fresh round of competition between Essex and Raleigh. At times the rivalry also came close to being fought out with swords. At Christmas 1588, Essex and Raleigh apparently came to the very brink of duelling at Richmond, only to be thwarted by the intervention of the queen and the privy council. (29)
In 1591 Robert Persons, a Catholic priest, published Responsio. Published first in Latin, over the next two years it went through eight editions in four languages. It included an attack on Raleigh's views on religion. "There is a flourishing and well known school of Atheism which Sir Walter Raleigh runs in his house, with a certain necromancer as teacher." It then went on to predict that some day an edict might appear in the Queen's name in which belief in God would be denied. (30)
According to Paul Hyland, Raleigh was the leader of "a collection of thinkers, tightly knit or loosely grouped, whose passion was to explore the world and the mind". The group included the geographers, Richard Hakluyt and Robert Hues, the astrologer, Thomas Harriot, the mathematician, Walter Warner, and the writers, Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Kyd, George Chapman and Matthew Roydon. The men would either meet at the homes of Raleigh, Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, and Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland. (31)
t has been claimed that these men were atheists. In reality they were sceptics (someone who doubts the authenticity of accepted beliefs). For example, at various times the Earl of Oxford was quoted as saying the Bible was "only... to hold men in obedience, and was man's device" and "that the blessed virgin made a fault... and that Joseph was a wittol (cuckold). Oxford did not believe in heaven and hell and declared "that after this life we should be as we had never been and the rest was devised but to make us afraid like babes and children of our shadows". (32)
John Aubrey later wrote about Thomas Allen, a astrologer and mathematician, and one of the men accused of being in Rayleigh's atheist circle: "In those dark times, astrologer, mathematician and conjuror were accounted the same things, and the vulgar did verily believe him to be a conjuror. He had a great many mathematical instruments and glasses in his chamber, which did also confirm the ignorant in their opinion." (33)
Another member of the group was Christopher Marlowe. It has been argued that while at university Marlowe developed an interest in atheism. Marlowe wrote that "the first beginning of Religion was only to keep men in awe" and his advice "not to be afraid of bugbears and goblins" came from his reading of "Ovid, Lucretius, Polybius and Livy". (34) In one of his plays, Jew of Malta, Marlowe wrote: "I count religion but a childish toy". (35)
Richard Baines, a government spy, later reported that Christopher Marlowe was definitely an atheist. He claimed that he definitely heard Marlowe say that "Christ was a bastard and his mother dishonest". He also said that Marlowe once remarked that "if he were put to write a new religion, he would undertake both a more excellent and admirable method". Finally, he stated that Jesus Christ was a homosexual and "St John the Evangelist was bedfellow to Christ... and that he used him as the sinners of Sodoma". (36)
Another witness, Richard Cholmeley, who had been working as a spy for Robert Cecil, claimed that Christopher Marlowe "is able to show more sound reasons for atheism than any divine in England is able to give to prove divinity, and that Marlowe told him, he hath read the atheist lecture to Sir Walter Raleigh and others". (37) It is also possible that he was also spying on Raleigh's group. (38)
It has been argued that Raleigh was "prone to expressions of rational scepticism, a potentially dangerous trait given the company he sometimes kept and his inclination towards discussion and debate". He was also known to be in contact with other freethinkers such as Marlowe, Harriot and Hakluyt but Robert Persons was unable to provide any hard evidence against Raleigh. (39)
Mathew Lyons, the author of The Favourite: Raleigh and His Queen (2011) has suggested: "Raleigh was not an atheist as we understand the term: his was a muscular unadorned faith, intense in its privacy and unbreachable in its force... His kind of atheism was, in fact, viewed with perhaps even more distrust and disgust by the Protestant establishment than recusancy, and their horror of such indifference was shared across the religious divide." (40)
