Walter Raleigh (/ˈrɔːli/, /ˈræli/, or /ˈrɑːli/; circa
1554 – 29 October 1618) was an English landed gentleman,
writer, poet, soldier, politician, courtier, spy and explorer. He was
cousin to Sir Richard Grenville and younger half-brother of Sir
Humphrey Gilbert. He is also well known for popularising tobacco in
Raleigh was born to a
Protestant family in Devon, the son of Walter
Raleigh and Catherine Champernowne. Little is known of his early life,
though he spent some time in Ireland, in Killua Castle, Clonmellon,
County Westmeath, taking part in the suppression of rebellions and
participating in the Siege of Smerwick. Later, he became a landlord of
property confiscated from the native Irish. He rose rapidly in the
favour of Queen Elizabeth I and was knighted in 1585. Raleigh was
instrumental in the English colonisation of North America and was
granted a royal patent to explore Virginia, paving the way for future
English settlements. In 1591, he secretly married Elizabeth
Throckmorton, one of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting, without the
Queen's permission, for which he and his wife were sent to the Tower
of London. After his release, they retired to his estate at Sherborne,
In 1594, Raleigh heard of a "City of Gold" in
South America and sailed
to find it, publishing an exaggerated account of his experiences in a
book that contributed to the legend of "El Dorado". After Queen
Elizabeth died in 1603, Raleigh was again imprisoned in the Tower,
this time for being involved in the
Main Plot against King James I,
who was not favourably disposed towards him. In 1616, he was released
to lead a second expedition in search of El Dorado. During the
expedition, men led by his top commander ransacked a Spanish outpost,
in violation of both the terms of his pardon and the 1604 peace treaty
with Spain. Raleigh returned to England and, to appease the Spanish,
he was arrested and executed in 1618.
Raleigh was one of the most notable figures of the Elizabethan era. In
2002, he was featured in the BBC poll of the 100 Greatest Britons.
1 Early life
3 New World
6 First voyage to Guiana
8 Trial and imprisonment
9 Second voyage to Guiana
10 Execution and aftermath
12.1 List of poems
14 See also
17 External links
17.1 Texts by Raleigh
John Everett Millais,
The Boyhood of Raleigh
The Boyhood of Raleigh (1871)
Little is known about Raleigh's birth. Some historians believe that
he was born on 22 January 1552, although the Oxford Dictionary of
National Biography currently favours a date of 1554. He grew up in
the house of Hayes Barton, a farmhouse near the village of East
Budleigh, not far from
Budleigh Salterton in Devon. He was the
youngest of five sons born to
Walter Raleigh or Rawleigh (1510–1581)
of Fardel Manor, South Hams, Devon, and Catherine Champernowne in the
second of both of their marriages. His half-brothers John Gilbert,
Humphrey Gilbert, and Adrian Gilbert, and his full brother Carew
Raleigh were also prominent during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James
I. Catherine Champernowne was a niece of Kat Ashley, Elizabeth's
governess, who introduced the young men at court.
Raleigh's family was highly
Protestant in religious orientation and
had a number of near escapes during the reign of
Roman Catholic Queen
Mary I of England. In the most notable of these, his father had to
hide in a tower to avoid execution. As a result, Raleigh developed a
hatred of Roman Catholicism during his childhood, and proved himself
quick to express it after
Protestant Queen Elizabeth I came to the
throne in 1558. In matters of religion, Elizabeth was more moderate
than her half sister Mary.
In 1569, Raleigh left for France to serve with the Huguenots in the
French religious civil wars. In 1572, Raleigh was registered as an
undergraduate at Oriel College, Oxford, but he left a year later
without a degree. Raleigh proceeded to finish his education in the
Inns of Court. In 1575, he was registered at the Middle Temple. At
his trial in 1603, he stated that he had never studied law. His life
is uncertain between 1569 and 1575, but in his History of the World he
claimed to have been an eyewitness at the
Battle of Moncontour
Battle of Moncontour (3
October 1569) in France. In 1575 or 1576, Raleigh returned to
"Raleigh's First Pipe in England", an illustration included in
Frederick William Fairholt's Tobacco, its history and associations
Between 1579 and 1583, Raleigh took part in the suppression of the
Desmond Rebellions. He was present at the Siege of Smerwick, where he
led the party that beheaded some 600 Spanish and Italian
soldiers. Raleigh received 40,000 acres
(16,000 ha)(approx. 0.2% of Ireland) upon the seizure and
distribution of land following the attainders arising from the
rebellion, including the coastal walled towns of
Youghal and Lismore.
