Sir Walter Raleigh (c1554 – 29 October 1618), also spelled Ralegh, was an English landed gentleman, writer, poet, soldier, politician, courtier, spy and explorer. Antique print published 1879.
Born in Hayes Barton, near Budleigh Salterton, Devon, in 1554, little is known of Raleigh’s early life.
However, in 1569 he is known to have fought on the Huguenot side in the Wars of Religion in France.
By 1572 he is at Oriel College, Oxford, and at the Middle Temple law college in 1575, graduating from neither.
Fighting rebels in Munster between 1579 and 1583 led to him becoming a favourite of Queen Elizabeth and an Irish land owner, this notwithstanding Captain Raleigh’s role in the execution of some 600 souls who had surrendered following the seige of Smerwick.
Knighted in 1585, and granted a royal patent to explore Virginia in the New World, with promises of unrivalled wealth from a “City of Gold” in South America, Raleigh’s relations with the Queen was to be shattered when he secretly married Elizabeth Throckmorton, one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting.
Sir Walter and Lady Raleigh were sent to the Tower of London by the Queen; following the purchase of their release they retired to their country seat in Sherborne, Dorset.
Upon the death of Queen Elizabeth and the succession of James I, Raleigh’s influence at court was further diminished.
In 1603, Sir Walter Raleigh and others were accused of plotting to overthrow King James. Sentenced to death, Raleigh was reprieved and confined to the Tower of London.
He remained a prisoner in the Tower until 1616.
Pardoned by the King, Raleigh was allowed to sail to South America in search of the City of Gold, El Dorado.
However, against his orders, members of his expedition attacked a Spanish outpost on the Orinoco River, thereby violating the peace treaty with Spain.
King James invoked the suspended sentence of 1603, and Raleigh was beheaded in the Old Palace Yard at the Palace of Westminster on 29 October 1618.
On viewing the axe that would sever his head, Raleigh remarked: “This is a sharp Medicine, but it is a Physician for all diseases and miseries.”