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….
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….
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”….