Historical Happenstances _North Sea

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North Sea



Sunset over the North Sea
photo by
G. Wilson

The Grand Fleet of the Royal Navy, commanded by Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, spent nearly two years patrolling the North Sea, before it could bring the main German High Seas Fleet, commanded by Vice-Admiral Reinhard Scheer, to action. During the course of what became known as the Battle of Jutland, fourteen British and eleven German ships were sunk with great loss of life.

Scapa Flow

Sir Walter Raleigh

Raleigh served as a captain of soldiers in Ireland, a tough teaching where he was nearly killed in battle. A gracious courtier, a fine writer and a bold seaman, Raleigh came from Ireland determined to win the queen's favour. In 1581 he made his first appearance at Elizabeth's court in Greenwich where he quickly came to the attention of this fateful, forceful female, the latest lad to flit about the flame and be burned. Tall, almost six feet with full beard and thick, black hair, Walter was a dashing, intelligent, extremely self-confident courtier. With his caressing manners and quick wit, this handsome, flamboyant fellow was the type that appealled to the Queen and she nourished his notice and then some.

It was there, according to legend, that he saw apprehension in the Queen's eyes as she walked towards a 'plashy' place - a puddle. In the words of a chronicler, he 'cast and spread his new plush cloak on the ground, whereon the Queen trod gently'.Doubtless if the occasion had occurred, Walter most certainly would have gallantly flung his new cloak across the muddy ground for the queen to step on.

Raleigh relishing the opportunity to display a knight's regard for his Sovereign.

Not yet thirty years old, the rugged, out-spoken, swashbuckling, courtier titilated Elizabeth with his braggadocio Casting about for a new favourite to flirt with and fascinate, the 48-year old sovereign took pleasure in tempting and teasing her youthful fanciers. The two became fast friends and with a diamond ring she gave him, Walter wrote on a window paine, "Fain would I climb, yet fear I to fall." Elizabeth cleverly completed the couplet with, "If thy heart fails thee, climb not at all."

Raleigh was fashioning himself as the perfect Elizabethan courtier. In his strong Devon tongue, he held his own in political discussions and ambition and intellect were driving him into the company of the great and brilliant. Walter's brilliantly speculative turn of mind fed Elizabeth's own ever-hungry head for new ideas, even as his obsession soothed her vanity. In Raleigh's eyes she was a mysterious and alluring lady to be romanced with great respect and delicate rhymes.

If all the world and young were love
And truth on every shepherd's tongue
These pleasures might my passion move
To live with thee and be thy love.

Elizabeth relished his fine features and rattling sword and Raleigh's fame and favour with her lasted throughout the 1580s. Such was his closeness to the Queen, that to his jealous competitors, he became, "the best-hated man in the world." One frustrated courtier complained, "She took him for a kind of oracle". Elizabeth was determined to keep such a man and he was to remain at court for the next ten years.

Raleigh's Rattling Sword

Raleigh with rattling sword that glows.

On the east side of Whitehall directly across from the entrance to Downing Street, stands the life-sized bronze statue of Sir Walter Raleigh.

London Location of Sir Walter Raleigh's Statue.

It was created by William Macmillan at the behest of Americans, who wanted the man memorialized who introduced first settlers to their country. The statue was unveiled by John Jay Whitney, United States Ambassador on 28 October, 1959.

True to custom of the character involved, controversy surrounded the occasion, which was marked by mocking members of the National Society of Non-Smokers, who handed out pamphlets entitled, "Don't make an ash of yourself." It rained that day and muddy grounds provoked onlookers to remember, make reference to and laugh about the legend of Raleigh's gallant gesture, when he threw his cloak to the ground so that Elizabeth's tiny tootsies never touched the soggy soil. Macmillan had placed a cloak over the statue's left shoulder,

Raleigh could do no wrong and the rewards showered on him were out of all proportion to his services. Favoured with monopolies, patents, land and lucrative offices, the funds flowed in and he became her very wealthy worshipper. A knighthood was next, but even more significant than his 'Sir', was the pet name she bestowed on her sailor of renown: "Water"


Raleigh's Seal of Office

Raleigh was granted a patent to explore the New World and was the driving force to found a colony on the Atlantic seaboard, which he christened 'Virginia'. For a period, Walter became so dear to Her Highness, she refused to allow him to leave her court.

