Sir Walter Ralegh by Ruth Padel, Faber & Faber, May 2010
In this series, a contemporary poet selects and introduces a poet of the past. By their choice of poems and by the personal and critical reactions they express in their prefaces, the editors offer insights into their own work as well as providing an accessible and passionate introduction to some of the greatest poets in our literature.
Walter Ralegh was born around 1553 in Devon, educated at Oxford and fought under Lord Grey in the colonization of Ireland, where he met the poet Edmund Spenser whom he brought to court in 1598. He sponsored the first colony to Virginia, sat in Parliament, was knighted, and became Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall and Captain of the Queen’s Guard. Between 1589 and 1591 he led the defence against the Spanish. In 1592 the Queen discovered his secret marriage and imprisoned him for a time in the Tower. Later she authorized his expedition to “Guiana”, now Venezuela, beyond the mouth of the Orinoco River. Ralegh published an account of this journey and resumed as Captain of the Guard. When James succeeded Elizabeth in 1603, Ralegh lost his patents and offices. From 1603 to 1616, he was imprisoned in the Tower, where he wrote and published The History of the World. James released him for another Guiana expedition but this failed, the 1603 death sentence was revived, and Ralegh was executed in 1618.