Walter Raleigh

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Portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh (1588)
Signature Walter Raleigh.PNG

Sir Walter Raleigh (also Rawley , Ralegh or Rawleigh ; * 1552 or 1554 in Hayes Barton , Devonshire , Kingdom of England ; † October 29, 1618 in London , executed) was an English navigator, explorer, soldier, spy, politician, poet and writer as well as favorite of the English Queen Elizabeth I.



Sir Walter Raleigh at the age of 32, portrait by Nicholas Hilliard , 1585

Around 1552 or 1554, Walter Raleigh was born in Hayes Barton, Devonshire, the fourth son of a noble but poorly wealthy Protestant family. After all, Walter was later able to study at Oriel College in Oxford .

In 1569 he took part on the Huguenot side under Admiral Coligny in the wars of religion in France. After almost five years in France, he teamed up with his half-brother Sir Humphrey Gilbert . Together they went on some pirate trips to the West Indies . The attempt to sail to North America in 1578 to fulfill Gilbert's dream of a settler colony failed.

Like his half-brother, Raleigh went to Ireland in 1580. There he served in the submission of the country as a commander of an English company.

Queen Elizabeth I became aware of him through his military actions in Ireland. Raleigh came to the English court in 1581 and won the Queen's favor and friendship. From this he was knighted in 1585 . A year later he was appointed Vice Admiral and was also part of the Devonian Parliament .

Founding of colony and expedition to South America

Lady Elizabeth Throckmorton (1565-1647)
Portrait of Raleigh at an advanced age

Endowed with trading privileges and as an advisor to the Queen's inner circle, he became one of the most influential personalities in England. He continued to pursue his plans to establish English overseas colonies in North America. With the support of wealthy investors, he financed several trips to Virginia in order to realize his colonial goals there. However, the queen forbade him to participate in the expeditions. The Crown did not give the foundations any special priority; more important was the colonization of Ireland. One result of the Raleigh-funded expeditions was the founding of Roanoke , North Carolina in 1585 . This first English colony in the history of North America had to be abandoned a year later. Another attempt at settlement in the same place in 1587 with 150 colonists also failed.

In the same year, Raleigh took over the command of the royal bodyguard and was thus responsible for Elizabeth's safety. He continued to participate in the colonization of Ireland and settled farmers with their families on an area he had acquired.

There is no evidence of Raleigh's involvement in the fight against the Spanish Armada . On May 31, 1592, in London, Raleigh married Lady Elizabeth , Bess , only daughter of Sir Nicholas Throckmorton and his wife Lady Anne Carew, and Lady of the Queen's Privy Chamber . The marriage resulted in two sons, Walter and Carew. Shortly after Raleigh's marriage at court became known, he fell out of favor with the Queen, was imprisoned with his wife in the Tower of London for a few months and then expelled from court for five years. He withdrew from writing and founded a community of scientific and artistic exchange, the School of Night .

In 1595 Raleigh led an expedition to South America to look for the gold country El Dorado . The expedition explored the Orinoco , but without finding the fabulous El Dorado. After his return to England, Raleigh published his travelogue The discoverie of the large rich, and bewtiful empyre of Guiana in 1596 .

In 1596 Raleigh participated in the conquest of Cadiz in Spain. He regained royal favor, rejoined Parliament in 1598, this time for Dorset , and was appointed governor of the island of Jersey in 1600 .

Imprisonment, pardon and death

Raleigh's cell in the Tower of London , photograph from 1890

After the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, he was the new king I. Jacob favor. Raleigh was sentenced to death on charges of conspiracy with Spain; later the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment and Raleigh was imprisoned in the Tower of London . Behind the condemnation of one of the most famous spokesmen against Spain was the attempt by Jacob I to make peace with Spain. In 1604 this was finally sealed.

Raleigh was imprisoned for thirteen years. During this time he wrote his History of the World .

On March 19, 1616 he was released from the tower. In the following years he undertook another expedition to South America with the aim of finding gold mines in Guiana . The trip was unsuccessful, and Raleigh lost his son Walter in fighting with the Spanish.

