Sir Walter Raleigh

John Aubrey, in Brief Lives, 1669-1696; ed. Clark (1898) 2:177-94.

Sir Walter Ralegh, knight: — vide Howe's continuation of Stowe's Chronicle. — Vide Gerard Winstanley's Worthies of England, where he hath 5 or 6 leaves concerning Sir Walter Ralegh.

< Coat of arms. >

Gules, four fusils conjoined in bend argent.

< His marriages and issue. >

He had two wives. His first was (Elizabeth) Throckmorton; second, mother of Carew Ralegh, second son.

Sir John Elwowys maried the daughter and heir of Sir Walter Ralegh, who was the sonn of Carew Ralegh of ... in Surrey, who was the second son of Sir Walter Ralegh, the hero. Quaere Sir John Ellowys pro his skull pro Oxon or Royal Societie.

(I cannot yet heare where Sir Edward Shirburne is.) About the beginning of April I shall satisfy you about Carew Ralegh's daughter — I doe verily believe 'twas his only child.

< His brother's family. >

Sir Carew Ralegh, of Downton in com. Wilts, was his eldest brother, who was gentleman of the horse to Sir John Thynne of Longleate, and after his death maryed his lady; by whom he had children as in the pedigre.

I have heard my grandfather say that Sir Carew had a delicate cleare voice, and played singularly a lute, but well on the olpharion (which was the instrument in fashion in those dayes), to which he did sing.

His grand-cbildren, Walter and Tom (with whom I went to schoole at Blandford in Dorset 4 yeares) had also excellent tuneable voices, and playd their parts well on the violl; ingeniose, but all proud and quarrelsome.

< At Oxford. >

Sir Walter Ralegh was of ... in Oxford: vide de hoc Anthony Wood's Antiquities.

< A poor scholar. >

In his youth for severall yeares — quaere Anthony Wood how long — he was under streights for want of money. I remember that Mr. Thomas Child of Worcestershire told me that Sir Walter borrowed a gowne of him when he was at Oxford (they were both of the same College), which he never restored, nor money for it.

Sir Walter Ralegh was of Oriel College. Mr. Child's father of Worcestershire was his chamber-fellow, and lent him a gowne, which he could never gett, nor satisfaction for it. — from Mr. Child.

< Raleigh in Elizabeth's reign. >

He went into Ireland, where he served in the warres, and shewed much courage and conduct, but he would be perpetually differing with ... (I thinke, Gray) then Lord Deputy; so that at last the hearing was to be at < the > councell table before the queen, which was that he desired; where he told his tale so well and with so good a grace and presence that the queen tooke especiall notice of him and presently preferred him. (So that it must be before this that he served in the French warres.)

Queen Elizabeth loved to have all the servants of her Court proper men, and (as beforesaid Sir W. R.'s gracefull presence was no meane recommendation to him). I thinke his first preferment at Court was Captaine of her Majestie's guard. There came a countrey gentleman (or sufficient yeoman) up to towne, who had severall sonns, but one an extraordinary proper handsome fellowe, whom he did hope to have preferred to be a yeoman of the guard. The father (a goodly man himselfe) comes to Sir Walter Raleigh a stranger to him, and told him that he had brought up a boy that he would desire (having many children) should be one of her majestie's *** guard. Quod Sir Walter Raleigh "Had you spake for your selfe I should readily have graunted your desire, for your person deserves it, but I putt in no boyes." Said the father, "Boy, come in." The son enters, about 18 or 19, but such a goodly proper young fellow, as Sir Walter Raleigh had not seen the like — he was the tallest of all the guard. Sir Walter Raleigh sweares him immediately; and ordered him to carry-up the first dish at dinner, where the Queen beheld him with admiration, as if a beautifull young giant had stalked in with the service.

Vide lord Bacon's apothegms and letters. As the queen (Elizabeth) was playing on the virginalls, ... made this observation, that "when 'Jack's' went up, 'keys' went downe," reflecting on Ralegh.

