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Sir Walter Raleigh or Ralegh

1552-4? - 1618

Edited A.C. Image Copyright© 2001 by VirtualologyTM


RALEGH, Sir Walter, English navigator, born in Hayes, in the parish of Budleigh, Devonshire, England, in 1552; died in Westminster, England, 29 October, 1618. His patronymic was written in thirteen different ways, but Sir Walter himself spelled it Ralegh. Little is known of his father, Waiter, except that he was a gentleman commoner, and that an earnest wayside remonstrance from him with the Romanist rioters of the west in 1544 caused his imprisonment for three days, and threats of hanging when he was liberated. His mother was the daughter of Sir Philip Chainpernown, of Modbury, and the widow of Otto Gilbert, by whom she was the mother of Sir John, Sir Humphrey, and Sir Adrian Gilbert. 

Walter became a commoner at Oriel, Oxford, in 1568, and probably attended the University of France in 1569, but left the same year to join a troop that was raised under the Prince de Conde and Admiral Coligny in aid of the French Huguenots. Subsequently, according to most authorities, he served in the Netherlands under William of Orange, and became an accomplished soldier and a determined foe to Roman Catholicism and the Spanish nation. On his return to England he found that his half brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, had just obtained a patent for establishing a plantation in America, and he entered into the scheme. 

They went to sea in 1579, but one of their ships was lost, and the remainder, it is said, were crippled in an engagement with the Spanish fleet, and they returned without making land. Ralegh then served as captain against the Desmond rebellion in Ireland, and won the commendation of his superiors by his bravery and executive ability. On his return, according to the popular legend, he met Queen Elizabeth one day as she was walking in the forest, and, on her approach to a miry place in her path, took off his mantle and laid it down for her to tread upon. The queen, who was susceptible to gallant attention, at once admitted him to court, loaded him with favors, and employed him to attend the French ambassador, Simier, on his return to France, and afterward to escort the Duke of Anjou to Antwerp. 

A contemporary writer says: " He possessed a good presence in a handsome, well compacted body, strong natural wit and better judgment, a bold and plausible tongue, the fancy of a poet and the chivalry of a soldier, and was unrivalled in splendor of dress and equipage." He soon used his influence to promote a second expedition to America, but was prevented by an accident from going in person, and left the command of the fleet to Sir Humphrey Gilbert (q. v.), who was lost on the homeward voyage. Ralegh then obtained a new charter in 1584, with power to land colonies " in any remote, heathen, and barbarous lands not actually possessed by any Christian prince or people," and secured the provision that such colonists were "to have all the privileges of free denizens and natives of England, and were to be governed according to such statutes as should by them be established, so that the said statutes or laws conform as conveniently as may be with those of England, and do not impugn the Christian faith, or any way withdraw the people of those lands from our allegiance." 

These guarantees of political rights were renewed in the subsequent charter of 1606, under which the English colonies were planted in America, and constituted one of the impregnable grounds upon which they afterward maintained the struggle that ended in separation from Great Britain. The expedition consisted of two vessels, which sailed, 27 April, 1584, under the command of Capt. Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe. They reached the West Indies on 10 June, and the American coast on 4 July. They then explored Pamlico and Albemarle sounds and Roanoke island, returning to England about the middle of September, and giving such glowing accounts of their discoveries that Elizabeth called the new found land Virginia, in memory of her state of life, and conferred knighthood on Ralegh, with a monopoly of mines, from which he enjoyed a large revenue. She also granted a new seal to his coat of arms, on which was graven " Propria insignia, Walteri Ralegh Militis, Domini et Gobernatoris Virginia?." 

Ralegh, who was now a member of parliament, obtained a bill confirming his patent, collected a company of colonists, and on 9 April, 1585, sent a fleet of seven ships in command of his cousin, Sir Richard Grenville, and in immediate charge of Sir Ralph Lane (q. v.), who soon quarreled with Grenville. The latter, after landing the colony at Roanoke island in July, sailed for England on 25 Aug., promising to return the next Easter. But misfortunes befell the colonists ; they became disheartened, and in July, 1586, despairing of Grenville's return, went to England in one of Sir Francis Drake's vessels, that commander having passed the settlement on his way from his expedition against Santo Domingo, Carthagena, and St. Augustine. The fruit of this settlement was little more than a carefully prepared description of the country by Thomas Hariot ; illustrations in watercolors by the artist, John White, of its inhabitants, productions, animals, and birds ; and the introduction into Great Britain of tobacco and potatoes, the latter being first planted in Ireland on Ralegh's estate. Soon after the departure of the colonists with Lane, a ship arrived with supplies from Ralegh, and a few days afterward Grenville returned to Roanoke island with three ships, well provisioned, but, finding that the colonists had all left, went back to England, leaving fifteen men and supplies sufficient to last them two years. Meanwhile Ralegh had been appointed seneschal of Devon and Cornwall, and lord warden of the stannaries, and had obtained a grant of 12,000 acres of forfeited land in Ireland. 

His favor in court continued to increase, but he was hated by a large faction. He now determined to found an agricultural state, and in April, 1587, dispatched a body of emigrants to make a settlement on Chesapeake bay. He granted them a charter of incorporation and appointed a municipal government for the city of Ralegh, intrusting the administration to John White, with twelve assistants. They founded their city, not on the bay, but on the site of the former settlement on Roanoke island, and when their ships returned, Gov. White went home to hasten reinforcements. But the fleet that Ralegh fitted out for the colony's relief was impressed by the government for the war with Spain. White, with Ralegh's aid, subsequently succeeded in sailing with two vessels that fell into the hands of the Spaniards, and he was able to send no relief till 1590, when he arrived, on 15 Aug., to find that all the colonists had disappeared. It was discovered years afterward that four men, two boys, and a girl had been adopted into the Hatteras tribe of Indians. The rest had been starved or massacred. 

