Tuesday, 15 May 2018

A town’s pride in Sir Walter, with a bit of naval history

Congratulations to Cllr Tom Wright on being elected Mayor of Budleigh Salterton during Raleigh’s 400th anniversary year.

‘He was born a few miles away in the village of East Budleigh rather than in Budleigh Salterton,’ admitted Cllr Wright. ‘But thanks to Millais’ famous painting ‘The Boyhood of Raleigh’ our town is well and truly linked to Sir Walter. We are proud of our association with this local hero, such an interesting and complex character.’

This banner in Fairlynch Museum, showing Budleigh Salterton Town Council’s coat of arms, was made by Salterton Drama Club some years ago

Cllr Wright went on to comment on a heraldic link between Budleigh Salterton and Sir Walter. ‘Our Town Council’s crest, granted on 15 December 1959, is a shield, supported by a griffin, which shows the five lozenges of Sir Walter’s coat of arms.’

The Raleigh family arms 

Across the Atlantic, Sir Walter’s five lozenges have been used in the arms of an American warship, the USS Raleigh.

A port bow view of USS Raleigh ship (LPD-1)

Four ships of the US Navy have been so named. The last was of a type known as an amphibious transport dock or landing platform/dock (LPD), an amphibious warfare ship. It was launched in 1962, finally being disposed of in target practice in 1994.

The last three Raleigh ships were named for the city of Raleigh in North Carolina, which received its charter in 1792. 

Model of the USS Raleigh in the US Navy Museum

Credit: Sturmvogel66   

But the first USS Raleigh was named after Sir Walter himself in 1776.

Amusingly, this was during the American War of Independence, and is a good illustration of the way in which Raleigh was admired across the Atlantic. His History of the World, written while he was a prisoner in the Tower of London, had long been read and recommended by republicans like Oliver Cromwell in the 17th century. The book was seen as a criticism of tyrant monarchs – King James I himself had condemned it as ‘too saucy in censuring princes’ and had tried to have it suppressed.  

The 18th century saw continuing admiration for Raleigh’s supposed republican sympathies on the part of American patriots. The USS Raleigh was one of thirteen ships that the American Revolutionaries’ Continental Congress authorized for the Continental Navy. With a full-length figure of Sir Walter as figurehead, Raleigh put to sea under Captain Thomas Thompson, who also supervised her construction, on August 12, 1777.

You can imagine that the Royal Navy, no doubt feeling a bit annoyed, made a big effort to capture her, succeeding in 1778. She then served in the Royal Navy as HBMS* Raleigh until she was finally sold in 1783. Better than being used for target practice I feel.   

*His Britannic Majesty’s Ship


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