From a Portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh
Sir Walter Raleigh (1554-1618)
Sir Walter Raleigh, born in Budleigh Salterton, Devon in 1554, was a great favourite of Queen Elizabeth I and first attended the queen's court in 1581. In the early days at court the queen was impressed by his humour, impecible manners and his handsome appearance. It was during this time that the famous story of Walter Raleigh spreading his cloak over a puddle in front of the queen was told.
Raleigh was ambitious and at this time in England's history explorers were searching for new lands for settlement in America. He became actively involved and suggested that he go on an expedition to these new lands to name and claim territory for the queen. She refused to let him go but did financially support the venture.
The first attempt at establishing a colony was at Ranoake in the area now known as North Carolina was a failure but the expedition did return with potatoes and tobacco to England. Raleigh was knighted in 1587 and because of his influence over the queen he was beginning to become unpopular with the rest of the court. In addition, there were some who envied the favours the queen bestowed upon him such as a very comfortable house, extensive lands and money.
It was here at court that Sir Walter Raleigh met his future wife Bess Throgmorton one of the queen's ladies-in-waiting, who he eventually secretly married in 1592 without the queen's permission after realising that he could never marry the queen. However, even though Queen Elizabeth was attracted to Raleigh she was outraged when he married and he and his wife were banished from the court.
Now that he was free of the ties with the queen he was able to finally go on an expedition himself in search of gold. He set sail in 1595 but the voyage was unsuccessful. Still with plenty of energy and enthusiasm he joined the English attack on the Spanish port of Cadiz which pleased the queen.
Queen Elizabeth I died on 23 March 1603 and James I came to the English throne. James disliked Raleigh and his expedition failures from the start and eventually had Raleigh charged with treason for allegedly plotting against him. Sir Walter Raleigh then spent the next thirteen years imprisoned in the Tower of London where he wrote his book History of the World before being pardoned in 1617 for one last attempt at finding gold for the crown. This latest expedition to Venezuela was also a failure - Raleigh's men attacked and killed the Spanish occupants of an outpost in violation of the current peace treaties with Spain. On Walter Raleigh's return to England the Spanish ambassador demanded the reinstatement of his death sentence.
An irritated King James, who felt he had no choice, finally had Sir Walter Raleigh executed for treason on 29 October 1618. He was beheaded at the Palace of Westminster and his body was laid to rest in St. Margaret's, Westminster, where his tomb may still be visited today.