< Tobacco. >

He was the first that brought tobacco into England, and into fashion. — In our part of North Wilts, e.g. Malmesbury hundred, it came first into fashion by Sir Walter Long.

I have heard my grandfather Lyte say that one pipe was handed from man to man round about the table. They had first silver pipes; the ordinary sort made use of a walnutshell and a straw.

It was sold then for it's wayte in silver. I have heard some of our old yeomen neighbours say that when they went to Malmesbury or Chippenham market, they culled out their biggest shillings to lay in the scales against the tobacco.

Sir W. R., standing in a stand at Sir Robert Poyntz' parke at Acton, tooke a pipe of tobacco, which made the ladies quitt it till he had donne.

Within these 35 years 'twas scandalous for a divine to take tobacco.

Now, the customes of it are the greatest his majestie hath—

Rider's Almanac (1682, scilicet) — "Since tobacco brought into England by Sir Walter Raleigh, 99 yeares, the custome whereof is now the greatest of all others and amounts to yearly...."

Mr. Michael Weekes of the Royall Societie assures me, out of the custome-house bookes, that the custome of tobacco over all England is £400,000 per annum.

Mr. Weekes, register a of the Royal Society and an officer of the custome-house, does assure me that the customes of tobacco over all England is four hundred thousand pounds per annum.

< Personal characteristics. >

He was a tall, handsome, and bold man: but his naeve was that he was damnable proud. Old Sir Robert Harley of Brampton-Brian Castle, who knew him, would say 'twas a great question who was the proudest, Sir Walter, or Sir Thomas Overbury, but the difference that was, was judged on Sir Thomas' side.

His beard turnd up naturally. — I have heard my grandmother say that when she was young, they were wont to talke of this rebus, viz.,

The enemie to the stomack, and the word of disgrace,
Is the name of the gentleman with a bold face.
[editor's note: "Raw," "Lie"]

Old Sir Thomas Malett, one of the justices of the King's Bench tempore Caroli I et II, knew Sir Walter; and I have heard him say that, notwithstanding his so great mastership in style and his conversation with the learnedst and politest persons, yet he spake broad Devonshire to his dyeing day. His voice was small, as likewise were my schoolfellowes', his grandnephewes.

Sir Walter Ralegh was a great chymist; and amongst some MSS. reciepts, I have seen some secrets from him. He studyed most in his sea-voyages, where he carried always a trunke of bookes along with him, and had nothing to divert him.

Memorandum: — he made an excellent cordiall, good in feavers, etc.; Mr. Robert Boyle haz the recipe, and makes it and does great cures by it.

A person so much immerst in action all along and in fabrication of his owne fortunes, (till his confinement in the Tower) could have but little time to study, but what he could spare in the morning. He was no slug; without doubt, had a wonderfull waking spirit, and great judgment to guide it.

< His residences. >

Durham-house was a noble palace; after he came to his greatnes he lived there, or in some apartment of it. I well remember his study, which was a little turret that looked into and over the Thames, and had the prospect which is pleasant perhaps as any in the world, and which not only refreshes the eie-sight but cheeres the spirits, and (to speake my mind) I beleeve enlarges an ingeniose man's thoughts.

Shirburne castle, parke, mannor, etc., did belong (and still ought to belong) to the church of Sarum. 'Twas aliened in ... time (quaere bishop of Sarum) to ...; then ...; then Sir W. R. begged < it > as a bon from queen Elizabeth: where he built a delicate lodge in the park, of brick, not big, but very convenient for the bignes, a place to retire from the Court in summer time, and to contemplate, etc. Upon his attainder, 'twas begged by the favorite Carr, earl of Somerset, who forfeited it (I thinke) about the poysoning of Sir Thomas Overbury. Then John, earl of Bristowe, had it given him for his good service in the ambassade in Spaine, and added two wings to Sir Walter Ralegh's lodge. In short and indeed 'tis a most sweet and pleasant place and site as any in the West, perhaps none like it.

