First Published: January 2007
Revised (substantive): 6 August 2016
An introductory note for the In Brief biography which follows:
I give here two very different accounts of Ralegh: one modern (from the 19th-century historian Alexander Brown), and one early-modern (from John Aubrey, 1626–1697). Ralegh was always a “provocative personality,” and points of view concerning his plural identities continue to multiply. “Ralegh was courtier, soldier, sailor, explorer, poet, parliamentarian, patron of the arts, falconer, gardener, botanist, chemist, historian, war reporter and antiquary. He tried his hand at so many things, and everything he touched seemed to glow. Yet, ultimately, his record is one of paradoxes and failures.” (J. Winton, Sir Walter Ralegh, 11)
Brown emphasizes Ralegh’s colonial ambitions and maritime adventures, censuring Ralegh — who supervised his North American colonies from England, and never himself set foot in Virginia — for the debacle surrounding the “Lost Colony” of 1587 (“the second Roanoke colony is the tragedy of American colonization,” concludes Brown). Although Ralegh is often credited with establishing an English foothold in America, “None of his settlements in Virginia took permanent root.” (J. Winton, Sir Walter Ralegh, 11) It is even thought by some that Ralegh played politics with his Lost Colony, letting personal ambition get in the way of exerting himself
in the colonists’ behalf. Raleigh’s patent would expire on March 24, 1591, if he had not established a colony by that time, but so long as the colony that he had sent to Roanoke was “lost” and not destroyed, his patent would remain valid. For this reason it has been suggested that Raleigh was reluctant to discover that his colony had been wiped out. At any rate, he let the matter remain in doubt and was not disposed to invest additional funds during the 1590’s in colonial enterprise.
(L. B. Wright and R. K. Andrist, The American Heritage History of the Thirteen Colonies, 48)
While Ralegh’s initial ability to organize and equip the American expeditions was extraordinary at the time,
Raleigh’s position as promoter of the enterprise relied on material support from gentlemen at Court as well as from the Queen. He formed a syndicate of courtiers, mainly from Devon and Cornwall, but seems to have based his hopes more on the possibilities of capturing Spanish shipping and merchandise than on the resources the syndicate might be able to provide. The Queen’s contribution was cautious rather than whole-hearted, consisting of a licence to explore and settle in North America granted on 25 March 1584, the loan of a ship on the voyage of 1585 and the right to name the land to be explored Virginia in her honour. She also knighted Raleigh on 5 January 1585.
(P. Hulton, America, 1585: The Complete Drawings of John White, 3)
In the end, Ralegh “never understood that the establishment of permanent colonies required more capital than he was willing or able to invest. To him colonies would be the means of personal aggrandizement and glory. He expected them to pay their way as a source of valuable commodities, and they were also to be used as bases for attacking his bitter enemy Spain.” (Wright & Andrist, 48)
Aubrey’s take on Ralegh is quite different from that of modern commentators. Closer in time to the man whose meteoric rise and fall captivated a nation, Aubrey ranks Ralegh above mere “ordinary mortals.” To Aubrey, Ralegh was one of “the Hero’s of our Nation” whose execution was “the Tragoedie of one of the gallants worthies that ever England bred.” Despite all his promise (Aubrey makes a point of describing Ralegh’s middle-aged vigor, as revealed by the executioner’s axe) and potential for further service to the state, “the famous Sir Walter Rawleigh ... fell a Sacrifice to Spanish Politicks,” concludes Aubrey. Another famous fellow of the Royal Society, John Evelyn, took a similar view: “... and what though Sir Walter Raleigh miscarried at Guiana, he was a Person of extraordinary Merit for his Learning and Experience; and who is he that deplores not his being so unhappily cut off (and our since want of such as Raleigh was) to gratifie the Craft and Malicious?”, referring here to the machinations of the Spanish ambassador, Count de Gondomar. (J. Evelyn, Numismata, 1697, 160) And Daniel Defoe echoed both men’s sentiments when he quipped: “Nothing’s so partial as the Laws of Fate, / Erecting Blockheads to suppress the Great. / Sir Francis Drake the Spanish Plate-Fleet Won, / He had been a Pyrate if he had got none. / Sir Walter Rawleigh strove, but miss'd the Plate, / And therefore Di'd [died] a Traytor to the State.” (D. Defoe, An Essay upon Projects, 1697, 17)
