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Sir Walter Raleigh ( 1552 - 1618 )  Category ( Explorers ) [suggest a correction]

Walter RaleighWalter Raleigh is often assumed to be an explorer and adventurer who traveled with the first English settlers to the New World in the late seventeenth century. While he was indeed an explorer, adventurer, and much more, and though he helped to fund the initial English expeditions to Virginia, he actually never went there himself. However, he is responsible for encouraging Queen Elizabeth, King James I, and others to take an interest in colonizing Virginia with Englishmen.

He was born to a staunch Protestant Christian family in Devon, in 1552. Not much is known about his childhood, though evidence exists that he spent some time in Ireland as a youth, taking part in suppressing rebellions there. Due to this involvement in Ireland he was awarded land there and became a landlord and even the mayor of a small town. His adventures in Ireland attracted the attention of Queen Elizabeth I, quickly rising in her favor and receiving a knighthood in 1585. Several years later he had a falling out with the queen when he secretly married one of her ladies-in-waiting. For a time he and his wife, Elizabeth Throckmorton, were banished to the Tower of London.

Raleigh first attempted a colony in Virginia in 1584, on Roanoke Island. Only a small group of men were left there at that time. In 1587, after gathering enough funds and interested settlers, he sent ships back to Roanoke with a diversified group of settlers and supplies. Upon their arrival they discovered that the original, smaller group left in 1584 were missing. The new group became known later as The Lost Colony of Roanoke Island. While Raleigh’s attempts at colonization were failures, they helped set the stage for future permanent English settlement in Virginia.

Raleigh had a keen sense of adventure and a desire for world exploration. After hearing about a “Golden City" in the New World, he traveled to South America to try and locate it, publishing his experiences in a book that later inspired the legend of El Dorado. Before he could plan a second expedition to South America, he became involved in the Main Plot against James I, and was again imprisoned in the Tower. In 1616 he was released to pursue El Dorado once more. When the second expedition failed to produce results, Raleigh and his men attacked a Spanish fort at San Thome. Once Raleigh returned to England he was arrested for his crimes in the New World and after a show trial, was beheaded.

Despite his penchant for masculine adventure, Raleigh also had a strong interest in poetry. While he was living in Ireland he came to know his neighbor, the great poet Edmund Spenser. The two traveled together for two years, during which time Spenser performed a reading of part of his great work, The Faerie Queen, to Queen Elizabeth. Raleigh’s best known poem is a response to Christopher Marlowe’s "The Passionate Shepherd to his Love," entitled, “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd."

Image: Portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh, 1585.

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