A. T. Thomson.

Memoirs of the life of Sir Walter Ralegh, with some account of the period in which he lived online

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In submitting to the Public a Life of Sir Walter
Ralegh, some brief explanation may be deemed ex-
pedient, of the reasons which induced the Author to
consider such a work necessary, when the valuable
la,bors of Oldys, Cayley, and Birch, are still in ex-

Independent of the circumstances, that the efforts of
these justly-prized biographers have been far too great-
ly actuated by an indiscriminate partiality for the
character of Ralegh, it may be alleged, that the narra-
tives of the two first of these authors are encumbered
with authentic, but heavy documents and dissertations,
interspersed within the body of their respective works,
rendering them fatiguing ; and, in the case of Oldys,
almost revolting to the general reader. The concise
compilation of Birch, admirable as far as it goes, is, on
the other hand, too limited and cursory a sketch of
the life and actions of Ralegh, to aftb-'d that satisfac-
tory picture of his mind, "and 'disposition, which biog-
raphy is intended to ft-rniilU I . "

Endeavoring to 'steer "bet veer* these extremes, the
Author of the M^moi'-s.* «riow : prfe , sert©d to the Public,
entertains a well-groundeo no|>e,' fhi?,t if her attempt to
compose a full, and yet connected, narrative of Ra-
legh's life be considered inefficient, the additional docu-
ments which she has been enabled to supply will re-
deem it from being wholly useless. In the Appendix

iv ADVI.I, I l.l.vll. , I

to this work, She presents to the Public fifteen original
Letters, now for tho first time printed, from the collec-
tion in the State Paper Office. These, whilst they
throw but little new light upon the participation of Sir
Walter Ralegh in certain public affairs, are valuable,
as confirming, in a manner satisfactory to the inquirer
after historical truth, the impressions previously con-
ceived of the share which he took in the political
transactions of his times.

For permission to peruse and transcribe these inter-
esting papers, the Author has to express her grateful
acknowledgments to the Right Honorable Robert Peel,
whose liberality in this instance is as gratifying to the
lovers of English literature, from the zeal for its in-
terests which it evinces in that distinguished Statesman,
as it is eminently beneficial to the humble, but earnest
laborer in pursuit of historical knowledge.

The Author has also considerable pleasure in ex-
pressing her obligations to Robert Lemon, Esq.,
Deputy Keeper of the State Papers, for the polite and
prompt assistance which he afforded to her, enabling
her to reap the full benefit of the privilege conferred

by Mr. Psaftiy: •'<*..' \ : :-::.•:

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firth and Origin of Ralegh : — His Education and Choice of a Pro-
fession : — His Services in France and the Low Countries : — Mari-
time Enterprises : — His Services in Ireland : — His Return to
Court :-^C!haracter8 with whom he had to deal. — Expeditions to
Newfoundland — To Virginia. — Proofs of Favor from the Queen.
— Ralegh's Occupations in Peace : — His Patronage of Hakluyt and
Herriot. — Charge of Deism against Ralegh from various Writers.
1552 to 1586 Page 9


Favor of Ralegh commented upon by Tarleton. — Further Under-
takings of Ralegh. — Virginia. — Tobacco. — The Spanish Invasion.
— Lord Howard of Effingham.— Ralegh's Share in repelling the
Armada : — His Visit to Ireland.-t^Spenser. — Ralegh's Unpopularity
with the Clergy. — Dr. Godwin. — Udall. — the Brownists. — The
Jesuits. — Father Parsons. — Ralegh's Marriage : — His Disgrace at
Court: — His Voyage to Guiana. — Services in the Atlantic with
Essex 38


The Island Voyage. — Mortifications sustained by Ralegh : — Failure
of the Expedition. — State of Affairs at Home. — Decline, and sub-
sequent Ruin of Essex : — The Share which Ralegh had in that
Affair 74


Accession of James. — Intrigues against Ralegh. — Mediation of the
Earl of Northumberland. — Character of Cecil : — Of James : — His
First Interview with Ralegh. — Causes of Ralegh's Disgrace. —
Acts of Oppression on the Part of James. — Memonal Addressed
by Ralegh to the King. — Reason assigned by James for his Dis-
like to Ralegh. — State of Foreign Affairs. — Particulars of the Con-
spiracy, commonly called "Ralegh's Plot." — Arabella Stuart —
Brook — Cobham — Grey. — Examinations of Cobham and Ralegh :
— Their Committal to the Tower. — Ralegh's attempt at Suicide :
—His Trial.— Character of Coke.— The Trial and Fate of the
other Conspirators. — Observations upon the Degree of Blame to
be attached to Ralegh 130




