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Raleigh had not completed his thirtieth year when he became a recognised courtier.  We have seen that he had passed, four years before, within the precincts of the Court, but we do not know whether the Queen had noticed him or not.  In the summer of 1581 he had written thus to Leicester from Lismore: ­

I may not forget continually to put your Honour in mind of my affection unto your Lordship, having to the world both professed and protested the same.  Your Honour, having no use of such poor followers, hath utterly forgotten me.  Notwithstanding, if your Lordship shall please to think me yours, as I am, I will be found as ready, and dare do as much in your service, as any man you may command; and do neither so much despair of myself but that I may be some way able to perform so much.

To Leicester, then, we may be sure, he went, ­to find him, and the whole Court with him, in the throes of the Queen’s latest and final matrimonial embroilment.  Raleigh had a few weeks in which to admire the empty and hideous suitor whom France had sent over to claim Elizabeth’s hand, and during this critical time it is possible that he enjoyed his personal introduction to the Queen.  Walter Raleigh in the prime of his strength and beauty formed a curious contrast to poor Alençon, and the difference was one which Elizabeth would not fail to recognise.  On February 1, 1582, he was paid the sum of 200_l._ for his Irish services, and a week later he set out under Leicester, in company with Sir Philip Sidney, among the throng that conducted the French prince to the Netherlands.

When Elizabeth’s ‘poor frog,’ as she called Alençon, had been duly led through the gorgeous pageant prepared in his honour at Antwerp, on February 17, the English lords and their train, glad to be free of their burden, passed to Flushing, and hastened home with as little ceremony as might be.  Raleigh alone remained behind, to carry some special message of compliment from the Queen to the Prince of Orange.  It is Raleigh himself, in his Invention of Shipping, who gives us this interesting information, and he goes on to say that when the Prince of Orange ’delivered me his letters to her Majesty, he prayed me to say to the Queen from him, Sub umbra alarum tuarum protegimur:  for certainly, said he, they had withered in the bud, and sunk in the beginning of their navigation, had not her Majesty assisted them.’  It would have been natural to entrust to Leicester such confidential utterances as these were a reply to.  But Elizabeth was passing through a paroxysm of rage with Leicester at the moment.  She ventured to call him ‘traitor’ and to accuse him of conspiring with the Prince of Orange.  Notwithstanding this, his influence was still paramount with her, and it was characteristic of her shrewd petulance to confide in Leicester’s protege, although not in Leicester himself.  Towards the end of March, Raleigh settled at the English Court.

On April 1, 1582, Elizabeth issued from Greenwich a strange and self-contradictory warrant with regard to service in Ireland, and the band of infantry hitherto commanded in that country by a certain Captain Annesley, now deceased.  The words must be quoted verbatim: ­

For that our pleasure is to have our servant Walter Rawley [this was the way in which the name was pronounced during Raleigh’s lifetime] trained some time longer in that our realm [Ireland] for his better experience in martial affairs, and for the especial care which We have to do him good, in respect of his kindred that have served Us, some of them (as you know) near about Our person [probably Mrs. Catherine Ashley, who was Raleigh’s aunt]; these are to require you that the leading of the said band may be committed to the said Rawley; and for that he is, for some considerations, by Us excused to stay here.  Our pleasure is that the said band be, in the meantime, till he repair into that Our realm, delivered to some such as he shall depute to be his lieutenant there.

He is to be captain in Ireland, but not just yet, not till a too tender Queen can spare him.  We find that he was paid his ‘reckoning’ for six months after the issue of this warrant, but there is no evidence that he was spared at any time during 1582 to relieve his Irish deputy.  He was now, in fact, installed as first favourite in the still susceptible heart of the Virgin Star of the North.

This, then, is a favourable opportunity for pausing to consider what manner of man it was who had so suddenly passed into the intimate favour of the Queen.  Naunton has described Raleigh with the precision of one who is superior to the weakness of depreciating the exterior qualities of his enemy:  ’having a good presence, in a handsome and well-compacted person; a strong natural wit, and a better judgment; with a bold and plausible tongue, whereby he could set out his parts to the best advantage.’  His face had neither the ethereal beauty of Sidney’s nor the intellectual delicacy of Spenser’s; it was cast in a rougher mould than theirs.  The forehead, it is acknowledged, was too high for the proportion of the features, and for this reason, perhaps, is usually hidden in the portraits by a hat.  We must think of Raleigh at this time as a tall, somewhat bony man, about six feet high, with dark hair and a high colour, a facial expression of great brightness and alertness, personable from the virile force of his figure, and illustrating these attractions by a splendid taste in dress.  His clothes were at all times noticeably gorgeous; and to the end of his life he was commonly bedizened with precious stones to his very shoes.  When he was arrested in 1603 he was carrying 4,000_l._ in jewels on his bosom, and when he was finally captured on August 10, 1618, his pockets were found full of the diamonds and jacinths which he had hastily removed from various parts of his person.  His letters display his solicitous love of jewels, velvets, and embroidered damasks.  Mr. Jeaffreson has lately found among the Middlesex MSS. that as early as April 26, 1584, a gentleman named Hugh Pew stole at Westminster and carried off Walter Raleigh’s pearl hat-band and another jewelled article of attire, valued together in money of that time at 113_l._ The owner, with characteristic promptitude, shut the thief up in Newgate, and made him disgorge.  To complete our picture of the vigorous and brilliant soldier-poet, we must add that he spoke to the end of his life with that strong Devonshire accent which was never displeasing to the ears of Elizabeth.

