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Raleigh By Edmund Gosse Characters: 25397

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Walter Raleigh was born, so Camden and an anonymous astrologer combine to assure us, in 1552. The place was Hayes Barton, a farmstead in the parish of East Budleigh, in Devonshire, then belonging to his father; it passed out of the family, and in 1584 Sir Walter attempted to buy it back. 'For the natural disposition I have to the place, being born in that house, I had rather seat myself there than anywhere else,' he wrote to a Mr. Richard Duke, the then possessor, who refused to sell it. Genealogists, from himself downwards, have found a rich treasure in Raleigh's family tree, which winds its branches into those of some of the best Devonshire houses, the Gilberts, the Carews, the Champernownes. His father, the elder Walter Raleigh, in his third marriage became the second husband of Katherine Gilbert, daughter of Sir Philip Champernoun of Modbury. By Otto Gilbert, her first husband, she had been the mother of two boys destined to be bold navigators and colonists, Humphrey and Adrian Gilbert. It, is certainly the influence of his half-brother Sir Humphrey Gilbert, of Compton, which is most strongly marked upon the character of young Raleigh; while Adrian was one of his own earliest converts to Virginian enterprise.

The earliest notice of Sir Walter Raleigh known to exist was found and communicated to the Transactions of the Devonshire Association by Dr. Brushfield in 1883. It is in a deed preserved in Sidmouth Church, by which tithes of fish are leased by the manor of Sidmouth to 'Walter Rawlegh the elder, Carow Ralegh, and Walter Ralegh the younger,' on September 10, 1560. In 1578 the same persons passed over their interest in the fish-titles in another deed, which contains their signatures. It is amusing to find that the family had not decided how to spell its name. The father writes 'Ralegh,' his elder son Carew writes 'Caro Rawlyh,' while the subject of this memoir, in this his earliest known signature, calls himself 'Rauleygh.'

His father was a Protestant when young Walter was born, but his mother seems to have remained a Catholic. In the persecution under Mary, she, as we learn from Foxe, went into Exeter to visit the heretics in gaol, and in particular to see Agnes Prest before her burning. Mrs. Raleigh began to exhort her to repentance, but the martyr turned the tables on her visitor, and urged the gentlewoman to seek the blessed body of Christ in heaven, not on earth, and this with so much sweet persuasiveness that when Mrs. Raleigh 'came home to her husband she declared to him that in her life she never heard any woman, of such simplicity to see to, talk so godly and so earnestly; insomuch, that if God were not with her she could not speak such things-"I was not able to answer her, I, who can read, and she cannot."' It is easy to perceive that this anecdote would not have been preserved if the incident had not heralded the final secession of Raleigh's parents from the creed of Philip II., and thus Agnes Prest was not without her share in forging Raleigh's hatred of bigotry and of the Spaniard. Very little else is known about Walter and Katherine Raleigh. They lived at their manorial farm of Hayes Barton, and they were buried side by side, as their son tells us, 'in Exeter church.'

The university career of Raleigh is vague to us in the highest degree. The only certain fact is that he left Oxford in 1569. Anthony à Wood says that he was three years there, and that he entered Oriel College as a commoner in or about the year 1568. Fuller speaks of him as resident at Christ Church also. Perhaps he went to Christ Church first as a boy of fourteen, in 1566, and removed to Oriel at sixteen. Sir Philip Sidney, Hakluyt, and Camden were all of them at Oxford during those years, and we may conjecture that Raleigh's acquaintance with them began there. Wood tells us that Raleigh, being 'strongly advanced by academical learning at Oxford, under the care of an excellent tutor, became the ornament of the juniors, and a proficient in oratory and philosophy.' Bacon and Aubrey preserved each an anecdote of Raleigh's university career, neither of them worth repeating here.

The exact date at which he left Oxford is uncertain. Camden, who was Raleigh's age, and at the university at the same time, says authoritatively in his Annales, that he was one of a hundred gentlemen volunteers taken to the help of the Protestant princes by Henry Champernowne, who was Raleigh's first-cousin, the son of his mother's elder brother. We learn from De Thou that Champernowne's contingent arrived at the Huguenot camp on October 5, 1569. This seems circumstantial enough, but there exist statements of Raleigh's own which tend to show that, if he was one of his cousin's volunteers, he yet preceded him into France. In the History of the World he speaks of personally remembering the conduct of the Protestants, immediately after the death of Condé, at the battle of Jarnac (March 13, 1569). Still more positively Raleigh says, 'myself was an eye-witness' of the retreat at Moncontour, on October 3, two days before the arrival of Champernoun. A provoking obscurity conceals Walter Raleigh from us for the next six or seven years. When Hakluyt printed his Voyages in 1589 he mentioned that he himself was five years in France. In a previous dedication he had reminded Raleigh that the latter had made a longer stay in that country than himself. Raleigh has therefore been conjectured to have fought in France for six years, that is to say, until 1575.

