Sir Walter Raleigh

Raleigh (or Ralegh) was an adventurer, courtier to Elizabeth I, navigator, author, scientist and poet. Some thought him a rogue, others thought him an explorer and author of great vision.  He was born in Devon and fought with the Hugenot in France at an early age. After a failed 'voyage of discovery' (more likely a pirating expedition) to Spain, he went to Ireland where he suppressed a rebel uprising in Munster.

His father was a Devonshire gentleman of property, connected with many of the distinguished families of the south of England. Walter was born about 1552 and was educated at Oxford. He first saw military service in the Huguenot army in France in 1569, and in 1578 engaged, with his half-brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, in the first of his expeditions against the Spaniards. 

After some service in Ireland, he attracted the attention of the Queen, and rapidly rose to the perilous position of her chief favorite. With her approval, he fitted out two expeditions for the colonization of Virginia, neither of which did his royal mistress permit him to lead in person, and neither of which succeeded in establishing a permanent settlement.

Raleigh returned to England to the court of Elizabeth I, where he became a favorite of the Virgin Queen. She lavished him with land, knighted him and appointed him captain of the Queen's Guard (1587), which kept him close to the Queen's side.  There is little to confirm the famous story of how he spread his cloak across a puddle so that the Queen could walk over it, except for the cloak included in his coat of arms.

Raleigh was not popular with everyone. It is thought that Shakespeare's Love's Labors Lost is a satire of Raleigh.  Between 1584-89 he led an expedition to the New World and unsuccessfully colonized Roanoke Island, North Carolina and Virginia. He brought back potatoes and tobacco to Britain, changing the face of food and commerce at home.

After about six years of high favor, Raleigh found his position at court endangered by the rivalry of the Earl of Essex, Raleigh returned to Ireland in 1589 where he tended his estates and nurtured poet Edmund Spenser. In 1592, Raleigh returned to the court of Elizabeth after a privateering mission to Portugal. When the Queen discovered his secret marriage to one of her maids of honor, Elizabeth 'Bessy' Throckmorton, he was brought back to London and thrown into the Tower.

On the death of Elizabeth, Raleigh's misfortunes increased. He was accused of treason against James I, condemned, reprieved, and imprisoned for twelve years, during which he wrote his "History of the World," and engaged in scientific researches. In 1616 he was liberated, to make another attempt to find the gold mine in Venezuela; but the expedition was disastrous, and, on his return, Raleigh was executed on the old charge in 1618. In his vices as in his virtues, Raleigh is a thorough representative of the great adventurers who laid the foundations of the British Empire.

In 1588 Raleigh and Sir Richard Grenville  took over the joint defense of Devon and Cornwall against the expected Spanish Armada. They arranged the construction of a series of beacons along the coasts. These were to be lit when the Armada was first sighted.  As it happened, land-based soldiers did little but watch the sea battles from the coast and guard some Spanish prisoners.

As governor of Jersey in 1600, he improved its trade economy. Yet in 1603, Raleigh's enemies convinced James I to arrest him under suspicion of opposition to the King's succession. Reprieved from a death sentence, he was sent to the Tower, where he focused on historical writing and scientific study. It was there that he wrote his important, if incomplete, History of the World.

Raleigh was released in 1616 to search for gold again in the Orinoco, his expedition failed, and he violated the terms of the mission by destroying a Spanish town. He returned to England, where the Spanish Ambassador to London asked the King to reinstate Raleigh's death sentence. He was beheaded at Whitehall.


Raleigh arranged for the construction of one of the ships involved in fighting the Armada. "The Ark Royal" weighed 800 tons and was completed in 1587. It had four masts and a normal crew of 270. The Treasury was very short of money to finance a fleet to fight the Armada. Thus Raleigh donated the ship in exchange for an I.O.U. of 5,000. The "Ark Royal" was chosen to lead the English fleet against the Armada in 1588. It was rebuilt in 1608 and renamed "Anne Royal". It was finally sunk due to an accident, in 1636.

There have been four further Ark Royals since then. The following links have details of the versions -

  1. more about the first Ark Royal 1587 to 1636

  2. the second Ark Royal 1914 to 1934            

  3. the third Ark royal 1937 to 1941                

  4. the fourth Ark Royal 1950 to 1978            

  5. more about the fifth Ark Royal from 1981  

The Ark Royal - 1587 - 1636

If you want to see a reconstruction of a similar (but smaller) vessel, Drake's (more on Drake) "Golden Hinde" is berthed in London.


The Discovery of the large, rich, and beautiful EMPIRE Of GUIANA; a Relation of the great and golden CITY of MANOA, which the Spaniards call EL DORADO, and the PROVINCES of EMERIA, AROMAIA, AMAPAIA, and other Countries, with their rivers adjoining. Performed in the year 1595 by Sir WALTER RALEIGH, KNIGHT, CAPTAIN of her Majesty's GUARD, Lord Warden of the STANNARIES, and her Highness' LIEUTENANT-GENERAL of the COUNTY of CORNWALL.

The empire of Guiana is directly east from Peru towards the sea, and lieth under the equinoctial line; and it hath more abundance of gold than any part of Peru, and as many or more great cities than ever Peru had when it flourished most. It is governed by the same laws, and the emperor and people observe the same religion, and the same form and policies in government as were used in Peru, not differing in any part. And I (Raleigh) have been assured by such of the Spaniards as have seen Manoa, the imperial city of Guiana, which the Spaniards call El Dorado, that for the greatness, for the riches, and for the excellent seat, it far exceedeth any of the world, at least of so much of the world as is known to the Spanish nation. It is founded upon a lake of salt water of 200 leagues long, like unto Mare Caspium. 

