3 comments October 29th, 2008 Headsman
On this date in 1618, schemer, explorer, and lover Walter Raleigh fell permanently out of favor.
One of the biggest wheels of Elizabethan England, Raleigh (who also rendered his name Rawleigh, Rawley, and most commonly, Ralegh) charmed his way into the Queen’s inner circle, and possibly her pants, and was even thought to be a contender for her hand.
In between gorging on royal monopolies, scribbling poetry, popularizing tobacco, and introducing the potato to Ireland [allegedly], Raleigh got his New World on by attempting to colonize Virginia,* helping fund it with privateering operations against England’s rivals in the land-grab game. The city of Raleigh, North Carolina — present-day North Carolina was part of the Virginia Colony back in the day — is named for him.
Proud, powerful, and the queenie’s pet. Just the sort of courtier other noble suckups loved to hate.
When the palace fave secretly dallied with one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting, he went on the royal outs and got real familiar with the Tower of London. Though he managed to patch up with Elizabeth, things were never quite the same for Sir Walter. Elizabeth’s successor James I put him back in prison (suspending a death sentence) for supposedly participating in the Main Plot.
Raleigh passed the time under lock and key burnishing his Renaissance man rep by writing various poetry and treatises, including an account of his voyage to Guyana. Convinced the legendary city of El Dorado was in the vicinity, Raleigh eventually prevailed upon James to release him to make another run at it.
But a dust-up with a Spanish outpost in South America left his son dead, and the Spanish ambassador hopping mad. Raleigh was arrested upon his return, and the death sentence reinstated.
At 66 years of age or so, Walter Raleigh had had a pretty good run.
He took his punishment with equanimity, writing tenderly to his wife, and examining the blade that would take off his head on the scaffold with the observation,
“This is a sharp Medicine, but it is a Physician for all Diseases.”
His wife creepily kept the severed head for the remaining 29 years of her life.
* As Governor of Virginia, Raleigh forbade injuring Indians on pain of death, according to Giles Milton’s Big Chief Elizabeth. Raleigh’s “imperialism with a human face” policy had exchange programs of Indians visiting England, most notably Pocahontas.
On this day..
- 1543: Pietro Fatinelli, betrayed by Lando - 2016
- 1936: Ramiro Ledesma Ramos, Falangist - 2015
- 1792: Three of the H.M.S. Bounty mutineers - 2014
- 1927: Baldomero Rodrigues, and then Baldomero Rodrigues again - 2013
- 1812: Claude-Francois de Malet and his conspirators - 2012
- 1935: Del Fontaine, punch drunk boxer - 2011
- 1268: Conradin of Swabia - 2010
- 1901: Leon Czolgosz, William McKinley's assassin - 2009
Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Artists,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Famous,Famous Last Words,Gallows Humor,History,Intellectuals,Nobility,Occupation and Colonialism,Pirates,Political Expedience,Politicians,Popular Culture,Public Executions,Soldiers,Spain,The Worm Turns,Treason,Wrongful Executions