During this long and important period we are almost without a glimpse of him, nor is it anything but fancy which has depicted him as shut up by Walsingham at the English embassy in Paris on the fatal evening of St. Bartholomew's. Another cousin of his, Gawen Champernoun, became the son-in-law and follower of the Huguenot chief, Montgomery, whose murder on June 26, 1574, may very possibly have put a term to Raleigh's adventures as a Protestant soldier in France. The allusions to his early experiences are rare and slight in the History of the World, but one curious passage has often been quoted. In illustration of the way in which Alexander the Great harassed Bessus, Raleigh mentions that, 'in the third civil war of France,' he saw certain Catholics, who had retired to mountain-caves in Languedoc, smoked out of their retreat by the burning of bundles of straw at the cave's mouth. There has lately been shown to be no probability in the conjecture, made by several of his biographers, that he was one of the English volunteers in the Low Countries who fought in their shirts and drawers at the battle of Rimenant in August 1578.

On April 15, 1576, the poet Gascoigne, who was a protégé, of Raleigh's half-brother, issued his satire in blank verse, entitled The Steel Glass, a little volume which holds an important place in the development of our poetical literature. To this satire a copy of eighteen congratulatory verses was prefixed by 'Walter Rawely of the middle Temple.' These lines are perfunctory and are noticeable only for their heading 'of the middle Temple.' Raleigh positively tells us that he never studied law until he found himself a prisoner in the Tower, and he was probably only a passing lodger in some portion of the Middle Temple in 1576. On October 7, 1577, Gascoigne died prematurely and deprived us of a picturesque pen which might have gossiped of Raleigh's early career.

I am happy, through the courtesy of Mr. J. Cordy Jeaffreson, in being able for the first time to prove that Walter Raleigh was admitted to the Court as early as 1577. So much has been suspected, from his language to Leicester in a later letter from Ireland, but there has hitherto been no evidence of the fact. In examining the Middlesex records, Mr. Jeaffreson has discovered that on the night of December 16, 1577, a party of merry roisterers broke the peace at Hornsey. Their ringleaders were a certain Richard Paunsford and his brother, who are described in the recognisances taken next day before the magistrate Jasper Fisher as the servants of 'Walter Rawley, of Islington, Esq.,' and two days later as yeoman in the service of Walter Rawley, Esq., 'of the Court (de curia).'

It is very important to find him thus early officially described as of the Court. As Raleigh afterwards said, the education of his youth was a training in the arts of a gentleman and a soldier. But it extended further than this-it embraced an extraordinary knowledge of the sea, and in particular of naval warfare. It is tantalising that we have but the slenderest evidence of the mode in which this particular schooling was obtained. The western ocean was, all through the youth of Raleigh, the most fascinating and mysterious of the new fields which were being thrown open to English enterprise. He was a babe when Tonson came back with the first wonderful legend of the hidden treasure-house of the Spaniard in the West Indies. He was at Oxford when England thrilled with the news of Hawkins' tragical third voyage. He came back from France just in time to share the general satisfaction at Drake's revenge for San Juan de Ulloa. All through his early days the splendour and perilous romance of the Spanish Indies hung before him, inflaming his fancy, rousing his ambition. In his own family, Sir Humphrey Gilbert represented a milder and more generous class of adventurers than Drake and Hawkins, a race more set on discovery and colonisation than on mere brutal rapine, the race of which Raleigh was ultimately to become the most illustrious example. If we possessed minute accounts of the various expeditions in which Gilbert took part, we should probably find that his young half-brother was often his companion. As early as 1584 Barlow addresses Raleigh as one personally conversant with the islands of the Gulf of Mexico, and there was a volume, never printed and now lost, written about the same time, entitled Sir Walter Raleigh's Voyage to the West Indies. This expedition, no other allusion to which has survived, must have taken place before he went to Ireland in 1580, and may be conjecturally dated 1577.

