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Walter Raleigh

Civilization: British — England
   Field of Renown:  explorer — Americas
Era:  Tudor

Sir Walter Raleigh was one of the most famous courtiers of Queen Elizabeth, and is also known as an writer, poet, and explorer. He was twenty years younger than the Queen and did not come to her attention until she was middle-aged. He, along with the Earl of Leicester and the Earl of Essex, were Elizabeth's best known paramours, and they were all lavished with generous gifts and honors, but had to submit to a great many inconveniences and restrictions on their actions as well. Raleigh both benefited and suffered greatly due to his position at court and many of his personal accomplishments were achieved in spite of, rather than because of, his special relationship with Elizabeth.

Sir Walter Raleigh

Raleigh was born into an adventurer's life. His half-brother was Sir Humphrey Gilbert, an experienced sea-man, and at a young age Raleigh set off on several romantic adventures including fighting for the Huguenot cause in France, and also some sea-faring with his elder brother. He first distinguished himself by some heroic exploits (from the Protestant point of view), during the Tudor conquest of Ireland, and by his mid-twenties had established a fair reputation as a soldier and romantic adventurer. It was about at this time, that he famously found favor with Queen Elizabeth by laying down a valuable cloak in the muddy ground so that she might not dirty her feet. From this time, he was shown favor at court, and was granted generous monopolies as well as a large estate Ireland.

His real passion was exploration and settlement of the new world, and the generous gifts of Elizabeth helped him to finance the first English settlement of the new world in "Virginia" (which he named after the Queen). For many years however, she would not consent to allow him to go himself to the new world, because it would take him away from the court. Raleigh's settlement at Roanoke failed, largely because it was attempted during the heat of the Anglo-Spanish War, and neither ships nor supplies could be obtained for any purpose other than fighting Spain. When a supply ship did finally return to the colony, a year after the Great Armada, it found only a deserted village with no trace of the settlers.

Raleigh was also active during these years, in the literary world, and introduced the famous Poet Edmund Spenser, author of the Fairae Queen to court. Raleigh's career took a turn for the worse after about ten years at court, when he secretly married one of Elizabeth's maids-in-waiting. This infuriated the Queen and she imprisoned him, but eventually reconciled. Now that he was married, she allowed him to go himself on a voyage of exploration to South America. The year after his return he published The Discovery of Giana, a fanciful account of his adventures. About this time he also led a successful expedition against the Spanish city of Cadiz which put him back into favor with the aging Elizabeth. However, the court at this time was becoming highly divisive, as Elizabeth was now nearing seventy and the question of who would succeed her as monarch became more pronounced, and conspiracies and counter-conspiracies abounded.

Due to complicated court politics, Raleigh was strongly out of favor with James I, who finally did succeed Elizabeth, and he was tried on trumped up charges and imprisoned soon after James I ascended to the throne. Instead of being executed, Raleigh spent over thirteen years in prison and during these last years wrote his History of the World. He was finally released on condition that he lead an expedition to El Dorado a town of gold he had described in is previous book. His finally journey to South America however, was disastrous, and he returned to England exhausted. He knew he would be highly out of favor with the king on his return, but he made no effort to escape, and was executed soon after his return.

Key events during the life of Sir Walter Raleigh:

