RALEIGH, Sir Walter

(c. 1552-1618)
The consummate courtier, Sir Walter Raleigh was the epitome of the Renais­sance man, being a skilled poet, an overseas explorer, a military adventurer, and an effective parliamentarian. After devoting his early years to military adven­tures, Raleigh set to work creating an image of himself as a master of the sword and the pen. Deciding to take a commission in Ireland, he helped reimpose English rule there, and his success brought him to the attention of Elizabeth I.* Raleigh quickly became one of her favorites, extolling her virtues as the "Virgin Queen" in song and verse. The queen rewarded him with monopolies and leases, and his growing power and influence became increasingly resented by other members of the court.
In 1584 Raleigh was granted a patent for North American colonization, and settlement began on Roanoke, but the venture ended in disaster for the settlers. Raleigh's—and England's—attention was soon diverted by the launching of the Spanish Armada against England in 1588, with Raleigh part of the fleet that eventually defeated it.
The revelation of a secret marriage with one of the queen's ladies-in-waiting proved his undoing with the notoriously jealous Elizabeth, who had him arrested in May 1592. This mistake led to five years of disgrace and banishment from the court, but by 1593 he was starting his climb back to favor, in part through his skills as a parliamentarian. Raleigh cast about for a solution to his shredded reputation and began to dream of a great adventure—to acquire the mythical kingdom of El Dorado in South America. He believed that it would restore him everything he had lost, but his first venture there was abortive. In 1596 his participation in a preemptive strike against Spain damaged its morale, and he regained some favor with Elizabeth. A subsequent expedition against Spain to acquire treasure—the ill-fated "Islands Voyage"—was a disaster from start to finish, but Raleigh was able to remain in the queen's good graces.
When Elizabeth died in March 1603, it was apparent that her successor, James I,* harbored deep suspicions against Raleigh, and James began to deprive him of some of his monopolies and estates. Raleigh found himself embroiled in a conspiracy of others' making, and he was arrested for treason in July 1603, found guilty, and sentenced to die on 13 December. Raleigh petitioned men of influence in the hopes of averting his fate, and James commuted his sentence to life imprisonment in the Tower. During the next twelve years the imprisoned Raleigh produced some of his greatest poems and treatises and perhaps his most enduring work, The History of the World.
James, sorely in need of funds, decided to reopen the expedition to find El Dorado; he released Raleigh from prison in 1615 to oversee the construction of the fleet, but did not pardon him. The voyage went badly from the start, and a group of his marauding sailors disobeyed orders and attacked a Spanish fort, killing some of its inhabitants, while the mythical treasure was left undiscovered. Raleigh, determined to salvage his honor with the King, was not given a chance to defend himself publicly, and his execution was ordered for 29 October 1618. In many ways, Raleigh was being sacrificed to appease Spain, and he resigned himself to his fate. Dressed magnificently, he made a final speech on the scaffold that refuted his "treason" before he laid his head on the block.
In the end, Raleigh became a victim of his own stellar rise to the top of the early modern English political world. He was too intricately involved in the issues of the day to be entirely guiltless of whatever charges might be laid at his door, and he paid the price for that knowledge.
S. Coote, A Play of Passion: The Life of Sir Walter Raleigh, 1993.
R. Lacey, Sir Walter Raleigh, 1974.
Connie S. Evans

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Raleigh,Sir Walter — Raleigh or Ra·legh (rôʹlē, räʹ ), Sir Walter. 1552? 1618. English courtier, navigator, colonizer, and writer. A favorite of Elizabeth I, he campaigned in Ireland and Cádiz, explored Guiana, colonized Virginia, and introduced tobacco and the… …   Universalium

  • Raleigh, Sir Walter — born 1554?, Hayes Barton, near Budleigh Salterton, Devon, Eng. died Oct. 29, 1618, London English adventurer and favourite of Elizabeth I. He joined his half brother Humphrey Gilbert on a piratical expedition against the Spanish (1578) then… …   Universalium

  • Raleigh, Sir Walter — (1552? 1618)    Explorer, statesman, admiral, historian, and poet, s. of Walter R., of Fardel, Devonshire, was b. at Hayes Barton in that county. In 1568 he was sent to Oxf., where he greatly distinguished himself. In the next year he began his… …   Short biographical dictionary of English literature

  • RALEIGH, SIR WALTER —    courtier, soldier, and man of letters, born near Budleigh, in E. Devon, of ancient family; entered as student at Oxford, but at 17 joined a small volunteer force in aid of the Protestants in France; in 1580 distinguished himself in suppressing …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

  • Raleigh, Sir Walter — (¿1554?, Hayes Barton, cerca de Budleigh Salterton, Devon, Inglaterra–29 oct. 1618, Londres). Aventurero inglés y favorito de Isabel I. Se unió a su medio hermano Humphrey Gilbert en una expedición de piratería contra los españoles (1578) y luego …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Raleigh, Sir Walter Alexander — (1861 1922)    Born in London, the son of a Congregationalist minister, his education was split between London and Edinburgh and he graduated B.A. from University College, London, in 1881. Although appointed the first professor of English… …   British and Irish poets

  • Ralegh (Raleigh), Sir Walter — (1552 1618)    The military and naval commander and adventurer was born near Budleigh Salterton, South Devon. In 1569 he fought on the Huguenot side in the Wars of Religion in France and was later at Oriel College, Oxford (1572), and at the… …   British and Irish poets

  • Sir Walter Raleigh (essay) — Sir Walter Raleigh is an essay by Henry David Thoreau that has been reconstructed from notes he wrote for an 1843 lecture and drafts of an article he was preparing for The Dial .It was first published in 1950, in a collection of Thoreau’s… …   Wikipedia

  • Sir Walter Ralegh — noun English courtier (a favorite of Elizabeth I) who tried to colonize Virginia; introduced potatoes and tobacco to England (1552 1618) • Syn: ↑Raleigh, ↑Walter Raleigh, ↑Sir Walter Raleigh, ↑Ralegh, ↑Walter Ralegh • Instance Hypernyms:… …   Useful english dictionary

  • Sir Walter Raleigh — (* 1552 oder 1554 in Hayes Barton, Devonshire; † 29. Oktober 1618 in London) war ein englischer Seefahrer, Entdecker und Schriftsteller sowie Günstling der englischen Königin Elizabeth I. Sein Nachname findet sich auch in den Schreibweisen Rawley …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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