< His acquaintance. >

In his youth his companions were boysterous blades, but generally those that had witt; except otherwise uppon designe to gett them engaged for him, — e.g. Sir Charles Snell, of Kington Saint Michael in North Wilts, my good neighbour, an honest young gentleman but kept a perpetuall sott, he engaged him to build a ship (the Angel Gabriel) for the designe for Guiana, which cost him the mannor of Yatton-Keynell, the farme at Easton-Piers, Thornhill, and the church-lease of Bishops Cannings; which ship, upon Sir Walter Raleigh's attainder, was forfeited. No question he had other such young ...

From Dr. John Pell: — In his youthfull time, was one Charles Chester, that often kept company with his acquaintance; he was a bold impertenent fellowe, and they could never be at quiet for him; a perpetuall talker, and made a noyse like a drumme in a roome. So one time at a taverne Sir W. R. beates him and seales up his mouth (i.e. his upper and neather beard) with hard wax. From him Ben Johnson takes his Carlo Buffono (i.e. "jester") in Every Man out of his Humour.

He was a second to the earle of Oxford in a duell. Was acquainted and accepted with all the hero's of our nation in his time.

Sir Walter Long of Dracot (grandfather to this old Sir James Long) maried a daughter of Sir John Thynne, by which meanes, and their consimility of disposition, there was a very conjunct friendship between the two brothers (Sir Carew and Sir Walter) and him; and old John Long, who then wayted on Sir W. Long, being one time in the Privy-Garden with his master, saw the earle of Nottingham wipe the dust from Sir Walter R.'s shoes with his cloake, in compliment.

< Portraits of him. >

In the great parlour at Downton, at Mr. Ralegh's, is a good piece (an originall) of Sir W. in a white sattin doublet, all embrodered with rich pearles, and a mighty rich chaine of great pearles about his neck, and the old servants have told me that the pearles were neer as big as the painted ones.

He had a most remarkeable aspect, an exceeding high forehead, long-faced, and sour eie-lidded, a kind of pigge-eie.

N.B. — At ... an obscure taverne, in Drury-lane (a bayliff's), is a good picture of this worthy, and also of others of his time; taken upon some execution (I suppose) formerly.

< Miscellaneous anecdotes. >

I have heard old major Cosh say that Sir W. Raleigh did not care to goe on the Thames in a wherry boate: he would rather goe round about over London bridg.

My old friend James Harrington, esq. [Oceana] was well acquainted with Sir Benjamin Ruddyer, who was an acquaintance of Sir Walter Ralegh's. He told Mr. J. H. that Sir Walter Ralegh being invited to dinner to some great person where his son was to goe with him, he sayd to his son "Thou art expected to-day at dinner to goe along with me, but thou art such a quarrelsome, affronting ..., that I am ashamed to have such a beare in my company." Mr. Walter humbled himselfe to his father, and promised he would behave himselfe mighty mannerly. So away they went (and Sir Benjamin, I think, with them). He sate next to his father and was very demure at least halfe dinner time. Then sayd he, "I, this morning, not having the feare of God before my eies but by the instigation of the devill, went ..." Sir Walter being strangely surprized and putt out of his countenance at so great a table, gives his son a damned blow over the face. His son, as rude as he was, would not strike his father, but strikes over the face the gentleman that sate next to him and sayd "Box about: 'twill come to my father anon." 'Tis now a common-used proverb.

He loved ... one of the mayds of honor.... She proved with child and I doubt not but this hero tooke care of them both, as also that the product was more then an ordinary mortall.