This made him one of the principal landowners in Munster, but he had
limited success inducing English tenants to settle on his estates.
Raleigh made the town of
Youghal his occasional home during his 17
years as an Irish landlord, frequently being domiciled at Killua
Castle, Clonmellon, County Westmeath. He was mayor there from 1588 to
1589. His town mansion of Myrtle Grove is assumed to be the setting
for the story that his servant doused him with a bucket of water after
seeing clouds of smoke coming from Raleigh's pipe, in the belief that
he had been set alight. But this story is also told of other places
associated with Raleigh: the
Virginia Ash Inn in
Sherborne Castle, and
South Wraxall Manor
South Wraxall Manor in Wiltshire,
home of Raleigh's friend Sir Walter Long.
Amongst Raleigh's acquaintances in
Munster was another Englishman who
had been granted land there, poet Edmund Spenser. In the 1590s, he and
Raleigh travelled together from
Ireland to the court at London, where
Spenser presented part of his allegorical poem
The Faerie Queene
The Faerie Queene to
Raleigh's management of his Irish estates ran into difficulties which
contributed to a decline in his fortunes. In 1602, he sold the lands
to Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork, who subsequently prospered under
kings James I and Charles I. Following Raleigh's death, members of
his family approached Boyle for compensation on the ground that
Raleigh had struck an improvident bargain.
Engraved portrait of Raleigh
In 1584, Queen Elizabeth granted Raleigh a royal charter authorising
him to explore, colonise and rule any "remote, heathen and barbarous
lands, countries and territories, not actually possessed of any
Christian Prince or inhabited by Christian People," in return for
one-fifth of all the gold and silver that might be mined there.
This charter specified that Raleigh had seven years in which to
establish a settlement, or else lose his right to do so. Raleigh and
Elizabeth intended that the venture should provide riches from the New
World and a base from which to send privateers on raids against the
treasure fleets of Spain. Raleigh himself never visited North America,
although he led expeditions in 1595 and 1617 to the
South America in search of the golden city of El Dorado.
Instead, he sent others to found the Roanoke Colony, later known as
the "Lost Colony".
These expeditions were funded primarily by Raleigh and his friends but
never provided the steady stream of revenue necessary to maintain a
colony in America. (Subsequent colonisation attempts in the early 17th
century were made under the joint-stock
Virginia Company, which was
able to raise the capital necessary to create successful colonies.)
In 1587, Raleigh attempted a second expedition, again establishing a
settlement on Roanoke Island. This time, a more diverse group of
settlers was sent, including some entire families, under the
governance of John White. After a short while in America, White
returned to England to obtain more supplies for the colony, planning
to return in a year. Unfortunately for the colonists at Roanoke, one
year became three. The first delay came when Queen Elizabeth I ordered
all vessels to remain at port for potential use against the Spanish
Armada. After England's 1588 victory over the Spanish Armada, the
ships were given permission to sail.:125–126
Raleigh's house at Blackwall, London, photo circa 1890, National
Maritime Museum, ID: H0657
The second delay came after White's small fleet set sail for Roanoke
and his crew insisted on sailing first towards
Cuba in hopes of
capturing treasure-laden Spanish merchant ships. Enormous riches
described by their pilot, an experienced Portuguese navigator hired by
Raleigh, outweighed White's objections to the delay.:125–126
When the supply ship arrived in Roanoke, three years later than
planned, the colonists had disappeared.:130–33 The only clue to
their fate was the word "CROATOAN" and letters "CRO" carved into tree
trunks. White had arranged with the settlers that if they should move,
the name of their destination be carved into a tree or corner post.
