Thursday, 14 December 2017

Sir Walter Raleigh: a simple timeline

Raleigh’s birthplace: the farmhouse of Hayes Barton, by the American artist Francis Kelly (1927-2012) 


Born at Hayes Barton near East Budleigh, Devon UK, at a time of religious turmoil in England. Only in 1559 does the English Reformation enter a more settled period with the accession of Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603).

A copy by Budleigh Salterton Venture Art Group of the celebrated painting The Boyhood of Raleigh by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Sir John Everitt Millais (1829-1896). The original painting, is in the Tate Britain Collection. It shows young Walter and his half-brother Humphrey Gilbert on Budleigh beach. Humphrey was in fact as much as 12 years old than Walter


Walter is probably educated at home by the local vicar and possibly at The King’s School, Ottery St Mary, Devon.

The Massacre of St Bartholomew by the Huguenot artist François Dubois (1529-1584)


He joins a group of Devon gentry on an expedition to fight for the French Protestants, known as Huguenots. He spends as much as four years in France. His later education continues at Oriel College, Oxford and the Middle Temple London.

Raleigh’s half-brother Sir Humphrey Gilbert (c.1539-1583), a portrait at Compton Castle


Raleigh makes his first appearance in print, composing the commendatory poem for The Steel Glass by George Gascoigne (1535-1577), a friend of his half-brother Humphrey Gilbert. He sails with Gilbert with the aim of establishing a colony in North America, but turns back, having possibly reached the Cape Verde Islands.

The monument at Dún an Óir to those massacred in the Siege of Smerwick, October 1580. It commemorates the killing of around 600 Irish, Spanish and Italian men and women by English troops


Raleigh is involved in putting down the Irish rebellion, under the orders of the Lord Deputy, Lord Gray (1536-1593). He is personally involved in the massacre at Smerwick. He gains the favour of Queen Elizabeth, who grants him a lucrative parent to licence retailers of wine. He is granted a lease on a London base at Durham House, on the Strand. Here he plans voyages, helped by the scientist Thomas Hariot (c.1560-1621) and the geographer Richard Hakluyt (1553-1616). 
Raleigh sits as a junior member of Parliament for Devon; the Queen grants him a further lucrative cloth licence and he receives the patent to explore North America.  His fleet of seven vessels under Ralph Lane (c.1532-1603) and Richard Grenville (1542-1591) reach Roanoke Island, in modern North Carolina, and a colony is established. He tries unsuccessfully to buy Hayes Barton, his birthplace.  

'The Ermine Portrait' of Queen Elizabeth I, c1585, by the Exeter-born artist Nicholas Hilliard (c.1547-1609)

He is knighted by Queen Elizabeth and appointed governor of the new territory in North America, named Virginia in her honour. He is appointed Lord Warden of the Stanneries, Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall and Vice-Admiral of Devon and Cornwall. Many of his poems are written to flatter the Queen.         

'The Flyer', a Secotan Indian holy man painted by John White in 1585. From the Collection of the British Museum, London

Raleigh is appointed Captain of the Guard by the Queen. He arranges the first English colony in North America, led by the mapmaker and artist John White (c.1540-1593). White’s granddaughter Virginia Dare is born in 1587, in Roanoke colony, the first English child to be born in North America.

The Ark Raleigh created in pebbles on Budleigh beach in 2015 by artist Simon Wood

Raleigh donates his ship the Ark Raleigh to the English navy. It is renamed as  the Ark Royal and is the flagship of the English fleet against the attempted invasion by the Spanish Armada in 1588.

Queen Elizabeth, Sir Walter Raleigh and two American Indians in a scene from The Lost Colony, a play performed each evening during the summer on Roanoke Island, North Carolina. The photo, in the Bicton Countryside Museum, was presented to Lord Clinton by the Roanoke Island Historical Association to mark the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the first of Sir Walter's ships to Roanoke Island.

1590s A relief expedition to Roanoke Island discovers the mysterious disappearance of 117 English settlers, known in history as The Lost Colony. Raleigh secretly marries Bess Throckmorton (1565-c.1647), one of the Queen’s maids-of-honour. They are disgraced and sent to the Tower of London when the marriage is discovered by the Queen.

Sherborne Castle

Disgraced at Court, Raleigh and Bess spend time at Sherborne, Dorset, where he begins work on building the New Castle.  

A Trinidad and Tobago stamp shows Sir Walter Raleigh discovering the Pitch Lake  Image credit: Mark Morgan

He sets sail for Guiana in 1595 with five ships, in search of gold and of the fabled native king named El Dorado. The account of his voyage, The Discoverie of Guiana, is published. He takes part in the naval expedition to Cadiz, Spain, where he is wounded, and, later, in an abortive naval expedition to the Azores.

Elizabeth Castle, Jersey  Image credit: Rachel Docherty


Raleigh is appointed Governor of Jersey. The Earl of Essex is executed following his rebellion. Raleigh is unjustly blamed by the Earl’s supporters for bringing about his death.  The Secretary of State Robert Cecil, in a letter to James VI of Scotland, subtly denounces Raleigh as an atheist. Raleigh sells his Irish estates.

King James I of England and VI of Scotland by John De Critz the Elder (c.1551-1642)

Following the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603 Raleigh is arrested for high treason and imprisoned in the Tower of London.  He is found guilty; in a letter to his wife he writes 'I plainly perceive that my death was determined from the first day.' He is reprieved and sent back to the Tower of London, where he is allowed to conduct medicinal and chemical experiments.   His poem 'What is life?’ is published in 1612 in The First Set of Madrigals and Motetts by the celebrated English musician Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625)

What is our life? It is a play of passion.
What is our mirth? The music of division.
Our mothers, they the tiring-houses be,
Where we are dress'd for time's short tragedy.
Earth is the stage, heaven the spectator is
Who doth behold whoe'er doth act amiss. 
The graves that hide us from the parching sun
Are but drawn curtains till the play is done.

Prince Henry Frederick in about 1610, by Robert Peake the Elder (c.1551-1619)

Raleigh befriends Prince Henry (1594-1610), son of King James and Queen Anne.  The Prince secures his father's agreement for Raleigh to be released, but is taken ill and dies after swimming in the Thames at Richmond. Raleigh, grief-stricken, abandons his History of the World, having completed one volume of the projected three.


The frontispiece of Raleigh’s History of the World

The first volume of his History of the World, written for Prince Henry is published anonymously but is later withdrawn from sale. King James had described it as being ‘too saucy in censuring Princes’. In a further treatise entitled A Dialogue between a Counsellor of State and a Justice of the Peace, Raleigh attacks bad counsellors 'moved by the love of their own future and glory.'

Released from the Tower in 1617, Raleigh sails from Plymouth to Guiana in search of gold mines, having promised not to attack Spanish settlements.  Details of the 1,000-man expedition, including a map, have been given to the Spanish ambassador in London. Raleigh is taken ill in Guiana; his second-in-command Lawrence Keymis (c.1564-1618) replaces him.

Raleigh on the scaffold in Old Palace Yard, Westminster, London  Image from G.W. Spencer, New, authentic & complete history of England (1794)

Raleigh learns the news of the attack on the Spanish settlement of San Thomé and the death of his son Wat. Keymis in remorse kills himself. King James I yields to  the Spanish ambassador’s demand for the death penalty. Raleigh is executed on 29 October, 1618.


No comments:

Post a comment

Radical Ralegh

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