Memorials of the Tower of London

De Ros, William Lennox






FEW characters in English history have inspired more interest that the gallant and unfortunate Sir Walter Raleigh. A full narrative of his brilliant career during the reign of Elizabeth would be a history of some of the most glorious passages of her reign. A soldier, a seaman, and a statesman, it was by his advice she was mostly guided in the measures so successfully carried out for encountering the great Armada, and defeating that prodigious armament.

But before this event, his gallant conduct in the Netherlands, his voyages of discovery and conquests, especially the planting of the British flag by one of his captains, Sir Richard Greenville, on the shores of what is now named Carolina, but was then named Virginia by the Queen herself, and his eminent services in Ireland, had raised the fame of Raleigh to a very high standard, not in England only, but throughout all parts of Europe. The Queen loaded him with honours and riches, but, with all her consideration for him as a statesman and a soldier, the delight she took in descending to the most absurd coquetry, led her to encourage the competition


of Raleigh and Essex for her favour, and by a show of alternate preference to keep up the farce of a romantic rivalry between them.

After the defeat of the Armada, to which the spirit and skill of Raleigh had so greatly contributed, he had reached the highest pinnacle of court favour, when the discovery by the Queen of his intrigue with Elizabeth Throgmorton, one of her maids of honour, threw her into transports of fury, and she at once consigned them both to a close imprisonment in the Tower. The cell which tradition has assigned to Raleigh on this occasion proves the severity of his captivity, while the Queen's anger lasted.

After a short time, however, Raleigh, by a letter to the Queen of the most fulsome flattery, obtained his release and married Elizabeth Throgmorton, who proved a most devoted and faithful wife, through all the trying vicissitudes of fortune which aftervards befel him. But the Queen still owed him a grudge for having admired any woman but herself, and his first expedition to Guiana seems to have been undertaken while he was yet in disgrace, and in order to keep out of her Majesty's sight till her displeasure should have passed. After his return he was again recalled to Court, where, as Captain of the Body Guard, he was generally near her Majesty's person, and his ability to discourse with eloquence on all matters, from the highest affairs of state, to his own marvellous adventures and perils by sea and land, attracted the Queen's attention and favour, while his display of dress and magnificence flattered her vanity.


His conspicuous wisdom in the very curious parliamentary debates which occurred about this time, on monopolies, on the designs and policy of Spain, and other important national topics, gave him great weight in the country; but his opposition to Lord Burleigh on certain commercial questions, contributed to revive their old dissensions, which proved afterwards a source of serious injury to Raleigh.

The mighty sovereign, who, with all her prejudice and caprices, well knew how to distinguish the best servants of the country and the Crown, and who had made amends to Raleigh, by her late gifts and distinctions, for her former severity, was now drawing near her end, to be succeeded by one who, with far more of personal weakness and vanity, possessed none of her great qualities. King James's antipathy to war rendered him incapable of appreciating the military capacity of Raleigh, which only inspired him with jealousy and distrust. In respect to learning too, James's was a pedantry of the most paltry sort, and was very inferior to the philosophy and extensive range of Raleigh's mind. The late Earl of Essex, who had paid great court to James for years before his accession, had strongly prejudiced him against Raleigh, as a man of dangerous designs, and likely to oppose his accession.

Lord Cobham, brother-in-law of Burleigh, who appears to have been a restless intriguer, with neither heart nor character, had entered into correspondence with Count Aremberg, a Flemish minister of the King of Spain, and had persuaded him, that peace with Spain might be brought about, if Sir W. Raleigh's opposition to


it could be overcome, suggesting that this might be managed by a bribe. It was this offer (though rejected by Raleigh as an idle tale of Cobham's own invention), combined with a rumour of his having conspired to place Lady Arabella Stuart on the throne, which formed the basis of the accusations of treason brought against him by James, for the trial of which a commission was assembled at Winchester, Burleigh himself being one of the members. It is scarcely credible to what violent language, and vulgar insult, the Attorney-General, Sir E. Coke, descended, in bringing forward the charges, all of which were met and refuted by the prisoner, with a patience and dignity worthy of his noble nature. The Commissioners, to their disgrace, seldom interposed. Burleigh, on the contrary, made some specious remarks, which tended to prejudice them against the prisoner, and Chief- Justice Popham alone of the Commissioners seemed to recollect his position as a judicial personage, intrusted with the life and honour of an illustrious prisoner.

