Sir Walter Raleigh

English Adventurer, Courtier, Navigator and Explorer
   

Born: 1554

Died: 1618


Walter Raleigh was educated at Oxford and studied law in London. He fought the French religious wars on the side of the Huguenots and in England’s war against the Irish. In 1573 and in 1583he embarked with his half-brother Humphrey Gilbert in an attempt to sail to the newfound Americas, but he did not succeed in reaching the continent.

Raleigh obtained a patent for founding a North American colony in 1584 and immediately sent out a reconnaissance expedition under the command of Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe. This expedition explored an island, apparently called Windgandcon by the local Native Americans (present day Roanoke, North Carolina) and returned with a cargo of Tobacco and potatoes. Raleigh named the entire area Virginia, in honor of Queen Elizabeth. He subsequently became a favorite of the Queen and received many honors in return for his efforts, including a knighthood in 1585.

That year, Raleigh sent out an expedition under the command of Richard Grenville to establish a settlement on the site he had been permitted to colonize. Within a year the colony had failed and was evacuated by a force led by Sir Francis Drake. A skeleton force was left behind to guard the fort, but Algonquin Indians later wiped out the entire garrison.

This massive failure did nothing to dampen Raleigh’s enthusiasm for colonization, however, and in 1587 he sponsored a large group of settlers who hoped to establish another colony, this time in the Chesapeake Bay area. Unfortunately, their pilot, due to a grievous navigational miscalculation, left the colonist at the site of the previous Roanoke colony. This second colony soon disappeared and to this date their fate is still left unknown.

Raleigh fell from the Queen’s favor when he secretly wed one of her maids of honor and was imprisoned briefly in the Tower of London in 1592. After buying his release, he set off on an expedition to Guyana (South America) in 1595 and sailed up the Orinoco River looking for El Dorado, the legendary ‘City of Gold’. Although he did find a good deal of gold in his travels, he never did find a mythical golden city. He then joined Robert Devereux on an expedition to the Azores in 1597.

Queen Elizabeth’s successor to the Throne, James I, did not share the queen’s fondness for Raleigh and in 1603, when Raleigh was accused of plotting to overthrow the King, Raleigh was sentenced to death, even though most historians believe that Raleigh was most likely innocent of these charges. James I later commuted the sentence from death to Life imprisonment. During his time in Jail, Raleigh wrote his ‘History of the World.’

After 13 years in prison, Raleigh convinced James I to allow the explorer to return to Guyana on behalf of England to look for gold. Although the King agreed, he warned Raleigh not to attack the Spanish in the area. The expedition, which set out in 1616, was a complete and total failure. The expedition found no gold and Raleigh’s own son was killed while attacking a Spanish settlement (in complete defiance of the King’s orders). When Raleigh returned to England the old charges were once again revived against him, along with new ones regarding his illegal assault on Spanish properties, and in 1618, after writing up a defense of his acts, he was executed.


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