Britannia Biographies: Sir Walter Raleigh Part 4


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Youthful Experience
Irish Command
Queen's Favourite
Discovery of Virginia
Royal Servant
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Biography of Sir Walter Raleigh by Christopher Smith
S I R      W A L T E R
 R A L E I G H
Part 4: The Queens' Favourite

Raleigh was now aged twenty-eight, six foot tall, a good looking man with an air of authority. Back in England, he quickly attracted the attention of the Queen, now forty-eight: "Captain Raleigh," wrote Thomas Fuller in 1663, "coming out of Ireland...cast and spread his cloak on the ground: whereupon the Queen trod gently." This, now famous, incident supposedly took place on the present site of the Queen's House at Greenwich Palace. The two became good friends, as shown when, soon afterward, Walter wrote this poem on a window pane: "Fair would I climb, yet fear to fall." Elizabeth completed the couplet, "If they heart fails thee, climb not at all." Raleigh was now fashioning himself as the perfect Elizabethan courtier. He could talk politics in his strong Devon tongue. Ambition and intellect was driving him into the company of the great and brilliant. Elizabeth was determined to keep such a man and he was to remain at court for the next ten years.

Queen Elizabeth IRaleigh became involved in important court affairs. There were more French negotiations when the Duc of Alencon - 'her frog' - was, this time, accepted by Queen Elizabeth in marriage, quickly refused again and forced to return to the Netherlands. Following this, Walter showed his rising influence when, as a favour to Lord Treasurer Burghley, he interceded on behalf of the latter's imprisoned nephew, the Earl of Oxford. Raleigh enjoyed court life and, when off duty, he enjoyed the pleasures offered by the Queen's maids of honour even more. He accompanied Elizabeth to Hampton Court (Surrey), Nonsuch (Surrey) and Greenwich (Kent): both on land and on water. For the Queen enjoyed taking to the Thames in her magnificent state barge, served by twenty oarsmen, or a smaller barge covered with satin awnings and pillows of cloth of gold. By 1583, Elizabeth was inundating Walter with favours: ornaments like the two vases still held by All Souls College, Oxford; and property like Durham House, a Bishop's Palace near the Strand on the north bank of the Thames. He lived in great style: served silver plate featuring his coat of arms by thirty liverymen in gold chains.

Leicester was now back in favour, but he was jealous of Raleigh. He introduced his stepson, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, to Elizabeth as Walter's rival. Despite this, Raleigh continued to amass great wealth. He acquired the monopoly controlling cloth exports from London and, in 1584, a similar monopoly of wines. He also profited from privateering including booty from ships often valued at 10,000, an enormous sum in those days. A diarist from Pomerania, recording a dinner at Greenwich in 1584, noted that Queen Elizabeth, though surrounded by great noblemen, was said to love Walter Raleigh above all others. Raleigh was knighted the following year, for his plans to found a colony in the Americas which he had already called Virginia in honour of the Virgin Queen.

Part 5: The 'Discovery' of Virginia


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