The Tower of London's Raleigh 400 display reveals Sir Walter the scholar and scientist
People talk about Sir Walter Raleigh as an explorer, courtier and poet – and of course about his love of potatoes, tobacco and fine clothes. But did you know that he himself gained a reputation as a gifted physician in later life? Kept as a special prisoner for 13 years in the Tower of London on the orders of King James, he was allowed his own laboratory where he conducted scientific experiments. The British Library has in its collection a manuscript in Raleigh’s own hand containing chemical and medical recipes.
Caring for a range of fragrant herbs, fruit and flowers in Raleigh's 'Lost Garden'
Images credit: Historic Royal Palaces
Deprived of freedom, but living in relative comfort, Raleigh used the courtyard outside the infamous ‘Bloody Tower’ to grow plants from the New World and experiment with ingredients for an ‘Elixir of Life’.
Anna Beer, in her 2004 biography of Raleigh's wife Bess, notes that the couple were known for their skills in the making of remedies and that Raleigh himself during his time in the Tower of London probably discussed his medicines with the help of the South Americans Leonard Ragapo and Harry whom he had befriended.
Images in Raleigh's rooms at the Tower of London tell us of his work as a botanist
From 20 October, in the 400 anniversary year of his death, visitors to the Tower of London can explore Raleigh’s ‘Lost Garden’, occupying the same spot where the original apothecary garden once stood. A new permanent display at the Tower, the garden features a range of fragrant herbs, fruit and flowers.
You can read about the 'Great Cordial' at