A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature/Raleigh, Sir Walter

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Raleigh, Sir Walter (1552?-1618). -- Explorer, statesman, admiral, historian, and poet, s. of Walter R., of Fardel, Devonshire, was b. at Hayes Barton in that county. In 1568 he was sent to Oxf., where he greatly distinguished himself. In the next year he began his career of adventure by going to France as a volunteer in aid of the Huguenots, serving thereafter in the Low Countries. The year 1579 saw him engaged in his first voyage of adventure in conjunction with his half-brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert. Their object was to discover and settle lands in North America; but the expedition failed, chiefly owing to opposition by the Spaniards. The next year he was fighting against the rebels in Ireland; and shortly thereafter attracted the notice of Queen Elizabeth, in whose favour he rapidly rose. In 1584 he fitted out a new colonising expedition to North America, and succeeded in discovering and occupying Virginia, named after the Queen. On his return he was knighted. In the dark and anxious days of the Armada, 1587-88, R. was employed in organising resistance, and rendered distinguished service in action. His favour with the Queen, and his haughty bearing, had, however, been raising up enemies and rivals, and his intrigue and private marriage with Elizabeth Throckmorton, one of the maids of honour, in 1593, lost him for a time the favour of the Queen. Driven from the Court he returned to the schemes of adventure which had so great a charm for him, and fired by the Spanish accounts of the fabulous wealth of Guiana, he and some of his friends fitted out an expedition which, however, though attended with various brilliant episodes, proved unsuccessful. Restored to the favour of the Queen, he was appointed an Admiral in the expeditions to Cadiz, 1596, and in the following year was engaged in an attack on the Azores, in both of which he added greatly to his reputation. The death of Elizabeth in 1603 was the turning point in R.'s fortunes. Thenceforward disaster clouded his days. The new sovereign and his old enemies combined to compass his ruin. Accused of conspiring against the former he was, against all evidence, sentenced to death, and though this was not at the time carried out, he was imprisoned in the Tower and his estates confiscated. During this confinement he composed his History of the World, which he brought down to 130 B.C. It is one of the finest specimens of Elizabethan prose, reflective in matter and dignified and grave in style. Released in 1615 he set out on his last voyage, again to Guiana, which, like the former, proved a failure, and in which he lost his eldest s. He returned a broken and dying man, but met with no pity from his ungenerous King who, urged, it is believed, by the King of Spain, had him beheaded on Tower Hill, October 29, 1618. R. is one of the most striking and brilliant figures in an age crowded with great men. Of a noble presence, he was possessed of a commanding intellect and a versatility which enabled him to shine in every enterprise to which he set himself. In addition to his great fragment thepage 313 History of the World, he wrote A Report of the Truth of the Fight about the Azores, and The Discoverie of the Empire of Guiana, besides various poems chiefly of a philosophic cast, of which perhaps the best known are The Pilgrimage, and that beginning "Go, Soul, the Body's Guest."

The most recent Lives are by Stebbing (1892), and Hume (1898). Works (1829), with Lives by Oldys and Birch.