Unlike most modern biographers, Aubrey gives only one date for Ralegh (“The time of his Execution was contrived to be on my Lord Mayers day (viz. the day after St. Simon and St. Jude) 1618”) constructing his life of Ralegh from legend — from the stories of acquaintances who knew or heard tell of Ralegh — and in so doing, Aubrey records for posterity the conflicting public perceptions of a man who was constantly refashioning himself for court and country. Given this reliance on hearsay, it is not surprising that Aubrey sometimes gets it “only half right,” as in his claim that Ralegh was “the first that brought tobacco into England and into fashion.” In fact,
Drake and Hawkins both brought tobacco to England before Ralegh’s expeditions, but Ralegh certainly made smoking fashionable. He smoked at Court and even induced the Queen to try a puff ... There were many stories of Ralegh and his smoking: that he was slowly poisoning the Queen by it, that his old man-servant in Ireland thought he was on fire and poured a jug of spiced ale over him to put out the flames; and that he once bet the Queen he could weigh tobacco smoke; the Queen ridiculed the idea and struck the bet, whereupon Ralegh weighed his tobacco, smoked it, and then weighed the ash. The difference, he said, was the weight of the smoke. The Queen is supposed to have replied that she had heard of men who had turned gold into smoke but Ralegh was the first to have turned smoke into gold.
(J. Winton, Sir Walter Ralegh, 61)
A final note on the spelling of Ralegh’s name: Aubrey gives several variations (Raleigh, Rawleigh, and most often W. R.), while Brown uses “Ralegh,” as did Queen Elizabeth when she signed the letters patent for him on 25 March 1584. While the several puns on Ralegh’s name add to the inconsistencies (Elizabeth I is known to have called him her dear “Water” and Aubrey reports that James I first greeted him ominously, in broad Scottish brogue, with “I have heard rawly of thee, mon”) probably the most creative spellings are found in letters from the Spanish ambassador, Don Pedro de Zuñiga, to King Philip III of Spain, reporting on what “Vata ralas” or “Watawales” — “the great Scourge and hate of the Spaniard,” according to Aubrey — was newly up to; e.g.,
Watawales who is in the Tower has left his fortune so that the King may give it to a Scotchman, who thereupon will give him 1200 ducats. Thus he expects to regain his liberty and that the King will banish him to Guiana, where he left some people and wishes to send more.
(Zuñiga to Philip III, 23 Nov. 1609; in A. Brown, The Genesis of the United States, 2 vols., 1890, 1.332–33)
I myself use “Ralegh,” as that appears to have been his own preferred spelling:
In 1584 Ralegh appears to have decided that his name should henceforth always be spelled Ralegh, the signature his father used. Until then, he had sometimes used Ralegh but more often Rauley, and, on the deed renouncing the tithe of fish and larks in 1578, Rauleygh. He used Rauley twice, early in 1584, but from the date of a letter to the Vice-Chancellor and Senate of Cambridge of 9th July 1584 he wrote his name Ralegh on all surviving correspondence, and it was also the spelling used in his books. He does not seem ever to have used the common modern version Raleigh. He pronounced his name as “rawly” and this pronunciation seems to have been generally used. The two syllables of his name, raw and lie, are punned and given double meanings in a contemporary couplet (Aubrey gives one version of it) “The foe to the stommacke, and the word of disgrace Shewes the gentlemans name with the bold face.” (Traditionally, this was the answer of a gentleman called Noel to a couplet Ralegh composed on his name: “The word of deniall, and the letter of fifty Makes the gentlemans name that will never be thrifty.” Noe L.)
