Marking the 400th anniversary of the death of Sir Walter Raleigh (or Ralegh; pronounced either Rally or Rawly). Born between 1552 and 1554 at Hayes Barton, East Budleigh, Devon. Unjustly executed in London on 29 October, 1618. Explorer, courtier, fashion icon, parliamentarian, diplomat, politician, soldier, ship designer, poet, historian, businessman, chemist and botanist with the reputation, in later life, of being a physician... and Great Devonian.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.