Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Back to school for Sir Walter


This fine academy of learning in the fair town of Budleigh Salterton is dedicated to St Peter. ‘Twas here that on the 18th day of June, following our presence at the Brownies’ Fun Day some 24 hours earlier, that our good friend Dame Lizzie did arrange our visit on behalf of the town’s Fairlynch Museum.

Naturally we wore our finest apparel and other accoutrements: our fur-lined cloak, our pearl-encrusted doublet, and of course our pipe, our best beard, our rapier and our most extreme arrogance. The scholars of St Peter were much delighted and impressed.

‘Twas the young scholars of the Chestnut Class and their teacher Dame Caroline who did invite us first to speak. They did ask us to sit in a special place in their classroom that they did call ‘the hot seat’. And there they did enquire of us most curiously and pertinently, while noting diligently answers to their many questions.

We first told them of our birthplace at Hayes Barton, the farmhouse that ye see here near the fair village of East Budleigh, not too many miles distant from where we did sit.

We told them of our early education at the vicar’s house in the village.

As for our schooling, ‘twas a long time ago and we have difficulty in recalling the name of the school not too distant. Was it, we wondered, the King’s School in the fair town of Ottery St Mary with its magnificent church? 

The stone buildings of the old school that ye see here have long since decayed. ‘Even such is Time’, as we have elsewhere written in one of our finest poems. 

Yet still our name endureth, it seems, for the new school has among its parts a Raleigh House!

This painting by a Frenchman does verily show the horrible cruelty wrought by other Frenchmen in the Massacre of St Bartholomew on the 24th day of August in the year 1572

We did cause some surprise to the young scholars of Budleigh Salterton when we did recount our youthful adventures in France during those violent and cruel times. We did explain how the French nation had been divided between those who did go to one type of church and those who did go to another, and the young scholars did hearken most attentively to our lesson. 

As we were to write later in our great book The Historie of the World the greatest calamity that can befall any country is when one side is set against another in civil war. 

We did explain to the young scholars our admiration for our Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth; how in her wisdom she had steered this fair country of England in a middle way in matters of religion to keep it strong and stable.  

The young scholars did at this point question us on this matter of the Queen and ourselves, for our reputation as the royal favourite is universally known. They did indeed understand that ‘twas my amazing good looks which had charmed our Sovereign Lady.  Master Nicholas Hilliard, an excellent artist of Exeter, did capture most admirably our fine features in this painting. And of course our fabulous attire and display of the most fashionable jewels did most cunningly flatter the Queen. 

Admire here the pearls which the young scholars did study on my doublet and which they did see adorning my ear. We did explain that pearls were a symbol of purity and loved by our Virgin Queen, for she did tell her people of England that she did devote herself to them rather than to any husband.    

‘Twas at this point that the young scholars did show their curiosity, for they had learned of the little difficulty which had arisen between the Queen and ourselves on the matter of our marriage. We did explain that our Sovereign Lady, whom ye see here in a fine portrait, had been displeased with us for we had not sought her permission to marry. 

We did explain that the Queen was a bit of a control freak, whereupon one of the young scholars did boldly announce that his mother was much the same, which verily was a cause for much merriment in the classroom among both scholars and teachers.

‘Twas for the reason above that our Sovereign Lady did at first keep us close to her and not permit us to embark on perilous voyages across the oceans to implant our colonies. Dame Caroline did at this point request us to explain that word of ‘colonies’. 

‘Tis a subject most vexed, as we did tell the young scholars, for a colony of new people to come to a foreign land and implant themselves, for the people already living in that land will often not welcome them. Such hath been the case in Ireland, as we did explain. 

And indeed we did confess that our conduct during our youth had been shameful in its violence during our wars in that land. For our English colonies were the cause. 

This monument at Dún an Óir near the town of Smerwick in Ireland doth remind us of the cruel massacre in which we took part when we killed around 600 Irish, Spanish and Italian men and women in the year 1580.

Yet, as we told the young scholars, as we age so we develop in wisdom – or so we hope. And thus it was that we did resolve to do better in the New World. For in the land of Virginia – named to flatter our Sovereign Lady of course – we did order our colonists to act in a civil fashion towards its people already living there. 

Our artist and mapmaker Master John White did paint most faithfully such peoples and did respect their way of life. For we were determined not to treat the peoples of the New World with such savagery as the Spaniard had displayed in his treatment of the Inca tribes.  Ye see here Master White's painting of the town of Pomeioc in Virginia, which they do call now North Carolina. 

Our young scholars did question us on the discoveries that we made during our voyages. For finally our Sovereign Lady Elizabeth did permit us to cross the seas, and we did make our first voyage to the land of Guiana in the year of grace 1595. 

Sadly no discovery of gold, but on the island of Trinidad we did find a curious black lake. We did quiz the young scholars as to why this should be so, but they had no answer. We were pleased to explain that this was the vast lake of asphalt, from which our roads all over the world are made. 

The Trinidad Post Office hath honoured me most nobly with a fine postage stamp proving my discovery of this wondrous substance. We do indeed prefer to tell of that exploit rather than relate the tales of ‘spuds and ciggies’ which amuse the vulgar multitude.   