'Twas Sir Walter Ralegh's epigram on Robert Cecil, earle of Salisbury, who died in a ditch 3 or 4 miles west from Marleborough, returning from Bathe to London, which was printed in an 8vo booke about 1656 (perhaps one of Mr. Osborne's):—

Here lies Robert, our shepherd whilere,
Who once in a quarter our fleeces did sheer:
For his oblation to Pan his manner was thus,
He first gave a trifle, then offred up us....
In spight of the tarbox he dyed of the shabbo.

—This I had from old Sir Thomas Malett, one of the judges of the King's Bench, who knew Sir Walter Ralegh, and did remember these passages.

< Raleigh in James I's reign. >

I have now forgott (vide History) whether Sir Walter was not for the putting of Mary, queen of Scotts, to death; I thinke, yea. But, besides that, at a consultation at Whitehall, after queen Elizabeth's death, how matters a were to be ordered and what ought to be donne, Sir Walter Raleigh declared his opinion, 'twas the wisest way for them to keep the government in their owne hands, and sett up a commonwealth, and not be subject to a needy beggerly nation. It seemes there were some of this caball *** who kept not this so secret but that it came to king James's eare; who at ... (vide Chronicle) where the English noblesse mett and recieved him, being told upon their presentment to his majesty their names, when Sir Walter Raleigh's name was told ("Ralegh") said the king "On my soule, mon, I have heard rawly of thee." — He was such a person (every way) that (as King Charles I sayes of the lord Strafford) a prince would rather be afrayd of then ashamed of. He had that awfulnes and ascendency in his aspect over other mortalls, that the king...

It was a most stately sight, the glory of that reception of his majesty, where the nobility and gentry were in exceeding rich equippage, having enjoyed a long peace under the most excellent of queens; and the company was so exceeding numerous that their obedience" carried a secret dread with it. King James did not inwardly like it, and with an inward envy sayd that, though so and so (as before), he doubted not but he should have been able on his owne strength (should the English have kept him out) been able to have dealt with them, and get his right. Sayd Sir Walter Raleigh to him, "Would to God that had been put to the tryall." "Why doe you wish that?" sayd the king. — "Because," said Sir Walter, "that then you would have knowne your friends from your foes." But that reason of Sir Walter was never forgotten nor forgiven.

He was praefectus (...) of Jarsey (Caesaria).

Old major Stansby of ..., Hants, a Henley, most intimate friend and neighbour and coetanean of the late earle of Southampton (Lord Treasurer), told me from his friend, the earle, that as to the plott and businesse (vide Chronicle) about the lord Cobham, etc., he being then governor of Jersey, would not fully, or etc., doe things unles they would goe to his island and there advise and resolve about it; and that really and indeed Sir Walter's purpose was when he had them there, to have betrayed them and the plott, and to have then delivered-up to the king and made his peace.

As for his noble design in Guiana, vide the printed bookes. Vide a Latin voyage which John, lord Vaughan, showed me, where is mention of captaine North (brother to the lord North) who went with Sir Walter, where is a large account of these matters. Mr. Edmund Wyld knew him a and sayes he was a learned and sober gentleman and good mathematician, but if you happened to speake of Guiana he would be strangely passionate and say 'twas "the blessedst countrey under the sun," etc., reflecting on the spoyling that brave designe.

Vide de illo in Capt. North, pag. 18b.

When he was attached by the officer about the businesse which cost him his head, he was carryed in a whery, I thinke only with two men. King James was wont to say that he was a coward to be so taken and conveyed, for els he might easily have made his escape from so slight a guard.

< His imprisonment, death, and burial. >

He was prisoner in the Tower ... (quaere) yeares; quaere where his lodgeings were?

He there (besides his compiling his History of the World) studyed chymistry. The earle of Northumberland was prisoner at the same time, who was the patrone to Mr. ... Harriot and Mr. Warner, two of the best mathematicians then in the world, as also Mr. Hues ( de Globis). Serjeant Hoskins (the poet) was a prisoner there too.

I heard my cosen Whitney say that he saw him in the Tower. He had a velvet cap laced, and a rich gowne, and trunke hose.