Trial of Ralegh.— Character of Sir Edward Coke.— Affair of the
Lady Arabella,— Conducl and Sentence "t the Prisoners 161


Estimate of Ralegh's Property: — His Estates and Occupation! in
Ireland. — Ralegn'i Compamom in Prison :— I lis Scheme* with
respect to Guiana. — Death of Cecil and of Prince Henry. — Ra-
legh's Release from the Tower l'Jl


Ralegh's Designs with regard to Guiana: — His last Voyage thither:
— Its unfortunate Issue. — His Return: — Apprehension — Trial —
Death. — Account of his Literary Works, and Character 213


Note A.
Notices relative to the Potatoe, by Dr. A. T. Thomson, Page 269

Note B.
Notices relative to Tobacco, by Dr. A. T. Thomson 269

Note C.

Letter from Sir Robert Cecil from the Tower at Dartmouth, 21st
September, 1592, 280

Note D.
Letter from Ralegh to Cobham, 281

Note E.

Letter from Ralegh to Cobham, written during the last Progress
made by Queen Elizabeth, 282

Note F.
Letter from Lord Grey to King James, 282

Note G.
Postscript to a Letter from Ralegh to Cobham, 283

Note H.

Letter from the Lieutenant of the Tower to Cecyll. Signed John
Peyton 283


Note I.

Sir W. Wade to Cecil. "Endorsed to me" in Cecil's hand
writing, 28 1

Note K.
From Sir W. Waad to Lord Cecyll, 284

Note O.

Endorsed in Cecil's hand-writing. "My Letter to my Lord
Grey," 284

Note P.

Letter from Hen. Cobham addressed to the Ryght Ho. my very
Good Lord the Erie of Nottingham, Lord High Admiral, the
Erie of Suffolk, Lord Chamberlain, y e the lord Cisell, His Ma'tie's
principall Secretarie 285

Letter from George Brooke to Cecyle, 285

Note Q.
Notice relative to a Letter from Wade to Cecil, 285

Note R.
Letter of Sir W. Ralegh to King James 1 285

Note S.
To the Queen's most excellent Maiestie, 286

Note U.

Document signed. Addressed to Cecil. Endorsed, in Cecil's
hand-writing "The Judgment of Sir W. Ralegh's case," . . 287

Note Y.

From Q. Elizth. to her Vice Roy in Ireland 1582. By the
Queene, 287





Birth and Origin of Ralegh : — His Education and Choice of a Profession :
— His Services in France and the Low Countries : — Maritime Enter-
prises : — His Services in Ireland : — His Return to Court : — Characters
with whom he had to deal.— Expeditions to Newfoundland— to Vir-
ginia. — Proofs of Favor from the Q,ueen. — Ralegh's Occupations in
Peace : — His Patronage of Hakluyt and Herriot. — Charge of Deism
against Ralegh from various Writers.

1552 to 1586.

The county of Devon was renowned, in the time of
Queen Elizabeth, for the valor of its inhabitants in naval
services ; and it is still honored as the birth-place of three
celebrated navigators, Sir Francis Drake, Sir Jolin Haw-
kins, and Sir Walter Ralegh. Ralegh was born in the year
1552, at Hayes, a farm rented by his father, situated in the
parish of Budely, near that part of the eastern coast of
Devonshire where the Otter discharges itself into the
British Channel.

