Archive for February 19, 2020

Walter Raleigh was born in Devon in 1552 (or 1554). Little is known of his life. He took part in the French religious wars on the side of the Huguenots, studied for a year at Oxford and joined the Middle Temple (later in his life it was stated he had never actually studied law). At the age of 20, he was in the army that suppressed the Desmond rebellion in Ireland and came into the ownership of some property confiscated from the rebels. He was granted a royal charter to explore the Americas and led two expeditions to South America and also organised the expedition that founded the colony at Roanoke in North America, although he did not personally accompany it. In 1585 he was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall and Vice -Admiral. He was a member of Parliament for Devon in 1585 and 1586. In 1591 he was made Captain of the Yeoman of the Guard and received a number of gifts of property from Queen Elizabeth I. However in June 1592, he was imprisoned on her orders as it was discovered he had secretly married one of the Queen’s ladies in waiting without royal permission. In August he was released to lead a raid on Spain and although he captured an incredibly rich prize, he was put back in the Tower on his return to England. He was finally released early in 1593 and resumed his place in parliament, this time representing Cornwall. He spent much of his time on his estate in Sherborne with his family. In 1594, he travelled to Guiana in search of a fabled golden city, but by 1596 he was back in royal service at the capture of Cadiz, where he was wounded. In 1597 he led a raid on the Azores and was involved in the defeat of the Armada. The same year he was elected as MP for Devon and 4 years later for Cornwall. From 1600-1603 he was Governor of Jersey.

Queen Elizabeth died in 1603 and Raleigh was arrested in July, accused on being involved in a plot against James I, who had succeeded Elizabeth to the English throne. He was tried and convicted, but King James spared him execution. He remained in the Tower until 1616, when King James granted him a charter to return to Guiana in search of the golden city. Unfortunately, a group of soldiers disobeyed Raleigh’s command not to attack any Spanish forces they encountered. On his return to England, the Spanish ambassador demanded the death sentence originally passed on Raleigh in 1603 be reinstated (It had been part of the terms of his release that he undertook no offensive action against Spanish interests). King James had little option but to agree to the ambassador’s demands. Walter Raleigh was executed at the Palace of Westminster on 29th October 1618.

This statue of Raleigh can be found in the grounds of the Royal Naval College at Greenwich.