Biography: Sir Walter Ralegh, 1552?-1618. He was born at Hayes Barton in Devon, a younger son of the third wife of an independent gentleman. He studied at Oxford, and in 1569 went to France to fight for the Huguenots in the civil wars. By 1575 he was back at the Inns of Court in London and two years later was introduced at Court. In 1758 he sailed with Humphrey Gilbert for New- foundland, and in 1580 was commissioned a Captain of Foot in Ireland. Returning the next year he rose quickly in the Queen's favour and in wealth and power; he was knighted in 1584 and made Captain of the Guard in 1587. He planned and invested in many voyages and colonizing ventures. In 1592 he married Elizabeth Throckmorton, one of the Queen's Maids of Honour, and was imprisoned with her in the Tower for a month or two; and he was then banished the Court. In 1597 he sailed to Guiana and in 1596 against Spain in the Cadiz Voyage; in 1597 he was re-instated at Court. He made many enemies during his career, including the Earl of Essex; James I was prejudiced against him and shortly after his accession in 1603 Ralegh was tried and sentenced to death for treason. The sentence was remitted, but except for his last voyage Ralegh remained a prisoner in the Tower; there he studied, wrote, and received constant visits from Henry, Prince of Wales, and scholars. His voyage started in 1617 and aimed at bringing gold back from Guiana; it was defeated by the weather, desertion, disease, and ill judgement. Ralegh returned almost alone to find James incensed by his attack on a Spanish settlement; he was tried again, condemned and executed.
Works. A Report ( 1591) of Grenville's fight with Spanish ships off the Azores was his first publication; in 1596 followed his Discoveries . . . of Guiana. His incomplete History of the World, written during his long imprisonment, was licensed in 1611 and published in 1614. His first poem that can be dated (commendatory verses to Gascoigne Steel Glass) was written when he was 24, and according to tradition he composed his own epitaph in verse the night before his death. Much of his verse has been lost, but no one can say how much; some poems have been ascribed to him on slight evidence, and seldom can a definitive text be established. His one long poem, Ocean's Love, is preserved in his own handwriting.
Modern Editions. The Works were published in 1829 (8 vols.). The Poems have been carefully and perceptively edited by Agnes M. C. Latham ( 1951), and are also available in the Everyman's Library ( Silver Poets, ed. G. Bullet, 1947). Selections from the History, letters, etc. were edited by G. E. Hadow ( 1917).
Scholarship and Criticism. J. Aubrey Brief Lives should be consulted (unexpurgated ed. by O. L. Dick, 1949). W. Stebbing's life (revised ed., 1899) is good; W. M. Wallace's Sir Walter Ralegh is the most recent ( 1959)
E. A. Strathmann Sir Walter Ralegh, a Study in Elizabethan Skepticism ( 1951) is an important study of his thought; D. B. Quinn Raleigh and the British Empire ( 1947) considers his imperialism. P. Edwards Sir Walter Ralegh ( 1953) is the best short life, and a fine appraisal of his thought, poetry, and prose.