In March 1593, Rayleigh, upset Queen Elizabeth and her Privy Council, by making a speech in the House of Commons against proposed legislation to enforce religious conformity, aimed at both Catholic and Puritan dissenters. "He (Rayleigh) denounced the bill as inquisitorial, an invasion into realms of private opinion and belief that neither could, nor should, be policed." As Charles Nicholl pointed out, his opponents said he was "arguing against religious enforcement in order to protect his own illicit belief: atheism. His plea for tolerance becomes a weapon to use against him, an instance of his own non-conformity." (41)
On 20th May 1593, Christopher Marlowe was arrested and charged with blasphemy and treason. His friend, Thomas Kyd, was also taken into custody and after being tortured he made a confession where he claimed that "it was his (Marlowe) custom… to jest at the devine scriptures and strive in argument to frustrate and confute what hath been spoken or written by prophets and such holy men". He also suggested that Marlowe had said that those who did not love tobacco and boys were fools and talked about Jesus Christ and St. John as bedfellows. (42)
Marlowe was allowed bail, on condition that he report daily to the Star Chamber. On the 30th May, 1593, Marlowe was drinking in a tavern in Deptford with Ingram Frizer, Nicholas Skeres and Robert Poley. During an argument Frizer stabbed Marlowe above the eyeball. Marlowe died soon afterwards. (43) It was later claimed that Frizer, Skeres and Poley were all government agents. (44) Poley had worked for Sir Francis Walsingham and was a key figure in uncovering the Babington Plot. (45) As well as being spies, Frizer and Skeres, were both involved in money-lending swindles. (46)
On 1st July 1593 Frizer was found not guilty of murder for reasons of self defence and Queen Elizabeth later granted him a formal pardon. Paul Hyland, the author of Raleigh's Last Journey (2003), has suggested that Marlowe was murdered because he was suspected of being about to provide evidence against Walter Raleigh: "Marlowe had had a choice that fatal day at Deptford: to betray Raleigh or be gagged for good. Several gentleman slept more easily once he was dead." (47)
Raleigh's main rival for the Queen's affection, Sir Christopher Hatton, died in 1591. Raleigh now succeeded Hatton as captain of the guard. However, unknown to the Queen, Raleigh had become romantically involved with Elizabeth Throckmorton, her Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber.
Queen Elizabeth, who strongly disapproved of her maids-of-honour falling in love. William Stebbing was later to write, in Elizabeth's view "love-making, except to herself, was so criminal at Court that it had to be done by stealth". Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, had both discovered this. It was never any use asking her permission to marry, especially if it were to be to a maid-of-honour, because refusal would be a foregone conclusion. "By and large for Elizabeth the women would be the worst sinners in these clandestine marriages, and usually would be banned from Court forever afterwards." (48)
According to Paul Hyland, Elizabeth (Bess) was "a tall, unusual beauty with her long face, luminous eyes, strong nose and provocatively modest lips." (49) However, Robert Lacey disagrees and claims that she was the "most ugly of Elizabeth's maids of honour." (50)
In July 1591, Bess discovered she was pregnant and begged Raleigh to marry her. He agreed but feared what would happen when Queen Elizabeth discovered the news. They married in secret on 19th November. Meanwhile she remained in the Queen's service, disguising her growing belly as best she could. In the final month of pregnancy, Bess left court and went to live with her brother in Mile End. She had remained at court until the very last moment knowing that if she could be away for less than a fortnight, she would not need a licence to authorise her absence. (51)
On 29th March, 1593, Bess gave birth to a son, Damerei. Soon afterwards she was back in the Queen's service as if nothing had happened. She realised that she was in serious danger as it was strictly forbidden for ladies-in-waiting to marry without the Queen's consent. (52)
Rumours soon began to circulate about Bess's relationship with Raleigh. Robert Cecil, the twenty-seven-year-old son of William Cecil, decided to investigate. In an interview with Cecil he denied any romantic relationship with Bess: "I beseech you to suppress what you can any such malicious report. For I protest before God, there is none on the face of the earth that I would be fastened unto." (53)