To the scene of his childhood, Ralegh, in common with
many men who have afterwards encountered the cares of a
public career, retained an indelible attachment. It is pleas-
ing to find him, at a subsequent period of his life, when
ambition appears to have engrossed him, endeavoring,
though without success, to possess the humble residence
of his youth. The patrimonial estate was Fardel, in the
parish of Cornwood, near Plymouth ; and Smalridge, near
Axminster, is said to have belonged to his ancestors, in the
time of Henry the Eighth, but to have been sold, from the
prodigality oi its owners.*

The family of Ralegh at the time of his birth was greatly
reduced in circumstances, and in the full experience of

* Oldys, p. 5.


those privations winch attend poverty, encumbered with
r;mk. No title, except thai of knighthood, had, indeed, as
yet pi\ «u ffilse splendor to a name which boasted fin an-
cient connexion with Robert of Gloucester, a natural son
of Henry the First ; bat the name of Ralegh had been one
of some importance, :ind of great antiquity. Varying in
lis orthography from Rale, <>r Etalega, to Ralegh, Rnw-
leigh, or Raleigh, tins designation had been affixed to seve-
ral villages and towns in Somerset shire, Devonshire, and
Essex; and his ancestors settled in Devonshire before the
Norman conquest.* Allied by marriage to the earls of
Devon, and related to various families of their own name
in Somersetshire and Warwickshire, the ancestors of Ra-
legh had suffered a gradual decrease in their landed pos-
sessions; so that Fardel alone, of all their estates, remained
as the inheritance of Walter Ralegh, the father of him
who was destined again to raise his family to distinction.
Some memorials of ancient grandeur were still however
preserved from the devastations of time or misfortune ; and
Sir Walter received, as an heir-loom, a target, which had
been suspended in a chapel at Smalridge consecrated to
Saint Leonard, by one of his forefathers, in gratitude for
deliverance from the Gaulsf ; and the records of this en-
dowment are stated to have been afterwards presented to
Sir Walter Ralegh by a priest of Axminster.J That the
origin and early piety of this ancient race were little
known in the days of Elizabeth, until the fame of their
celebrated descendant called them forth from obscurity, is
evident from the anecdote which Lord Bacon relates, in
illustration of the popular error which assigned to Ralegh
the term " Jack, or upstart." Queen Elizabeth was one
day playing upon the virginals, whilst Lord Oxford and
other admiring courtiers stood by : it happened that the
ledge before the jacks had been taken away ; upon observ-
ing which the two noblemen smiled, and, when questioned
by the queen regarding the cause of their mirth, gave as
the reason, " that they were amused to see that when jacks
went up heads wentdown."§ The Queen, notwithstanding
this sarcastic allusion, had not, however, in receiving Ra-
legh into her favor, departed from her usual rule of never

*Cayley, p. 2. t Prince's Worthies of Devonshire, p. 530. [

X Cayley. § Bacon's Apoththegms, No. 182-


admitting " a mechanic or new man into her confidence* ; "
and Ralegh had, afterwards, the credit, by his deeds, of
directing the investigation of antiquaries to the details of
his lineage. These, as points of curious inquiry, demand
some attention ; but are of subordinate interest in the his-
tory of one whose very poverty and obscurity became the
origin of his fortunes, by being the stimulus to his industry.

That Ralegh naturally, and even commendably, prized
the advantages of an honorable descent, may be inferred
by the solicitude afterwards displayed by his relative
Hooker to define, in his dedication to him of the Chroni-
cles of Ireland, the claims to distinction which their com-
mon ancestry possessed ; since Hooker enjoyed the patron-
age and friendship of his kinsman, and sought in his wri-
tings to do him honor ; but there is no reason to suppose
that he rested his hopes of greatness upon any basis less
solid than that of his own merit and exertions. With the
inconveniences of a reduced inheritance, the father of Sir
Walter Ralegh experienced those attendant upon repeated
marriages, and numerous offspring. By his first wife he
had two sons, the elder of whom, George, became the pos-
sessor, after his death, of Fardel ; which afterwards de-
volved, successively, to his two brothers, the younger of
whom, Carew, sold his patrimonial property, and it passed
for ever from the family of Ralegh. The mother of Ralegh,
and the third wife of his father, was the daughter of Sir
Philip Champernon of Modbury, and the widow of Otho
Gilbert, a gentleman of large property, residing at Comp-
ton, in Devon. Three children, Carew, Walter, and Mar-
garet Ralegh, were the result of this last union ; after
which the father of Sir Walter resided entirely at Hayes,
where the younger branches of the family were reared.

It is singular that no trace is preserved, either in the let-
ters, or by the conversation of Ralegh, of the mode and
place of his earliest education.