He was scandalizd with atheisme; but he was a bold man, and would venture at discourse which was unpleasant to the church-men. I remember < the > first lord Scudamour sayd "'twas basely sayd of Sir W. R., to talke of the anagramme of Dog." In his speech on the scaffold, I heard my cosen Whitney say (and I thinke 'tis printed) that he spake not one word of Christ, but of the great and incomprehensible God, with much zeale and adoration, so that he concluded he was an a-christ, not an atheist. He tooke a pipe of tobacco a little before he went to the scaffold, which some formall persons were scandalized at, but I thinke 'twas well and properly donne, to settle his spirits.

I remember I heard old father ... Symonds (e Societate Jesu) say, that ..., a father, was at his executions, and that to his knowledge he dyed with a lye in his mouth: I have now forgott what 'twas. The time of his execution was contrived to be on my Lord Mayer's day (viz. the day after St. Simon and Jude) 1618, that the pageants and fine shewes might drawe away the people from beholding the tragoedie of one of the gallants worthies that ever England bred. Buryed privately under the high alter at St. Margaret's church, in Westminster, on ... (vide Register); in which grave (or neer) lies James Harrington, esq., author of Oceana.

Mr. Elias Ashmole told me that his son Carew Ralegh told him he had his father's skull; that some yeares since, upon digging-up the grave, his skull and neck-bone being viewed, they found the bone of his neck lapped over so, that he could not have been hanged. Quaere Sir John Elowys for the skull, who married Mr. Carew Ralegh's daughter and heire.

Sir W. Raleigh — Baker's Chronicle, p. 441 — "A scaffold was erected in the Old Palace Yard, upon which, after 14 yeares reprivement, his head was cutt off. At which time such abundance of bloud issued from his veines that shewed he had stock of nature enough left to have continued him many yeares in life though now above 3-score yeares old, if it had not been taken away by the hand of violence. And this was the end of the great Sir Walter Raleigh, great sometimes in the favour of queen Elizabeth, and (next to Sir Francis Drake) the great scourge and hate of the Spaniard; who had many things to be commended in his life, but none more than his constancy at his death, which he tooke with so undaunted a resolution that one might percieve he had a certain expectation of a better life after it, so far he was from holding those atheisticall opinions, an aspersion whereof some had cast upon him."

In the register of St. Margaret's, Westminster, in the moneth of October, Sir Walter Raleigh is entred, and is the last of that moneth, but no dayes of the moneth are sett downe, so that he being beheaded on the Lord Mayer's day, was buryed the ... He was buryed as soon as you are removed from the top of the steps towards the altar, not under the altar. — from Elias Ashmole, esq.

On Sir Walter Rawleigh.
Here lieth, hidden in this pitt,
The wonder of the world for witt.
It to small purpose did him serve;
His witt could not his life preserve.
Hee living was belov'd of none,
Yet in his death all did him moane.
Heaven hath his soule, the world his fame,
The grave his corps, Stukley his shame.

This I found among the papers of my honoured friend and neighbour Thomas Tyndale, esq., obiit 167-, aet. 85. This Stukely was ...

< His writings. >

At the end of the History of the World (vide last folio, Hist. World), he laments the death of the most noble and most hopefull prince Henry, *** whose great favourite he was, and who, had he survived his father, would quickly have enlarged him, with rewards of honour. So upon the prince's death ends his first part of his History of the World, with a gallant eulogie of him, and concludes, "Versa est in luctum cithara mea; et cantus meus in vocem flentium."

He had an apparatus for the second part, which he, in discontent, burn't, and sayd, "If I am not worthy of the world, the world is not worthy of my workes."

His booke sold very slowly at first, and the bookeseller complayned of it, and told him that he should be a looser by it, which put Sir W. into a passion; and sayd that since the world did not understand it, they should not have his second part, which he tooke and threw into the fire, and burnt before his face.

