Sir Walter RALEIGH, Knight

Elizabethan Hero, Explorer and Pirate

Born: ABT 1552 / 1554, Hayes Barton, East Budleigh

Died: 29 Oct 1618

Buried: St. Margaret, Westminster, Middlesex, England

Father: Walter RALEIGH of Fardell

Mother: Catherine CHAMPERNOWNE

Married: Elizabeth THROCKMORTON 1591


1. Walter RALEIGH

2. Carew RALEIGH (Sir)

Associated with: Alice GOOLD



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Sir Walter Raleigh

Son of East Devon, was born probably in 1552 or 1554. The Raleighs were leading Protestants who used the new English Prayer Book.

During the last four years of Mary's reign no less than 288 persons were burnt at the stake for their adhesion to the Protestant faith. His father saw the Vicar of St Thomas's in Exeter hanged from his church tower and had visited Agnes Prest before she was burned to death in Exeter. Raleigh narrowly escaped being killed by taking refuge in a church tower.

"The boyhood of Raleigh"

by Millais 1870 Tate Gallery

Raleigh's father, Walter Raleigh of Fardell, had moved east from Fardell, on the edge of Dartmoor, upon his marriage to Joan Drake, a distant relative of the famous sailor, Sir Francis. Walter owned the manors of Collaton Raleigh and Wythecombe Raleigh. He leased Hayes Barton, a large house and estate nearby and set up as a gentleman farmer. From here he ran his growing business and the Raleighs soon owned the grazing rights on both Lympstone and Woodbury Commons. Joan died in 1530 and was buried in East Budleigh Church. Walter Sr. entered into a short-lived marriage to the daughter of a Genoese merchant, but was later joined with a third wife named Catherine Champernowne. Catherine had previously been married to Otto Gilbert of Compton Castle, and was the mother of John, Humphrey and Adrian Gilbert. Her brother was Vice-Admiral of Devon and her aunt, also Catherine, had became tutor for Princess Elizabeth. Catherine bore her new husband a daughter, Margaret, and two more sons: Carew and their youngest, Walter.

When Walter Raleigh Jr. was barely fifteen years old, he joined a troop of a hundred horse, raised by the Compte de Montgomerie whose daughter had married a relation of his mother's, James Champernowne. He was present when the Huguenots, under Admiral Coligny, were routed at Montentour. He saw their revenge when they murdered Catholics in their caves in Languedoc by smoking them out like bees in a hive. Later, Walter narrowly escaped the massacre of St Bartholomew's Day and.

Walter was then sent to Oriel College, Oxford with George Carew; and Charles Champernowne. He studied Aristotle and became proficient in oratory and philosophy. He soon tired of University discipline, however, and left for the Middle Temple in London to study law and debate current affairs. He lived in Islington, then a rural area with fine mansions, gardens and orchards.

The most influential figure in Walter's life was his half brother, Humphrey Gilbert. In Gilbert's study at Limehouse, he read Sir Humphrey's paper 'Queen Elizabeth's Academy', met John Dee, a mathematical genius, and first heard of the latter's vision of the founding of a Tudor Empire in North America, with Elizabeth as its Virginal Queen.

At this time, there was a deepening crisis between England and Spain. The Spanish Papal monopoly in the Americas had been thwarted by John Hawkins, who began the lucrative slave trade from Africa to the Caribbean. This led to the several battles of both Hawkins and Drake.

Young Raleigh was a member of the Middle Temple in 1575; in 1577 he signed himself 'Esq. de Curia' in a Middlesex register; in 1580 he fought two quarrels of his own. In the late 1570s Raleigh moved in the circles of the Catholic courtiers, a group which included, besides the three already mentioned, the Lords Windsor and Compton, the Lords Charles and Thomas Howard, George Gifford, Francis Southwell, Henry Noel, Arthur Gorges, William Tresham, and William Cornwallis, among others, most of them practising Roman Catholics, as well as others who came less often to Court, like the Earls of Northumberland and Southampton, Thomas Lord Paget, and Phillip Howard, the Duke of Norfolks son and heir.

In 1578, Sir Humphrey Gilbert received letters patent from the Queen to sail in search of remote heathen and barbarous lands and territories not possessed by any Christian princes. Gilbert's venture sought to mobilize younger sons of the gentry and landed-class Catholics to establish estates in the new world, and a handful of courtiers and nobles, notably the Queen's secretary Sir Francis Walsingham and the Earl of Sussex, along with a number of landed-class stockholders and the gentry who actually went to settle, provided most of the financial support for it. Raleigh captained the Falcon with Simon Fernandez as master. The Falcon was a tiny vessel less than seventy-five feet long, with a complement of gentlemen, soldiers and mariners, some seventy in all. Raleigh's cabin was on the poop deck in the stern, below was Fernandez with the charts and navigational instruments, below that was the cabin for the officers. At the forecastle were the quarters of the skilled mariners, the smith, the carpenter and the sail-maker. In the centre, dark and cramped, the deck painted blood red, were the rest of the practical crew. They slept on folded sails between the guns, in skin rotting damp. The less fortunate groaned with dysentery, typhus, beri beri or scurvy. The food was mere gruel, salt beef, flat beer and weevil infested biscuits from the hold; but it was ruthlessly controlled by the boson. Theft of food was a serious crime and the punishment was to nail the offender's hand to the mast and cut it off. The stump would be dipped in oil. In this less than luxurious transport, Raleigh eventually reached the Cape Verde Islands, after facing forty foot waves and storms that often blew the main mast level with the sea. Large numbers of the crew had died and the expedition was soon obliged to return to Plymouth. It was 1579 and, at the age of only twenty-four, Walter already found himself in deep trouble with the Privy Council. Gilbert and Raleigh were both forbidden to sail again.