This very year (1595) there were seventeen sail of Spanish ships lost in the channel of Bahama, and the great Philip, like to have sunk at the Bermudas, was put back to St. Juan de Puerto Rico; and so it falleth out in that navigation every year for the most part. Which in this voyage are not to be feared; for the time of year to leave England is best in July, and the summer in Guiana is in October, November, December, January, February, and March, and then the ships
may depart thence in April, and so return again into England in June. So as they shall never be subject to winter weather, either coming, going, or staying there: which, for my part, I take to be one of the greatest comforts and encouragements that can be thought on, having, as I have done, tasted in this voyage by the West Indies so many calms, so much heat, such outrageous gusts, such weather, and contrary winds.

To conclude, Guiana is a country that hath yet her maidenhead, never sacked, turned, nor wrought; the face of the earth hath not been torn, nor the virtue and salt of the soil spent by manurance. The graves have not been opened for gold, the mines not broken with sledges, nor their images pulled down out of their temples. It hath never been entered by any army of strength, and never conquered or possessed by any Christian prince. It is besides so defensible, that if two forts be builded in one of the provinces which I have seen, the flood setteth in so near the bank, where the channel also lieth, that no ship can pass up but within a pike's length of the artillery, first of the one, and afterwards of the other. Which two forts will be a sufficient guard both to the empire of Inga, and to an hundred other several kingdoms, lying within the said river, even to the city of Quito in Peru.

There is therefore great difference between the easiness of the conquest of Guiana, and the defence of it being conquered, and the West or East Indies. Guiana hath but one entrance by the sea, if it hath that, for any vessels of burden. So as whosoever shall first possess it, it shall be found unaccessible for any enemy, except he come in wherries, barges, or canoas, or else in flat-bottomed boats; and if he do offer to enter it in that manner, the woods are so thick 200 miles together upon the rivers of such entrance, as a mouse cannot sit in a boat unhit from the bank. The West Indies have many ports, watering places, and landings; and nearer than 300 miles to Guiana, no man can harbour a ship, except he know one only place, which is not learned in haste, and which I will undertake there is not any one of my companies that knoweth, whosoever hearkened most after it.

Besides, by keeping one good fort, or building one town of strength,the whole empire is guarded; and whatsoever companies shall be afterwards planted within the land, although in twenty several provinces, those shall be able all to reunite themselves upon any occasion either by the way of one river, or be able to march by land without either wood, bog, or mountain. Whereas in the West Indies there are few towns or provinces that can succour or relieve one the other by land or sea. By land the countries are either desert, mountainous, or strong enemies. By sea, if any man invade to the eastward, those to the west cannot in many months turn against the breeze and eastern wind. Besides, the Spaniards are therein so dispersed as they are nowhere strong, but in Nueva Espana only; the sharp mountains, the thorns, and poisoned prickles, the sandy and deep
ways in the valleys, the smothering heat and air,  and want of water in other places are their only and best defence; which, because those nations that invade them are not victualled or provided to stay, neither have any place to friend adjoining, do serve them instead of good arms and great multitudes.

The West Indies were first offered her Majesty's grandfather by Columbus, a stranger, in whom there might be doubt of deceit; and besides it was then thought incredible that there were such and so many lands and regions never written of before. This Empire is made known to her Majesty by her own vassal, and by him that oweth to her more duty than an ordinary subject; so that it shall ill sort with the many graces and benefits which I have received to abuse her Highness, either with fables or imaginations. The country is already discovered, many nations won to her Majesty's love and obedience, and those
Spaniards which have latest and longest laboured about the conquest, beaten out, discouraged, and disgraced, which among these nations were thought invincible. Her Majesty may in this enterprise employ all those soldiers and gentlemen that are younger brethren, and all captains and chieftains that want employment, and the charge will be only the first setting out in victualling and arming them; for after the first or second year I doubt not but to see in London a Contractation-House (the whole trade of Spanish America passed through the Casa de Contratacion at Seville) of more receipt for Guiana than there is now in Seville for the West Indies.

I (Raleigh) am resolved that if there were but a small army afoot in Guiana, marching towards Manoa, the chief city of Inga, he would yield to her Majesty by composition so many hundred thousand pounds yearly as should both defend all enemies abroad, and defray all expenses at home; and that he would besides pay a garrison of three or four thousand soldiers very royally to defend him against other nations. For he cannot but know how his predecessors, yea, how his own great uncles, Guascar and Atabalipa, sons to Guiana-Capac, emperor of Peru, were, while they contended for the empire, beaten out by the Spaniards, and that both of late years and ever since the said conquest, the Spaniards have sought the passages and entry of his country; and of their cruelties used to the borderers he cannot be ignorant. In which respects no doubt but he will be brought to tribute with great gladness; if not, he hath neither shot nor iron weapon in all his empire, and therefore may easily be conquered.


Quotes   Life of Sir Walter Ralegh   Works of Sir Walter Ralegh   Essays & Articles   Additional Sources   Ralegh at the Bookstore

Reigns of English Monarchs around Raleigh's time -

1509 to 1547 - Henry VIII

1547 to 1553 - Edward VI (son of Henry)

1553 to 1558 - Mary I (daughter of Henry)

1558 to 1603 - Elizabeth I (daughter of Henry)

1603 to 1625 - James I (also James VI of Scotland)

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