This suggested the possibilities that they had moved to Croatoan
Island, but a hurricane prevented John White from investigating the
island for survivors.:130–33 Other speculation includes their
having starved, or been swept away or lost at sea during the stormy
weather of 1588. No further attempts at contact were recorded for some
years. Whatever the fate of the settlers, the settlement is now
remembered as the "Lost Colony of Roanoke Island".
In December 1581, Raleigh returned to England from
Ireland as his
company had been disbanded. He took part in court life and became a
favourite of Queen Elizabeth I because of his efforts at increasing
Protestant Church in Ireland. In 1585, Raleigh was knighted
and was appointed warden of the stannaries, that is of the tin mines
of Cornwall and Devon, Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall, and vice-admiral
of the two counties. He sat in parliament as member for Devonshire in
1585 and 1586. He was also granted the right to colonise
Raleigh commissioned shipbuilder R. Chapman of
Deptford to build a
ship for him. It was originally called Ark but became Ark Raleigh,
following the convention at the time by which the ship bore the name
of its owner.
The Crown (in the person of Queen Elizabeth I) purchased
the ship from Raleigh in January 1587 for £5,000 (£1,100,000 as of
2015). This took the form of a reduction in the sum that Sir
Walter owed the queen; he received Exchequer tallies but no money. As
a result, the ship was renamed Ark Royal.
Walter Raleigh by William Segar
In 1592, Raleigh was given many rewards by the Queen, including Durham
House in the Strand and the estate of Sherborne, Dorset. He was
appointed Captain of the Yeomen of the Guard. However, he had not been
given any of the great offices of state. In the Armada year of 1588,
Raleigh had some involvement with defence against the Spanish at
Devon. His ship, the Ark Raleigh, was Lord High Admiral Howard's
In 1591, Raleigh was secretly married to Elizabeth "Bess" Throckmorton
(or Throgmorton). She was one of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting, 11
years his junior, and was pregnant at the time. She gave birth to a
son, believed to be named Damerei, who was given to a wet nurse at
Durham House, but he died in October 1592 of plague. Bess resumed her
duties to the queen. The following year, the unauthorised marriage was
discovered and the Queen ordered Raleigh to be imprisoned and Bess
dismissed from court. Both were imprisoned in the Tower of
June 1592. He was released from prison in August 1592 to manage a
recently returned expedition and attack on the Spanish coast. The
fleet was recalled by the Queen, but not before it captured an
incredibly rich prize— a merchant ship (carrack) named Madre de Deus
(Mother of God) off Flores. Raleigh was sent to organise and divide
the spoils of the ship. He was sent back to the Tower, but by early
1593 had been released and become a member of Parliament.
It was several years before Raleigh returned to favour, and he
travelled extensively in this time. Raleigh and his wife remained
devoted to each other. They had two more sons, Walter (known as Wat)
Raleigh was elected a burgess of Mitchell, Cornwall, in the parliament
of 1593. He retired to his estate at Sherborne, where he built a
new house, completed in 1594, known then as
Sherborne Lodge. Since
extended, it is now known as
Sherborne (new) Castle. He made friends
with the local gentry, such as Sir Ralph Horsey of
Clifton Maybank and
Charles Thynne of Longleat. During this period at a dinner party at
Horsey's, Raleigh had a heated discussion about religion with Reverend
Ralph Ironsides. The argument later gave rise to charges of atheism
against Raleigh, though the charges were dismissed. He was elected to
Parliament, speaking on religious and naval matters.
First voyage to Guiana
Further information: Raleigh's
El Dorado Expedition
Republic of Guyana, 100-dollar gold coin 1976 Commemorating the book
Discovery of Guiana 1596 and 10 Years of Independence from British
In 1594, he came into possession of a Spanish account of a great
golden city at the headwaters of the Caroní River. A year later, he
explored what is now
Guyana and eastern
Venezuela in search of Lake
Parime and Manoa, the legendary city. Once back in England, he
published The Discovery of Guiana (1596), an account of his voyage
which made exaggerated claims as to what had been discovered. The book
can be seen as a contribution to the
El Dorado legend.
gold deposits, but no evidence indicates that Raleigh found any mines.