Raleigh returned to London in 1580, and along with Sir Thomas Perrot, was called before the Council for an affray and sent to Fleet Prison to cool his heels for six days. He was subsequently sent to the Marshalsea Prison for a fight on a tennis court. Walter soon became embroiled with the Earl of Oxford. He later took part in negotiations with the Duc of Alencon, the brother of King Henri III of France, who wanted to married Queen Elizabeth, but was recalled to France.

Walter was then sent to Ireland as a captain commanding a hundred men. Sir Henry Sidney and Sir Humphrey Gilbert burnt villages and massacred the population. Even Raleigh, with his troops, systematically slaughtered three hundred Italian and Spanish mercenaries who had been sent to Ireland by the Pope and the King of Spain but surrendered to Arthur, Lord Grey of Wilton, his superior officer. Elsewhere, Walter conducted himself bravely, rescuing a comrade who fell from a horse during an ambush. Raleigh sought the comforts of home life and sexual pleasure with a local woman named Alice Goold who, in time, bore him a daughter. However, though he did not forget his clandestine family - Alice was left money in his will, even though she had already died of the plague in Kingston - Walter soon became bored with Ireland: commanding gaol birds and other miserable creatures. He wrote to Leicester and Walsingham hoping for an introduction at Court. Walter Raleigh, an up and coming young man, was ready to thrust himself to centre stage.

Raleigh was now aged twenty-eight, six foot tall, a good looking man with an air of authority. He is said to have retained his strong Devonshire accent during all his time at Court. In those days a regional accent was not such a disadvantage as it has been of late. The spelling used in those days was rather erratic and thus "Raleigh" is just one of the (over 40) ways in which his surname was written. He used numerous of these spellings, with "Rawleigh", "Ralegh" and "Rawley" being more often used than the currently accepted version. He is never known to have used the modern "Raleigh" spelling. Back in England, he quickly attracted the attention of the Queen, now forty-eight: Thomas Fuller wrote in 1663:

'Captain Raleigh, coming out of Ireland... cast and spread his cloak on the ground: whereupon the Queen trod gently'.

This, now famous, incident supposedly took place on the present site of the Queen's House at Greenwich Palace. The two became good friends, as shown when, soon afterward, Walter wrote this poem on a window pane:

'Fair would I climb, yet fear to fall'

Elizabeth completed the couplet:

'If they heart fails thee, climb not at all'

Raleigh was now fashioning himself as the perfect Elizabethan courtier. He could talk politics in his strong Devon tongue. Ambition and intellect was driving him into the company of the great and brilliant. Elizabeth was determined to keep such a man and he was to remain at court for the next ten years.

Raleigh became involved in important court affairs. There were more French negotiations when the Duc of Alencon was, this time, accepted by Queen Elizabeth in marriage, quickly refused again and forced to return to the Netherlands. Following this, Walter showed his rising influence when, as a favour to Lord Treasurer Burghley, he interceded on behalf of the latter's imprisoned nephew, the Earl of Oxford. Raleigh enjoyed court life and, when off duty, he enjoyed the pleasures offered by the Queen's maids of honour even more. He accompanied Elizabeth to Hampton Court, Nonsuch and Greenwich. By 1583, Elizabeth was inundating Walter with favours: ornaments like the two vases still held by All Souls College, Oxford; and property like Durham House, a Bishop's Palace near the Strand on the north bank of the Thames. He lived in great style: served silver plate featuring his coat of arms by thirty liverymen in gold chains.

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Sir Walter Raleigh

miniature by Nicholas Hilliard

Leicester was now back in favour, but he was jealous of Raleigh. He introduced his stepson, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, to Elizabeth as Walter's rival. Despite this, Raleigh continued to amass great wealth. He acquired the monopoly controlling cloth exports from London and, in 1584, a similar monopoly of wines. He also profited from privateering including booty from ships often valued at 10,000, an enormous sum in those days. A diarist from Pomerania, recording a dinner at Greenwich in 1584, noted that Queen Elizabeth, though surrounded by great noblemen, was said to love Walter Raleigh above all others. Raleigh was knighted the following year, for his plans to found a colony in the Americas which he had already called Virginia in honour of the Queen.

The aim of planting colonies in North America was an most ambitious project bequeathed to Raleigh by his half-brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert. Sir Humphrey had tried, in 1578 and again in 1580, to set up such colonies with the services of the Portuguese pilot, Simon Fernandez. Fernandez had crossed the Atlantic and returned three months later with valuable information about the New England Coast Line. Following this, Walter helped pay for a second expedition in 1583, when Sir Humphrey set sail in the Bark Raleigh. He reached Newfoundland, but perished aboard the Squirrel near the Azores on his return.

From Durham House, Walter planned a third expedition with John Dee and Thomas Harriot, one of the greatest mathematicians of the day. It sailed in May 1584 and arrived off Florida in Jul. They made a landing on Roanoke Island where they found a palisaded village. The land was a paradise and the inhabitants friendly and, after some weeks, they persuaded two of the natives to return with them to England. They arrived safely from 'Virginia' in the Sep following.

At Raleigh's request, Richard Hakluyt, a well-known Elizabethan historian, wrote the 'Discourse' portraying the Americas as a promised land of honey, venison, palm trees, wine, sassafras (a cure for venereal desease), gold and red copper. He insisted the Spanish genocidal policies were an outrage and that the Queen should give every assistance the Native Americans. Raleigh was much influenced by these ideas and decided to arrange another expedition. This time, however, he was to remain at home.

Raleigh was a hardworking servant of the Crown. He was elected a Member of Parliament for Devon; and was appointed as Vice Admiral of the West, Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall and Lord Warden of the Stanneries (the mining towns of Dartmoor). He served his Royal mistress well, she called him her 'Water'. Sir Walter was now identified with the anti-Spanish foreign policies of Leicester and Francis Walsingham. He was instrumental in uncovering the Babington Plot to put Mary, Queen of Scots, on the English throne. Babington and his conspirators were hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn and Raleigh was given his lands as a reward. However, the only property which Walter really desired was his old Devon family home of Hayes Barton. He tried to purchase it from the owner, Richard Duke, but failed. Perhaps as consilation, Walter was granted twelve thousand acres in Ireland and, later, forty-two thousand acres including the beautiful castles of Lismore (near Cork) and Waterford. Raleigh replaced the chimneys of his Youghal home, with some more like those at his birthplace, Hayes Barton.