The evidence on which the Commission found Raleigh guilty of high treason, after a quarter of an hour's pretended deliberation, was such as could never in our times have procured a conviction; and it was even said that when Coke, who had gone out of the Court for air, and was walking in the Castle garden, was told the verdict, he said to his informant, "Surely you are mistaken ? I myself accused him only of misprision (concealment) of treason ! " Whether from compunction, or that he was content to have Raleigh now wholly in his power, the King did not carry out the


sentence, but after a month of cruel suspense at Winchester, ordered him to be removed to close confinement in the Tower. The Lords Cobham and Grey, and Sir G. Markham, were tried and found guilty by the same Commission, and the King, when he signed the warrant for their execution, directed that Raleigh should be informed that a warrant for his death had also been prepared. In order, however, more completely to blast his character, and to give more authority to the verdict, the King had recourse to a paltry stratagem, by which, though he himself regarded it as a masterpiece of policy, no one was deceived. Cobham was brought out on the scaffold at Winchester, and made, what purported to be, a dying speech, asserting the truth of the evidence he had given against Raleigh, at the conclusion of which the Sheriff informed him (as had been preconcerted) that the King pardoned him, and, with loud expressions of feigned astonishment and gratitude, he was reconducted to his prison.

Raleigh, in the mean time, made becoming preparation for the end he daily expected. He received the Bishop of Winchester's prayers and consolations, in a spirit which greatly edified that prelate, and wrote a touching letter of farewell to his wife, some passages of which may here be transcribed:-

"You shall now receive, my dear wife, my last words. My love I send you, that you may keep it when I am dead, and my counsel, that you may remember it when I am no more. I would not by my will present


you with sorrows, my dear Bess; let them go into the grave with me, and be buried in the dust; and seeing it is not the will of God that ever I shall see you more in this life, bear it patiently, and with a heart like thyself.

" I send you all the thanks which my heart can conceive, or my words can express, for your many travails and care taken for me; which though they have not taken effect as you wished, yet my debt to you is not the less.

" I beseech you, for the love you bear me living, do not hide yourself after my death, but seek to help your miserable fortunes, and the right of your poor child. Thy mourning cannot avail me when I am but dust."

He then enters into some detail of the condition of his estates, and what he can leave her, and thus resumes:-

" If you can live free from want, care for no more the rest is but vanity. Love God, and repose yourself on Him, and therein you shall find true and lasting riches and endless comfort. Teach your son to love and fear God while he is yet young, that the fear of God may grow up with him, and then God will be a husband to you, and a father to him.

" I can say no more, time and death call me away.'

If any proof were needed that the insinuations of Coke, and even of Chief-Justice Popham, on his late trial. that he was an atheist, were utterly false, surely the pious


simplicity and religious trust of this letter at once refute them.

Shortly after the pretended reprieve of Cobham, Raleigh was conveyed from Winchester to the Tower, and, at her earnest entreaty, Lady Raleigh was allowed to share his prison, where their youngest son, Carew, was afterwards born.

Mr. Hawthorn, a clergyman, a physician, and his steward, were allowed occasionally to visit him in prison, and it was under the heavy affliction of disgrace and confinement that he turned his active mind to the composition of his celebrated 'History of the World,'

But the King's persecution did not end yet. Raleigh's estate of Sherborne, which he had been allowed to place in the hands of trustees for his eldest son, was, contrary to all faith, seized, on pretence of a flaw in the deed, and given to the worthless Robert Carr. Lady Raleigh in vain threw herself at James's feet to entreat that her son might not be reduced to beggary. He received her harshly, and merely repeated, " I maun have the land, I maun have it for Carr."

A more powerful intercessor, Prince Henry, who had conceived a great friendship as well as admiration for Raleigh, urged his suit with his utmost zeal, believing it to be of national importance, that so brave and wise a commander should not languish in captivity and disgrace; but his exertions were fruitless. Prince Henry had no wild ambition for distinction in war, but he fully agreed with the views of naval preparation which Raleigh's wisdom and forethought had urgently represented as necessary for


England. "Though the sword," said Raleigh, "is put in the sheath, we must not suffer it to rust, or stick so fast that we could not draw it readily when need requires. If those powerful means, whereby we reduced our enemies to the seeking of peace, were neglected, so that we could not assume the use of them, those proud mastering spirits would be more likely to shake us by the ears as enemies, than to take us by the hand as friends. Therefore, far be it from us to trust more to the friendship of strangers, which is but dissembled upon policy, than to our own strength. Peace is a blessing of God, and therefore, doubtless, blessed are those means whereby peace is gained and preserved. Our defence and safety is in our shipping and sea forces, which should be esteemed as His gifts, and then only available and beneficial, when He vouchsafes us his grace to use them aright."

