Walter Raleigh was, by his own admission, ‘a man full of all vanity, having been a soldier, a captain, a sea captain, and a courtier, which are all places of wickedness and vice.’ But it was all on such a grand scale that he has become one of the most popular figures of England’s stylish Tudor Age.
WALTER Raleigh’s soldiering in Ireland, putting down the Desmond Rebellions, so impressed Queen Elizabeth I that in 1584 she engaged him to organise the founding of a gold-mining colony at Roanoke Island in the New World.
Raleigh himself remained at home, sitting as an MP for the south-west and co-ordinating defences against the Spanish Armada there. A secret marriage in 1591 to one of Elizabeth’s ladies-in-waiting strained his relationship with the Queen, and in 1595 he sailed for South America and the Orinoco, captivated by tales of El Dorado, the ‘lost city of gold’.
On his return he took part in the Capture of Cádiz in 1596 and was appointed Governor of Jersey, but he was itching to go back.
In 1603, Elizabeth’s nervous successor, James I, sent Raleigh to the Tower for thirteen years for conspiracy. James grudgingly sanctioned one last expedition to South America, but the ransacking of a Spanish outpost gave him an excuse to have Raleigh executed, on October 29th, 1618.
* Sir Walter probably pronounced his surname ‘rawly’, to rhyme with ‘sorely’. However, the pronunciation ‘rally’ is more common today, and has been used here.