In 1585 he was made Governor of Jersey. Although he was governor for three years he only visited the island for thirteen weeks. In that time he managed to persuaded Queen Elizabeth not to dismantle the old castle at Mont Orgueil, and he encouraged the islanders to continue to take part in the growing Newfoundland fisheries. While there, he built "Elizabeth Castle" on a rocky islet, in the 1590s. He was the first Governor to live in the newly built castle and even though it had just been completed he had an extension built in front of the decorated Queen Elizabeth Gate. This was to become known as Ralegh's Yard and the Iron Gate.

Raleigh owned a number of privateering vessels, two of which, in 1586, captured Sarmiento de Gamboa, the Commander of the Spanish campaign to destroy the Incas. In return for a ransom, Sir Walter arranged for the commander's restoration to Spain and proffered the suggestion that the Spaniard should accept him as a double agent. Raleigh had a relish for intrigue such as this and, though his offer was initially accepted, he handled the situation badly and was dropped by Spain when suspicions of his real loyalties were aroused. Now he turned his mind to plans for a settlement in America.

Sir Walter chose his cousin, Sir Richard Grenville, to head his second expedition to the New World. They sailed from Portsmouth on 9 Apr 1585 with five ships and two pinnaces. Grenville sailed in the Tiger with Simon Fernandez as the pilot. Phillip Amadas and Ralph Lane, from Lympstone (Devon), were fellow officers on board. There were initial difficulties when a pinnace sank in a storm off Portugal. However, though the fleet was scattered, it managed to collect again off Puerto Rico. They then sailed on past Hispaniola, the Bahamas and up the Florida Channel, where disaster struck. The Tiger grounded, spoiling valuable stores. Grenville and Lane were at Loggerheads. The former decided it was time for action and led a party inland. During this exploration, John White recorded a valuable insight into Native American life. Sunflowers and pumpkins flourished and so did tobacco which the natives smoked. It had been grown in England as early as 1565, but it was Raleigh who made it fashionable following this very expedition. Grenville soon returned and, armed with these details of local crops, he began to build a settlement on Roanoke Island. He established about a hundred men there before setting off back to England in the Tiger. On the return voyage, he boarded the Santa Maria, a Spanish Treasure Ship filled with gold, silver, pearls, sugar and spices. Grenville eventually met Sir Walter in Plymouth with half this Spanish crew to ransom. The Queen and the investors were delighted.

Lane remained in the fort at Roanoke with a hundred and seven men. He dispatched a party, including Harriot and White, to Chesapeake Bay to make the first maps of North America and what is now Virginia; but the settlement depended heavily upon the Native Americans for food and this led to many disputes. Raleigh had problems in sending a relief expedition and when Grenville finally arrived and found no-one remaining. Sir Francis Drake had, in fact, rescued them from the harsh conditions which they could no longer bear. Unfortunately, in the chaos of the evacuation, many of their voluminous records were thrown overboard by the uncaring sailors and three men were even left behind by accident. The remainder arrived in Plymouth on 28 Jul 1586.

Raleigh was very disappointed over the abandonment of the Roanoke project. His enemies were always ready to take advantage of such failures. He had even been appointed 'Captain of the Guard', an honorary position of great prestige and significant because it required constant attendance on the Queen. A further crisis ensued when the trial and execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, caused Elizabeth to have what amounted to a nervous breakdown. She only began to recover when she found a new favourite in the impetuous young Earl of Essex, whom she had made Master of the Horse. Sir Walter was being overlooked in favour of a mere twenty-year-old. Elizabeth herself was fifty-four.

In 1588, Felipe II launched the Great Armada against England. This was and the largest fleet Europe had ever seen. Raleigh attended a Council of War to discuss the English defence. Present were Lord Grey, Sir Richard Grenville, Ralph Lane, now Master General of the Forces, Governor of Guernsey and the Isle of Wight. As Vice Admiral and Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall, Sir Walter set up his headquarters at Plymouth, from where he raised an army of 5,560 men and ninety-six light horse. Meanwhile, Admiral Howard of Effingham arrived in the Bark. Raleigh renaming it, the Ark Royal, collected a fleet with Drake and Hawkins. Sir Walter contributed much to the English victory.

Despite this triumph, Essex' threat to Raleigh's position at Court soon resurfaced. Raleigh quarrelled with Essex and was challenged to a duel. Eventually, however, the latter was prevented from taking part by the strenuous intervention of other parties. Raleigh left for Ireland, where he began to spend much more of his time: converting Lismore Castle and visiting his neighbour, Spenser, who was writing his 'The Fairie Queen'.

Raleigh was now determined to refound his lost colony. In 1587, the Lion, commanded by Simon Fernandez, accompanied by a fly boat and a pinnace, sailed from Plymouth. Fernandez was to assist John White in founding the City of Raleigh under Mantio - a native American brought back on the first voyage and now a Christian - as Raleigh's representative. Upon their eventual arrival, however, White and Fernandez were not on best terms and the situation was brought to a head when the latter stopped at Roanoke, but refused to take the settlers on to Chesapeake. White managed to contact Mantio's mother who told them that the remaining Englishmen had been killed by a rival tribe. White decided to attack these people, only managed to succeed in killing a native ally during an attack on a misidentified village. He later tried to make amends, but was largely distracted by the birth of his grandaughter, five days afterward. She was the first English child born in America and was named Virginia for obvious reasons.

