On this day in history : 29th October 1618 – Sir Walter Raleigh, adventurer, explorer, celebrated soldier, writer and courtier, is beheaded for allegedly conspiring against King James I….

Sir Walter Raleigh – Public domain

It was in 1580 that Raleigh, as a successful and rather handsome young soldier, caught the eye of Queen Elizabeth I – and he quickly became one of her favourite courtiers…. She bestowed upon him a knighthood and gave him properties and power….

Then in 1592 Raleigh secretly married one of Elizabeth’s maids of honour…. The Queen was beside herself with jealousy and rage and had Raleigh and his now pregnant new wife imprisoned in the Tower of London….

Once released from the Tower Raleigh set about worming his way back into Elizabeth’s affections…. It is reputedly he who introduced the potato and tobacco to Britain, although it is often disputed as to whether he actually did…. It was, however, he who was responsible for making smoking fashionable at Court….

Raleigh was to fall from grace again when King James I came to the throne…. James heard on the grapevine that Raleigh was involved in a plot to overthrow him and so had him imprisoned for treason…. He was tried, found guilty and sentenced to death…. However, good fortune was on his side, his life was spared but he spent the next thirteen years in the Tower of London….

Raleigh’s cell in the Tower of London – Image credit : Kjetil Bjornsrud – own work – CC BY 2.5

Upon his release he once again clawed his way back into favour….and was permitted to lead an expedition to find the mythical El Dorado – a land supposedly filled with gold…. Needless to say it was a quest unable to be fulfilled – so instead Raleigh and his men attacked a Spanish settlement, totally going against Royal orders…. Naturally Spain was furious and demanded that King James do something about Raleigh…. James was more than happy to oblige – he reinstated the death sentence that Raleigh had managed to dodge before…. And so, on the 29th of October 1618 Raleigh succumbed to the executioner’s axe….

He was executed in the Old Palace Yard of the Palace of Westminster…. He said to the executioner “Let us dispatch…. At this hour my ague comes to me. I would not have my enemies think I quaked from fear”…. His last words were…. “Strike, man, strike”….

Illustration circa 1860 from The Popular History of England – Public domain

3 thoughts on “On this day in history….29th October 1618

  1. It would seem our Sir Walter was a bit of a lad! Worming his way jnto the Queen’s affections only to marry one of her maids of honour. Then working his way back in again only to full foul of James 1st but again managing to gain favour presumably by promising untold riches from El Dorado. Perhaps he thought by returning with Spanish gold he could worm his way back in again? Obviously not……….

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    1. I put out a blog post a couple of weeks ago on the Siege of Smerwick, Ireland… It got me a bit of a telling off on social media because of its unsavouriness… Sir Walter participated in the beheading of many Irish civilians and Papal soldiers… I don’t think our Walter was a particularly nice individual…

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      1. I did read that post Hazel, yes it was an unpleasant story, but true nonetheless, and something I had not known about before, so even if your social media followers found it unsavoury it is British history. The fact is a lot of our history is less than pleasant but still needs to be told, so I for one thank you for that! As to our Sir Walter he was clearly a ruthless as well as cunning individual……….

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