Cecil took evidence to Queen Elizabeth in May, 1593, that Bess had given birth to Raleigh's child. Both were arrested and on 7th August they were imprisoned in the Tower of London. In an attempt to win back her affection, Raleigh sent the Queen some love poems he had written. He described her as "walking like Venus, the gentle wind blowing her fair hair about her pure cheeks like a nymph." (54) As one historian pointed out: "Elizabeth was irritated rather than pacified by these gestures, smacking as they did of implicit defiance and a wholesale lack of remorse." (55)
In September, 1593, some of Raleigh's fleet arrived back in England after capturing the Portuguese ship, Madre de Dios, that was carrying a great deal of treasure that amounted to £34,000. (56) Raleigh was released at the request of Sir John Hawkins and sent to Dartmouth where he was only allowed to keep only £2,000 of the money. On 22nd December, Elizabeth Throckmorton, was also allowed to leave the Tower, only to discover that her son, Damerei, had died of the plague, while she had been imprisoned. (57)
On 1st November 1593 the couple's second child, Walter was baptized at Lillington, Dorset, near the foundations of a fine new house Raleigh was beginning to build close by the old castle at Sherborne. Raleigh was elected to the House of Commons. Over the next couple of years he warned fellow MPs of the dangers posed by Spain, demanding pre-emptive action and increased spending on the navy. (58)
Raleigh gradually rebuilt his relationship with Queen Elizabeth. Mathew Lyons, the author of The Favourite: Raleigh and His Queen (2011) has attempted to explain the reasons for this: "When Raleigh married there would be pain for both of them, but in these years when their relationship was at its zenith, there is a steady and enduring sense of comfort and ease between them, a care that transcended the fraught and difficult use to which they were sometimes compelled to put each other. I think we can call that love." (59)
Raleigh argued that the power of Spain was founded on its American silver and gold. As Mark Nicholls points out: "A project to establish England's own source of wealth in the New World grew alongside his schemes to create a colonial empire on the north coast of South America. His dreams about the treasures of lost cities combined with an appreciation of Spain's present military weakness, sharpened by Spanish travellers' tales, and by the adventures of the governor of Trinidad, Antonio de Berrio, who had repeatedly travelled through the interior of Guiana in search of gold." (60)
On 6th February, 1595, Raleigh sailed from Plymouth with four ships in an attempt to build up an English Empire in the Americas. The Spanish colony on the island of Trinidad was overwhelmed, amid considerable brutality. Antonio de Berrio was captured and interrogated and with this information he made an eventful voyage up the Orinoco River in Venezuela. (61) Like the Spaniards before him, Raleigh was beguiled all the way by tales of fantastic cities and wealth in the interior, but eventually returned to the coast empty-handed.
Raleigh's old enemy, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, reported to Queen Elizabeth, William Cecil and Robert Cecil, that Spain was developing plans to invade England. However, after a minor Spanish raid on Cornwall late in July encouraged unanimous support for a pre-emptive strike against Spain. This decision was finalised when in April 1596, the Spanish army marched on Calais. After taking the town it laid siege to the garrison. Spain now had a foothold just across the Channel. (62)
Raleigh's maritime knowledge was now needed and he was brought into the operation. On 3rd June 1596 the English fleet set sail for Cadiz, a major port on the Andalusian coast some forty miles from Seville. Three weeks later the fleet rounded the cape into the Bay of Biscay and began demolishing the Spanish navy. Essex led the troops ashore and stormed Cadiz and plundered the city's vast riches. (63)
Raleigh was sailing in the rearguard, patrolling the coast to surprise enemy shipping, but he was present for the main assault. In a letter he provided a vivid narrative of the action. He was wounded in the fighting, receiving "a grievous blow in my leg". (64) According to Edgar Samuel: "This day's action was the most complete and dramatic English victory of the war against Spain. However, Essex failed to convince the lord admiral that Cadiz should be held in defiance of the queen's instructions. The vast riches which were plundered from the city also made many officers anxious to return home. With great reluctance Essex agreed that Cadiz should be burned and abandoned." (65)
