Sunday, 4 November 2018

The Raleigh 400 Dinner

There are still a limited number of places available for the Raleigh 400 dinner, to be held in the State Dining Room (pictured above) at Powderham Castle on Thursday 29 November.

The dinner, open to Friends of Fairlynch and their friends and guests, is the culmination of the Museum’s season of celebrations in honour of Sir Walter Raleigh in the 400th anniversary year of his death.

If Sir Walter had succeeded in 1584 in persuading Richard Duke to sell him Hayes Barton, it seems likely that the Raleigh 400 dinner would have been held there. But in a Hayes Barton transformed from a farmhouse into a grand castle befitting Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite.

He had after all, in a letter of 26 July 1584, explained that he had a ‘naturall disposition’ to the place, ‘being borne in that howse’. He went on to write: ‘I had rather seat my sealf ther than any where els’.  Above is a copy of the letter in Fairlynch's collection. 

But Richard Duke had refused, and Devon’s loss became Dorset’s gain. By 1593, Raleigh had settled in Sherborne with his wife Bess and had begun work on building the New Castle, pictured above. 

I’ve found no evidence that Raleigh ever visited Powderham. But there were various connections between his family and the Courtenays, owners of the Castle for 600 years, as well as with other well known Devon families. Their coats of arms are on display in Fairlynch’s Sir Walter Ralegh Room.  

And Powderham’s owner, who will be Guest of Honour at the dinner, is certainly a fan of the Great Elizabethan.

'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,' he has written.  ‘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.'   

Do join us and celebrate Sir Walter's life in style on 29 November! 


Tuesday, 28 August 2018

When the gloves were off for Raleigh


Image courtesy of Dents Museum

This pair of beautifully decorated gloves associated with Sir Walter Raleigh is among the highlights of Fairlynch’s exhibition to mark the 400thanniversary of the Elizabethan explorer’s death.

Described as ‘off-white doeskin, embroidered with gold and silver metal threads, tiny “spangles” and edged with silver gilt fringing’, the gloves have been dated as made in about 1600.  They are on loan from Dents Collection, based at the centuries-old Warminster-based firm of glovemakers.

Highly decorative gloves were a demonstrable sign of status and wealth, often given as gifts as a reward for service or supplication for expected favours. These gloves were not for wearing – hence their survival in such good condition.

‘There were few tokens of bonding and friendship that were as important in early modern culture,’ writes Felicity Heal in her 2014 book The Power of Gifts: Gift Exchange in Early Modern England. ‘The hand gesture as a mark of amity made these relatively simple gifts rich in symbolic power.’

Image of Bess, Lady Raleigh, as featured at Fairlynch Museum  
It was around 1600 that Raleigh’s wife Bess had made gloves for Sir Robert Cecil, Queen Elizabeth’s Secretary of State. 

One of the most powerful and the most calculating politicians of the time, he was a man whom both she and Walter regarded as their friend. In a letter to Cecil at this time Raleigh wrote that Bess ‘says that she must envy any fingers whosoever that shall wear her gloves but your own.’

Sir Robert Cecil, created 1st Earl of Salisbury by King James I    Image credit: National Portrait Gallery

What neither Bess nor Walter realised was that their supposed friend was actively engaged in their destruction. The Tudor dynasty was nearing its end, to be succeeded by the House of Stuart. 

Aware that the most likely successor to the increasingly frail Queen would be the King James VI of Scotland, Cecil was making plans for a transfer of power in which Raleigh would be sacrificed.  

It was important, he saw, that the character of the old Queen’s favourite be blackened in the eyes of the Scottish king so that Cecil would be seen as a supporter of the new regime.

King James I of England and VI of Scotland, c.1606, after John De Critz the Elder (c.1551-1642) National Portrait Gallery

Raleigh’s reputation as a smoker was bad enough to inspire the Scot’s disgust at such a habit. Sir Walter’s enjoyment of tobacco was well known at court. More serious for him was his reputation as an atheist, and it was this that Cecil used to encourage James’ mistrust of Raleigh. 

Since the beginning of May 1602 the Secretary of State had been engaged in a treasonable correspondence with James’ ministers in Scotland, using a secret code of numbers. The Queen was 24, James was 30, Raleigh was 2. Cecil himself was 10. 

It was in a letter of this time that Cecil wrote to King James about his supposed friend that he was a person ‘whom most religious men do hold anathema’. The underhand accusation was, as described by Sir Walter’s biographer Raleigh Trevelyan, a ‘stunningly disloyal’ act.   

St Mary’s Church, Cerne Abbas
Image credit: Chris Downer

It was true that Sir Walter, a relatively freethinking man for his age, had been accused of atheism. A commission had been set up in 1594 at Cerne Abbas, close to his home at Sherborne Castle, to deal with accusations that Raleigh and his circle of intellectuals, known to some as ‘The School of Night’, had denied the reality of heaven and hell.  He was acquitted, but the accusation of atheism was again raised at his trial for treason in 1603. 

It is likely that this contributed to the guilty verdict reached by the court, a verdict which would prove fatal after the failed 1617 expedition to Guiana. 

Rosemary Harden supervises the installation of the gloves in the Raleigh 400 display, with Fairlynch Museum Trustee Martyn Brown. Rosemary, curator of the Fashion Museum in Bath, worked with Dents Collection on the Museum's loan request for the gloves  

These gloves are fabulous. You can imagine Bess Raleigh’s hands at work as she gives the finishing touches to a similar pair destined for the hands of her husband’s supposed friend Robert Cecil. 

Maybe this is at a time when Bess and Walter are caring for Cecil’s young son Will at Sherborne Castle.  The boy’s mother, Elizabeth Cecil had died in childbirth, aged only 34. Walter has poured his deepest and most poignant reflections into a letter to Robert Cecil dated 24 January 1597, written to console the distraught widower. 

But you can also reflect on the thoughts that cross Bess’ mind as she wonders how far she and Walter can trust him. Perhaps you can imagine the gloves discarded; those clever hands and fingers will be at work within just a few years on a treasonable correspondence with a foreign king. It will ultimately take Walter to the scaffold.   


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