Walter Raleigh is born, half brother of Sir Humphrey Gilbert.
Went to France to fight for the French Huguenots
Accompanied Humphrey Gilbert on some piratical episodes.
Fought for England in Ireland. Helped put down the Desmond Rebellions
Raleigh befriends Queen Elizabeth by laying his coat over mud.
Granted 40,000 acres in Munster.
Organized first English colony in Virginia at Roanoke.
Second attempt at establishing a colony in Virginia, also at Roanoke.
Preparations for the Spanish Armada prevent supplies being shipped to Roanoke.
Introduced Edmund Spenser and his Fairae Queen to court.
Supply ships return to Roanoke colony to find it abandoned.
Imprisoned by Queen Elizabeth for marrying one of her maids-in-waiting.
Sailed on voyage of conquest to South America.
Wrote The Discoverie of Guiana, a romantic tale of adventure.
Led a successful naval expedition against Cadiz.
Death of Elizabeth, and ascension of James I ruinous to Raleigh's career.
Tried by James I for treason.
Imprisoned in the tower of London. Wrote Historie of the World.
Sailed on a final voyage to South America to discover El Dorado.
Executed upon his return to England.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Elizabeth's Lovers  in  Queen Elizabeth  by  Jacob Abbott
Sir Walter Raleigh  in  Fifty Famous Stories  by  James Baldwin
Sir Walter Raleigh  in  Stories of South America  by  E. C. Brooks
Sir Walter Raleigh  in  English History Stories - II  by  Alfred J. Church
The Star of Empire  in  The Story of Liberty  by  Charles Coffin
Virginia Colonized  in  Indian History for Young Folks  by  Francis Drake
Sir Walter Raleigh  in  America First  by  Lawton Evans
Nothing but Smoke  in  Story of the Thirteen Colonies  by  Helene Guerber
Sir Walter Raleigh  in  Famous Men of Modern Times  by  John Haaren
Boy Who Loved the Sea  in  The Men Who Found America  by  F. W. Hutchinson
About Sir Walter Raleigh's Adventures in the West  in  This Country of Ours  by  H. E. Marshall
Elizabeth—The Story of Sir Walter Raleigh  in  Our Island Story  by  H. E. Marshall
Raleigh—'The Revenge'  in  English Literature   by  H. E. Marshall
Raleigh and the Quest for El Dorado  in  Historical Tales - Spanish American  by  Charles Morris
Sir Walter Raleigh  in  American History Stories - I  by  Mara L. Pratt
Virginia  in  Awakening of Europe  by  M. B. Synge
Sir Walter Raleigh  in  Awakening of Europe  by  M. B. Synge
Sir Walter Raleigh Searches for El Dorado  in  Book of Discovery  by  M. B. Synge
Sir Walter Raleigh  in  Great Englishmen  by  M. B. Synge

Book Links
Story of Sir Walter Raleigh  by  M. D. Kelly

Image Links

Sir Walter Raleigh
 in English History Stories - II

Sir Walter Raleigh
 in Indian History for Young Folks

Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth
 in Story of the Thirteen Colonies

Raleigh's gallant act
 in Famous Men of Modern Times

Raleigh erects Queen Elizabeth's standard in America
 in Famous Men of Modern Times

Raleigh's smoking alarms his servant
 in Famous Men of Modern Times

Raleigh departing from his wife
 in Famous Men of Modern Times
Sir Walter Raleigh
Sir Walter Raleigh
 in Soldiers and Sailors
Raleigh Parting from his Wife
Raleigh Parting from his Wife
 in Soldiers and Sailors

Walter sprang forward and spread his handsome cloak on the muddy spot.
 in The Men Who Found America

Sir Walter Raleigh
 in The Story of Raleigh

A sailor talked of the strange country where such birds lived
 in The Story of Raleigh

One man against twenty
 in The Story of Raleigh

Stepping gently on the cloak, she passed on
 in The Story of Raleigh

The King gave Raleigh a delicious pine-apple
 in The Story of Raleigh

Raleigh gave the word to his men
 in The Story of Raleigh

Lady Raleigh went to plead with the King for mercy
 in The Story of Raleigh

They started to row to the French ship
 in The Story of Raleigh

Quickly pulling off his cloak he threw it upon the ground.
 in Our Island Story

Spenser read the first part of his book, 'The Faery Queen' to Raleigh.
 in English Literature

Sir Walter Raleigh
 in Sir Walter Raleigh

Sir Walter Raleigh
 in Builders of Our Country - I

Sir Walter Raleigh
 in Book of Discovery

Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth
 in Great Englishmen

Spenser reading the Fairie Queene to Raleigh
 in Tudors and Stuarts

Short Biography
Elizabeth I Led England through tumultuous age of reformation and discovery. Reigned 45 years.
Earl of Essex Favorite of Queen Elizabeth. Involved in a conspiracy and died in prison.
Francis Drake Greatest sea adventurer. Sailed around the world, harassed Spanish ships. Fought in Armada.
Edmund Spenser Elizabethan era poet. Wrote The Fairy Queen.
Humphrey Gilbert Sea-faring adventurer. Founded the first English colony in Canada.
Robert Dudley Favorite courtier of Queen Elizabeth. Granted many favors, but not much power.
Philip Sidney Favorite of Queen Elizabeth's court. Was a poet, soldier, courtier, and adventurer.