Fernandez did eventually return home, along with John White, whom the colonists insisted must inform Raleigh of their new unintended location. After a disastrous journey via the Azores and Ireland, they arrived back in Southampton. An immediate relief force was delayed by the Armada crisis but, with this prevented, one did leave with White amongst the passengers. Unfortunately, however, the captains were more interested in privateering than their mercy mission and, when they were attacked off La Rochelle, a wounded White was forced to return to England. It was not until 1590 that John White was finally able to return to Roanoke. He found the settlement abandoned and overgrown, though signs indicated that the majority of colonists had moved on to Chesapeake while others may have joined Mantio's people. Circumstances prevented White from verifying such supposition and he returned to England. The settlers may have survived until as late as 1607, when a popular theory has them being slaughtered along with the local natives in the Chesapeake Bay area by a warrior chieftain named Powhatan. Whatever the reality, Raleigh had lost 40,000.

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Elizabeth Throckmorton

Elizabeth Throckmorton was nineteen when she first appeared at Court. She was the daughter of Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, Queen Elizabeth's first Ambassador to Paris, and her brother Arthur was also a courtier. Both their parents were dead and they relied on the Court for their livelihood. Bess was intelligent, forthright, passionate and courageous. Though Raleigh was in his early forties, the two fell madly in love. In the summer of 1591, Bess discovered she was pregnant and they secretly married. They were together, but catastrophe loomed.

As Vice-Admiral, Sir Walter had planned to sail, on the Revenge under Lord Thomas Howard, in an expedition to intercept Spanish treasure ships from Nombre de Dios in Peru and Vera Cruz in Mexico. They were anchored at Flores in the Azores. His place, however, was taken by Sir Richard Grenville. The English fleet was surprised by the Spaniards and though Sir Richard fought them to a standstill, he died of his wounds. Raleigh continued in his official duties, including the execution of catholic priests. He tried to save one Plasden from the gallows - an incident which did not endear him to his enemies - but Topcliffe, the Queen's enforcement officer, hanged him all the same. Still, the Queen continued to reward Sir Walter for his efforts: Sherborne Castle in Dorset was placed in his hands, along with the prosperous Willscombe Manor, confiscated from the ageing Thomas Godwin, Bishop of Bath and Wells who made the blunder of getting married.

Raleigh's young wife, however, could no longer keep her pregnancy secret. Bess gave birth to a baby boy who was quickly put out to a wet nurse so she could resume her place as Lady-in-Waiting. When Sir Walter returned from the sea, he arranged for the baby and nurse to go to Durham House. However, on 31 May 1592, his marriage was discovered. The Queen had not granted permission for such a match and Raleigh was promptly arrested. Elizabeth expected Walter and Bess to sue for a pardon and, while their fate lay in the balance, she even confirmed the lease of Sherborne. However, the couple refused such a humiliating course of action and by 7 Aug, that same year, the Queen's favourite had fallen into five long years of disgrace.

Elizabeth's refusal to forgive his marriage was a source of great bitterness to Raleigh; but, though he was no longer in favour, he still owned Durham House and Sherborne Castle and benefited from his monopolies. He had been shamed, but not ruined. However, he was still separated from his beloved wife. A situation which was only brought to and end by a stroke of luck.

Sir John Borough captured the Madre de Deos, a floating castle of 1,600 tons with seven decks manned by 800 crewmen. Hawkins estimated the haul at 500,000 and Lord Burghley sent Raleigh to Dartmouth to divide the spoils. Elizabeth benefited from most of the bounty. Raleigh secured no riches but, on 22 Dec, Arthur Throckmorton was able to record in his diary that 'my sister was delivered from the Tower'. A grudgingly grateful Queen had allowed Sir Walter and Bess to start their new life together at Sherborne. The couple's first child must have died, but Bess was soon pregnant again and their son, Wat, was born in 1593. In the same year, Raleigh started to build a grand new house, south of the old castle at Sherborne, on the site of a hunting lodge. His half-brother, Adrian Gilbert, was the surveyor. Sir Walter settled down to the life of a country gentleman. He became firm friends with Charles Thynne of nearby Longleat in Wiltshire and also turned to his brother, Carew, who became a close companion.

Barred from the court, Raleigh busied himself in Parliament. He spoke on religious matters and the need for a strong British naval force, but ill advisedly questioned James VI of Scotland's succession to Elizabeth. Essex continued to try to blacken his name, a cause which was helped by Sir Walter having befriended the playwright, Christopher Marlowe, who was a well-known atheist. To improve his image, Raleigh arrested a half-Cornish, half-Irish Catholic priest. He had him convicted in Dorchester (Dorset), hanged, drawn and quartered, and his head stuck on the pinnacle of St. Peter's Church in the same town.

Away from courtly life, Raleigh turned his thoughts to the lethal glittering El Dorado. When, in 1594, the reconnaissance mission to Guyana had seized Sarmiento de Gamboa, this Spanish aristocrat told Raleigh of the legend of El Dorado: the fantastic golden kingdom said to be hidden in remote South America. The Caribbean waters were swarming with English privateers like Drake who had sacked San Domingo and Cartagena; but Sir Walter wanted to take a broader approach and establish a real English foothold on the American continent from which to make an effective challenge to Spanish power in the area. The fabled El Dorado would be an ideal base for such a grand design. His fleet sailed in 1595: four ships manned by three hundred soldiers and adventurers, including Lawrence Keymis, an Oxford mathematician who had abandoned a Balliol fellowship to join him.

