Saturday, 24 November 2018

Raleigh the entrepreneur: some of today’s Sir Walters have the final frontier in their sights

Above: Sir Walter Raleigh - Dreaming Beyond the Medieval
© Ronnie Heeps

A dozen years ago, the Scottish artist Ronnie Heeps was commissioned by the Jersey Heritage Trust to create a series of paintings which would be permanently housed in Mont Orgueil Castle.

Mont Orgueil Castle also known as Gorey Castle and Lé Vièr Châté, Saint Clement, Grouville, Saint Martin, Jersey
Image credit: Man vyi  

Inspired by Raleigh’s life story, the artist explained in 2006 that he wanted ‘to try and show the inner workings of a true maverick spirit completely embroiled in the zeitgeist of his day’.  

The School of the Night  © Ronnie Heeps 
The School of Night is a modern name for a group of men centred on Sir Walter Raleigh that was once referred to in 1592 as 'The School of Atheism. The group supposedly included poets and scientists Christopher Marlowe, George Chapman, Matthew Roydon and Thomas Harriot.  

For the accusation of atheism levelled at Raleigh see

Sir Walter Raleigh, he wrote, ‘excelled in numerous fields and was able to cross between the disciplines of art, science and philosophy with ease. Such a proficiency in study exemplifies the Renaissance man. The ability to comprehend and bring together many disparate ideas enabled him to formulate a worldview, which had eluded many great medieval intellectuals.

'Wee Raleigh Star Commander'   © Ronnie Heeps

‘Raleigh was not afraid to undertake daring deeds and dream of glorious multifaceted worlds, which lay just beyond the horizon of conventional thought,’ saw Ronnie Heeps. ‘He could comprehend a future world that was not a preordained construct. A future world, which was in a constant state of flux and therefore open to the influence of secular thinkers.’

For many people Raleigh will always be the pirate  - as seen in the above poster - or the man who invented tobacco and the potato.

The sign outside the Sir Walter Raleigh pub, East Budleigh

Others know him primarily as the courtier who won Queen Elizabeth’s favour by laying his cloak over that puddle. 

Image source:
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

Many know Raleigh as an explorer, but make the mistake of thinking that he travelled in North America. Images such as the above, entitled 'Sir Walter Raleigh ordering the Standard of Queen Elizabeth to be erected on the Coast of Virginia'  did not help: Sir Walter never set foot on the continent.  

A beefeater - officially known as a Yeoman Warder of Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London - inspects the newly installed Apothecary's Garden set up in 2018 to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Raleigh's death. Image credit: Historic Royal Palaces 

Of course he was also a soldier, and a poet. There were moments when he was a diplomat, and in his laboratory during his imprisonment in the Tower of London he was an amateur scientist. 

You can read more about this aspect at
Not too many people are aware of Raleigh as an entrepreneur.

I don’t know whether Raleigh is one of Sir Richard Branson’s heroes, but Virgin Trains certainly has a locomotive, no. 221113, named after the Great Elizabethan.

And yet, to finance the incredibly expensive expeditions which he organised, the talents of the modern entrepreneur were what he needed. Which is why the American economist Professor Brent Lane has compared Raleigh’s efforts 400 years ago ‘to push the bounds of the known world’ with the programmes of 21st century space exploration undertaken by entrepreneurs like Sir Richard Branson, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. 

You can read more at    

It’s a view echoed by many who appreciate the Great Elizabethan as a visionary of his time.

'Sir Walter Raleigh is a hero to every Devonian with a wanderlust and a sense of adventure – we should all make a pilgrimage to the Raleigh Wall in Budleigh Salterton,’ Charles Courtenay told me.  ‘A copy of the Boyhood of Raleigh hangs on my son’s bedroom wall, a reminder of times when local Devon sailors pushed the bounds of the known world and when our rugged coastline was the Cape Canaveral of its day.'   

Look closely at Ronnie Heeps’ painting 'Dreaming Beyond the Medieval' and you’ll see that thought of Cape Canaveral which so inspired Charles Courtenay, also known as the 19th Earl of Devon.

For Raleigh, the backing of financiers like William Sanderson (?1548-1638) was vital to ensure that investors in the City of London would support his plans for colonies in the New World. It was Sanderson, a member of the City of London Fishmongers’ Livery Company and married to Raleigh’s niece, who had sponsored and managed the voyages undertaken by the navigator John Davis in search of the North West Passage.

A portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh with a globe, attributed to Federico Zuccari (1542/1543–1609). Raleigh points to the Arctic region of a globe, a reference to the many Arctic voyages made by the English in search of a northwest passage to the Orient, and the privilege granted by Elizabeth I to Raleigh to make northwest discoveries and exploit land in North America.

He also furnished funds to construct the first globes in England, made by Emery Molyneux (d. 1598). He acted for several years as Sir Walter’s financial manager, naming one of his sons Raleigh. 

The Molyneux globe at Petworth, Sussex. 
Image credit: Mark Sherouse
family tradition has it that Henry Percy, ninth Earl of Northumberland and owner of Petworth, met Sir Walter Raleigh when they were both confined in the Tower of London. Being a man of learning, Raleigh may have given the globe to the ninth Earl as a gift. It has no doubt been at Petworth since the Earl's release from the Tower in 1621.
Read more about the Petworth globe at

I’d imagined that interest in Sir Walter would fade by the end of 2018. But a few months ago, another Raleigh 400 made its appearance online, emerging not from Devon or Dorset or even the US but from the City of London.

Drapers' Hall, London 

An ambitious year-long series of events focused on business and education is being launched in December 2018 at a reception in Drapers’ Hall. It’s largely the initiative of Peter Hewitt, a former Alderman in the City of London, founding Freeman and Master of the Guild of Entrepreneurs and descendant of Sir Walter Raleigh.   

‘The purpose of the year-long Raleigh 400 celebrations (“R400”) is to re-energise bilateral trading relations between the UK and the US’ reads a statement online explaining the three-fold philosophy behind the move.

‘The past – new research by Queen Mary’s University of London (“QMUL”) on the exploits of Raleigh and his connection with the City of London and the Plantation of Virginia. The present – bringing together business leaders and senior politicians from both sides of the Atlantic to further develop UK-US relations. The future – using a major education festival to educate students of all ages on both sides of the Atlantic on our common heritage, tradition of entrepreneurship and wealth creation.’

On Thanksgiving Day I was delighted to raise a glass of our local Lily Farm Vineyard’s Raleigh sparkling wine and toast this R400 worthy initiative. The occasion was a Thanksgiving Day lunch on Thursday 22 November with Budleigh friends who have family or friends on the other side of ‘The Pond’.

You can read more about R400 at


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