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Who is Walter Raleigh?

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  • Written By: Felicia Dye
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 28 October 2016
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Sir Walter Raleigh is a man who played a notable role in English and American history. In addition to being remembered as a colonizer, he is also known as a businessman, soldier, and writer. However, despite the many highlights of Raleigh’s life, he was executed at the order of England’s King James I.

It is believed that Walter Raleigh was born in Devonshire in 1552. Although it is often said he was educated at Oriel College in Oxford, he did not complete his education. Raleigh left school to join the Huguenot Army, which fought on behalf of French Protestants.

After returning home, Walter Raleigh gained the favor of England’s Queen Elizabeth I. He was granted many privileges by the queen. This helped him establish notable wealth and reputation. For example, history states that the queen gave Raleigh an estate of 12,000 acres (4,860 hectares) in Ireland.

He also served as the captain of the Ireland army. Other significant achievements include being made captain of the queen’s guard and being knighted in 1584. Further adding to his wealth were monopolies he had in the wine and cloth trades.

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During this time that he was favored by Queen Elizabeth, Walter Raleigh became interested in North America. The queen barred him from traveling to these undiscovered lands. This did not, however, stop Raleigh from sending five expeditions. Not only did he encourage this travel, but he played an important role in the establishment of the America’s first colony, Virginia. This colony is said to be named after Elizabeth I, who was known as “the virgin queen.”

Walter Raleigh lost the queen’s favor and incited her wrath with his love for one her maidens, Elizabeth Throgmorton. This relationship led to the imprisonment of Raleigh. However, it did not change his heart. After his release, he later married Throgmorton.

Eventually, Raleigh got the opportunity to leave and explore the New World. In 1595, driven by the belief that extreme riches lay ahead, he captured the town of San Josef in Trinidad. He explored the Orinoco River in South America for approximately 400 miles (644 km), but did not find the riches he hoped for. Several years later, Raleigh regained the favor of Queen Elizabeth I and went on to hold important posts, such as governor of the island of Jersey.

After the death of the queen, Sir Walter Raleigh’s fate changed. King James I ascended to power and did not have favorable attitudes toward Raleigh. The king deprived him of all his offices. In 1603, Raleigh was imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was tried and found guilty of treason. This led to an execution sentence, which was not carried out.

During the time he was imprisoned, Walter Raleigh indulged in science and writing. He wrote "The History of the World" at the request of Prince Henry. After more than a dozen years of imprisonment, Raleigh was released to lead an expedition at Orinoco to prove his claims of the riches to be found there. His expedition failed in its mission.

To exaggerate matters, before leaving, he was ordered by the king not to attack Spanish territory, but he defied the orders. This disobedience cost him his life. He returned to England and was executed on 29 October 1618.

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