Sir Walter Raleigh

For day three of Elizabethan Intrigue week I have decided to focus on the figure of Sir Walter Raleigh.   If you are a fan of the All Souls trilogy of books, and the A Discovery of Witches television series (which is based on it) then you may remember Walter Raleigh as a character during the Elizabethan time travel portion.

Walter Raleigh was one of the most powerful men in the court of Elizabeth I, and he acted as both her spy and a privateer (or pirate).    He led expeditions to the New World, even leading up the ill-fated Roanoke colony.  

Raleigh was truly a Renaissance man in that he worked as an adventurer (both a privateer and even some spy work) and writer.   It was Raleigh who named Virginia (after the Virgin Queen).   He also took part in the victory over the Spanish Armada!

He is famous for being a figure who rose to amazing power at the court, only to have a swift downfall.   During the Tudor age courtiers were not allowed to marry without the permission of the crown.    The one notable time that this was forgiven was when Henry VIII eventually allowed his favorite sister Mary and best friend Charles Brandon back to court after they had married without his permission (this being an obvious exception given both of their favored statuses).    Walter Raleigh married Bess Throckmorton, a maid of honor to Elizabeth I.   As this marriage was not given permission to take place by the queen, Raleigh fell from favor.   This even led to him being imprisoned by her in the Tower of London in 1592.    After Elizabeth I’s death in 1603 he was sentenced to death, after being implicated as an enemy of James I.    Although his sentence was commuted temporarily to allow him to lead another expedition (which failed), he ended up being beheaded on October 29, 1618.

Adventure to new worlds, writing beautiful poetry, acting as a patron to the arts (including Edmund Spenser, while he wrote The Faerie Queene), and having a secret marriage are all reasons why Walter Raleigh was a perfect subject for a week of Elizabethan intrigue! Unfortunately for Raleigh, he led an amazing life, full of intrigue, and ended up dying like many other figures who have gone against the authority of their times. It truly is dangerous to live life by your own rules, yet a part of me feels that Raleigh would likely have not changed his actions to save himself from a beheading (at least if what we know of him is to be believed)!

I hope you have enjoyed this overview of the life of Walter Raleigh.    Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is a painting of Walter Raleigh.   I found the image on

Further Reading

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