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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 8: Courtly Rivalries

the Bark Raleigh

Raleigh was very disappointed over the abandonment of the Roanoke project. His enemies were always ready to take advantage of such failures. They were jealous of his Royal favours, his arrogance and his vast wealth. He had even been appointed 'Captain of the Guard,' an honorary position of great prestige and a token of the Queen's highest esteem. A further crisis ensued when the trial and execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, caused Elizabeth to have what amounted to a nervous breakdown. She only began to recover when she found a new favourite in the impetuous young Earl of Essex, whom she had made Master of the Horse. Sir Walter was being overlooked in favour of a mere twenty-year-old. Elizabeth herself was fifty-four!

There was little time to dally on such matters though. In 1588, King Philip II of Spain launched a hundred and thirty ships against England with 19,250 troops, 8,350 sailors and 2,080 galley slaves. This was the Great Amada and the largest fleet Europe had ever seen. Raleigh attended a Council of War to discuss the English defence. Present were Lord Grey, Sir Richard Grenville, Ralph Lane, now Master General of the Forces, Governor of Guernsey and the Isle of Wight. As Vice Admiral and Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall, Sir Walter set up his headquarters at Plymouth, from where he raised an army of 5,560 men and ninety-six light horse. Meanwhile, Admiral Lord Howard of Effingham arrived in the Bark. Raleigh renaming it, the Ark Royal, collected a fleet with Drake and Hawkins. The Amada was harried up the Channel and made for the Calais Roads to rendezvous with the Duke of Parma's forces. The danger to the West Country passed and Raleigh, joining the Fleet aboard the Ark Royal, released a huge fireship attack on the Amada. The Spanish were forced to cut their cables and, those that were not destroyed, sailed for the North Sea and Scotland where storms off the coast of Ireland did their worst. Raleigh and Grenville did finally attack twenty stray Spanish ships in the Irish Sea and drove them onto the rocks where their crew died in their hundreds. The great Amada had been destroyed and Sir Walter, in his prime at thirty-four, had contributed much to the English victory.

Despite this triumph, Essex' threat to Raleigh's position at Court soon resurfaced. The commander of the armed forces - despite his military incompetence - the Earl of Leicester, now died of cancer. Elizabeth mourned his death, but made his widow settle most of the Earl's debts herself. She then forced the poor lady to give up Leicester's lodgings at St. James' Palace to the Earl of Essex who was further ennobled by being elevated to the Order of the Garter. Raleigh then quarrelled with Essex and was challenged to a duel. Eventually, however, the latter was prevented from taking part by the strenuous intervention of other parties. Raleigh left for Ireland, where he began to spend much more of his time: converting Lismore Castle and visiting his neighbour, Spenser, who was writing his 'The Fairie Queen'.

Part 9: The Lost Colony


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