That species of biography which, by describing the pro-
gress of intellect, affords the most important assistance,
and, oftentimes, encouragement, to the young and aspiring,
appears to have been little enjoyed or understood by our
ancestors. It was thought much to preserve the name of
the college, or even of the university only, where a cele-

* Naunton's Fragmenta Regalia, 4to. p. 28.

13 I.ll'i: OP BIB WALTEB i: t LEG II.

hrated individual received his last chance of tuition: and
ilic tiistor} of hie previous early years, in which the bias of
ili»- character is generally determined! Im^ scarcely ever
been transmitted to us, even by those who have been mi-
nute and faithful annalists <>i* tli<' events of mature life,
Respecting the portion of instruction which fell to Ralegh's
lot, it. is merely known, thai al sixteen he was Benl to Ox-
ford, and was entered as a commoner both al < ►riel College
and at Christ-Church, in compliance with a custom not un-
usual in former tunc-, and, probably, intended to secure the
privilege of aspiring to a fellowship at one or other of these
colleges, 911 During a residence in the University of three
years, he devoted himself with success to the study of
philosophy and of letters ; and, though be left Oxford without
a degree, yet, he acquired a higher honor in obtaining
the good opinion of Bacon, who there foretold his future

In the choice of a profession Ralegh appears to have
been divided, for some time, between the bar and the camp.
That he actually entered at any of our inns of court is,
however, doubtful ; and the prevalent opinion, that he was
at one time a student of the Middle Temple, arose either
from his display of legal acuteness on his subsequent trial,
or from a temporary residence within the walls of that es-
tablishment. Queen Elizabeth, with a view 7 , perhaps, to
the intellectual culture of her young courtiers, commended
our inns of court, and was accustomed to say, " that they
fitted young men for the future :" hence it is probable that,
in those days of mental slavery, all who aspired to her fa-
vor were reported to have pursued the course which she
approved ; and that Ralegh was not unwilling, during her
reign, to enjoy the credit of having been thus prepared for
public life. He is, however, affirmed by one who knew him
well, to have been trained, " not part, but wholly gentle-
man, wholly soldier ;" and there appears to have been but
little time allowed for any other plans of study, since,
from the statement of Hooker, he spent in France " good
part of his youth in wars and martial services."! In the
circumstances of his relations Ralegh found inducements
to a military career : his maternal uncle, Henry Champer-

* Fuller's Church History, lib. 4. and 5. fol. 104. \ Oldys, p. 5.

t Ralegh's Ghost, 4to. p. 15. and Hooker, Epi3t. Ded. See Oldys, 9.


non, being an officer of some note in our armies.* At the
request of this kinsman, Ralegh enlisted into a troop of
gentlemen volunteers under Champernon's command, who
purposed leading them into France, in order to assist the
Protestant princes engaged in the civil wars of that coun-
try. This adventurous band went forth on horseback,
bearing on their colors the motto, " Finem det mihi virtus."
They were sanctioned by the permission of Elizabeth, who
had shown her approbation of the cause by accommodating
the Queen of Navarre with a sum of money, upon the
deposit of certain jewels in the English treasury.f It is
doubtful in what service, or with what success, the troop
were distinguished in France; but it appears that they
were well received by the Queen of Navarre and the Pro-
testant princes, and that they remained six years in their

It is conjectured that, unless on some casual leave of
absence in England, Ralegh must have witnessed the mas-
sacre of Saint Bartholomew in 1572, and shared in the
dangers of the unfortunate Kugonots. Perhaps, from his
participation in the horrors of this scene, he imbibed that
aversion to religious intolerance which afterwards charac-
terized him as a senator, and which was then far less
prevalent, even among philosophical and intelligent men,
that it has happily proved to be in the present day. What-
ever may have been Ralegh's situation on this momentous
occasion, no actual traces of its impression on his mind re-
main, however, in his writings, nor have been transmitted
by his biographers; a circumstance which may seem to
imply his absence from the massacre, since he has alluded
to many of his services in his works. It is scarcely proba-
ble that allusions to such an exhibition of human ven-
geance in its most appalling form would have been omitted
by one who, in his History of the World, has frequently
drawn a parallel between the scenes which he narrates,
and those with which he was identified by his own experi-

In that monument of his genius and industry, he refers
to his presence at the battle of Moncontour, in Poitou, and
extols Count Lodovic of Nassau, brother to the Prince of
Orange, who made the retreat on that occasion, with such