(J. Winton, Sir Walter Ralegh, 47)
a She-philosopher.com In Brief biography
Sir Walter Ralegh (1552–1618)
§ Character No. 1
Born at Hayes Barton, in Devon, in 1552; entered Oriel College, at Oxford, about 1568; served with the Huguenots in France, 1569–75; under Sir John Norris in the Low Countries, 1576–78; interested with his half-brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, in his American schemes, 1578; sailed with Gilbert for America in the fall of 1578, in command of the Falcon; Gilbert was forced to return, but Ralegh determined to make a raid on Spanish vessels, had a dangerous sea-fight near the Cape Verde Islands, and returned to Plymouth, May 28, 1579; was recruiting soldiers for Ireland in July, 1580; landed at Dingle, Ireland, in October, 1580; took part in suppressing the insurrection in Ireland, and received a grant of 12,000 acres of Desmond’s lands, in Cork and Waterford; in favor with Queen Elizabeth, April, 1582; furnished a ship, the Ralegh, for Gilbert’s voyage to America in 1583; interested in Adrian Gilbert’s patent of the North West Passage, February 6, 1584; his own letters patent for planting of the New Lands in America, March 25, 1584; aided in sending Amadas and Barlow to America, April 27, 1584; Hakluyt wrote for him ‘A particular discourse concerning the great necessitie and manifold Comodyties that are like to grow to this Realme of England by the Westerne discoveries,’ etc.; M. P. for Devon, November 23, 1584, to September 14, 1585; the House of Commons took action on his patent, December 14–18, and the House of Lords, December 19, 1584; knighted at Greenwich, January 6, 1585; Greenville’s voyage, taking the first colony to Roanoke, April 9, 1585; warden of the Stannaries, July, 1585; ventured vessels in the voyages of the Earl of Cumberland; M. P. Devon, October 15, 1586, to March 23, 1587; letter from Hakluyt at Paris, December 30, 1586, telling him that he had dedicated his ‘Peter Martyr’ to him (Ralegh), and advising him to make his plantation in Chesapeake Bay. His colony had returned from Roanoke with Drake, in July, 1586, his indenture to White and others, January 7, 1587. In this year he received a grant of Babington’s forfeited estates, March 17; White’s voyage sailed for Roanoke, May 8; Hakluyt’s translation of the ‘Narratives of the Huguenots in Florida’ dedicated to him, May 1; he published ‘The voyage which Antonio de Espeio made in the yeere 1583, of the dyscoverye of Newe Mexico,’ in May (probably the first book published by Ralegh); was captain of the queen’s guard and member of the council of war. In 1588 he served against the Armada, and Hariot dedicated his ‘Briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia’ to him. In 1589 he transferred his American grants to Thomas Smith and others, reserving to himself the fifth part of all the ore of gold and silver only, March 7; his vessels were constantly found on the Atlantic in search of Spanish prizes; he served in the Portugal expedition under Drake, aud visited Spenser at Kilcolman Castle. Returned to court; wrote the report of Sir Richard Grenville’s seafight in 1591; was a partner in Sir John Watts’ voyage to America, March to October, 1591; planned a voyage against Panama, 1592; married Elizabeth Throgmorton, and was imprisoned in the Tower, 1592; M. P. for St. Michael’s, February 19 to April 10, 1593; Whiddon’s voyage to Guiana, 1594; his own voyage to Guiana, February to August, 1595; at the taking of Cadiz, June, 1596; published an account of his voyage of 1595 to Guiana, in 1596, and sent a voyage there under Keymis[,] January to June, 1596; and another under Berry (or Birnie) December 27, 1596, to June 28, 1597. In 1597 he reappeared at court in May, and sailed on the celebrated voyage to the Azores in August; M. P. for Dorset, October 24, 1597, to February 9, 1598; planning another expedition to Guiana, under Sir John Gilbert, in November, 1598; governor and captain of Jersey, etc., August 26, 1600; M. P. Cornwall, October 27 to December 19, 1601; Mace’s voyage and Ralegh’s letter to Cecil in regard to Gilbert’s voyage, 1602; his permission for Pring’s voyage of 1603; met King James on his way to London; committed to the Tower on charge of implication in the Main conspiracy; was tried and convicted November 17, 1603; Sir John Popham presided at his trial. He remained in the Tower until January 30, 1616. Count Scarnafissi proposed to Ralegh to divert his expedition from Guiana, and to join the forces of the Great Duke of Savoy in making an attack on Genoa. Ralegh was anxious to enter this service, thereby causing a delay in the preparations for the American voyage; but in January, 1617, England refused to aid the duke in his war with Spain, and on March 28 following Ralegh sailed for Guiana, where he made an attack on the Spaniards. He returned to England (sailing past our [United States] whole coast, via Newfoundland), arriving there in June, 1618; was arrested soon after; beheaded October 29, and buried in St. Margaret’s, Westminster. His only surviving son, Carew Ralegh, was admitted into the Va. Co. of London, April 2, 1623.