He is sometimes said to have discovered Angel Falls, but these claims
are considered far-fetched.
Raleigh and his son Walter in 1602
In 1596, Raleigh took part in the Capture of Cadiz, where he was
wounded. He also served as the rear admiral (a principal command) of
Islands Voyage to the
Azores in 1597. On his return from the
Azores, Raleigh faced the major threat of the 3rd Spanish Armada
during the autumn of 1597. The Armada was dispersed by a storm, but
Lord Howard of Effingham and Raleigh were able to organise a fleet
that resulted in the capture of a Spanish ship in retreat carrying
vital information regarding the Spanish plans.
In 1597 Raleigh was chosen member of parliament for Dorset, and in
1601 for Cornwall. He was unique in the Elizabethan period in
sitting for three counties.
From 1600 to 1603, as governor of the
Channel Island of Jersey,
Raleigh modernised its defences. This included construction of a new
fort protecting the approaches to Saint Helier, Fort Isabella
Bellissima, or Elizabeth Castle.
Trial and imprisonment
Raleigh's cell, Bloody Tower, Tower of London
Royal favour with Queen Elizabeth had been restored by this time, but
his good fortune did not last; the Queen died on 23 March 1603.
Raleigh was arrested on 19 July 1603, charged with treason for his
involvement in the
Main Plot against Elizabeth's successor, James I,
and imprisoned in the Tower of London.
Raleigh's trial began on 17 November in the converted Great Hall of
Winchester Castle. Raleigh conducted his own defence. The chief
evidence against him was the signed and sworn confession of his friend
Henry Brooke, 11th Baron Cobham. Raleigh repeatedly requested that
Cobham be called to testify. "[Let] my accuser come face to face, and
be deposed. Were the case but for a small copyhold, you would have
witnesses or good proof to lead the jury to a verdict; and I am here
for my life!" Raleigh argued that the evidence against him was
"hearsay", but the tribunal refused to allow Cobham to testify and be
cross-examined. Raleigh was found guilty, but King James
spared his life.
He remained imprisoned in the Tower until 1616. While there, he wrote
many treatises and the first volume of The Historie of the World
(first edition published 1614) about the ancient history of Greece
and Rome. His son, Carew, was conceived and born (1604) while Raleigh
was imprisoned in the Tower.
Second voyage to Guiana
James I's royal warrant pardoning Raleigh in 1617.
In 1617, Raleigh was pardoned by the King and granted permission to
conduct a second expedition to
Venezuela in search of El Dorado.
During the expedition, a detachment of Raleigh's men under the command
of his long-time friend
Lawrence Keymis attacked the Spanish outpost
of Santo Tomé de Guayana on the
Orinoco River, in violation of peace
treaties with Spain, and against Raleigh's orders. A condition of
Raleigh's pardon was avoidance of any hostility against Spanish
colonies or shipping. In the initial attack on the settlement,
Raleigh's son, Walter, was fatally shot. Keymis informed Raleigh of
his son's death and begged for forgiveness, but did not receive it,
and at once committed suicide. On Raleigh's return to England, an
outraged Count Gondomar, the Spanish ambassador, demanded that
Raleigh's death sentence be reinstated by King James, who had little
choice but to do so. Raleigh was brought to
Sir Lewis Stukeley, where he passed up numerous opportunities to make
an effective escape.
Execution and aftermath
Raleigh was beheaded in the
Old Palace Yard
Old Palace Yard at the Palace of
Westminster on 29 October 1618. "Let us dispatch", he said to his
executioner. "At this hour my ague comes upon me. I would not have my
enemies think I quaked from fear." After he was allowed to see the axe
that would be used to behead him, he mused: "This is a sharp Medicine,
but it is a Physician for all diseases and miseries." According to
biographers, Raleigh's last words (as he lay ready for the axe to
fall) were: "Strike, man, strike!"
Raleigh just before he was beheaded – an illustration from
Thomas Hariot may have introduced him to tobacco. Having been one
of the people to popularise tobacco smoking in England, he left a
small tobacco pouch, found in his cell shortly after his execution.