Queen Elizabeth was pleased with the role played by Walter Raleigh and he was now allowed back to court. (66) He now joined forces with William Cecil and Robert Cecil to plot against Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex. On 7th February, 1601, Essex was visited by a delegation from the Privy Council and was accused of holding unlawful assemblies and fortifying his house. (67) Fearing arrest and execution he placed the delegation under armed guard in his library and the following day set off with a group of two hundred well-armed friends and followers, entered the city. Essex urged the people of London to join with him against the forces that threatened the Queen and the country. This included Walter Raleigh. He claimed that his enemies were going to murder him and the "crown of England" was going to be sold to Spain. (68)
Walter Raleigh attempted to negotiate with rebel kinsman Sir Ferdinando Gorges on boats in the middle of the Thames, "counselling common sense, discretion, and reliance on the queen's clemency". Gorges refused, honouring his commitment to Essex and warning Raleigh of bloody times ahead. While they talked, Essex's stepfather, Sir Christopher Blount aimed four bullets at Raleigh from Essex House, but the optimistic shots missed their target. Recognizing the futility of negotiation, Raleigh hurried to court and mobilized the guard. (69)
At Ludgate Hill his band of men were met by a company of soldiers. As his followers scattered, several men were killed and Blount was seriously wounded. (70) Essex and about 50 men managed to escape but when he tried to return to Essex House he found it surrounded by the Queen's soldiers. Essex surrendered and was imprisoned in the Tower of London. (71)
On 19th February, 1601, Essex and some of his men were tried at Westminster Hall. He was accused of plotting to deprive the Queen of her crown and life as well as inciting Londoners to rebel. Essex protested that "he never wished harm to his sovereign". The coup, he claimed was merely intended to secure access for Essex to the Queen". He believed that if he was able to gain an audience with Elizabeth, and she heard his grievances, he would be restored to her favour. Essex was found guilty of treason and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. (72)
In the early hours of 25th February, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, attended by three priests, sixteen guards and the Lieutenant of the Tower, walked to his execution. In deference to his rank, the punishment was changed to being beheaded in private, on Tower Hill. (73) Essex was wearing doublet and breeches of black satin, covered by a black velvet gown; he also wore a black felt hat. (74)
William Camden points out that Raleigh attended the execution: "He (Raleigh) came to feed his eyes on a sight of the Earl's sufferings, and to satiate his hatred with his blood". Raleigh Trevelyan, the author of Sir Walter Raleigh (2002) claims that the story went around afterwards that Raleigh "gloated" over the execution from his window. Although it is true that his greatest rival for the Queen's affections had been removed, Trevelyan insisits that the story is "patently a malicious fable". (75)
Queen Elizabeth died on 24th March, 1603. The funeral took place a month later. On Thursday 28th April, a procession of more than a thousand people made its way from Whitehall to Westminster Abbey. "Led by bell-ringers and knight marshals, who cleared the way with their gold staves, the funeral cortege stretched for miles. First came 260 poor women... Then came the lower ranking servants of the royal household and the servants of the nobles and courtiers. Two of the Queen's horses, riderless and covered in black cloth, led the bearers of the hereditary standards... The focal point of the procession was the royal chariot carrying the Queen's hearse, draped in purple velvet and pulled by four horses... On top of the coffin was the life-size effigy of Elizabeth... Sir Walter Raleigh and the Royal Guard walking five abreast, brought up the rear, their halberds held downwards as a sign of sorrow." (76)
Henry Howard, youngest brother of Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, wrote to King James questioning the loyalty of Walter Raleigh. Howard described Raleigh as "an atheist, indiscreet, incompetent, hostile to the very idea of James's succession". It is believed that Howard wrote these letters on behalf of Robert Cecil, who saw Raleigh as a potential rival for the important post of chief government minister. (77)
