News: Not Just The Tudors

I'm delighted to have recorded another episode for Suzannah Lipscomb's brilliant podcast, Not Just the Tudors, this time on Sir Walter Ralegh and the tragic fantasy of El Dorado. It's available to listen to here. My previous episode, in which we discussed the Dissolution of the Monasteries, is available to listen to here. Not Just... Continue Reading →

The origins of El Dorado

In the last days of 1835 the explorer Robert Schomburgk stood on the shores of Lake Amucu in western central Guiana. In April, the surrounding savannah would be inundated by the rising tides of two nearby river systems creating the illusion of a great body of water; but now, in December, the waters were low.... Continue Reading →

The Search for El Dorado

Map of Guiana by Hessel Gerritsz, 1625. El Dorado is at the western end of Lake Parime Not many people have the distinction of putting a non-existent place on the map, but Sir Walter Ralegh was one of them. That place was El Dorado, a legendary city of gold located in what is now Venezuela.... Continue Reading →

The 1603 trial of Walter Ralegh

It is a curious fact that when Sir Walter Ralegh was finally executed – on 29 October 1618 – he had been legally dead for 15 years. Even by 17th-century standards, that was unusual. But then, not many people face the death penalty twice in court – particularly when found guilty the first time, as... Continue Reading →

Ralegh: The Treason Trial

Before its run in the Sam Wanamaker Theatre beginning 24 November, Oliver Chris’ staging of Sir Walter Ralegh’s treason trial had several performances in the Great Hall in Winchester, where the trial itself was held on 17 November 1603. Ralegh had been Elizabeth I’s favourite. But he had no standing with James I, and when... Continue Reading →

Sir Walter Ralegh: the price of fame?

Further to my earlier review of the National Portrait Gallery exhibition, Elizabeth I and her people, I thought I'd just post two contrasting portraits of Ralegh. The first, on the left, is a Hilliard miniature from 1584. The second is a close-up photo I took of the 1588 portrait currently on display at the NPG.... Continue Reading →

Ralegh’s reputation in the 20th century

This article first appeared in the July issue of History Today. It was part of the magazine's regular 'From the Archives' feature, and is a response to an excellent 1998 essay by Robert Lawson-Peebles titled 'The Many Faces of Sir Walter Ralegh', which traced Ralegh's reputation through history. Lawson-Peebles essay can be viewed in History... Continue Reading →

Re-imagining Elizabethan London

I have lived in London most of my life, and one of the pleasures for me in researching and writing The Favourite, an exploration of the relationship between Elizabeth I and Walter Ralegh, is that so much of their story is also a London story. Or, more accurately, London is always there in the background,... Continue Reading →

Sir Walter Ralegh and the Babington plot

I was not, truth be told, expecting to write much, if at all, about the world of espionage when I first set out to research The Favourite, my recent book about the relationship between Elizabeth I and Ralegh. After all, Ralegh’s protestant credentials in the fight against imperial Spain would appear, at first sight, unimpeachable.... Continue Reading →

Sir Walter Ralegh on Henry VIII

Ralegh waited until Elizabeth was long dead before he committed his thoughts on her father to paper. This brutal analysis of Henry VIII's moral and political shortcomings comes from the Preface to Ralegh's History of the World,written during his imprisonment in the Tower of London and published in 1614. If all the pictures and patterns... Continue Reading →

State terror in Elizabethan Ireland

Returning from court to military service in Ireland in early 1581, Walter Ralegh wrote to Sir Francis Walsingham boasting of his half-brother Sir Humphrey Gilbert's reputation in the province. ‘I never heard nor read of any man more feared than he is among the Irish nation,’ he said. This might seem like characteristic hyperbole, arising... Continue Reading →

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