Engraved upon the pouch was a
Latin inscription: Comes meus fuit in
illo miserrimo tempore ("It was my companion at that most miserable
Raleigh's head was embalmed and presented to his wife. His body was to
be buried in the local church in Beddington, Surrey, the home of Lady
Raleigh, but was finally laid to rest in St. Margaret's, Westminster,
where his tomb may still be visited today. "The Lords", she wrote,
"have given me his dead body, though they have denied me his life. God
hold me in my wits." It has been said that Lady Raleigh kept her
husband's head in a velvet bag until her death. After Raleigh's
wife's death 29 years later, his head was returned to his tomb and
interred at St. Margaret's Church.
Although Raleigh's popularity had waned considerably since his
Elizabethan heyday, his execution was seen by many, both at the time
and since, as unnecessary and unjust, as for many years his
involvement in the
Main Plot seemed to have been limited to a meeting
with Lord Cobham. One of the judges at his trial later said: "The
justice of England has never been so degraded and injured as by the
condemnation of the honourable Sir Walter Raleigh."
Raleigh while imprisoned in the Tower wrote his incomplete "The
Historie of the World." Using a wide array of sources in six
languages, Raleigh was fully abreast of the latest continental
scholarship. He wrote not about England, but of the ancient world with
a heavy emphasis on geography. Despite his intention of providing
current advice to the King of England, King James I complained that it
was "too sawcie in censuring Princes."
Raleigh's poetry is written in the relatively straightforward,
unornamented mode known as the plain style.
C. S. Lewis
C. S. Lewis considered
Raleigh one of the era's "silver poets", a group of writers who
Italian Renaissance influence of dense classical
reference and elaborate poetic devices. His writing contains strong
personal treatments of themes such as love, loss, beauty, and time.
Most of his poems are short lyrics that were inspired by actual
In poems such as What is Our Life and The Lie, Raleigh expresses a
contemptus mundi (contempt of the world) attitude more characteristic
Middle Ages than of the dawning era of humanistic optimism. But
his lesser-known long poem The Ocean's Love to Cynthia combines this
vein with the more elaborate conceits associated with his
Edmund Spenser and John Donne, expressing a melancholy
sense of history. The poem was written during his imprisonment in the
Tower of London.
Raleigh wrote a poetic response to Christopher Marlowe's The
Passionate Shepherd to His Love of 1592, entitled The Nymph's Reply to
the Shepherd. Both were written in the style of traditional pastoral
poetry and follow the structure of six four-line stanzas employing a
rhyme scheme of AABB, with Raleigh's an almost line-for-line
refutation of Marlowe's sentiments. Years later, the 20th century
William Carlos Williams
William Carlos Williams would join the poetic "argument" with his
Raleigh was Right.
List of poems
Among all finished, and some unfinished, poems written by, or
plausibly attributed to, Raleigh: As ye came from the holy land is
often attributed to Raleigh, but in the words of
Gerald Bullett "it
certainly existed before Ralegh arrived on the scene; Ralegh's
connexion with it is largely a matter of conjecture".
"Another of the Same"
"Conceit begotten by the Eyes"
"Epitaph on Sir Philip Sidney"
"Epitaph on the Earl of Leicester"
"Even such is Time"
"Farewell to the Court"
"His Petition to Queen Anne of Denmark"
"If Cynthia be a Queen"
"In Commendation of George Gascoigne's Steel Glass"
"Like Hermit Poor"
"Lines from Catullus"
"Love and Time"
"My Body in the Walls captive"
"The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd"
"Of Spenser's Faery Queen"
"On the Snuff of a Candle"
"The Ocean's Love to Cynthia"
"A Poem entreating of Sorrow"
"A Poem put into my Lady Laiton's Pocket"
"A Prognistication upon Cards and Dice"
"The Shepherd's Praise of Diana"
"To His Mistress"
"To the Translator of Lucan's Pharsalia"
"What is Our Life?"