“ The story of the second Roanoke colony is the tragedy of American colonization.
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§ Character No. 2
[ Dick introduces Aubrey’s life of Ralegh with the summary statement: “Born 1552. Military and naval commander and author. He served as a soldier in France and Ireland. Became a favourite of Queen Elizabeth, who vastly enriched him. Founded the first Virginia colony, explored Guiana, led an attack on the Spanish navy at Cadiz (1596) besides other naval ventures. The death of Elizabeth in 1603 was the turning-point in Raleigh’s fortunes. Thenceforward disaster clouded his days. He was unjustly sentenced to death for treason in 1603, and though he was reprieved, spent thirteen years in the Tower. Released in 1615 he set out on his last voyage to Guiana, which proved a failure and in which he lost his eldest son. He returned a broken and dying man, but met with no pity from his ungenerous King, who, urged, it is believed, by the King of Spain, had him beheaded on 29th October, 1618.” ]
In his youth for several yeares he was under streights for want of money. I remember that Mr. Thomas Child, of Worcestershire, told me that Sir Walter borrowed a Gowne of him when he was at Oxford (they were both of the same College) which he never restored, nor money for it.
“ He went into Ireland, where he served in the Warres, and shewed much courage and conduct, but he would be perpetually differing with (I thinke) Gray, then Lord Deputy, so that at last the Hearing was to be at councell table before the Queen, which was what he desired; where he told his Tale so well, and with so goode a Grace and Presence, that the Queen tooke especiall notice of him, and presently preferred him. So that it must be before this that he served in the French warres.
“ Queen Elizabeth loved to have all the Servants of her Court proper men, and as beforesaid Sir W. R.’s gracefull presence was no meane recommendation to him. I thinke his first preferment at Court was, Captaine of her Majestie’s Guard. There came a countrey gentleman (or sufficient yeoman) up to Towne, who had severall sonnes, but one an extraordinary proper handsome fellowe, whom he did hope to have preferred to be a Yeoman of the Guard. The father (a goodly man himselfe) comes to Sir Walter Raleigh, a stranger to him, and told him that he had brought up a boy that he would desire (having many children) should be one of her Majestie’s guard. Quod Sir Walter Raleigh, had you spake for yourselfe I should readily have graunted your desire, for your person deserves it, but I putt in no boyes. Said the father, Boy come in. The Son enters, about 18 or 19, but such a goodly proper young Fellow as Sir Walter had not seen the like: He was the tallest of all the Guard. Sir Walter Raleigh sweares him immediately; and ordered him to carry up the first Dish at Dinner, where the Queen beheld him with admiration, as if a beautiful young Giant had stalked in with the service.
“ Sir Walter Raleigh was a great Chymist, and amongst some MSS. receipts I have seen some secrets from him. He studyed most in his Sea-Voyages, where he carried always a Trunke of Bookes along with him, and had nothing to divert him. He made an excellent Cordiall, good in Feavers, etc.; Mr. Robert Boyle haz the recipe, and makes it and does great Cures by it.
“ A person so much immerst in action all along, and in fabrication of his owne Fortunes (till his confinement in the Tower) could have but little time to study but what he could spare in the morning. He was no Slug; without doubt he had a wonderfull waking spirit, and a great judgment to guide it.
“ Durham House was a noble palace; after he came to his greatness he lived there or in some apartment of it. I well remember his study, which was a little turret that looked into and over the Thames, and had the prospect which is pleasant perhaps as any in the World, and which not only refreshes the eie-sight but cheeres the spirits, and (to speake my mind) I beleeve enlarges an ingeniose man’s thoughts.
“ Shirburne castle, parke, mannor, etc., did belong (and still ought to belong) to the Church of Sarum. Sir W. R. begged it as a Bon from Queen Elizabeth: where he built a delicate Lodge in the Park of Brick; not big: but very convenient for the bignes, a place to retire from the Court in Summer time, and to contemplate, etc. Upon his attainder it was begged by the favorite Carr, Earl of Somerset, who forfeited it (I thinke) about the poysoning of Sir John Overbury. Then John, Earl of Bristowe, had it given him for his good service in the Ambassade in Spaine, and added two Wings to Sir Walter Raleighs Lodge. In short and indeed, ’tis a most sweet and pleasant place and site as any in the West: perhaps none like it.
