Was Sir Walter Raleigh a murderer?

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Sir Walter Raleigh painted by Nicholas Hilliard, from the The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei via the Wikimedia

Ex-Naval man, 20th century historian and Roman Catholic Bishop, David Mathew describes Sir Walter Raleigh’s importance in 1596 like this: ‘With Hawkins, Drake and Grenville lost on service and Frobisher dead the previous year, Sir Walter Raleigh alone remained. Though much less of a naval figure, for he was in essence a Renaissance magnifico, Raleigh set the lines of later doctrine.’

British schoolchildren are taught that he was an important figure in Queen Elizabeth I’s court and navy, and that he was always getting into trouble with his queen, on one occasion for secretly marrying one of her ladies-in-waiting. But was he also a heartless murderer?

A street ballad in Samuel Pepys’s ballad collection certainly suggests he was. Read the story as told in a ballad that was widely sung and part of the oral tradition in England and America well into the 20th century. Sussex singer, fisherman and ferryman Johnny Doughty had a a particularly good version.

It’s sometimes also known as the Sweet Trinity and has its own Wikipedia entry. Mudcat has versions, and a surprising range of really good tunes for the song.

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One thought on “Was Sir Walter Raleigh a murderer?”

  1. The cabin boy may have been served better than most. I remember something about how the sailors that served and scattered the Armada were left below decks at anchor for months, as the Crown did not have the money to pay them off. At least not until enough of them had died of Jail Fever and various other plagues. I wonder if my source was a sound one.

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