There are some today who compare our discoveries and voyages to the New World with those which are planned for Outer Space by 21st century adventurers like Master Elon Musk.

Many other discoveries did we make on our voyages, including rare plants which we would use in medicinal compounds when we were known as a learned physician during our time in the Tower of London. 

Ye see here the plant myrtle with its fragrant flowers which we did first bring into this fair land of England.  Our young scholars did learn that the word botany is the science of plants: here Dame Caroline did remind them of botanical gardens that they had seen.

There was a second word that the class did write down as we spelled it out to them. For there can be no more glorious aim for scholars than to be ‘a polymath’. Which is how we are proud to be described today!

Indeed our life was most eventful and extraordinary even if it did come to a sad end. We were pleased in conclusion to recite our fine poem ‘A Hero of Devon’ which we had composed in our honour. ‘Twas most pleasing to hear the young scholars of Chestnut class singing the first verse.  

Dame Lizzie did then explain a competition in which we did challenge the young scholars to produce a board game based on our eventful life. The Snakes and Ladders idea doth greatly appeal to us and we intend to list some of the ‘snakes’ and ‘ladders’ in our life, perhaps muddling them up so that people can decide for themselves which is which.

But some clever young scholars in the Chestnut class did come up with other ideas; one did mention the excellent game of Monopoly because of the many fine houses in which we had lived. We hope that they were not thinking of the Tower of London in which we were confined on the orders of the tyrant King James. Ye see here the cell in which we did languish for 13 long years.      

We did make our final appearance in front of all the young scholars of St Peter – over 300 of them, including the Chestnut class. We were pleased to hear a member of that class explaining to the assembled scholars the meaning of the world ‘polymath’.

There in the fine Assembly Hall on a vast screen for all to see was the famous painting by the excellent artist Sir John Millais showing me in my boyhood on Budleigh beach, with my half-brother Humphrey. 

And there, next to us is that weird man in the red britches and dirty bare feet who told us tales of strange peoples from different worlds beyond the seas, even beyond the skies. Tales that drove me on - a searcher for truth who has been compared to the great Ulysses - to the end of my extraordinary life.

Or did he? Perhaps ‘twas just a dream. Did I imagine it for myself?

If you go to Fairlynch Museum you can decide for yourselves, standing before the real painting. Young scholars get to see it free! But tarry not! Tell your parents you have to see this amazing vision of me before it leaves Budleigh Salterton in a few months to go back to London. Perhaps for ever.   




Sir Walter’s Women: Original drama to be staged in The Great Hall, Winchester

Photo credit: Mike Hall

Performance dates and times:

19.00 – Friday 14 September
18.00 and 20.00 – Saturday 15 September
The Great Hall, Winchester, SO23 8UJ
Free admission

‘He hath been as a star at which the world has gazed, and like a star must fall’

Just over 400 years ago, the dashing Elizabethan hero, explorer and poet, Sir Walter Ralegh was convicted of treason in the Great Hall in Winchester. He was beheaded 29th October 1618.

Winchester-based 2TimeTheatre’s new production, Sir Walter's Women, re-imagines scenes from the life of this charismatic adventurer.  Staged in the 400th anniversary year of his execution, the drama looks at the influence of two extraordinary women in his life; one domestic, his wife Bess, and one political, Elizabeth I.

With a professional cast of three, and accompanied by Renaissance music group Courtlye Musick, this original one-act drama will have its premiere in Winchester's unique and atmospheric medieval hall as part of Heritage Open Days, the UK's largest festival of history and culture.

Writer Rachel O’Neill said: “Originally I wanted to stage his trial for treason in the very place where it happened, but as I researched his life, I realized that looking at his relationship with the two women in his life was inherently more dramatic, and perhaps illuminating as to why he ended up as he did; tried and executed for treason.”

Winchester Great Hall
Image credit: Image credit: Johann Bakker 

Nicky Gottlieb, Festival Director Winchester Heritage Open Days said: “We have a wealth of historically fascinating and important buildings in Winchester.  The challenge is to bring them to life so they become more than architecture. Sir Walter’s Women offers the opportunity to have the Great Hall animated by a drama about the people who actually appeared there.”

This production has been made possible with the kind and generous support of Winchester-based solicitors and mediators, Shenton’s, Hampshire County Council and Winchester City Council’s Cultural Innovation Grant.

About 2TimeTheatre

2TimeTheatre's performance arm was launched in October 2013 with a theatre production of Young Jane, short plays based on the early writings of a young Jane Austen and adapted by Cecily O'Neill. Young Jane is the first publication from 2TimeTheatre (September 2016), followed by Drinking with Dorothy (January 2017). Meeting Miss Austen, the second collection of plays based on the Juvenilia, was published May 2017 and performed as part of the Winchester Festival in July 2017.  Jane Austen and The Waterman, was written by Cecily O'Neill and Philip Glassborow for the SO: To Speak Festival, October 2017.  2TimeTheatre is co-producing new musical Lucky Petra and producing The Honest Soldier, written by Philip Glassborow for performance in July 2018. www.2timetheatre.com


Radical Ralegh

The point about Sir Walter Ralegh: historian Anna Beer with Millais’ celebrated 1870 painting at Fairlynch Museum.  Dr Beer’s visi...