“ He was a tall, handsome and bold man; but his naeve was that he was damnable proud. Old Sir Robert Harley, of Brampton Brian Castle, who knew him, would say it was a great question who was the proudest, Sir Walter or Sir Thomas Overbury, but the difference that was, was judged on Sir Thomas’s side.
“ Old John Long, who then wayted on Sir W. Long, being one time in the Privy-garden with his master, saw the Earle of Nottingham wipe the dust from Sir Walter R.’s shoes with his cloake, in compliment. He was a second to the Earle of Oxford in a Duell. Was acquainted and accepted with all the Hero’s of our Nation in his time.
“ He had a most remarkeable aspect, an exceeding high forehead, long-faced and sour eie-lidded, a kind of pigge-eie. His Beard tumd up naturally.
“ In the great parlour at Downton, at Mr. Raleghs, is a good piece (an originall) of Sir W. in a white sattin doublet, all embrodered with rich pearles, and a mighty rich chaine of great Pearles about his neck, and the old servants have told me that the pearles were neer as big as the painted ones.
“ Old Sir Thomas Malett, one of the Justices of the King’s bench tempore Caroli I et II, knew Sir Walter, and I have heard him say, that notwithstanding his so great Mastership in Style and his conversation with the learnedest and politest persons, yet he spake broad Devonshire to his dying day. His voice was small, as likewise were my schoolfellowes his grand-nephewes.
“ In his youth his Companions were boysterous blades, but generally those that had witt; except otherwise uppon designe, to gett them engaged for him, e.g., Sir Charles Snell, of Kington Saint Michael in North Wilts, my good neighbour, an honest young gentleman but kept a perpetuall Sott. He engaged him to build a ship, the Angel Gabriel, for the Designe for Guiana, which cost him the mannor of Yatton Keynell, the farme at Easton Piers, Thomhill, and the church-Iease of Bishops Cannings; which ship, upon Sir Walter Raleigh’s attainder, was forfeited.
“ In his youthful time was one Charles Chester, that often kept company with his acquaintance: he was a bold, impertenent fellowe, and they could never be at quiet for him; a perpetuall talker, and made a noyse like a drumme in a roome. So one time at a taveme, Sir W. R. beates him and seales up his mouth, i.e. his upper and neather beard, with hard wax. From him Ben Jonson takes his Carlo Buffono (i.e. Jester) in Every Man out of his Humour.
“ He loved a wench well; and one time getting up one of the Mayds of Honour up against a tree in a Wood (’twas his first Lady) who seemed at first boarding to be something fearfull of her Honour, and modest, she cryed, sweet Sir Walter, what doe you me ask? Will you undoe me? Nay, sweet Sir Walter! Sweet Sir Walter! Sir Walter! At last, as the danger and the pleasure at the same time grew higher, she cryed in the extasey, Swisser Swatter Swisser Swatter. She proved with child, and I doubt not but this Hero tooke care of them both, as also that the Product was more than an ordinary mortal.
“ My old friend James Harrington, Esq., was well acquainted with Sir Benjamin Ruddyer, who was an acquaintance of Sir Walter Raleigh’s. He told Mr. J. H. that Sir Walter Raleigh, being invited to dinner with some great person, where his son was to goe with him: He sayd to his Son, Thou art such a quarrelsome, affronting creature that I am ashamed to have such a Beare in my Company. Mr. Walt humbled himselfe to his Father, and promised he would behave himselfe mightily mannerly. So away they went, and Sir Benjamin, I thinke, with them. He sate next to his Father and was very demure at leaste halfe dinner time. Then sayd he, I this morning, not having the feare of God before my eies, but by the instigation of the devill, went to a Whore. I was very eager of her, kissed and embraced her, and went to enjoy her, but she thrust me from her, and vowed I should not, For your father lay with me but an hower ago. Sir Walt, being so strangely supprized and putt out of his countenance at so great a Table, gives his son a damned blow over the face; his son, as rude as he was, would not strike his father, but strikes over the face of the Gentleman that sate next to him, and sayed, Box about, ’twill come to my Father anon. ’Tis now a common used Proverb.