Walter Raleigh was stripped of his monopolies and captaincy of the guard in May, and was given notice to quit Durham Place, Tobias Matthew, bishop of Durham, having successfully petitioned James for the return of his London home. On 15th July, Raleigh was detained for questioning in connection with a plot to put Arabella Stewart on the throne. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London and on 27th July he tried to stab himself to the heart using a table knife. (78)
Raleigh was tried in November 1603. As a result of an outbreak of plague in London it was decided to hold the trial in the Great Hall of Winchester Castle. (79) According to one source "when Raleigh was escorted from the Tower by a guard of fifty horse, it was touch and go whether he would make it out of the city alive, for the mob was determined to see the disdainful courtier dashed to the ground." (80)
The main evidence against him was the signed confession of Henry Brooke, 11th Baron of Cobham. However, Brooke, withdrew his accusations almost as soon as they were made. Raleigh argued: "Let my accuser come face to face, and be deposed". However, the jury was not told about this and Brooke was not allowed to testify and be cross-examined. (81)
Walter Raleigh was found guilty of treason and sentenced to be hung, drawn and dismembered. However, King James granted him a last-minute reprieve and was ordered to spend the rest of his life confined to the Tower of London. Raleigh was also stripped of all his titles. His letters reveal the depths of his depression and hopelessness during this period. Eventually, he decided to spend his time studying history and science. (82)
Elizabeth Raleigh took a house on Tower Hill and was allowed to make regular visits to see her husband. Their third son, Carew Raleigh, was born in February 1605. Although his health was poor he managed to find the energy to write The History of the World. Raleigh described the book as "the first part of the general history of the world". The first two sections are principally concerned with biblical history, the last three mainly with the story of Greece and Rome. Mark Nicholls has argued: "In the first two God's judgments are seen as the central determinants of events; in the latter three the role of man is more evident." (83)
Raleigh argued that no monarch is above the law of God, or can expect to evade justice. "Throughout history God has intervened to punish or reward the actions of rulers, either directly or on their descendants." (84) Raleigh claimed that the role of the historian was "to teach by example of times past, such wisdom as may guide our desires and actions". (85)
Raleigh Trevelyan has argued that Raleigh is regarded as one of the founders of modern historical writing. "His eye for human interest, his gift for characterization and his own personal observations, from a long and varied experience, make to book far easier to read than most of the prose works of his contemporaries." (86)
The completed manuscript contained about a million words and was licensed to be published in 1611. However, King James did not like the book as he considered it to be "too saucy in censuring princes" and had it suppressed. The agents of George Abbot, Archbishop of Canterbury, seized copies from the bookshops. This action guaranteeing enormous sales when it came out again two years later. "This book, and Raleigh's other prose works that touched in monarchy and good government, had a profound and catalytic influence on the critics of the Stuart dynasty and on the Parliamentarians who temporarily overthrew it." (87)
The book went through eleven editions in the 17th century, and outsold even Shakespeare's collected works. Oliver Cromwell and John Hampden recommended the book to fellow Puritans. John Milton admitted that he owed Raleigh a great debt and John Locke regarded it as ideal reading for "gentlemen desirous of improving their education". (88)
During his time in prison Raleigh began to outline plans for proposed voyages to the Americas. It has been pointed out that in a eight year period, over half of his letters dealt with this subject. Raleigh was released on 19th March 1616, and at once set about planning his expedition. The planning was, of course, extensive, and little he said or did comforted those at court who were determined on a lasting peace with Spain. He discussed with Sir Francis Bacon, attorney-general, the possibility of seizing Spanish ships carrying treasure. Bacon warned him against this action as it would be an act of piracy.