Raleigh appeared off Trinidad and wiped out the harbour grand at Port of Spain. He burnt the town of San Joseph and captured Don Antonio de Berrio, the seventy-four year old Spanish Governor. This soldier had led a number of expeditions up the Orinoco to look for El Dorado and Sir Walter hoped this experience would help. Accompanied by some additional vessels and a crew of one hundred, Raleigh spent a month gathering provisions and then set off up the Orinoco. They found the Native American guides to be of little use, but still struggled on inland against the current. During a meal stop on the riverbank, Raleigh found a basket hidden in the bushes which he believed to be a toolkit dropped by a local metal refiner. They travelled on for fifteen days until they found a group of friendly locals: the women were attractive, but the men were drunkards. The English sailors were well behaved compared to the visiting Spaniards who had been cruel and lusty. A further six days travelling brought them to the junction of the Orinoco and Caroni Rivers. The chief of a native village here had been executed by Berrio, and the place was now ruled by Topiawari, a man of great age. He is said to have been one hundred and ten years old. Raleigh and the new chief became firm friends and the explorer was able to send out further reconnaissance parties. The stones were found to be worthless. Rainstorms were now becoming frequent and Sir Walter was forced to return to Trinidad. He took Topiawari's son with him but left two men behind. One, Francis Sparrow, was later captured and imprisoned in Spain. The other, Hugh Godwin, Raleigh's cabin boy, was absorbed by the tribe and almost forgot his native tongue.

Sir Walter now sailed for Cumana and the Venezuelan Coast in order to raid the Spanish settlements there. He lost four men in a skirmish, but some twenty-seven of his men also died of disease on board ship. He finally exchanged Berrio for a wounded Englishman and returned, disillusioned, to England to write 'The Discovery of the Large, Rich and Beautiful Empire of Guyana', the present day Venezuela.

For all the vision of empire inspired by Raleigh's Guyana expedition, the threat from Spain had not diminished and even seemed to be growing. England's Privateering attacks were now reducing due to the deaths of Drake and Hawkins and Spanish ships were able burn both Mousehole and Penzance in Cornwall, and threaten Ireland. Lord Burghley decided that attack was the best means of defence and planned for Raleigh and Essex to attack Cadiz. Elizabeth blew hot and cold over the idea but eventually she agreed and 5,000 sailors, 65,000 soldiers and 30,000 were raised, largely from Dutch sources. On 11 Jun 1596, Lord Admiral Howard in the Ark Royal, Essex as joint commander in the Duc Repulse, Raleigh in the Warspite and over a hundred other vessels sailed from Plymouth, with Sir Francis De Vere as Marshal of the Army. It was a command nightmare. They arrived to Cadiz on 29 Jun. Raleigh was ordered to stop the merchant ships slipping their moorings off Port Royal. Howard, instead of attacking the harbour, ordered his fully armed men into boats but the weight made them overturn and scores of helpless soldiers were sent to their deaths. Raleigh rowed over to the Duc Repulse, gave Essex and Howard a dressing down and persuaded them to begin the attack on the Spanish Fleet. Deep in the harbour of Cadiz the might of Spain lay at Raleigh's mercy; but, as the smoke thickened and the galleons cut their cables, Raleigh fell in excruciating pain. A cannon ball had struck the deck of the Warspite and his calf had been shredded into a bloody mess 'interlaced with splinters'. Raleigh watched as the Spanish ships tumbled into the sea. The English troops then sacked the town. Sir Walter was carried ashore in a litter from which he watched the proceedings with contempt. The prize of the whole raid, however, were the rich merchant ships still moored in the harbour. Howard, Vere and Essex decided to attempt ransom these, but orders were issued by Felipe II of Spain to have the Duke of Medina Sidona - the Armada commander of 1588 - order the entire fleet to be scuttled and burned. Twelve million ducats sank: a pointless sacrifice to uphold Spanish pride.

Raleigh returned to England and, on 1 Jun 1597, limped into the ageing Elizabeth's presence. Partly as a rebuke to the incompetent Earl of Essex, Sir Walter was reinstated as Captain of the Guard. A favourable appointment for Raleigh's friend, Lord Cobham, further widened the rift between the two men, which Cecil tried desperately to repair. Despite these new favours though, Sir Walter's wealth was beginning to dwindle. He had spent too much of his own money on attacking Spain in the Americas and his Babington lands and privateering fleet had been swallowed up in the expense. The second half of the 1590s were terrible years for everyone. Four summers of torrential rain rotted the harvests and people were dying of starvation. Raleigh even found it prudent to make out a new will. Conversations with Essex and Cecil now turned to an attack on Ferrol: an expedition known as 'The Islands' Voyage'. Again, a hundred ships set sail. The commanders were the same as the previous expedition to Cadiz and things did not start well. They hit a series of storms off the Bay of Biscay and were quickly scattered. Raleigh and Essex managed to head for port, but discovered that Howard and his squadron were off Corunna.

When the fleet eventually reformed, they again sailed to attack the Armada gathering at Ferrol, but Raleigh became separated from the main group and ended up chasing a imagined Armada to the Azores. Essex was furious and headed off in pursuit. At Flores, Raleigh was granted permission, by Essex, to reprovision his ships. Essex then sailed away but later got word to Sir Walter to join him in an attack on the Island of Fayal. Raleigh arrived at the given destination only to find Essex to be no-where in sight. He held off for his commander to appear, but enemy gunfire eventually forced him to act. When Raleigh landed on the reef and made for the shore, bullets were flying about him. He managed to attack the Spanish defenders and, though shot through the calf, captured the town. Too late to help, Essex finally arrived and, in his depressed state, found Raleigh's heroism a personal insult.

Essex demanded a court martial and Raleigh's death for a breach of order and articles. Raleigh protested his innocence and begged to defend himself as a principal commander under his lordship. The sacking of Fayal was, in effect, the reprovisioning of his crews, which is what Essex had ordered. A smarting Essex brought the meeting to a close and was rowed across to the town. Here he cashiered all of Raleigh's officers. Howard intervened and an ugly incident was narrowly avoided. Essex set about plundering Villa Franca and other islands in the Azores while Felipe II, ulcerous and close to death, decided to attack the unguarded England. A new Spanish Armada sailed up the Bay of Biscay through terrible storms but, fortunately, the enemy was dispersed and Essex and Raleigh were eventually able to return to Plymouth. The Queen vented her anger at Essex, but was not pleased with Raleigh either.