The hardships of Raleigh's imprisonment in the Tower, were in some degree alleviated by the company of some of his fellow-captives; amongst whom were the Earl of Northumberland, a man of considerable learning, who had been committed on the same charge as Raleigh; Piercy, a great chemist, confined since the Gunpowder Plot for supposed participation in that conspiracy; and Hoskins, a poet and philosopher of his day, mentioned by Ben Jonson as " the man who polished him." Although Sir W. Waad, the Governor of the Tower, was no friend to Raleigh, he does not appear to have put any needless restraint on the meeting of these literary companions in misfortune at Northumberland's apartments, where discourses and experiments on chemistry


were a favourite resource. Still a long confinement in so damp and cold an abode as the Tower (surrounded as it
then was, by a wide muddy ditch), had now produced injurious effects on Raleigh's health. In a pathetic appeal to James's Queen, for her intercession, he complained, that, after eight years, he was under as much restraint as the first day, and that " he had in vain petitioned for so much grace, as to walk with his keeper up the hill within the Tower." His physician also represented to Lord


Burleigh, the necessity of his lodging in a warmer apartment, which had been built for a laboratory in the garden of his prison. Whether this favour was obtained, does not appear; but there is no doubt that the death of his old and vindictive enemy, Lord Burleigh, about this time, produced some change for the better in his treatment. His release, however, was still opposed by the unworthy Somerset, who had obtained from the King Raleigh's valuable estate at Sherborne. One solace of Raleigh's weary sojourn in the Tower was the correspondence and kind notice of Prince Henry, who was wont to say to his private friends, that " his father was the only man who would have shut up such a bird in a cage." In his ' History of the World,' Raleigh alludes in a touching tone to the early loss of this admirable Prince. " I had written for the Prince, a Treatise on the 'Art of War by Sea,' but God hath spared me the labour of finishing it by his loss; I will therefore leave him in the hands of God, that hath him. ' Curae leves loquuntur, ingentes stupent.'"

Soon after this misfortune the continued efforts of his friends procured him what was termed the " Liberty of the Tower," which consisted in the free range of the interior of the fortress, and he now brought before the King, the scheme for the expedition to Guiana, where he was convinced that he had ascertained the existence of a gold-mine at the time of his expedition to America during the former reign.

As the expense was all to come from the resources of his friends and himself, and the King was to have a fifth of the profits, he was not likely to resist this bait for


his avarice; the only obstacle arose from the remonstrances of Gondomar, the Spanish Ambassador, who, by his address and accomplishments, had obtained much influence over the King's mind. He knew Raleigh's enmity to the Spanish nation, and had no doubt that, if he gained a footing in Guiana, the occupation of the shores of the Orinoco by his countrymen, where a kinsman of his own had been appointed Governor, would soon be put a stop to, by the English expedition. For this reason he made the strongest remonstrances against Raleigh's scheme, and at first succeeded in persuading James that it would lead to a war with Spain.

But although arguments might fail, Raleigh was aware that well-applied bribery would succeed, and by a large present to Sir W. St. John and Sir E. Villiers, the two uncles of Buckingham, he at length, in March, 1615, obtained the King's consent to the project, and three days afterwards the order arrived, for his release from the sad confinement in which he had passed some of the best years of his life, and he at once entered, with all the ardour of his nature, into the preparation for his expedition. Wonderful as it may seem, he had contrived for several years to maintain an intercourse with some of the most civilised of the Indian chiefs, whom he had known on his former expedition, and a deputation from these Indians had actually come to England, and obtained access to him while prisoner in the Tower. As Gondomar continued incessant in his remonstrances to the King, and as little dependence could be placed on any resolution of James, Raleigh deemed it advisable to make a


formal protest, that he had no thoughts of attacking Spanish territory, but simply desired to prosecute his search for mines in those portions of Guiana, which, by right of discovery, and consent of the natives, were regarded as belonging to the British Crown.

Gondomar affected to be content with these explanations, and, upon his opposition being withdrawn, adventurers from all parts of England volunteered their services, many of them bringing money and supplies, while several eminent merchants embarked capital in the enterprise.

