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 →

The Babington plot: the capture and execution of the conspirators

On Tuesday 20th September 1586, seven Catholic men were bound to hurdles in the Tower of London – one of them, a priest named John Ballard, on a single sled, the others two-a-piece – and then dragged westward on their final slow journey through the city’s autumnal streets to a hastily erected scaffold in the... 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 →

An exchange of poems between Sir Walter Ralegh and Elizabeth I

This exchange probably dates from 1587, around the time Ralegh's influence of power had reached its high-water mark. I don't propose to blog at length about the poems – I have said what I have to say about them in The Favourite and, for the most part, they speak for themselves. I would say, though,... Continue Reading →

John Callis, pirate, and the Elizabethan ambivalence about his trade

Born in Monmouthshire, John Callis, generally worked out of the south Wales ports of Penarth and Cardiff, “where he and many other pirates (as it is commonly reported) are furnished, vittled, aided, received and succoured”, according to one local justice of the peace. But many local officials were effectively in the pirates’ pocket, receiving stolen... Continue Reading →

The trial of Sir Walter Ralegh: a transcript

Sir Walter Ralegh was tried for treason in the great hall of Winchester Castle on Thursday 17 November 1603. As with almost all treason trials of the period, the result was a foregone conclusion: he was found guilty. The jury took less than fifteen minutes to reach its conclusion, surprising even the king's counsel, the... Continue Reading →

Sir Walter Ralegh’s letter to his wife, the night before execution

To mark the anniversary of Ralegh's execution in 1618, I thought it worth posting a letter he wrote to his wife from his prison cell in Winchester in December 1603. He had been sentenced to death for treason on 17 November, and wrote this letter, most likely on 8 December, expecting to die imminently, perhaps... Continue Reading →

The gains doth seldom quit the charge: Henry Noel at the court of Elizabeth I

This is the third in my series of posts on a disparate group of courtiers in the 1570s and 1580s – for the purposes of this blog, I am calling them the Lost Elizabethans – who I first encountered researching The Favourite. Although well known in their day – I suspect both Noel, the subject... Continue Reading →

Dreams of escape – George Gifford: courtier, con-man, conspirator

Despite the notoriety which still clouds men like Anthony Babington, executed in 1586 for plotting to assassinate Elizabeth I, history's selective memory has been kind in overlooking the dubious career of other men who flirted with regicide in the same period. Indeed, one man, despite never having attempted the act, seems to have been almost... Continue Reading →

Haste, post haste: George Gascoigne and friends

Sometime in London in the autumn of 1577, Gabriel Harvey, the son of a Saffron Waldon ropemaker and a self-consciously brilliant young Cambridge academic, opened up his copy of The Steele Glas, and turned to one of the volume’s three commendatory poems. It was signed: “Walter Rawely of the Middle Temple”. A compulsive – indeed,... Continue Reading →

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