* Wood, Athen. Oxoniensis, vol. i. col. 435. j Camden, p. 117.



resolution and prudence thai he saved one half of the Pro-
testant army, then broken and disbanded: — "ofwhich,"

says Ralegh, " myself Was an eye-wilness, and was one of
them that had cause to thank' him for it."- It is a fact
equally certain, and much more important^ thai m these
tumultuous scenes. Ralegh, then only in his eighteenth
year, collected and stnn-d up ii portion of those tads and
observations with which he afterwards enriched his Histo-
ry of the World; a work to which the soldier and the
scholar, the courtier and the moralist, may repair both for
instruction and delight

In 1575 he returned to England for a feu years, hut soon
resumed his military career, under Sir John Norris, in the
Netherlands. Here he was, in all probability, engaged in
the battle of Rimenant, in which Don John of Austria, then
governor of the Netherlands for Philip the Second of
1578 ^P am ' was defeated ; a disgrace which that com-
mander only survived two months.

An enterprise of a new description now engaged the
energetic mind of Ralegh. Various circumstances con-
spired to direct his attention to the progress of maritime
discovery ; a subject on which the imaginations of the ar-
dent, and the speculations of the busy, were then actively
engaged. During the two last centuries, a spirit of daring
adventure had been encouraged by the splendid examples
of Vasco di Gama and of Columbus, and by the merito-
rious, though less fortunate, exertions of Magellan, who
lost his life before his undertaking was completed. Spain
and Portugal, mutually jealous to obtain the earliest
knowledge of the shortest passage to the valuable posses-
sions of India, vied with one another in endeavoring to
promote, throughout their respective dominions, a thirst
for maritime glory. England had borne her part in the
emulous contention for colonial superiority, and, in common
with her continental rivals, had, latterly, turned her at-
tention towards the north-east coast of America. In the
reign of Henry the Seventh, the island of Newfoundland
was discovered by a Venetian merchant, Sebastian Cabot,
who took the command of an English squadron. To extend
our knowledge of this territory, and to obtain a more se-
cure and acknowledged possession of it than had, hitherto,

* Hist, of the World, book v. chapter ii. sect. 8. edit. Lond. 1687.


been effected, became, in the reign of Elizabeth, the ob-
ject of general solicitude.

It was the fortunate lot of Ralegh, not only to possess an
enterprising and resolute spirit, but to be connected with
those who had the will and the power to encourage his
rising genius. His relations on both sides were eminent ;
and his mother was, at a later period, authorized to make
a boast, rare in those days, of being the parent of five
knights. Of these, three were the sons of her former mar-
riage, — Sir John, Sir Humphrey, and Sir Adrian Gilbert.*
Sir John Gilbert was sheriff and Custos Rotulorum of the
county of Devon, and was a kind of oracle in those parts,
as well as a liberal country gentleman, and benefactor to
the poor. Sir Adrian was scarcely less estimable, and be-
came more famous than his pacific brother, for a patent
which he took out for the investigation of the north-west
passage. With this patent, and under his auspices, the
celebrated John Davis discovered the straits which bear
his name. But the most admirable, although the most un-
fortunate, of the three brothers, was the distinguished
mariner, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, f This good and brave
man, although a second son, yet received from his father a
very ample fortune ; but it was from his mother's judicious
care that he derived the still greater advantage of an ex-
cellent education, at Eton first, and afterwards at Oxford.
Since this lady was, also, the mother of Ralegh, and had,
by both her husbands, the credit of giving heroes to the
world, it is not extravagant to conclude that she must her-
self have been a woman of merit, and that the energetic
character of her children might, in a great measure, be
attributed to her nurture and example.

Like Walter Ralegh, his half-brother, Sir Humphrey,
after quitting college, had some intention of studying at
one of the inns of court, although his favorite pursuits had
been cosmography and navigation^ : but being introduced
to Queen Elizabeth by his aunt, Mrs. Katherine Ashley,
one of her majesty's waiting-women, he made so rapid a
progress in her favor, as soon to be preferred to a very im-

Online LibraryA. T. ThomsonMemoirs of the life of Sir Walter Ralegh, with some account of the period in which he lived → online text (page 1 of 29)