Historians have dismissed Raleigh's final voyage to the Orinoco River to try to find El Dorado as the hopeless pursuit of fantasy. However, Raleigh appeared certain that his trip would be a financial success. Raleigh's fleet sailed from Plymouth on 12th June 1617, but storms and adverse winds detained it off the southern coast of Ireland for nearly two months. Never comfortable at sea, Raleigh succumbed to fever, and was unable to face solid food for nearly a month. The fleet did not arrive in harbour, at the mouth of the Cayenne River, until 14th November. An expedition under Lawrence Keymis, with Raleigh's nephew George Raleigh in command of the land forces, sailed up the Orinoco in five ships on 10th December. (89)
Carrying provisions for one month, the three vessels that survived the shoals of the delta battled against strong currents and arrived at the settlement San Thomé on 2nd January 1618. Keymis attacked the Spanish outpost in violation of peace treaties with Spain. In the initial attack on the settlement, Raleigh's son, Walter, was fatally shot. Keymis, who broke to Sir Walter the news of his son's death, begged for forgiveness. "Raleigh, fully aware of the implications of these events, confronted him with the bitter statement that Keymis had ruined him by his actions, and refused to support the latter in his report to the English backers. Keymis left Raleigh's cabin, saying that he knew what action to take, and went back to his ship. Raleigh then heard a pistol shot, and sent his servant to enquire what was happening, to which Keymis, lying on his bed, replied that he was just discharging a previously loaded pistol. Half an hour later Keymis's boy entered the cabin and found him dead. The ball had only grazed a rib, and after Raleigh's servant had left he stabbed himself to the heart with a long knife." (90)
Raleigh planned another expedition to discover the El Dorado. He also considered plundering the Spanish treasure fleet. However, his men refused to follow him and the rest of his fleet sailed north leaving Raleigh in his own ship, The Destiny. With a rebellious crew he sailed towards Newfoundland, then across the Atlantic to Ireland. Several members of his crew deserted and Raleigh, with the remnant of his force, sailed on to Plymouth. On his return he wrote to his wife: ‘My brains are broken and tis a torment to me to write… as Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Hawkins died heart-broken when they failed of their enterprise, I could willingly die." (91)
Raleigh was placed under arrest by order of Charles Howard of Effingham soon after his landing and conveyed to London by his cousin Sir Lewis Stucley, vice-admiral of Devon and was imprisoned on his arrival on 10th August. Raleigh and the surviving members of his crew were interrogated. On 18th October the commissioners reported their findings to King James. As the evidence against Raleigh was not strong the King issued a warrant for executing the sentence of 1603. (92)
The night before the planned execution Bess was allowed to visit her husband. She told him that she had been given permission to take possession of his corpse and therefore avoiding the terrible tradition of cutting up his body and having it displayed in the city. Raleigh commented: "It is well, dear Bess, that thou may dispose of it dead that had not always the disposing of it when it was alive." (93)
Walter Raleigh was taken to be executed at Whitehall on 29th October 1618. He wore a crisp white ruff, a tawny coloured doublet, a black embroidered waistcoat under it, taffeta breeches, silk stockings, a black velvet gown and a fine pair of shoes. On his finger he had a ring with a diamond that had been given to him by Queen Elizabeth. (94)
Edward Coke, the attorney-general, made a speech about the justice of the punishment: "Sir Walter Raleigh hath been a statesman, and a man who in regard to his parts and quality is to be pitied. He hath been as a star at which the world hath gazed; but stars may fall, nay they must fall when they trouble the sphere in which they abide... You had an honourable trial, and so were justly convicted... You might think it heavy if this were done in cold blood, to call you to execution; but it is not so, for new offences have stirred up his Majesty's justice, to remember to revive what the law hath formerly cast upon you... I know you have been valiant and wise, and I doubt not but you retain both these virtues, for now you shall have occasion to use them. Your faith hath heretofore been questioned, but I am resolved you are a good Christian, for your book, which is an admirable work, cloth testify as much... Fear not death too much, nor fear death too little.... And here I must conclude with my prayers to God for it, and that he would have mercy on your soul." (95)
Walter Raleigh replied: "My honourable good Lords, and the rest of my good friends that come to see me die... As I said, I thank God heartily that he hath brought me into the light to die, and hath not suffered me to die in the dark prison of the Tower, where I have suffered so much adversity and a long sickness. And I thank God that my fever hath not taken me at this time, as I prayed God it might not. But this I say, for a man to call God to witness to a falsehood at any time is a grievous sin... But to call God to witness to a falsehood at the time of death is far more grievous and impious... I do therefore call God to witness, as I hope to see him in his kingdom, which I hope I shall within this quarter of this hour... I did never entertain any conspiracy, nor ever had any plot or intelligence with the French King, nor ever had any advice or practice with the French agent, neither did I ever see the French hand or seal, as some have reported I had a commission from him at sea." (96)
The executioner attempted to place a blindfold on Raleigh. He refused with the words: "Think you I fear the shadow of the axe, when I fear not the axe itself." Raleigh placed his head on the block. The executioner did not react and Raleigh shouted out: "What dost fear? Strike, man, strike!" The executioner took off his head with two blows of his axe. He lifted up the head and showed it on all sides, but could not bring himself to utter the conventional words: "This is the head of a traitor." (97)
Raleigh's head was placed into a red leather bag. The body was covered by his velvet cloak. Both were carried away in Lady Raleigh's mourning coach. (98) Bess wrote to her brother, Nicholas Throckmorton asking him to bury the body in Beddington: "I desire, good brother, that you will be pleased to let me bury the worthy body of my noble husband, Sir Walter Raleigh, in your church at Beddington, where I desire to be buried. The lords have given me his dead body, though they denied me his life. This night he shall be brought you with two or three of my men. Let me hear presently." (99)
However, Nicholas Throckmorton refused to accept the body and he was buried at St Margarets's Church in London. Lady Raleigh had her husband's head embalmed and preserved in its red bag. It was kept in a cupboard and displayed to visitors who revered his memory until her death twenty-nine years later. (100)
The reign of Queen Elizabeth was great, not only because she was a wise ruler, but because she was surrounded by so many wise, and great, and good men. One of these wise men, Sir William Cecil, afterwards called Lord Burleigh, was her secretary of state and her chief adviser during nearly all her reign, until he died in 1598 A.D.