“ His intimate Acquaintance and Friends were:—Edward de Vere, Earle of Oxford, Sir Francis Vere, Sir Horatio Vere, Sir Francis Drake, Nicholas Hill, Thomas Cavendish, Mr. Thomas Hariot, Sir Walter Long, of Dracot in Wilts, Cavaliero Surff, Ben Johnson, etc.
“ Sir Walter was the first that brought Tobacco into England and into fashion. In our part of North Wilts, e.g. Malmesbury hundred, it first came into fashion by Sir Walter Long.
“ I have heard my grandfather Lyte say that one pipe was handed round from man to man about the Table. They had first silver pipes, the ordinary sort made use of a walnute-shell and a strawe.
“ It was sold then for its wayte in Silver. I have heard some of our old yeomen neighbours say, that when they went to Malmesbury or Chippenham market, they culled out their biggest shillings to lay in the Scales against the Tobacco.
“ Sir W. R., standing in a Stand at Sir Robert Poyntz parke at Acton (which was built by Sir Robert’s Grandfather to keep his Whores in) tooke a pipe of Tobacco, which made the Ladies quitt it till he had donne.
“ Within these 35 yeares ’twas scandalous for a Divine to take Tobacco. Now, the Customes of it are the greatest his Majestie hath.
“ I have now forgott whether Sir Walter Raleigh was not for the putting of Mary Queen of Scotts to death; I thinke, yea: but besides that, at a consultation at Whitehall after Queen Elizabeth’s death, how matters were to be ordered and what ought to be donne, Sir Walter Raleigh declared his opinion, ’twas the wisest way for them to keepe the Government in their owne hands and sett up a Commonwealth, and not to be subject to a needy, beggarly nation. It seems there were some of this caball who kept this not so secret but that it came to King James’ eare, who, where the English Noblesse mett and received him, being told upon presentment to his Majesty their names, when Sir Walter Raleigh’s name was told (Ralegh) said the King, O my soule, mon, I have heard rawly of thee.
“ It was a most stately sight, the glory of that Reception of his Majesty, where the Nobility and Gentry were in exceeding rich equippage, having enjoyed a long peace under the most excellent of Queens: and the Company was so exceeding numerous that their obedience carried a secret dread with it. King James did not inwardly like it, and, with an inward envy, sayd that he doubted not but that he should have been able on his owne strength (should the English have kept him out) to have dealt with them, and get his Right. Sayd Sir Walter Raleigh to him, Would to God that had been putt to the tryall: Why doe you wish that sayd the King. Because, sayd Sir Walter; that then you would have known your friends from your foes. But that reason of Sir Walter was never forgotten nor forgiven.
“ He was such a person (every way) that (as King Charles I sayes of Lord Strafford) a Prince would rather be afrayd of then ashamed of. He had that awfulness and ascendency in his Aspect over other mortalls.
“ Old Major Stansby of Hants, a most intimate friend and neighbour and coetanean of the late Earle of Southampton (Lord Treasurer) told me from his friend, the Earle, that as to the plott and businesse about the Lord Cobham, he being then Governor of Jersey, would not fully doe things unless they would goe to his island, and there advise and resolve about it; and that really and indeed Sir Walter’s purpose was when he had them there, to have betrayed them and the plott, and to have them delivered up to the King and made his Peace.
“ As for his noble Design in Guiana; vide a Latin voyage which John, Lord Vaughan, showed me, where is mention of Captaine North (brother to the Lord North) who went with Sir Walter, where is a large account of these matters. Mr. Edmund Wyld knew him, and sayes he was a learned and sober Gentleman and good Mathematician, but if you happened to speake of Guiana he would be strangely passionate and say ’twas the blessedst countrey under the Sun, etc., reflecting on the spoyling that brave Designe.
“ Captain Roger North was a most accomplished Gentleman: he was a great AIgebrist, which was rare in those dayes; but he had the acquaintance of his fellow-Traveller Mr. Hariot. He had excellent Collections and Remarques of his Voyages, which were all unfortunately burnt in Fleet Street at the great Conflagration of the City. This Family speakes not well of Sir Walter Raleigh, that Sir Walter designed to breake with the Spanyard, and to make himselfe popular in England. When he came to Guiana, he could not show them where the Mines of Gold were. He would have then gonne to the King of France (Lewis XIII) but his owne men brought him back.