Ralegh had now spent £40,000 in his efforts to colonize Virginia. Unable to do more, he therefore leased his patent to a company of merchants, with the hope of achieving his object; but he was disappointed. He made a fifth attempt to afford his lost colony aid in 1602 by sending Capt. Samuel Mace to search for them; but Mace returned without executing his orders. Ralegh wrote to Sir Robert Cecil on 21 Aug., 1602, that he would send Mace back, and expressed his faith in the colonization of Virginia in the words, "I shall vet live to see it an Englishe nation." Although the colonists perished, Ralegh secured North America to the English through his enterprise, made known the advantages of its soil and climate, fixed Chesapeake bay as the proper place for a colony, and created a spirit that led finally to its successful settlement. 

He was a member of the council of war and lieutenant general and commander of the forces of Cornwall in 1587, and the next year, when the armada appeared, hung upon its rear in a vessel of his own, and annoyed it by quick and unexpected movements. He was with Sir Francis Drake in his expedition to restore Don Antonio to the throne of Portugal in 1589, and captured several Spanish vessels. On his return, he visited Ireland, and contracted a friendship with Edmund Spenser, whom he brought to England and introduced to Elizabeth, with the gift of the first three books of the " Faerie Queen." In the hope of shattering the Spanish power in the West Indies, he then collected a fleet of thirteen vessels, for the most part at his own expense, and captured the largest Spanish prize that had been brought to England. In 1591 he offended Elizabeth by his marriage with her maid of honor, Elizabeth Throgmorton, and was imprisoned for several months, and banished from court. But he spent his time in the Tower in planning another expedition to Guiana, and the next year sent out one Jacob Whiddon to examine the coast near Orinoco river. After receiving Whiddon's report, Ralegh, with a squadron of five ships, sailed on 9 Feb., 1595. When he arrived at the end of March he captured the Spanish town of St. Joseph, and subsequently made a perilous voyage up the Orinoco. When he returned the same year he published an account of his voyage in his "Discovery of the Large, Rich, and Beautiful Empire of Guiana "(London, 1596), in which he related all the wonderful things he had heard from the Spaniards and natives, including E1 Dorado, the Amazons, and the Ewaipanoma, a tribe that had eyes in their shoulders and mouths in their breasts. His book was read eagerly, and, besides these childish stories, is full of valuable information. 

After his cooperation in the capture of Cadiz he was restored to Elizabeth's favor, and in 1597 went on an expedition under the Earl of Essex against the Azores, but quarreled with his commander, and returned. He was made governor of Jersey in 1600, but, having been accused of an agency in the death of Essex which event was soon followed by the death of Elizabeth, he fell into disfavor, and, on the accession of James I., was stripped of his preferment, forbidden the royal presence, and charged with a plot to place Lady Arabella Stuart on the throne. His estates were confiscated, and he was sentenced to be beheaded, but was reprieved, and passed the thirteen subsequent years in the Tower. 

During his imprisonment he composed his "History of the World" (London, 1614), which was superior in style and manner to any of the English historical compositions that had preceded it. Ralegh was liberated in 1615, but not pardoned. He then obtained from James a commission as admiral of the fleet, with ample privileges and fourteen ships, and in November, 1617, reached Guiana. His force consisted of 431 men, and he was accompanied by his son Walter and Capt. Lawrence Keymis.  Ralegh was too ill with a fever to join the expedition, but sent Keymis and young Walter with 250 men in boats up the Orinoco. They landed at the Spanish settlement of St. Thomas, and, in defiance of the peaceable instructions of James, killed the governor and set fire to the town. Young Walter was killed in the action. Unable either to advance or maintain their position, the British retreated to the ships. Keymis, reproached with his ill success, committed suicide, many of the sailors mutinied, the ships scattered, and Ralegh landed in Plymouth, 16 June, 1618, broken in fortune and reputation. He was arrested and committed to the Tower, on the charge of having, without authority, attacked the Spanish settlement of St. Thomas. He failed in an attempt to escape to France by feigning madness, and it was subsequently decided to execute him on his former sentence. He was beheaded in the old palace yard at Westminster. 

Ralegh was of imposing presence, dauntless courage, and varied accomplishments. His knowledge of the principles of political economy were far in advance of his age. Among his other literary ventures he founded the Mermaid club. The city of Raleigh, N. C., is named in his honor. The illustration represents his birthplace, Hayes farm. Besides the works already mentioned, he wrote many poems of merit, the most noted of those attributed to him being " The Soul's Errand." His "Remains" were published by his grandson, Sir Philip Ralegh (London, 1661); his " Miscellanies," with a new account of his life, by Thomas Butch (1748); his collected poems by Sir Edward Bridges (1814); and his complete works, with his life, by William Oldys (8 vols., Oxford, 1829). Numerous biographies have been written of him, of which the most reliable are those by Arthur Cayley (2 vols., London, 1805'6); Mrs. A. T. Thompson (1830); Patrick Fraser Tytler (1833); Robert Southey (1837); Sir Robert Schomburgk, added to his "Voyages to Guiana" (1847) ; Edward Edwards, with a full collection of Ralegh's letters (2 vols., 1866); John A. St. John (1868); Increase N. Tarbox (1884); and Edmund W. Gosse, in the "English Worthies Series" (1886). -- -- Edited A C A B Copyright© 2001 by VirtualologyTM


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The Avalon Project : Charter to Sir Walter Raleigh : 1584
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Sir Walter Ralegh (1552-1618)
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