There were so many great men in England at this time that you could not remember all their names, and to tell stories about them all would fill a whole book. In the reign of Elizabeth it is not only the men who were soldiers that we remember as great, but the men who wrote books, the men who sailed over the sea and discovered new countries, and the men who by careful thinking and wise acts kept peace at home.
Sir Walter Raleigh was one of the great men who lived at this time. He was a soldier and a sailor, a courtier, and a writer of books. But clever though he was, until the great Queen noticed him, he remained only a simple country gentleman.
One day Elizabeth was passing along the streets, and the people as usual came crowding to see her. Among them was Sir Walter Raleigh. The Queen stepped from her coach and, followed by her ladies, was about to cross the road. But in those days the streets were very badly kept, and Elizabeth stopped before a puddle of mud. She was grandly dressed, and how to cross the muddy road, without soiling her dainty shoes and skirts, she did not know. As she paused Sir Walter sprang forward. He, too, was finely dressed and he was wearing a beautiful new cloak. This he quickly pulled off and, bowing low, threw upon the ground before the Queen.
Elizabeth was very pleased, and, as she passed on, she smiled at the handsome young man who had ruined his beautiful cloak to save her dainty shoes, and ordered him to attend her at court. Raleigh's fortune was made. He went to court, and soon became so great a favorite that at one time he even thought that he might marry the Queen.
The cloak episode, said to have happened at Greenwich and usually regarded as a fairy story, could easily have been true, being perfectly in keeping with Raleigh's character - an extravagant gamble on his part... The story is found in Fuller's Worthies, and it has to be admitted that no other contemporary comment has been found on such a fascinating piece of gossip.
This captain Raleigh coming out of Ireland to the English Court in good habit (his clothes then being a considerable part of his estate) found the Queen walking, till, meeting with a plashy place, she seemed to scruple going thereon. Presently Raleigh cast and spread his new plush cloak on the ground, whereone the Queen trod gently, rewarding him afterwards with many suits, for his so free and seasonable tender of so fair a footcloth.
This dark, arrogant, brilliant man (Walter Raleigh), so versatile that Fuller did not know whether to catalogue him as "statesman, seaman, soldier, learned writer or what you will", had served in Ireland under Lord Grey de Wilton, and being sent over with dispatches, gained the attention of the Privy Council by explaining to them the incompetence of his senior officers. The opening he took was characteristic and so was its success. "He had gotten the ear of the Queen in a trice, who loved to hear his reasons to her demands." Elizabeth was struck by his virility, his charm and his acute intelligence; they formed the combination she found irresistible. In the esoteric circle of Royal nick-names, Raleigh was Water. Hatton, jealous as ever, sent the Queen by Heneage a gold bodkin and a gold charm made like a little bucket, with a letter saying he knew she would need the latter - Water was sure to be near her. The Queen tried to stick the bodkin in her hair but she was on horseback, so she gave the whole packet back to Heneage to hold for her till they came to a standstill. Then she sent Hatton a message, saying she had so well-bounded her banks, Water should never overflow them, and as he knew she was a shepherd, he might know how dear her Sheep was to her.