“ When Sir Walter Raleigh was carried prisoner from the West to London, he lay at Salisbury, where, by his great Skill in Chimistry, he made himself like a Leper: by which meanes he thought he might retard his journey to a Prison: and study his escape. Dr. Heydock was sent for to give his opinion, if the Prisoner might be carried to London without danger of his life. The Dr. feeles Sr. Walters Pulses, and found they did beat well: and so detected the Imposture.
“ I have heard old Major Cosh say that Sir W. Raleigh did not care to goe on the Thames in a Wherry-boate; he would rather goe round about over London bridg.
“ When he was attached by the Officer about the business which cost him his head, he was carried in a whery, I thinke only with two men. King James was wont to say he was a Coward to be so taken and conveyed, for els he might easily have made his escape from so slight a guard.
“ I have heard my cosen Whitney say that he saw him in the Tower. He had a velvet cap laced, and a rich Gowne and trunke-hose.
“ He there (besides compiling his History of the World) studyed Chymistry. The Earle of Northumberland was prisoner at the same time, who was Patrone to Mr. Harriot and Mr. Warner, two of the best Mathematicians then in the world, as also Mr. Hues, who wrote De Globis. Serjeant Hoskins (the Poet) was a prisoner there too: he was Sir Walter’s Aristarchus.
“ At the end of his History of the World, he laments the Death of the most noble and most hopefull Prince Henry, whose great Favorite He was: and who, had he survived his father, would quickly have enlarged him; with rewards of Honour. So upon the Prince’s death ends his first part of his History of the World, with a gallant Eulogie of Him, and concludes: Versa est in Luctum Cithara mea; at cantus meus invocem flentium [my lyre is changed into the sound of mourning; and my song into the voices of people weeping].
“ His Booke sold very slowly at first, and the Booke-seller complayned of it, and told him that he should be a looser by it, which put Sir W. into a passion, and sayd that since the world did not understand it, they should not have his second part, which he tooke and threw into the fire, and burnt before his face.
“ He was scandalised with Atheisme; but he was a bold man, and would venture at discourse which was unpleasant to the Church-men. I remember my Lord Scudamour sayd, ’twas basely sayd of Sir W. R. to talke of the Anagramme of Dog. In his speech on the Scaffold, I have heard my cosen Whitney say (and I thinke ’tis printed) that he spake not one word of Christ, but of the great and incomprehensible God, with much zeale and adoration, so that he concluded that he was an a-christ, not an atheist.
“ He tooke a pipe of Tobacco a little before he went to the scaffold, which some formall persons were scandalised at, but I thinke ’twas well and properly donne to settle his spirits.
“ I remember I heard old father Symonds say that a father was at his execution, and that to his knowledge he dyed with a Lye in his mouth: I have now forgott what ’twas. The time of his Execution was contrived to be on my Lord Mayers day (viz. the day after St. Simon and St. Jude) 1618, that the Pageants and fine shewes might drawe away the people from beholding the Tragoedie of one of the gallants worthies that ever England bred. Buryed privately under the high altar at St. Margaret’s Church in Westminster, in which grave (or neer) lies James Harrington, Esq., author of Oceana.
“ Mr. Elias Ashmole told me that his son Carew Ralegh told him that he had his father’s Skull; that some yeares since, upon digging up the grave, his skull and neck bone being viewed, they found the bone of his Neck lapped over, so that he could not have been hanged.
Even such is tyme that takes in Trust
Our Youth, our Joyes, our all we have,
And payes us but with Earth and Dust,
Who, in the darke and silent Grave,
When we have wandered all our wayes
Shutts up the Story of our Dayes.
But from this Earth, this Grave, this Dust,
My God shall rayse me up I trust.
“ These Lines Sir Walter Raleigh wrote in his Bible, the night before he was beheaded, and desired his Relations with these words, viz. beg my dead body, which living is denyed you; and bury it either in Sherbourne or Exeter Church. He was somtimes a Poet, not often.
“ A Scaffold was erected in the old Palace yard, upon which after 14 yeares reprivement, his head was cutt off: at which time, such abundance of bloud issued from his veines, that shewed he had stock of nature enough left to have continued him many yeares in life, though now above three score yeares old, if it had not been taken away by the hand of Violence. And this was the end of the great Sir Walter Raleigh: great sometimes in the favour of Queen Elizabeth, and next to Sir Francis Drake, the great Scourge and hate of the Spaniard, who had many things to be commended in his life, but none more than his constancy at his death, which he tooke with so undaunted a resolution that one might perceive that he had a certain expectation of a better life after it, so far he was from holding those Atheisticall opinions, an Aspersion whereof some had cast upon him.
