Britannia Biographies: Sir Walter Raleigh Part 15


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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 15: Out with the Old

The end of Elizabeth I's reign saw mounting problems for Raleigh. He discovered his agent at Sherborne was disloyally acting against his interests and had to place the man in the town stocks. Meanwhile, in Ireland, his steward, an objectionable man named Pyne, was likewise found to be swindling him out of the returns from his plantations. Sir Walter was soon forced to sell Munster to Robert Boyle for only 1,500. He remained Captain of the Guard to the seventy-year-old Queen, but it was only a matter of time before the accession of the objectionable King James of Scotland, son of Mary Queen of Scots.

On 24 March 1603 Elizabeth died and three days later James began his progress south to London. Raleigh met him at Northampton on 25th April and asked him to sign some papers. 'Oh my soul man I have heard rarely of thee!' was the new King's terse response. A few days later, Raleigh led the Royal Guard at Elizabeth's funeral.

Durham House, the Strand, Westminster (Middlesex)

By May, King James had recalled all monopolies, given the Captaincy of the Guard to a Scottish favourite and dismissed Raleigh from the Governorship of Jersey. He gave him just 300 in compensation. Raleigh, still innocent of plots afoot to destroy his reputation, and unaware of the King's desire for a peaceful foreign policy, offered to supply James with a written account for his strategy for continuing the war against Spain. He was damned. James acted swiftly to remove him from London. Durham House was returned to the Bishop and Raleigh was to be out in two weeks. It was a great insult.

Two months later, Sir Walter tried to join King James in a reconciliatory hunt with in Windsor Forest. However, he was informed by Cecil that the King did not want him to ride and had charged the Privy Council instead to question him on certain matters of treason. Raleigh, though he had knowledge of at least one plot against the King, was totally innocent of any involvement in two lesser ones. Yet the Council decided to arraign him for trial.

Plague was raging in London, so the Court moved south to Winchester. Raleigh was escorted from the city, whereupon the London mob turned out in force to jeer the traitor who had betrayed their beloved Essex. On 17th November 1603, the Great hall of Winchester Castle was converted to house the Court of King's Bench. The judges were Sir John Popham, Chief Justice of Kings Bench; Sir Edmund Anderson, Chief Justice of Common Pleas and his prison judges, Sandys and Warburton. Raleigh had no detailed knowledge of the charges and they were only read out to him on the morning of the trial. He was accused of plotting with his friend, Lord Cobham, to advance the King's cousin, Arabella Stuart, to the throne. He was charged with taking part in the so-called Bye Plot to capture the King and force him to relax anti-papal legislation. A third indictment concerned a lost manuscript book which Raleigh had allegedly given to Cobham to confirm the basis of their treasonable plans. A fourth charge indicated he had urged Arabella Stuart to write to the King of Spain for support. While, lastly, he was accused of instigated Cobham's correspondence to raise 600,000 crowns.

The trial was a farce. Sir Edward Coke prosecuted while Raleigh defended himself. He denied all involvement in the Bye Plot, which had been treason of the priests who organised it. Coke replied, 'Thou art a monster! Thou hast an English face but a Spanish heart!' He was refused permission to call Lord Cobham as his chief defence witness and only Cecil spoke in his defence. Old colleagues like Lord Henry Howard were not at all helpful. Eventually, Sir Walter produced Cobham's letter which he had hidden in his doublet. It had been wrapped around an apple and thrown through his prison window back at the Tower. Coke parried with a retraction of the letter which Cobham had been forced to sign. It took the jury just fifteen minute sto reach their verdict: Guilty. Popham pronounced the sentence with brutal relish: Raleigh was to be hanged, drawn and quartered. One of the trial judges later declared that, "the trial injured and degraded the justice of England". Even Popham was heard to say, "I hope I shall never see the like again".

Raleigh appealed to Cecil, the Privy Council and the King. James, in a grotesque exhibition of royal clemency, exiled Markham and imprisoned Grey and Cobham as they were about to be executed. He issued a pardon for Raleigh but he was to be kept a prisoner in the Tower of London - a condemned but unexecuted traitor, a man of fifty with no hope, no apparent future, nor even any legal existence.

Part 16: A Prisoner in the Tower


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