In his place, his sea-faring cousin, Sir Richard Grenville, commanded the small fleet that set off across the Atlantic to Roanoke Island, off the coast of what is now North Carolina. During his return to England, Grenville raided various towns in the Azores Islands. This description was given of his behaviour while dining with Spanish captains. "He would carouse three or four glasses of wine, and in a bravery take the glasses between his teeth and crash them in pieces and swallow them down, so that often the blood ran out of his mouth without any harm at all unto him."

Sir Richard Grenville

Grenville was appointed vice-admiral of the fleet under Thomas Howard. He was charged with maintaining a squadron at the Azores to waylay the treasure fleets of the Spanish. He took command of Revenge, a galleon considered to be a masterpiece of naval construction. The Revenge along with 16 other English vessels was surprised by a Spanish war fleet of 50 ships which scattered them and separated and surrounded Grenville's vessel. Rather than surrender to the Spaniards, Grenville, an archetypal Elizabethan hero, fought to the end against hopeless odds and the loss of the Revenge passed into legend.

Three centuries later, Tennyson immortalized it with Grenville’s epic words:

‘Sink me the ship, Master Gunner
Sink her, split her in twain!
Fall into the hands of God,
Not into the hands of Spain!’

Robert Dudley, Elizabeth's most important favourite during the early years of her reign.

Letter dated 29 March 1586 to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester

The letter was written from the Court by Raleigh to Dudley, Governor of the United Provinces, on his execution of commissions to send over pioneers and defending himself against a charge of being backward in hostility to Spain and in support of Leicester's actions in the Netherlands.

In 1596 Raleigh was given permission to sail away to the dismay of Spain, whose forces he proceeded to fight and fleece on a regular basis, establishing in the process a greatly envied military reputation.

Sacking a Spanish settlement in the Caribbean

Raleigh's Residence

Raleigh a ship of 800 tons which he intended to name the Arc Raleigh, but while she was still on the stocks, he sold it to the Queen for 5000 pounds and she named it Arc Royal. It became the flagship in the battle against the Armada in 1588.

Arc Raleigh

The dashing daredevil was everywhere: a privateer on the high seas; an insatiable land looter in Ireland, where he planted the potato and tobacco; an eloquent poet, a fine historian and fabled amorist. Despite his panache and versatility, Raleigh was often rash and radical, a chance-taker, whose wild ways proved to be his undoing. In 1592 he secretly married one of Elizabeth's maids of honour, Bessie Throckmorton.


The Queen was not amused and in a jealous rage, banished him and Bessie to the Tower for a time. In 1603 things went from bad to worse when the queen died and the new king charged Raleigh with treason.

James Succeeds Elizabeth

With the accession of James I, Raleigh's hope of happiness quickly vanished for the new king disliked him intensely and stripped his posts and patronage. With typical passion and rashness, Raleigh allowed himself to become implicated in a plan to eject James from the throne and was arrested. The accusation was thought to be unjust and his trial certainly was so. Trumped up charges resulted in him being taken to the Tower where he was to die the terrible tortures of a traitor.


One of the judges later admitted, "The justice of England has never been so degraded and injured as by the condemnation of Sir Walter Raleigh."

Raleigh had a reputation as a proud, sarcastic, insulting kind of individual and was widely disliked for his bitter scoffs and tendency to make reproachful taunts. Any powerful person is always envied by others When that individual parades his power and takes pleasure in humilitating others, particularly men of higher birth than himself, the envy rises to a fever pitch. In his later years, he became very unpopular with other courtiers and throughout the country for his arrogance, greed and alleged atheism. He was booed by the crowd that watched him taken to the Tower, where he languished for 15 years, the fearful fate always hanging over his head.

