Britannia Biographies: Sir Walter Raleigh Part 10


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Biography of Sir Walter Raleigh by Christopher Smith
S I R      W A L T E R
 R A L E I G H
Part 10: The Fall from Grace

Old Sherborne Castle (Dorset)

Bess Throckmorton was nineteen when she first appeared at Court. She was the daughter of Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, Queen Elizabeth's first ambassador to Paris, and her brother was also a courtier. Both their parents were dead and they relied on the Court for their livelihood. Bess was intelligent, forthright, passionate and courageous. Though Raleigh was in his early forties, the two fell madly in love. In the summer of 1591, Bess discovered she was pregnant and they secretly married. They were together, but catastrophe loomed.

As Vice-Admiral, Sir Walter had planned to sail, on the Revenge under Lord Thomas Howard, in an expedition to intercept Spanish treasure ships from Nombre de Dios in Peru and Vera Cruz in Mexico. They were anchored at Flores in the Azores. His place, however, was taken by Sir Richard Grenville. The English fleet was surprised by the Spaniards and though Sir Richard fought them to a standstill, he died of his wounds. Raleigh continued in his official duties, including the execution of catholic priests. He tried to save one Plasden from the gallows - an incident which did not endear him to his enemies - but Topcliffe, the Queen's enforcement officer, hanged him all the same. Still, the Queen continued to reward Sir Walter for his efforts: Sherborne Castle in Dorset was placed in his hands, along with the prosperous Willscombe Manor, confiscated from the ageing Bishop of Bath and Wells who made the blunder of getting married.

Raleigh's young wife, however, could no longer keep her pregnancy secret. Bess gave birth to a baby boy who was quickly put out to a wet nurse so she could resume her place as Lady-in-Waiting. When Sir Walter returned from the sea, he arranged for the baby and nurse to go to Durham House. However, on 31st May 1592, his marriage was discovered. The Queen had not granted permission for such a match and Raleigh was promptly arrested. Elizabeth expected Walter and Bess to sue for a pardon and, while their fate lay in the balance, she even confirmed the lease of Sherborne. However, the couple refused such a humiliating course of action and by 7th August, that same year, the Queen's favourite had fallen into five long years of disgrace.

Part 11: The Wilderness Years


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