Sir Walter Raleigh (1554 - 1618)
Walter Raleigh was born in Hayes Barton in Devonshire as Walter Ralegh. The spelling "Raleigh" was adopted by Sir Walter's widow, and has been commonly used, though there was tendency to prefer "Ralegh".
The romantic stories told by Sir Robert Naunton in the Fragmenta Regalia, and by Fuller in his Worthies, represent at least the mythical truth as to Raleigh’s rise in favour. It is quite possible that he did throw his mantle on the ground to help the queen to walk dry-shod over a puddle, and that he scribbled verses with a diamond on a pane of glass to attract her attention, though we only have the gossip of a later generation for our authority. It is certain that his tall and handsome person, his manners and his quick wit pleased the queen. The rewards showered on him were out of all proportion to his services, which had not been more distinguished than those of many others.
It is to be noted that Elizabeth treated Raleigh exclusively as a court favourite, to be enriched by monopolies and grants at the expense of her subjects, but that she never gave him any great office, nor did she admit him to the council. Even his post of Captain of the Guard, given in 1587, though honourable, and, to a man who would take gifts for the use of his influence, lucrative, was mainly ornamental.
It was by Raleigh's help that Spenser obtained a pension, and royal aid to publish the first three books of the Faerie Queen. The exact cause of Raleigh's partial disgrace at court is not known, but it was probably due to the queen's habitual policy of checking one favourite by the promotion of another. In 1589 he accompanied the expedition to the coast of Portugal, which was intended to cause a revolt against King Philip II, but failed completely. In 1591 he was at the last moment forbidden to take part in the voyage to the Azores, and was replaced by his cousin Sir R. Grenville, whose death in action with the Spaniards was the subject of one of Sir Walter's most vigorous pieces of prose writing.
In 1592 he was again at sea with an expedition to intercept the Spanish trade, but was recalled by the queen. The cause of his recall was the discovery that he had seduced one of her maids of honour, Elizabeth Throgmorton. On his return he was put into the Tower, and if he was not already married was married there. To placate the queen he made a fantastic display of despair at the loss of her favour.
The death of the queen and the accession of James I were ruinous to Raleigh. He unquestionably took some part in the complication of conspiracies which arose in the first months of James's reign, and was committed to the Tower on the 19th of July 1603.
Raleigh's confinement was easy, and he applied himself to chemical experiments and literature. He had been known as one of the most poetical of the minor lyric poets of an age of poetry from his youth.
Hope of release and of a renewal of activity never deserted him, and he strove to reach the ear of the king by appealing to successive ministers and favourites. At last he secured his freedom by promising the king he’d find a gold mine in Guiana without trenching on a Spanish possession.
On Raleigh's return to England, the outraged Count Gondomar, the Spanish ambassador, successfully demanded that King James reinstate Raleigh's death sentence. Raleigh was executed under his old sentence on the 29th of October 1618. His wife was given his embalmed head and kept it for 29 years until she died. Then his head was buried with his body.
This poem was written the night before his death:
EVEN SUCH IS TIME
Even such is time, which takes in trust
Our youth, our joys, and all we have,
And pays us naught but age and dust;
Which in the dark and silent grave,
When we have wandered all our ways,
Shuts up the story of our days!
And from which grave, and earth, and dust,
The Lord shall raise me up, I trust.
The Silent Lover I
Passions are liken'd best to floods and streams:
The shallow murmur, but the deep are dumb;
So, when affection yields discourse, it seems
The bottom is but shallow whence they come.
They that are rich in words, in words discover
That they are poor in that which makes a lover.
The Silent Lover II
Wrong not, sweet empress of my heart,
The merit of true passion,
With thinking that he feels no smart,
That sues for no compassion.
Silence in love bewrays more woe
Than words, though ne'er so witty:
A beggar that is dumb, you know,
May challenge double pity.
Then wrong not, dearest to my heart,
My true, though secret passion;
He smarteth most that hides his smart,
And sues for no compassion.