Raleigh, Or Ralegh, Sir Walter, an English courtier and navigator, born at Hayes, Devonshire, in 1552, beheaded at Old Palace yard, Westminster, Oct. 29, 1618. At the age of 17 he left Oriel college, Oxford, to join a troop sent to the aid of the Huguenots in France, and afterward served, it is said, in the Netherlands. On his return to England he found that his half brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, had just obtained a patent (1578) for establishing a plantation in America, and entered into the scheme. They put to sea in 1579; one of their ships was lost, the remainder, it is said, were crippled in an engagement with a Spanish fleet, and they returned without making land. The next year Raleigh served as captain against the Desmond rebellion in Ireland. On his return, it is said that he met the queen one day as she was walking, and spread his mantle over a miry place in the path for her to tread upon it. Struck by his gallantry, Elizabeth admitted him to court, loaded him with attentions, and employed him to attend the French ambassador Simier on his return to France, and afterward to escort the duke of Anjou to Antwerp. He soon made use of his influence to promote a second expedition to America. Prevented by an accident from going in person, he left the command of the fleet to Sir Humphrey Gilbert, who sailed from Plymouth with five ships in 1583, and reached Newfoundland, of which he took possession in the name of the queen; but his ships were dispersed, and Gilbert himself on the voyage home was lost.
Raleigh, obtaining from Elizabeth an ample patent and the title of lord proprietor over an extensive region, fitted out two vessels under the command of Philip Amidas and Arthur Barlow, who reached Ocracoke inlet on the shore of North Carolina in July, 1584. They explored Pamlico and Albemarle sounds, and returned to England in September with a glowing account of their discoveries. Elizabeth, as a memorial of her state of life, called the newly found region Virginia, and conferred knighthood upon Raleigh, with a lucrative monopoly of wines. Raleigh, now a member of parliament for Devonshire, obtained a bill confirming his patent, raised a company of colonists, and in 1585 sent out under command of Sir Richard Grenville seven vessels with 108 emigrants. The colony landed at Roanoke island about July 1, and Grenville soon returned home with the ships, capturing on his way a rich Spanish prize. In the mean time Raleigh had been appointed seneschal of the duchies of Devon and Cornwall and lord warden of the stannaries, and had obtained a grant of 12,000 acres of forfeited land in Ireland. His favor at court continued to increase, but among the multitude he was one of the most cordially hated persons in England. In 1586 two parties were sent out to Virginia with reŽnforcements, but they found the settlement abandoned.
The disheartened colonists had gone home in Sir Francis Drake's ship, and the fruit of their expedition had been little more than the introduction into England of tobacco and potatoes. Raleigh now determined to found an agricultural state, and in April, 1587, despatched a considerable body of emigrants to make a settlement on Chesapeake bay. He granted them a charter of incorporation, and appointed a municipal government "for the city of Raleigh," intrusting the administration to John White, with 12 assistants. They founded their city not on the bay, but on the site of the former settlement at Roanoke island, and when their ship returned sent Gov. White back to England to expedite reŽnforcements. But two ships which Raleigh sent out with supplies fell into the hands of the French. His means were now exhausted, and the colonists all perished. Meanwhile Raleigh had exerted himself to assist the preparations for resisting an expected Spanish invasion; in 1587 he was a member of the council of war, and had command of the forces in Cornwall, of which county he was lieutenant general; and in 1588, when the great armada appeared in the channel, he hung upon its rear in a vessel of his own, annoying it by quick and unexpected movements.
He was in Drake's expedition to restore Dom Antonio to the throne of Portugal (1589), and captured some Spanish vessels intended for a fresh invasion of England. Visiting Ireland, he saw Edmund Spenser, with whom he had already contracted a friendship, and brought him to Elizabeth's court to present to her majesty three books of the "Faerie Queen." In the hope of shattering the power of Spain in the West Indies, he collected, mostly at his own expense, and sailed with a fleet of 13 vessels, and with Frobisher captured the largest Spanish prize that had ever been brought to an English port. Soon after this (1591) it was discovered that he had debauched one of the queen's maids of honor, the daughter of Sir Nicholas Throgmorton; and though he married the lady and lived with her happily till his death, such an offence was not to be overlooked. Imprisoned for two months and banished from court, he employed the period of his disgrace in planning an expedition to Guiana. He set sail with five ships in 1595, and returned the same year, after exploring a considerable extent of country about the Orinoco and destroying the Spanish settlement of San Josť. He published on his return a highly colored account of this voyage, in his "Discovery of the large, rich, and beautiful Empire of Guiana" (4to, 1596). He cooperated in the capture of Cadiz, was wounded, and was restored to the queen's favor.
In 1597 he sailed under Essex against the Azores, and took Fayal, but quarrelled with his commander and returned. He had obtained a grant of the manor of Sherborne in Dorsetshire, which he magnificently embellished, was sent with Lord Cobham on a joint embassy to the Netherlands in 1600, and on his return was made governor of Jersey. The execution of Essex, which he was supposed to have had an agency in effecting, added greatly to the public odium with which he was regarded, and the death of Elizabeth in 1603 proved a final blow to his fortunes. On the accession of James he was stripped of his preferments, forbidden the royal presence, and shortly afterward arrested on charge of conspiring to place Lady Arabella Stuart on the throne. He made an attempt, probably feigned, to commit suicide. Convicted on the slightest evidence, after a rancorous speech from Attorney General Coke, he was reprieved and sent to the tower, and his estates were given to Carr, afterward earl of Somerset. During his 13 years' imprisonment he composed his "History of the World" (1614), a work greatly superior both in style and matter to the English historical compositions which had preceded it. For six years his wife was permitted to bear him company.
At last, Villiers having supplanted Somerset in the royal favor, Raleigh was liberated in March, 1615, but not pardoned. Obtaining from James a commission as admiral of the fleet with ample privileges, he fitted out 14 ships, and reached Guiana with the loss of two in November, 1617. Keymis was sent up the Orinoco with 250 men in boats, landed at the Spanish settlement of St. Thomas, and, in defiance of the peaceable instructions of James, killed the governor and set fire to the town. Raleigh's eldest son was killed in the action. Unable either to advance or to maintain their position, they retreated in haste to the ships, a Spanish fleet, which had been informed of their intended movements, hovering near them. Keymis, reproached for his ill success, committed suicide; many of the sailors mutinied; the ships scattered; and Raleigh landed at Plymouth in June, 1618, completely broken in fortune and reputation. He was soon arrested, and failing in an attempt, by feigning madness, to escape to France, was committed to the tower. The Spanish ambassador demanded his punishment, and James was not reluctant to grant it.
The judges decided that, being still under judgment of death pronounced in 1603, he could not be tried again, and it was resolved to execute the former sentence. - Raleigh was a man of imposing person, dauntless courage, extensive knowledge, and varied accomplishments. His speeches show a knowledge of the principles of political economy far above his time. His literary productions, besides those already mentioned, include some short poems, "Maxims of State," "The Cabinet Council," "The Sceptic," and "Advice to his Son;" and he is also remembered in the world of letters as the founder of the " Mermaid club." His life has been written by William Oldys, Arthur Cayley (2 vols. 4to, London, 1805-6), Mrs. A. T. Thomson (8vo, London, 1830), P. F. Tytler (Edinburgh, 1833), and Edward Edwards (2 vols., London, 1868). His poems were collected by Sir E. Brydges (London, 1814), his "Miscellaneous Writings" by Dr. Birch (2 vols., 1751), and his "Complete Works" were published at Oxford (8 vols., 1829).