Eventually, Essex was sent to Ireland in disgrace. Even his campaign there was a disaster. The Earl was arrested at Essex House on the Strand and taken to the Tower. A trial for treason followed by a sentence to death. Raleigh, as Captain of the Guard, attended his execution on Ash Wednesday 1601. Despite Essex declaring Raleigh to be a true servant of the Queen, the mob thought Sir Walter to be gloating over their hero's death and he was obliged to withdraw to the armoury.

The end of Elizabeth I's reign saw mounting problems for Raleigh. He discovered his agent at Sherborne was disloyally acting against his interests and had to place the man in the town stocks. Meanwhile, in Ireland, his steward, an objectionable man named Pyne, was likewise found to be swindling him out of the returns from his plantations. Sir Walter was soon forced to sell Munster to Robert Boyle for only 1,500. He remained Captain of the Guard to the seventy-year-old Queen, but it was only a matter of time before the accession of King James of Scotland, son of Mary Queen of Scots. Elizabeth died on 24 Mar 1603 and three days later James began his progress south to London. Raleigh met him at Northampton on 25 Apr and asked him to sign some papers. 'Oh my soul man I have heard rarely of thee!' was the new King's terse response. A few days later, Raleigh led the Royal Guard at Elizabeth's funeral.

By May, King James had recalled all monopolies, given the Captaincy of the Guard to a Scottish favourite and dismissed Raleigh from the Governorship of Jersey. He gave him just 300 in compensation. Raleigh, still innocent of plots afoot to destroy his reputation, and unaware of the King's desire for a peaceful foreign policy, offered to supply James with a written account for his strategy for continuing the war against Spain. He was damned. James acted swiftly to remove him from London. Durham House was returned to the Bishop and Raleigh was to be out in two weeks.

Two months later, Sir Walter tried to join James in a reconciliatory hunt with in Windsor Forest. However, he was informed by Cecil that the King did not want him to ride and had charged the Privy Council instead to question him on certain matters of treason. Raleigh, though he had knowledge of at least one plot against the King, was totally innocent of any involvement in two lesser ones.

The so-called Main plot of 1603, hatched by the Warden of the Cinque Ports, Henry Brooke, Lord Cobham, and by Sir Walter Raleigh, remains a puzzling affair, doubts surrounding its nature, purpose, even its existence. Down the years, government investigations into the conspiracy have been interpreted as, on the one hand, the hasty over-reaction of a nervous new King and administration to the merest expression of grumbling discontent. In an altogether more sinister light, they have been taken to represent a settling of scores between court factions, the final triumph of Sir Robert Cecil and the Howard family over increasingly isolated opponents.

The Council decided to arraign him for trial. Plague was raging in London, so the Court moved south to Winchester. Raleigh was escorted from the city, whereupon the London mob turned out in force to jeer the traitor who had betrayed their beloved Essex. On 17 Nov 1603, the Great hall of Winchester Castle was converted to house the Court of King's Bench. The judges were Sir John Popham, Chief Justice of Kings Bench; Sir Edmund Anderson, Chief Justice of Common Pleas and his prison judges, Sandys and Warburton. Raleigh had no detailed knowledge of the charges and they were only read out to him on the morning of the trial. He was accused of plotting with his friend, Lord Cobham, to foment rebellion and of inviting foreign invasion, intending by these means to depose and kill James I, murder his family, and advance the King's cousin, Lady Arabella Stuart, to the throne. He was charged with taking part in the so-called Bye Plot to capture the King and force him to relax anti-papal legislation. A third indictment concerned a lost manuscript book which Raleigh had allegedly given to Cobham to confirm the basis of their treasonable plans. A fourth charge indicated he had urged Arabella to write to the King of Spain for support. While, lastly, he was accused of instigated Cobham's correspondence to raise 600,000 crowns from Spain through the mediation of Charles de Ligne, Count of Aremberg, an old friend of Cobham who, in the summer of 1603, arrived in England as a special Ambassador, sent by Archduke Albert to congratulate James on his accession.

The authorities charge was based on Cobham's testimony, always regarded as problematic. This air of mystery results in large measure from the loss of original documentation; there is, in particular, no surviving examination of Raleigh. To some degree, the same problem confronts those investigating the parallel Bye plot of Sir Griffin Markham and the priest William Watson, for not one of Markham's examinations is now extant. With the Bye, however, there are at least the extensive, candid confessions of Watson, and of his associate Anthony Copley. For the Main there is nothing comparable.

The trial was a farce. Sir Edward Coke prosecuted while Raleigh defended himself. He denied all involvement in the Bye Plot, which had been treason of the priests who organised it. Coke replied, 'Thou art a monster! Thou hast an English face but a Spanish heart!' He was refused permission to call Lord Cobham as his chief defence witness and only Cecil spoke in his defence. Old colleagues like Lord Henry Howard were not at all helpful. Eventually, Sir Walter produced Cobham's letter which he had hidden in his doublet. It had been wrapped around an apple and thrown through his prison window back at the Tower. Sir Edward Coke parried with a retraction of the letter which Cobham had been forced to sign. It took the jury just fifteen minute sto reach their verdict: Guilty. Popham pronounced the sentence with brutal relish: Raleigh was to be hanged, drawn and quartered. One of the trial judges later declared that, 'the trial injured and degraded the justice of England'. Even Popham was heard to say, 'I hope I shall never see the like again'.

Thomas Egerton, created Lord Chancellor and Baron of Ellesmere in Jul 1603, was appointed Lord Steward for the trials of both Henry, Lord Cobham, and Thomas, Lord Grey of Wilton. Ellesmere, characteristically, took his duties very seriously. On account of his forthcoming `judicial' role, he was not closely involved with investigations into the treasons. Nevertheless, surviving papers display his keen interest in the prosecution, an interest also evident in his apprehension of Cobham's lawyer, William Gosnall, and steward, Richard Mellersh, during Oct 1603. He was aware of the prosecution's obligation to demonstrate the strength of Cobham's self-condemnatory accusation of Raleigh. Ellesmere also finds persuasive those rather tenuous proofs which reinforce Cobham's evidence by demonstrating that the treason had been planned by both suspects, long before.