Mr. Elias Ashmole saies that Degore Whear in his Praelectiones Hyemales gives him an admirable encomium, and preferres him before all other historians.

Verses W. R. before Spencer's F. Queen.

He was somtimes a poet, not often . — Before Spencer's Faery Q. is a good copie of verses, which begins thus:—

Methinkes I see the grave wher Laura lay;

at the bottome W. R.: which, 36 yeares since, I was told were his.

A dialogue between a Privy Councellor and a justice of Peace.
The father's advice to his son.
Historie of the World.
Maximes of State.
History of William the Conqueror — Thomas Gale hath it. Edmund Wyld, esq., hath his (a manuscript) "A tryall of oares and indications of metalls and mines."
E[dmund] W[yld], esq., hath his MSS. of mines and trialls of mineralls — quod vide.
Vide Mr. Coniers , apothecary, for Sir Walter Raleigh's examination (the originall).

< His friends. >
His intimate acquaintance and friends were:—
..., earle of Oxford.
Sir Francis Vere.
Sir Horatio Vere.
Sir Francis Drake.
Nicholas Hill.
< Thomas > Cavendish.
Mr. Thomas Hariot.
Sir Walter Long, of Dracot in Wilts.
Cavalicro Surff,
Ben: Johnson.

When Serjeant Hoskyns was a prisoner in the Tower, he was Sir Walter's Aristarchus.

< Copy of a letter by him. >

A copie of Sir W. Ralegh's letter, sent to Mr. Duke, in Devon, writt with his owne hand.


I wrote to Mr. Prideaux to move you for the purchase of Hayes, a farme sometime in my father's possession. I will most willingly give whatsoever in your conscience you shall deeme it worth, and if at any time you shall have occasion to use me, you shall find me a thankefull friend to you and yours. I am resolved, if I cannot entreat you, to build at Colliton; but for the naturall disposition I have to that place, being borne in that house, I had rather seate myselfe there then any where els; I take my leave, readie to countervaile all your courtesies to the utter of my power. Court, the xxvi of July, 1584. Your very willing friend,

In all I shall be able,


< Addenda. >

< His last lines. >
Even such is tyme, which takes in trust
Our youth, our joyes, and all we have,
And payes us but with age and dust.
Within the darke and silent grave,
When we have wandered all our wayes,
Shutts up the story of our dayes.
But from which grave and earth and dust
The Lord will rayse me up I trust.

These lines Sir Walter Ralegh wrote in his Bible, the night before he was beheaded, and desir'd his relations with these words, viz. "Beg my dead body, which living is denyed you; and bury it either in Sherburne or Exeter church."

< His burial-place. >

The bishop of Sarum < Seth Ward > saieth that Sir Walter Raleigh lyes interred in St. Marie's church at Exon, not the cathedral: but knowes not if any inscription or monument be for him.

< James Harrington > lyes buried in the chancell of St. Margarite's church at Westminster, the next grave to the illustrious Sir Walter Raleigh, under the south side of the altar where the priest stands.

Sir Walter Raleigh hath neither stone nor inscription. Mr. Ashmole was the first told me of Sir Walter Raleigh. His son was buryed since the king's restauration in his father's grave.

< MS. account of his trial. >

I am promised the very originall examination of Sir Walter Ralegh, in the Tower, by Lord Chancellor Bacon, George Abbot (archbishop of Canterbury), and Sir Edward Coke, under their owne hands, to insert in my booke.

< His History of the World. >

An attorney's father (that did my businesse in Herefordshire, before I sold it) maryed Dr. < Robert > Burhill's widdowe. She sayd that he < Burhill > was a great favourite of Sir Walter Ralegh's (and, I thinke, had been his chaplayne): but all or the greatest part of the drudgery of his booke, for criticismes, chronology, and reading of Greeke and Hebrew authors, was performed by him for Sir Walter Ralegh, whose picture my friend haz as part of the Doctor's goods.