A commission under the Privy Seal constituted Raleigh Commander-in-Chief and Governor. Some wary friends advised him to press for the formality of a pardon under the Great Seal before he sailed, but this caution was unhappily overlooked; and indeed who could for a moment suppose that his appointment as " Commander and Governor," with power of life and death over those under his orders, would not completely cancel any former sentence ? On hoisting his flag on board the 'Destiny,' a ship of thirty-six guns and 200 men (including the Volunteers), and commanded by his eldest son, he issued an order for Divine Service to be daily read in the squadron, and for sundry measures of morality and discipline, showing the religious tone of his mind, as well as his knowledge of the best means of governing the wild spirits he commanded. The weather obliging him to put into Cork, he was generously received,. and supplied with many useful stores by the Earl of Cork, who had purchased Raleigh's Irish estates many years before, and


improved them with the utmost success. He again put to sea full of hopes and confidence; but though the voyage was neither tedious nor stormy, the ravages of scurvy and fever made sad havoc among his men. He reached Guiana in November, with his numbers reduced by a fourth, and learned, to his mortification, that the Spaniards had established themselves on the shore of the river Orinoco, of which he had formerly taken possession in the name of the Queen.

To ascend that river as far as the supposed situation of the mine, was now his great object; but he found that all his schemes had been betrayed to the Spaniards, and that, so far from any chance of surprising them into granting him a free passage up the river, they had made preparation for giving him a hostile reception, and had occupied in force the access from the river to the mine. Prostrate with illness himself, he at once resolved to detach his son and Captain Keymis, the original discoverer of the mine on the former expedition, with instructions to penetrate at all hazards to the place, avoiding collision if possible; but, if attacked, to repel force by force.

The result was most unfortunate: the Spaniards laid an ambush for the English; and though Keymis and young Raleigh fought most gallantly, the latter was killed, and Keymis, after an unsuccessful attempt to reach the mine, was again surprised, utterly defeated, and obliged to return, without having brought back a single ingot to prove the existence of the mine. The unfortunate man,


on being reproached by Raleigh with neglect of his instructions and orders, retired to his cabin and blew out his brains. Harsh as it might appear in Raleigh to condemn so gallant a follower for this unlucky failure, it must be recollected that he had thrown away many valuable lives by his rashness, had given a signal triumph to the Spaniards, and, worse than all, he had never penetrated to the mine, so as to bring back any proof of its existence; a point of every consequence for bearing out the assurances which Raleigh had given to the King. That the mine had never been discovered by the Spaniards themselves, was shown by Keymis's excuse, "that, if he had persisted in making his way to it without force to defend it, he should only have been opening the discovery of it to the Spaniards."

The Adventurers who had followed the fortunes of Raleigh, in expectation of acquiring vast riches, now began to show discontent, and to excite mutiny among the sailors. All spirit and energy was gone; there was not a hope of success, and nothing remained but to abandon the search, and return to England. Raleigh reached Plymouth in July, 1618, where, at the instance of Gondomar, he was immediately arrested by his own relative, Sir Lewis Stukely, and conveyed a prisoner to the Tower. Short and sad is the remainder of the story. His fate was at once resolved; a vain attempt at escape only increased the King's desire for his death; and so base was James's deference to the Spaniards, that he actually offered to deliver up Raleigh to be put to death in Spain,


according to King Philip's pleasure. That monarch wisely declined the office of executioner, leaving it to Gondomar, to make sure of his victim in London. Accordingly, an order, under the Privy Seal, was directed to the Judges of the King's Bench, commanding them to proceed to execution against Sir W. Raleigh, under his former sentence. In vain did he plead, that His Majesty's military commission as Marshal, placing him in command of a royal fleet and army, with power of trial for life and death, amounted, both in justice and reason, to a full pardon of any former offence. Chief-Justice Montague overruled the Plea; Yelverton, the Attorney-General, declared, that fifteen years ago the prisoner had been convicted of treason, since which time His Majesty had mercifully abstained from the infliction of the sentence; but it was now the royal pleasure that it should be carried out. Raleigh's pathetic appeal for even a few days' respite was refused.

