Sir Walter Raleigh
Tuesday March 26, 7:30 p.m.
Sound Stage at the Lost Colony, Manteo
Raleigh (1554-1618) was only one of my characters who was beheaded! He was the very definition of a “Renaissance man.” He was a dashing soldier, an Elizabethan privateer, a colonizer of Virginia, a friend of Sir Philip Sidney and the patron of Edmund Spenser, one of Queen Elizabeth’s four principal courtiers, a writer of admirable poetry and prose, an explorer of South America, and one of the most important state prisoners in the history of England.
My Raleigh speaks from the Tower of London, where he was imprisoned from 1603-1616 for treason by King James I. It’s difficult to discern just what his crimes were from our perspective, but he was a great favorite of Queen Elizabeth and he made it clear when she died on March 24, 1603, that he would prefer the thrown not be cast away on a Scotsman who was the son of the late Mary Queen of Scotts.
Raleigh was the mastermind of England’s intended colonization at Roanoke in today’s North Carolina. He gave the name of his new world discoveries “Virginia” after his patron, the Virgin Queen. In 1595 he attempted to find El Dorado, the fabled city of gold somewhere along the Orinoco River in South America. He found no gold, but the account he wrote of his adventure, The Discovery of Guiana (1596) was a classic of exploration literature.
Raleigh is a larger-than-life figure around whom much legendary material has accumulated. He may—or may not—have thrown down his cloak (the most expensive thing he owned) to enable Queen Elizabeth to walk safely over a puddle. He probably was not doused with a bucket of water when his servant failed to realize that the smoke coming out of his mouth was from tobacco not a clothing fire. He may or may not have scratched love verses to Elizabeth on a windowpane at Windsor Castle.