Richard Boyle

1 E. Cork

Raleigh appealed to Cecil, the Privy Council and the King. James, in a grotesque exhibition of royal clemency, exiled Markham and imprisoned Lords Grey and Cobham as they were about to be executed. He issued a pardon for Raleigh but he was to be kept a prisoner in the Tower of London. While Raleigh was imprisoned, he sold Lismore along with 42,000 acres for 1,500 to Richard Boyle, who later became the first Earl of Cork.

Raleigh was assigned two rooms on the second floor of the Bloody Tower and here he lived for some thirteen years. Though there were occasional summonses before the Privy Council and one brief removal to a less conspicuous gaol. Lady Raleigh was allowed to visit him and conditions were so relaxed that their second son, Carew, was born in the Tower in 1605. Wat was still a healthy child though, at one point, he almost died of the plague. Sir Walter's financial position was desperate. He lost their home due to a legal slip and was obliged to pawn a diamond given him by the late Queen. King James did, however, allow Lady Raleigh a pension.

Sir Walter now started writing his 'War with Spain', his 'Instructions to His Son' and, of course, his famous 'History of the World' which King James did eventually allow him to publish. Raleigh also found friendship with the King's neglected wife, Queen Anne, whom he began to turn to for support. He was soon appointed as tutor to her son, Henry, Prince of Wales: a fine young man who is said to have proclaimed that 'None but my father would keep such a bird in a cage'. Sadly Henry died of typhoid, in 1612, after swimming in the Thames, leaving his incompetent brother, Charles, as heir to the throne.

The King, meanwhile, was kept busy entertaining his many favourites at court. Robert Carr had been given Sherborne castle, but he now fell out of favour and James became interested in George Villiers, said to have been the most beautiful man in England. Spanish Ambassador Gondomar encouraged the King's extravagance in order to extract the best deal possible for Spain. Desperate for cash, King James began to lend a sympathetic ear to Secretary Westwood. He suggested a resurrection of Raleigh's plans to discover the glittering gold which was supposedly hidden along the banks of the Orinoco.

Raleigh and Leymis believed that gold could be found at the junction of the Rivers Orinoco and Caroni; but their friend, Topiawari, was no longer alive to help them and Berrio had built a small fort at San Thome to bar their way. Cecil desptached Sir Thomas Roe to reconoiter the situation. He returned with extensive knowledge of the Guyana region but also with a strong conviction that El Dorado was a myth. Despite this, he did believe that San Thome could easily be captured and suggested that a renegade Spaniard might be persuaded to offer knowledge of hidden gold to the English. Cecil gave this careful consideration but died, in 1612, before he was able to act. The vehemently anti-Spanish Sir Ralph Winwood no took up Raleigh's cause, along with Villiers and on, 19 Mar 1616, Sir Walter was released from the Tower.

Preparation for the voyage took over a year, during which time Raleigh had to raise some 30,000. The 8,000 compensation for his loss of Sherborne, the sale of his wife's Mitcham estates and all his personal wealth was poured into the project, while Bess pressed her noble relative for even more. Their son, Wat, now aged twenty-two, was to play an important role at his father's side. He had grown into an energetic, reckless young man and, though he was a great a help in finding recruits in Deptford, he could also be something of a liability. Once, at dinner, he exclaimed that he had recently visited a local whore, only to find that his father had lain with her but an hour before. Raleigh boxed his ears.

On 26 Aug 1613, Sir Walter received his commission: an interesting document which contained the phrase 'under print of the law' scribbled over the more usual 'trusted and well beloved'. He was still a traitor who was officially dead. Relations with Spain were strained and, if Raleigh injured any Spanish subject during the expedition, his life would be forfeit. He had to pass through Spanish territory, sink a mine close to one of their forts, work it and transport its treasures without a fight. It seemed an impossible task, but Sir Walter hoped to get around such an awkward position by enlisting the help of the French Huguenots. They would be able to act where Raleigh could not, as well as offering him a safe harbour while James decided between an Iberian peace or a full treasury. It was a totally unrealistic plan, but Sir Walter's only chance.

A friend of Raleigh's named Anthony Belle was sent, with a certain Captain Faige, across the Channel to collect the Huguenot ships which were to join the expedition. However, they instead decided to join a trading junket to the Mediterranean where they were captured by pirates. Faige languished in a Genoese gaol; while Belle found himself in Rome and, later, Madrid, where he gave up the plans and maps for the English campaign in the Americas. They were immediately forwarded to the Spanish in Guyana. Meantime, in England, Ambassador Gondomar continued to protest to the King about Raleigh's proposed sailing and eventually, though public opinion prevented its abortion, James forwarded Sir Walter's complete itinerary to the King of Spain.

Thus stabbed in the back, Raleigh, in a mood of ironic finality, renamed his ship The Destiny whilst he placed his son, Wat, in command. The crew were wild-eyed scum. His officers were little better and, though Raleigh required strict discipline on the expedition ships, this was often disregarded. Sir Walter found himself obliged to bail three of his captains out of trouble when they found they had no money to pay for shipboard provisions. The sale of his few remaining pieces of plate covered the cost. The vessels eventually sailed first from Gravesend to Plymouth and here the mayor and corporation organised a banquet in Raleigh's honour. A drummer even beat out a tattoo as the ageing West Country hero walked up the gangplank.

On 12 Jun 1617, Raleigh sailed out of Plymouth Hoe. They were forced to shelter at Kinsale in Ireland for a time and here Sir Walter was generously entertained and his ships reprovisioned by Lord Boyle. Raleigh reprovisioned on the Island of Gomera in the Canary Isles, helped by the half-English wife of the Governor. Three days after leaving, he decided to make for the Cape Verde Islands for more supplies of fresh meat because fifty of the crew of the Destiny were out of action through sickness. Seaths among the crew began to increase. Raleigh's friend, John Talbot, who had served him for eleven years in the Tower, was one of the lost. Sir Walter fell sick himself and became so ill that he was unable even to write his journal. It took the ships forty days to reach Trinidad. It should have taken twelve.