"The Wood, the Weed, the Wag"
Walter Raleigh in popular culture
Statue in Raleigh, North Carolina
A galliard was composed in honour of Raleigh by either Francis Cutting
or Richard Allison.
The state capital of North Carolina, its second-largest city, was
named Raleigh in 1792, after Sir Walter, sponsor of the Roanoke
Colony. In the city, a bronze statue, which has been moved around
different locations within the city, was cast in honour of the city's
namesake. The "Lost Colony" is commemorated at the Fort Raleigh
National Historic Site on Roanoke Island, North Carolina.
One of 11 boarding houses at the
Royal Hospital School
Royal Hospital School has been named
after Raleigh, as is one of the four nautically named Houses at the
Preparatory School of Barnard Castle School.
Raleigh County, West Virginia, is also named in his honour.
Mount Raleigh in the
Pacific Ranges of the
Coast Mountains in British
Columbia, Canada, was named for him, with related features the
Raleigh Glacier and Raleigh Creek named in association with
the mountain. Mount Gilbert, just to Mount Raleigh's south, was named
for his half-brother, Sir Humphrey.
Raleigh has been widely speculated to be responsible for introducing
the potato to Europe, and was a key figure in bringing it to Ireland.
However, modern historians dispute this claim, suggesting it would
have been impossible for Raleigh to have discovered the potato in the
places he visited.
Due to Raleigh's role in the popularisation of smoking, John Lennon
humorously referred to him as "such a stupid get" in the song "I'm So
Tired" on the "White Album" The Beatles (1968).
Various colourful stories are told about him, such as laying his cloak
over a puddle for the Queen, but they are probably
The Armada Service
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though he used that spelling only once, as far as is known. His most
consistent preference was for "Ralegh". His full name is /ˈwɔːltər
ˈrɔːli/, though in practice /ˈræli/, RAL-ee, or even /ˈrɑːli/
RAH-lee are the usual modern pronunciations in England.
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The Discovery of Guiana
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^ The Beatles (The White Album) "I'm So Tired" website. Retrieved 11
^ Naunton, Robert Fragmenta Regalia 1694, reprinted 1824.
^ Fuller, Thomas (1684) Anglorum Speculum or the Worthies of England
^ 10 Historical Misconceptions, HowStuffWorks
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Hiscock, Andrew. "Walter Ralegh and the Arts of Memory." Literature
Compass 4.4 (2007): 1030–1058.
Holmes, John. "The Guiana Projects: Imperial and Colonial Ideologies
in Ralegh and Purchas." Literature & History 14.2 (2005): 1–13.
Lyons, Mathew. The Favourite: Ralegh and His Queen (Hachette UK,
May, Steven W. Sir Walter Ralegh (Twayne Pub, 1989). Raleigh as a
writer and poet.
Nicholls, Mark and Williams, Penry. ‘Ralegh, Sir Walter
(1554–1618)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford
University Press, 2004.
Pemberton, Henry (Author); Carroll Smyth (Editor), Susan L. Pemberton
(Contributor) Shakespeare And Sir Walter Raleigh: Including Also
Several Essays Previously Published In The New Shakspeareana,
Kessinger Publishing, LLC; 264 pages, 2007. ISBN 978-0548312483
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Today 48.3 (1998): 17+.
Lyons, Mathew. "Cloaked in Mystery." History Today (2012) 62.7 pp
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historical culture of the late Renaissance (U of Chicago Press, 2012).
Ralegh, Sir Walter, and Michael Rudick. "The Poems of Sir Walter
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Renaissance Studies/Renaissance English Text Society, 1999).
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Quotes attributed to Sir Walter Raleigh
Story of Raleigh's last years and his beheading
Poetry by Sir Walter Raleigh, plus commentary
Searching for the Lost Colony Blog
Robert Viking O'Brien & Stephen Kent O'Brien, Discovery of Guiana
essay, Yearbook of Comparative and General Literature
Walter Raleigh portal at luminarium.org
Tytler, Patrick Fraser (1848). "Life of Sir Walter Raleigh, Founded on
Authentic and Original Documents". London: T. Nelson and Sons
(published 1853). Retrieved 17 August 2008.
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