It was soon Raleigh's turn to be jealous, not, like Hatton, from wounded affection, but with the furious, egotistical jealousy of a greedy, ambitious man who finds another sharing his advantages. Leicester had seen that the engrossing attraction Elizabeth felt for the young man as a cavalier could not be weakened by himself or Hatton, beloved and valued as they were; but his stepson, the twenty-year-old Robert Devereux, who had been Earl of Essex since he was nine years old, would be a formidable rival to Raleigh. So it proved. Elizabeth, who had known him since he was a child, now found him presented to her as a courtier. The youth entirely charmed her. He was tall, powerful, with a stooping gait, a striding walk and carrying his head thrust forward. With his mother's auburn hair and black eyes he had inherited her vanity and her powerful egotism, but with these went the honesty that had been his father's. "He always carried on his brow either love or hatred and did not understand concealment"; he was "a great resenter", and though he was Leicester's protégé, he was "no good pupil to my Lord of Leicester, who was wont to put all his passion in his pocket".
Robert Devereux... first came to Court as part of another man's strategy of survival. His stepfather, the Earl of Leicester, was ageing fast, and his hold on the Queen was being disputed by younger, more agile men. Chief among the rival suitors was Walter Raleigh, a swarthy, arrogant warrior with a rough Devon accent who had first won the Queen's favour in 1582. Whether or not he had ever laid down his cloak to keep muddy water from his sovereign's feet is uncertain, but he had certainly gathered in the few years since he caught Elizabeth's fancy sufficient tokens of royal favour to finance a whole wardrobe of cloaks. Leicester could not hope to compete with Raleigh on his own terms, and so he brought to Court his stepson Robert, whose youth and good looks could jostle with the attractions of other young rivals and bring new vigour to the connection between Elizabeth and the Leicester faction.
He that will happily perform a fight at sea must believe that there is more belonging to a good man of war upon the waters than great daring, and must know there is a great deal of difference between fighting loose and grappling. To clap ships together without consideration belongs rather to a madman than to a ship of war; for by such an ignorant bravery was Peter Strozzi lost at the Azores when he fought against the Marquis of Santa Cruz. In like sort had the Lord Charles Howard, Admiral of England, been lost in the year 1588 if he had not been better advised than a great many malignant fools were who found fault with his behaviour.
Sir Walter Raleigh hath been a statesman, and a man who in regard to his parts and quality is to be pitied. He hath been as a star at which the world hath gazed; but stars may fall, nay they must fall when they trouble the sphere in which they abide...
Sir Walter Raleigh, you must remember yourself. You had an honourable trial, and so were justly convicted... You might think it heavy if this were done in cold blood, to call you to execution; but it is not so, for new offences have stirred up his Majesty's justice, to remember to revive what the law hath formerly cast upon you... I know you have been valiant and wise, and I doubt not but you retain both these virtues, for now you shall have occasion to use them. Your faith hath heretofore been questioned, but I am resolved you are a good Christian, for your book, which is an admirable work, cloth testify as much...
Fear not death too much, nor fear death too little... Not too much, lest you fail in your hopes; not too little, lest you die presumptuously. And here I must conclude with my prayers to God for it, and that he would have mercy on your soul. Execution is granted.
My honourable good Lords, and the rest of my good friends that come to see me die... As I said, I thank God heartily that he hath brought me into the light to die, and hath not suffered me to die in the dark prison of the Tower, where I have suffered so much adversity and a long sickness. And I thank God that my fever hath not taken me at this time, as I prayed God it might not.
But this I say, for a man to call God to witness to a falsehood at any time is a grievous sin... But to call God to witness to a falsehood at the time of death is far more grievous and impious... I do therefore call God to witness, as I hope to see him in his kingdom, which I hope I shall within this quarter of this hour... I did never entertain any conspiracy, nor ever had any plot or intelligence with the French King, nor ever had any advice or practice with the French agent, neither did I ever see the French hand or seal, as some have reported I had a commission from him at sea... Neither, as I have a soul to be saved, did I know of the French agent's coming till I saw him in my gallery unlooked for...