On 14 Nov, they dropped anchor and Raleigh rendezvoused with his old servant, Harry, a Native American who had been with him in the Tower. He had almost forgotten his English, but provided the campaigners with plentiful supplies for their journey. Sir Walter was too weak to lead the expedition up the Orinoco himself and his captains wanted him to remain behind to guard their retreat and prevent the others from turning tail at the first sign of the Spaniards. Raleigh agreed and gave explicit instructions to Keymis to lead his men twenty miles downstream to San Thome, establish a protective barrier of armed men between the fort and the supposed site of the mine. Only if the Spaniards initiated an attack was Raleigh's brother, George, to order their troops to fight. Otherwise, they were to assess the mine's richness and work it to whatever state was safe. Sir Walter's fate was now in the hands of others.

Ignoring Sir Walter's orders, Keymis landed off San Thome. Captain Cosmor and Raleigh's son, Wat, had led an attack with musketeers and pikemen. Young Wat, determined to save his father's honour, rushed forward and a bullet killed him instantly. A few weeks later, the Spanish Ambassador Gondomar burst into King James' presence shouting, 'Pirates, Pirates, Pirates!'. Walter Raleigh's death was sealed by a pathetic skirmish in a tiny jungle fort.

Raleigh wrote to Secretary Winwood, who unbeknown to him, was now dead. He naturally wished to try and cover his dramatic failure as best he could. He also wrote sorrowfully of his son's death to his wife, Bess, 'God knows I never knew what sorrow meant till now. Comfort your heart dearest Bess, I shall sorrow for us both'. He tried hard to rally his men. Raleigh did manage to sail for Newfoundland and eventually persuaded his men to return to Plymouth, via Ireland, as he had always promised. Sir Walter was met, not only by Bess, but by his distant cousin, Vice Admiral Sir Lewis Stukeley, who promptly arrested him.

Back in England and under arrest, Raleigh toyed with thoughts of flight to France, but he decided to face the King and justify his name. Gondomor's trap had been sprung and he would end his tour of duty in triumph. Sir Walter returned to London via Salisbury, past his beloved Sherborne. Here, he feigned illness, so that he could write an appeal in justification of his voyage to Guyana. However, Stukeley was ordered to continue their journey to London. Raleigh made further plans to escape but his servants informed on him and even his cousin would not help. In order that Sir Walter should produce enough rope to hang himself, the authorities allowed Stukeley to accompany him down the Thames in a boat; but Raleigh was stopped at Greenwich and arrested. Stukeley had betrayed him. Stukeley was to die later, a lonely lunatic on Lundy Island. On 10 Aug, Raleigh was a prisoner in the Tower once more.

On 15 Oct, King James received a letter from the King of Spain sparing Raleigh from execution in Madrid, but urging, in the light of delicate negotiations of marriage, that his death in London would please his most Catholic Majesty. The Attorney General, Sir Edward Coke gave his opinion that Sir Walter was a man 'civilly dead'. James, to avoid a show trial when the Nation from the Queen down were all in his support, decided that a small group of commissioners should convict him. On 22 Oct, the Attorney General charged him that he proposed war between England and Spain. The Solicitor General added that he had tried to flee from justice and his behaviour at Salisbury had been a fraud to deceive King and state. Raleigh defended himself stoutly but, on 28 Oct, he was driven from the Tower to Westminster Hall before a succession of the King's Bench, a bedraggled and broken man. The Lord Chief Justice explained that his treason could not be pardoned, said he had been valiant and wise and a good Christian, but execution was granted.

Raleigh,Walter(Sir)03.jpg (20722 bytes)

Sir Walter Raleigh

The execution was to take place in the Old Palace Yard, Westminster on the same day as the Lord Mayor's Show. Raleigh was housed overnight in the Abbey gatehouse. Bess left him after midnight. Charles Thynne of Longleat, from his Sherborne days, came to say goodbye. Dean Tomson gave him spiritual comfort. Communion was celebrated and he ate a hearty breakfast, took tobacco and prepared for his last journey. He dressed magnificently: a satin doublet, black embroidered waistcoat, taffeta black breaches and coloured silk stockings, hat embroidered night cap and a black velvet cloak. The Old Palace Yard was crowded: amongst the onlookers, the young John Eliot, Hampden and Pym, watching the death of the last great Elizabethan. As future Cromwellians, it is interesting to wonder how they would have viewed this abuse of law. Tomson and two sheriffs led Sir Walter up to the scaffold. He then made his final speech and ended, 'So I take my leave of you all, making my peace with God.' Raleigh took off his gown and doublet and asked the headsman to show him the axe. 'This is sharp medicine...that will cure all my diseases'. He placed his head on the block, refused a blindfold and gave the signal to strike. The headsman delayed: 'Strike man, strike!' The axe fell and fell again. Raleigh's severed head was shown to the crowd. A groan arouse with mutterings of, 'We have not such another head to be cut off'.

That evening, Bess took the head home in a leather bag. Later, she kept it in a cupboard to show her husband's admirers. His body was buried in St. Margaret's, Westminster, south of the altar. Dean Tomson wrote:

'This was the news a week since but it is now blown over, and he is almost forgotten'

Since Sir Walter Raleigh was secretly backed by Queen Elizabeth he should be considered a privateer rather than a pirate.


A. L. Rowse: 'Ralegh and the Throckmortons'

Britannia Biographies: Biography of Sir Walter Raleigh by Christopher Smith

Nicholls, Mark: Sir Walter Raleigh's treason: a prosecution document The English Historical Review v.110 no.438. p902-925. Addison Wesley Longman Higher Education Sep 1995.

Peck, D.C.: Raleigh, Sidney, Oxford, and the Catholics, 1579 1978 Oxford University Press

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