Just in case some of you noticed the title of this post, the same title that heads the document in the photo of the museum case with its clay pipes, you may well have been wondering whether history got it wrong. Was Sir Walter indeed a victim of the tobacco that he loved so much rather than of the executioner’s axe?
Of course Raleigh was killed on the orders of James I. The King had shamefully yielded to pressure from the Spanish ambassador. Unlike Queen Elizabeth, James had never taken to Sir Walter. “I have heard rawly of thee,” he is supposed to have said when the two men met after the Queen’s death.
This is clear from the publication in 1766 of a volume entitled The Secret Correspondence of Sir Robert Cecil with James VI, King of Scotland. It reveals that from May 1602 Raleigh’s supposed friend Secretary of State Sir Robert Cecil had been secretly corresponding with James I’s agents in Scotland, taking the opportunity of blackening Sir Walter’s character with accusations of atheism. Raleigh was, wrote Cecil in a letter that he knew James would read, a person 'whom most religious men do hold anathema'.
King James I of England and VI of Scotland, c.1606, after John De Critz the Elder. National Portrait Gallery
When James wrote his anti-smoking tract A Counterblaste to Tobacco in 1604, a year after his coronation as King of England and Scotland, he probably had Raleigh in mind as a target. Sir Walter’s enjoyment of tobacco was well known at court, as much as his supposed atheism.
In attacking smokers who had yielded to the ‘corrupted basenesse’ of the weed, the King was hinting at the dissolute and corrupt nature of men like Raleigh.
Smoking, wrote James, was “A custome lothsome to the eye, hatefull to the Nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs, and in the blacke stinking fume thereof, neerest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomelesse.”
At the beginning of his reign the King was annoyed that the Crown derived no financial benefit from tobacco use but this soon changed with the growth of tobacco
‘When the king assumed direct royal control over the Virginia colony and its tobacco in 1624, the misocapnic (smoke-hating) monarch became the greatest tobacco overlord the world had ever seen.’
On various occasions in the Counterblaste he blames the indigenous peoples of the New World for the ills associated with tobacco smoking, hinting that they are an inferior and dissolute race – a ‘barbarous people’ – riddled with venereal disease.
John White himself, judging by the celebrated watercolours of Native American life that he made, has been admired for the way in which he portrayed the 'gentle and proud' indigenous peoples of the New World. ‘Come to this place where everything is neat and tidy and there is food everywhere!’ is the message of John White’s watercolours according to the American author and science historian Deborah Harkness. For more on this theme see https://raleigh400.blogspot.co.uk/2017/12/raleighs-new-world-hunting-sir-walter.html
Detail from the title page of Thomas Hariot’s A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, 1588
With a genuine interest in the language and customs of the Algonquian Indians Hariot was evidently impressed by those that he met judging by his account.
In their diet, for example, he describes how Native Americans are ‘moderate in their eating whereby they avoid sickness,’ and how they are ‘consequently very long lived because they do not oppress nature.’
Republic of Guyana, 100 Dollar Gold Coin 1976. Commemorating the book Discovery of Guiana 1596, and 10 Years of Independence from British Rule.
‘I never beheld a more goodly or better favoured people, or a more manly,’ he wrote in his Discoverie of Guiana, published in 1596, just four years before James’ Counterblaste. Naturally, of course, his positive depiction of the New World and its peoples was intended partly to encourage English investment in his colonizing schemes.
But with his vituperative racist slurs in the 1604 Counterblaste some historians have seen the King as contributing significantly to a tragic relationship between European settlers and American Indians which would result in what has been widely described as genocide.
Vignette portrait of George Chapman from frontispiece to his Whole works of Homer
Photo British Museum; engraving W. Hole, 1616
In 1605 a performance of the comedy Eastward Ho! with its anti-Scottish satire resulted in the imprisonment of the play’s authors George Chapman and Ben Jonson. Perhaps King James’ Counterblaste was written partly in the hope of deflecting such anti-Scottish racist slurs by focusing attention on tobacco smoking, the ‘vile custome’ of the ‘beastly Indians’ who were, in his opinion, the true 'barbarous people'.
An 1860s artist’s impression of the execution of Sir Walter Raleigh. Included in The Popular History of England: An Illustrated History of Society and Government from the Earliest Period to Our Own Times, by Charles Knight
* How England learned to smoke: the introduction, spread and establishment of tobacco pipe smoking before 1640
PhD thesis, University of York, 2003, Anthony R. Rowley
Continued at http://raleigh400.blogspot.co.uk/2018/01/of-pamphlets-and-pipes.html
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