The incidents of the next two years may be rapidly noted; they are all of them involved in obscurity. It is known that Raleigh crossed the Atlantic for a second time on board one of the ships of Gilbert's ill-starred expedition to the St. Lawrence in the winter of 1578. In February of the next year[1] he was again in London, and was committed to the Fleet Prison for a 'fray' with another courtier. In September 1579, he was involved in Sir Philip Sidney's tennis-court quarrel with Lord Oxford. In May of this same year he was stopped at Plymouth when in the act of starting on a piratical expedition against Spanish America. He had work to do in opposing Spain nearer home, and he first comes clearly before us in connection with the Catholic invasion of Ireland in the close of 1579. It was on July 17, 1579, that the Catholic expedition from Ferrol landed at Dingle. Fearing to stay there, it passed four miles westward to Smerwick Bay, and there built a fortress called Fort del Ore, on a sandy isthmus, thinking in case of need easily to slip away to the ocean. The murder of an English officer, who was stabbed in his bed while the guest of the brother of the Earl of Desmond, was recommended by Sandars the legate as a sweet sacrifice in the sight of God, and ruthlessly committed. The result was what Sandars had foreseen; the Geraldines, hopelessly compromised, threw up the fiction of loyalty to Elizabeth. Sir Nicholas Malby defeated the rebels in the Limerick woods in September, but in return the Geraldines burned Youghal and drove the Deputy within the walls of Cork, where he died of chagrin. The temporary command fell on an old friend of Raleigh's, Sir Warham Sentleger, who wrote in December 1579 a letter of earnest appeal which broke up the apathy of the English Government. Among other steps hurriedly taken to uphold the Queen's power in Ireland, young Walter Raleigh was sent where his half-brother, Humphrey Gilbert, had so much distinguished himself ten years before.

The biographer breathes more freely when he holds at last the earliest letter which remains in the handwriting of his hero. All else may be erroneous or conjectural, but here at least, for a moment, he presses his fingers upon the very pulse of the machine. On February 22, 1580, Raleigh wrote from Cork to Burghley, giving him an account of his voyage. It appears that he wrote on the day of his arrival, and if that be the case, he left London, and passed down the Thames, in command of a troop of one hundred foot soldiers, on January 15, 1580. By the sa

me computation, they reached the Isle of Wight on the 21st, and stayed there to be transferred into ships of Her Majesty's fleet, not starting again until February 5. On his reaching Cork, Raleigh found that his men and he were only to be paid from the day of their arrival in Ireland, and he wrote off at once to Burghley to secure, if possible, the arrears. His arrival was a welcome reinforcement to Sentleger, who was holding Cork in the greatest peril, with only forty Englishmen. It must be recollected that this force under Raleigh was but a fragment of what English squadrons were busily bringing through this month of January into every port of Ireland. Elizabeth had, at last, awakened in earnest to her danger.

Raleigh, in all probability, took no part in the marchings and skirmishings of the English armies until the summer. His 'reckoning,' or duty-pay, as a captain in the field, begins on July 13, 1580, and perhaps, until that date, his services consisted in defending Cork under Sentleger. In August he was joined with the latter, who was now Provost-marshal of Munster, in a commission to try Sir James, the younger brother of the Earl of Desmond, who had been captured by the Sheriff of Cork. No mercy could be expected by so prominent a Geraldine; he was hanged, drawn and quartered, and the fragments of his body were hung in chains over the gates of Cork. Meanwhile, on August 12, Lord Grey de Wilton arrived in Dublin to relieve Pelham of sovereign command in Ireland. Grey, though he learned to dislike Raleigh, was probably more cognisant of his powers than Pelham, who may never have heard of him. Grey had been the patron of the poet Gascoigne, and one of the most prominent men in the group with whom we have already seen that Raleigh was identified in his early youth.

From the moment of Grey's arrival in Ireland, the name of Raleigh ceased to be obscure. Sir William Pelham retired on September 7, and Lord Grey, who had brought the newly famous poet, Edmund Spenser, with him as his secretary, marched into Munster. With his exploits we have nothing to do, save to notice that it must have been in the camp at Rakele, if not on the battle-field of Glenmalure, that Raleigh began his momentous friendship with Spenser, whose Shepherd's Calender had inaugurated a new epoch in English poetry just a month before Raleigh's departure for Ireland. It is scarcely too fanciful to believe that this tiny anonymous volume of delicious song may have lightened the weariness of that winter voyage of 1580, which was to prove so momentous in the career of 'the Shepherd of the Ocean.' Lodovick Bryskett, Fulke Greville, Barnabee Googe, and Geoffrey Fenton were minor songsters of the copious Elizabethan age who were now in Munster as agents or soldiers, and we may suppose that the tedious guerilla warfare, in the woods had its hours of literary recreation for Raleigh.