On his return he was arrested again at the instigation of Spain and sentenced to death. He was executed on October 29, 1618. There are two different versions of Raleigh's last words: “When the heart is in the right place, it doesn't matter where the head is” or “This [the decapitation] is a harsh medicine, but it is a medicus for all diseases . "


Raleigh's statue in Raleigh, North Carolina

In honor of the founder of the colony, Walter Raleigh, the capital of North Carolina and the province of Raleigh County in West Virginia were named in the United States . He entered popular culture as a figure of the Elizabethan era, for example in novels and films. Sun played Richard Todd young Raleigh in his early days at the court of Elizabeth in the American feature film The Virgin Queen (1955, directed by Henry Koster ). In the British-French film Elizabeth - The Golden Kingdom (2007), Clive Owen played Walter Raleigh. In the BBC's 2002 audience poll of the 100 Greatest Britons , he came in 93rd.


Walter Raleigh is the author of The Last Fight of the Revenge (1591), The Discovery of Guiana (1596), and the first volume of History of the World (1614). A complete edition of his works was published in the 19th century:

  • William Oldys (Ed.): The Works of Sir Walter Ralegh, Kt. 8 Bde. Franklin, New York 1829 ( digitized in the Internet Archive).

Editions of individual works:

  • Agnes Latham (Ed.): The Letters of Sir Walter Ralegh. University of Exeter Press, Exeter 1999, ISBN 0-85989-527-0 .
  • Agnes Latham (Ed.): Selected Prose and Poetry. Athlone, London 1965.
  • Constantinos A. Patrides (Ed.): The History of the World. Macmillan, London 1971.
  • Joyce Lorimer (Ed.): Sir Walter Ralegh's Discoverie of Guiana . (= Works Issued by the Hakluyt Society. Third Series, Vol. 15.) Ashgate, London et al. 2006, ISBN 0-904180-87-5 (also as e-text at Project Gutenberg ).
  • Gold from Guyana. The Search for El Dorado 1595. Translated from English and edited. by Egon Larsen . Erdmann, Stuttgart 1988, ISBN 3-522-60690-6 .


Raleigh is often associated with the introduction of tobacco in England, although tobacco smoking probably found its way into Europe much earlier. In the song " I'm So Tired " on the album "The Beatles" (also called "White Album") made available by the Beatles is Raleigh of John Lennon cursed in the following passage for the popularization of tobacco:

"I'm so tired, I'm feeling so upset,
Although I'm so tired, I'll have another cigarette,
And curse Sir Walter Raleigh,
Hey what such a stupid get! "


Overview representations


  • Anna Beer: Patriot or traitor: the life and death of Sir Walter Raleigh , London: Oneworld, 2018, ISBN 978-1-78607-434-8
  • Nicholas Popper: Walter Ralegh's History of the World and the Historical Culture of the Late Renaissance. University of Chicago Press, Chicago et al. 2012, ISBN 978-0-226-67500-8
  • Mark Nicholls, Penry Williams: Sir Walter Raleigh. In Life and Legend. Continuum, London 2011.
  • Edward Edwards: The Life of Sir Walter Ralegh. 2 volumes, Macmillan, London 1868 ( Vol. 1: Life and Vol. 2: Letters digitized in the Internet Archive ).
  • Stephen Greenblatt : Sir Walter Ralegh. The Renaissance Man and His Roles. New Haven (CT) 1973.


  • Christopher M. Armitage: Sir Walter Ralegh, an Annotated Bibliography. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1987, ISBN 0-8078-1757-0
  • Jerry L. Mills: Sir Walter Ralegh. A Reference Guide. Hall, Boston 1986, ISBN 0-8161-8596-4 .

Web links

Commons : Portraits of Sir Walter Raleigh  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ↑ Basically about this woman Anna Beer : Bess. The Life of Lady Ralegh, Wife to Sir Walter. Constable, London 2004.
  2. ^ Joyce Lorimer: Introduction. In: Sir Walter Ralegh's Discoverie of Guiana (= Works Issued by the Hakluyt Society . Third Series, Vol. 15.) Ashgate, London et al. 2006, p. XX.
  3. ^ Sir Walter Raleigh, Part 17: A Last Chance. Christopher Smith biography
  4. Historic UK [1] - Introduction of Tobacco to England