Raleigh's Bedroom in Bloody Tower

Raleigh's Workroom in Bloody Tower

Raleigh labouring in the Tower w

Walter whiled away the hours in the Tower with Bess at his side, composing poetry, penning proposals for exploration and protesting his innocence of the charge of treason.

His History of the World dealt with Nineveh, Egypt, Persia, Greece, Carthage and biblical times ending at 168 AD. He decided not to deal with modern times, "for whosover in writing a modern history shall follow truth too near the heels, it may haply strike out his teeth." Described as a work of great power, this synthesis of knowledge from a prisoner in the Tower was read and admired by many including Cromwell, Milton, Hume, and Gibbon.


He concluded it with an apostrophe to Death:

O eloquent, just and mighty Death whom none could advise.
Hic iacet. (He lies.)

Title Page of
Sir Walter Raleigh's
History of the World

A break in Ralegh's time in the Tower resulted, when he made it known to the monarch, that he knew where a fortune could to be found. James rejoiced at this news, for he badly needed cash and called for Ralegh's release. Walter set off to seek the river of gold in Guiana. What he found was not wealth but water and instead of getting gold, he got trouble.

In defiance of King James's orders, one of Raleigh's captains had sacked a Spanish settlement and taken prisoners. Raleigh raged and the captain committed suicide. Ralegh might very well have considered that option, for the Spanish king complained about the sacking of his settlement and cried out to James for revenge. Mortifeid by this man and this lapse in his law, James obliged the king with a decapitation.

Spanish prisoners Ralegh really did not need!
engraving by Theodor de Bry.


Tragically Raleigh's son, Wat, was killed in the assault.

Sir Walter Raleigh and Son Wat in 1602 artist unknown National Portrait Gallery of London

Versions vary as to what Walter decided to do on his return with little to show for the trip but trouble. Some say his attempt to flee to France was foiled by betrayal. Others that he was determined to face the music and prove himself innocent of the charge of treason.

Whatever his plan, he never had time to complete it, for he was captured and taken to the Tower. James, accommodating the Spanish king's call to kill him, ordered Raleigh's immediate execution.

Bess left him after midnight.

It took place on 29 October 1618. With courage and calm dignity Walter faced his fearful fate. He celebrated communion, ate a hearty breakfast and filled his pipe for one last puff.

A puff and then the end.

For his journey to judgment, a dapper Ralegh donned his finest doublet and coloured silk stockings.

Dressed to die.

Walter came to his bloody end as a sacrifice to Spanish policy. The Old Palace Yard was crowded with onlookers about to see the death of the last great Elizabethan. As two sheriffs led him up to the scaffold, a relaxed Sir Walter joked about the blade, testing its sharpness with his thumb and commenting, "This is fair sharp medicines to cure me of all diseases and miseries."


A cutup at his decapitation

Walter then made his final speech which he ended with these words. "So I take my leave of you all, making my peace with God." He placed his head on the block, refused a blindfold and gave the signal to strike. The headsman delayed and Raleigh spoke his last words. "Strike man, strike!" The axe fell and fell again. When Raleigh's severed head was shown to the crowd, a groan arouse with mutterings of, "We have not such another head to be cut off." Although his popularity had waned, his execution was seen by many then and since as unnecessary and unjust. .

In the words of the historian G>M. Trevelyan, Ralegh's ghost "pursued the House of Stuart to the scaffold." It has harried the memory of James I ever since.

"Strike man, strike."

That evening Bess took the head home in a leather bag. She kept it in a cupboard to show her husband's admirers. When she died his head joined the rest of his body buried south of the altar in St. Margaret's, Westminster.

Raleigh is buried in St. Margaret's Church

Raleigh's Marker in St. Margaret's

Within the Chancel was enterred the body of the
Great Sir Walter Raleigh Kt.On the day he was beheaded
In old Palace Yard Westminster
October 29 Ano Dom 1618

Reader - Should You Reflect on His Crime
Remember his many virtues
And that he was mortal

It is said that his gift for words is perhaps his most lasting legacy


Sir Walter Raleigh Engraving


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