The fortress on the peninsula of Dingle was now occupied by a fresh body of Catholic invaders, mainly Italians, and Smerwick Bay again attracted general interest. Grey, as Deputy, and Ormond, as governor of Munster, united their forces and marched towards this extremity of Kerry; Raleigh, with his infantry, joined them at Rakele; and we may take September 30, 1580, which is the date when his first 'reckoning' closes, as that on which he took some fresh kind of service under Lord Grey. Hooker, who was an eye-witness, supplies us with some very interesting glimpses of Raleigh in his Supply of the Irish Chronicles, a supplement to Holinshed. We learn from him that when Lord Grey broke into the camp at Rakele, Raleigh stayed behind, having observed that the kerns had the habit of swooping down upon any deserted encampment to rob and murder the camp followers. This expectation was fulfilled; the hungry Irish poured into Rakele as soon as the Deputy's back was turned. Raleigh had the satisfaction of capturing a large body of these poor creatures. One of them carried a great bundle of withies, and Raleigh asked him what they were for. 'To have hung up the English churls with,' was the bold reply. 'Well,' said Raleigh, 'but now they shall serve for an Irish kern,' and commanded him 'to be immediately tucked up in one of his own neck-bands.' The rest were served in a similar way, and then the young Englishman rode on after the army.

Towards the end of October they came in sight of Smerwick Bay, and of the fort on the sandy isthmus in which the Italians and Spaniards were lying in the hope of slipping back to Spain. The Legate had no sanguine aspirations left; every roof that could harbour the Geraldines had been destroyed in the English forays; Desmond was hiding, like a wild beast, in the Wood. By all the principles of modern warfare, the time had come for mercy and conciliation, and one man in Ireland, Ormond, thought as much. But Lord Grey was a soldier of the old disposition, an implacable enemy to Popery, what we now call a 'Puritan' of the most fierce and frigid type. There is no evidence to show that the gentle Englishmen who accompanied him, some of the best and loveliest spirits of the age, shrank from sharing his fanaticism. There was massacre to be gone through, but neither Edmund Spenser, nor Fulke Greville, nor Walter Raleigh dreamed of withdrawing his sanction. The story has been told and retold. For simple horror it is surpassed, in the Irish history of the time, only by the earlier exploit which depopulated the island of Rathlin. In the perfectly legitimate opening of the siege of Fort del Ore, Raleigh held a very prominent commission, and we see that his talents were rapidly being recognised, from the fact that for the first three days he was entrusted with the principal command. It would appear that on the fourth day, when the Italians waved their white flag and screamed 'Misericordia! misericordia!' it was not Raleigh, but Zouch, who was commanding in the trenches. The parley the Catholics demanded was refused, and they were told they need not hope for mercy. Next day, which was November 9, 1580, the fort yielded helplessly. Raleigh and Mackworth received Grey's orders to enter and 'fall straight to execution.'

It was thought proper to give Catholic Europe a warning not to meddle with Catholic Ireland. In the words of the official report immediately sent home to Walsingham, as soon as the fort was yielded, 'all the Irish men and women were hanged, and 600 and upwards of Italians, Spaniards, Biscayans and others put to the sword. The Colonel, Captain, Secretary, Campmaster, and others of the best sort, saved to the number of 20 persons.' Of these last, two had their arms and legs broken before being hanged on a gallows on the wall of the fort. The bodies of the six hundred were stripped and laid out on the sands-'as gallant goodly personages,' Lord Grey reported, 'as ever were beheld.' The Deputy took all the responsibility and expected no blame; he received none. In reply to his report, Elizabeth assured him a month later that 'this late enterprise had been performed by him greatly to her liking.' It is useless to expatiate on a code of morals that seems to us positively Japanese. To Lord Grey and the rest the rebellious kerns and their Southern allies were enemies of God and the Queen, beyond the scope of mercy in this world or the next, and no more to be spared or paltered with than malignant vermin. In his inexperience, Raleigh, to be soon ripened by knowledge of life and man, agreed with this view, but, happily for Ireland and England too, there were others who declined to sink, as Mr. Froude says, 'to the level of the Catholic continental tyrannies.' At Ormond's instigation the Queen sent over in April 1581 a general pardon.

