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.
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