“ On the famous Sir Walter Rawleigh, who fell a Sacrifice to Spanish Politicks:
Here lieth, hidden in this Pitt,
The Wonder of the World for Witt.
It to small purpose did him serve;
His Witt could not his life preserve.
Hee living, was belov’d of none,
Yet in his death all did him moane.
Heaven hath his Soule, the world his Fame,
The grave his Corps; Stukley his shame.
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We know from the accounts of contemporaries (such as Aubrey, who gives a detailed and colorful description of Ralegh’s visage, voice and pearl-studded clothing) that Ralegh, like other ambitious men and women of his day, was very concerned with his public image. His rhetorical skill in both verbal and visual genres was legendary. Ralegh’s ability to persuade those around him served him well in Elizabeth’s court, but he also came to rely on this talent for persuasion to such an extent that even his friends disliked being played all the time. Henry Percy, 9th earl of Northumberland, once remarked that Ralegh “desired to seem to be able to sway all men’s fancies, all men’s courses.” (qtd. in J. Winton, Sir Walter Ralegh, 11)
When Ralegh first came to the court of Elizabeth I c.1576, he was but a “bare Gentleman,” with some family connections he could (and did) use, but with “a good presence” that was worth even more to a man with his particular set of talents.
He was a seasoned veteran soldier, with his experiences stamped in his face, in his mid-twenties, six foot tall, handsome and bold. He had, as [Sir Robert] Naunton says, “in the outward man, a good presence, in a handsome and well compacted person, a strong natural wit, and a better judgement, with a bold and plausible tongue, whereby he could set out his parts to the best advantage”. He had what Aubrey called “a most remarkable aspect, an exceeding high forehead, long-faced, and sour eie-lidded, a kind of pigge-eie”. With his dark, brooding good looks, swarthy complexion, black hair and beard which “turned up naturally”, he looked more like a Spaniard than an Englishman. His voice was “small” but he spoke “broad Devonshire to his dying day”. He had the capacity for both melancholy introspection and violent physical activity typical of his age. He was a man of dreams and ideas, who longed to put his thoughts into action. He was proud, quarrelsome, and quick to defend his honour. Insults and injustices rankled with him. He had a talent for acquisition, with a jackdaw’s eye for bright colours and ornaments, as well as for new ideas. His companions were kindred spirits. Aubrey describes them as “boysterous blades, but generally those that had wit”.
(J. Winton, Sir Walter Ralegh, 19)
By 1585, Elizabeth had greatly enriched Ralegh, and in so doing, created the great courtier who
spent money on the same scale as he earned it, especially upon clothes and jewels. Ralegh’s clothing was no more extravagant than that of many other gallants of the Court, but the expense of clothing an Elizabethan courtier can be judged by the case brought against Mr Hugh Pugh, a Welsh gentleman, on 26th April 1584. He was charged with stealing at Westminster a jewel worth £80, a hatband of pearls worth £30, and five yards of damask silk worth £3, all “the property of Walter Rawley”. This was at a time when a considerable household with servants could be kept up for the sum of £50 a year.
(J. Winton, Sir Walter Ralegh, 42)
Ralegh’s clothes attracted especial attention because of his position in the public eye. Surviving portraits show him as a figure of pale, elegant magnificence, in white satin pinked vest, close-sleeved to the wrist, brown doublets of velvet, finely flowered and embroidered with pearls, double pearl ear-drops, a fine white hat worn with a flourish and a feather secured with a ruby, trunk hose and white satin fringed garters, buff-coloured shoes tied with fine white ribbons. Often he holds the jewelled pommel of a dagger at his hip, and he has a cloak worked with an intricate design of pearls, and edged with brown fur. His armour is solid silver, inlaid with pearls, rubies and diamonds. He has the same jewels in the sword-belt across his chest. His favourite colours seem to be white and silver, and his favourite jewels were pearls (although his brother’s servants told Aubrey that the pearls were actually not so big as they were painted).
(J. Winton, Sir Walter Ralegh, 42)
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