He said, " My Lords, I desire but this much favour, that I may not be cut off suddenly, but may be granted some time to settle my affairs and my mind, for I have somewhat to do in discharge of my reputation and conscience. I crave not this to obtain one minute of life, for now, being old, sickly, disgraced, and certain to go to death, my life is wearisome to me; and I further beseech your Lordships, that when I go to die I may have leave to speak freely." And he concluded with much solemnity, " I take God to be my judge, before whom I shall shortly appear, that I was never disloyal to His Majesty, which I


shall justify, where I shall not fear the face of any King on earth; and so I beseech you all to pray for me."

He was conducted to the Gatehouse Prison, and informed that he was to die next morning at nine, so eager for his death was the heartless King.

A last interview with his wife was the only favour granted him; and we can well imagine what that parting must have been to the loving and faithful partner of his misfortunes. Fearful lest speaking of their surviving son should add to her agony, he shortened this cruel hour by affectionately entreating her to leave him. In floods of tears she told him she had obtained the disposal of his body. " It is well, Bess," he answered, smiling, " that thou mayest dispose of that dead thou hadst not always the disposing of when alive;" and then, tenderly embracing her, he tore himself away, and devoted most of the night to preparing a sort of manifesto of his innocence of every charge which had been brought against him.

His cheerfulness, piety, and resignation, were shown in the few bitter hours which preceded his death next morning. He received the Sacrament, breakfasted, and smoked for a few minutes afterwards, as usual with him.

Shortly before nine he was led to the scaffold erected in Old Palace Yard, dressed in black, and bearing himself with much dignity and composure. So great was the crowd and pressure, that he nearly fainted before he could be got up to the scaffold.

The Earls of Arundel, Oxford, and Northampton, Lords Doncaster, Percy, Sheffield, and other persons of


rank, were already assembled, all of whom he saluted with his usual courtesy. In the brief address which he now made, he entreated all present, if they saw any weakness in him, to lay it to his ill-health, and not to fear. " I thank God," he said, " that of his goodness He hath vouchsafed me to die in the sight of so noble an assembly, and not in darkness, nor in the Tower, where I have suffered so much adversity." His weakness here obliged him to pause, and, turning to the Lords who sat in the windows above him, he expressed his fear that they could not hear him, on which Lord Arundel said he would come down to him, as did also Lords Doncaster and Northampton; when, in a firmer tone, he spoke further, from some notes he held in his hand, both generally as to his innocence, and especially as to the slanderous report, that he had stood in a window at Essex's execution, and puffed out smoke from a pipe, in disdain of him. My Lord of Essex, he said, never saw his face at all; for though he was in the Armoury, he had retired back from his view. " It was true," he said, " I was of the contrary faction, and helped to pluck him down, but I knew him for a noble gentleman, and always believed it would have been better for me had his life been spared; for those who set me against him, set themselves afterwards against me, and were my greatest enemies." After some further speech with the Lords present, the scaffold was cleared, and he bid the executioner show him the axe, and, feeling its edge, said, " It is a sharp medicine, but a cure for all diseases."



After a short internal prayer, he examined the block to see the proper manner of placing himself, and then quietly said that he was ready. When the Executioner came forward and asked his forgiveness, Raleigh smiled, and " bade him be satisfied, but desired him not to strike till he gave the signal, and then to fear nothing and strike home." He kneeled, and laid his head on the block; his lips were seen to move a little space as in earnest prayer, and he then lifted his hand as the signal; but, whether from not observing it, or from agitation, the man delayed his stroke till Raleigh said in a clear voice, " What dost thou fear ? strike, man !" The blow was then given, but, though it deprived him probably of consciousness, it was not till a second stroke, that the head rolled on the scaffold. It was observed that the body never moved, and that the effusion of blood was unusually great, as showing the vigour of his constitution, though lately so enfeebled by care and illness. The head, after being held up to the people, with the words, " This is the head of a traitor," was placed in a red bag, which was immediately wrapped in his velvet gown, carried to a mourning coach, and conveyed to his unhappy wife, who caused it to be embalmed, and preserved it with pious care till her own death, which did not occur for near thirty years after this tragedy.

The records of the time make no allusion to any display of military or other precautions against the chances of tumult or rescue, and yet it seems strange that a man of such renown, and prominent in that daring and love


of adventure so popular with the English, should have fallen a victim to the Spanish influence over James, without a hand being raised to save him. So arbitrary and illegal an exercise of royal power was a signal proof of the altered power and condition of the nobility, which the iron hand of Elizabeth, and the unbounded influence she acquired over her subjects, had effected during her long reign.