Severe as Lord Grey was, he seemed too lenient to Raleigh. In January 1581, the young captain left Cork and made the perilous journey to Dublin to expostulate with the Deputy, and to urge him to treat with greater stringency various Munster chieftains who were blowing the embers of the rebellion into fresh flame. Among these malcontents the worst was a certain David Barry, son of Lord Barry, himself a prisoner in Dublin Castle. David Barry had placed the family stronghold, Barry Court, at the disposal of the Geraldines. Raleigh obtained permission to seize and hold this property, and returned from Dublin to carry out his duty. On his way back, as he was approaching Barry's country, with his men straggling behind him, the Seneschal of Imokelly, the strongest and craftiest of the remaining Geraldines, laid an ambush to seize him at the ford of Corabby. Raleigh not only escaped himself, but returned in the face of a force which was to his as twenty to one, in order to rescue a comrade whose horse had thrown him in the river. With a quarter-staff in one hand and a pistol in the other, he held the Seneschal and his kerns at bay, and brought his little body of troops through the ambush without the loss of one man. In the dreary monotony of the war, this brilliant act of courage, of which Raleigh himself in a letter gives a very modest account, touched the popular heart, and did as much as anything to make him famous.

The existing documents which illustrate Raleigh's life in Ireland during 1581, and they are somewhat numerous, give the student a much higher notion of his brilliant aptitude for business and of his active courage than of his amiability. His vivacity and ingenuity were sources of irritation to him, as the vigour of an active man may vex him in wading across loose sands. There was no stability and apparently no hope or aim in the policy of the English leaders, and Raleigh showed no mock-modesty in his criticism of that policy. Ormond had been on friendly terms with him, but as early as February 25 a quarrel was ready to break out. Ormond wished to hold Barry Court, which was the key to the important road between Cork and Youghal, as his own; while Raleigh was no less clamorous in claiming it. In the summer, not satisfied with complaining of Ormond to Grey, he denounced Grey to Leicester. In the meantime he had succeeded in ousting Ormond, who was recalled to England, and in getting himself made, if not nominally, practically Governor of Munster. He proceeded to Lismore, then the English capital of the province, and made that town the centre of those incessant sallies and forays which Hooker describes. One of these skirmishes, closing in the defeat of Lord Barry at Cleve, showed consummate military ability, and deserves almost to rank as a battle.

In August, Raleigh's temporary governorship of Munster ended. He was too young and too little known a man permanently to hold such a post. Zouch took his place at Lismore, and Raleigh, returning to Cork, was made Governor of that city. It was at this time, or possibly a little earlier in the year, that Raleigh made his romantic attack upon Castle Bally-in-Harsh, the seat of Lord Roche. On the very same evening that Raleigh received a hint from head-quarters that the capture of this strongly fortified place was desirable, he set out with ninety men on the adventure. His troop arrived at Harsh very early in the morning, but not so early but that the townspeople, to the number of five hundred, had collected to oppose his little force. He soon put them to flight, and then, by a nimble trick, contrived to enter the castle itself, to seize Lord and Lady Roche at their breakfast-table, to slip out with them and through the town unmolested, and to regain Cork next day with the loss of only a single man. The whole affair was a piece of military sleight of hand, brilliantly designed, incomparably well carried out. The summer and autumn were passed in scouring the woods and ravines of Munster from Tipperary to Kilkenny. Miserable work he found it, and glad he must have been when a summons from London put an end to his military service in Ireland. In two years he had won a great reputation. Elizabeth, it may well be, desired to see him, and talk with him on what he called 'the business of this lost land.' In December 1581 he returned to England.

One point more may be mentioned. In a letter dated May 1, 1581, Raleigh offers to rebuild the ruined fortress of Barry Court at his own expense. This shows that he must by this time have come into a certain amount of property, for his Irish pay as a captain was, he says, so poor that but for honour he 'would disdain it as much as to keep sheep.' This fact disposes of the notion that Raleigh arrived at the Court of Elizabeth in the guise of a handsome penniless adventurer. Perhaps he had by this time inherited his share of the paternal estates.[2]


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