The Muse of History is surely now-a-days too disdainful of all information that does not reach her signed and countersigned.  In biography, at least, it must be a mistake to accept none but documentary evidence, since tradition, if it does not give us truth of fact, gives us what is often at least as valuable, truth of impression.  The later biographers of Raleigh have scorned even to repeat those anecdotes that are the best known to the public of all which cluster around his personality.  It is true that they rest on no earlier testimony than that of Fuller, who, writing in the lifetime of men who knew Raleigh, gives the following account of his introduction to Elizabeth:  ’Her Majesty, meeting with a plashy place, made some scruple to go on; when Raleigh (dressed in the gay and genteel habit of those times) presently cast off and spread his new plush cloak on the ground, whereon the queen trod gently over, rewarding him afterwards with many suits for his so free and seasonable tender of so fair a footcloth.’  The only point about this story which is incredible is that this act was Raleigh’s introduction to the Queen.  Regarded as a fantastic incident of their later attachment, the anecdote is in the highest degree characteristic of the readiness of the one and the romantic sentiment of the other.

Not less entertaining is Fuller’s other story, that at the full tide of Raleigh’s fortunes with the Queen, he wrote on a pane of glass with his diamond ring: ­

    Fain would I climb, but that I fear to fall,

whereupon Elizabeth replied,

    If thy heart fail thee, then climb not at all.

Of these tales we can only assert that they reflect the popular and doubtless faithful impression of Raleigh’s mother-wit and audacious alacrity.

If he did not go back to fight in Ireland, his experience of Irish affairs was made use of by the Government.  He showed a considerable pliancy in giving his counsel.  In May 1581 he had denounced Ormond and even Grey for not being severe enough, but in June 1582 he had veered round to Burghley’s opinion that it was time to moderate English tyranny in Ireland.  A paper written partly by Burghley and partly by Raleigh, but entitled The Opinion of Mr. Rawley, still exists among the Irish Correspondence, and is dated October 25, 1582.  This document is in the highest degree conciliatory towards the Irish chieftains, whom it recommends the Queen to win over peacefully to her side, this policy ‘offering a very plausible show of thrift and commodity.’  It is interesting to find Raleigh so supple, and so familiar already with the Queen’s foibles.  It was probably earlier in the year, and about this same Irish business, that Raleigh spoke to Elizabeth, on the occasion which Naunton describes.  ‘Raleigh,’ he says, ’had gotten the Queen’s ear at a trice; and she began to be taken with his elocution, and loved to hear his reasons to her demands; and the truth is, she took him for a kind of oracle, which nettled them all.’  Lord Grey, who was no diplomatist, had the want of caution to show that he was annoyed at advice being asked from a young man who was so lately his inferior.  In answer to a special recommendation of Raleigh from the Queen, Lord Grey ventured to reply:  ’For my own part I must be plain ­I neither like his carriage nor his company, and therefore other than by direction and commandment, and what his right requires, he is not to expect from my hands.’  Lord Grey did not understand the man he was dealing with.  The result was that in August 1582 he was abruptly deposed from his dignity as Lord Deputy in Ireland.  But we see that Raleigh could be exceedingly antipathetic to any man who crossed his path.  That it was wilful arrogance, and not inability to please, is proved by the fact that he seems to have contrived to reconcile not Leicester only but even Hatton, Elizabeth’s dear ‘Pecora Campi,’ to his intrusion at Court.

As far as we can perceive, Raleigh’s success as a courtier was unclouded from 1582 to 1586, and these years are the most peaceful and uneventful in the record of his career.  He took a confidential place by the Queen’s side, but so unobtrusively that in these earliest years, at least, his presence leaves no perceptible mark on the political history of the country.  Great in so many fields, eminent as a soldier, as a navigator, as a poet, as a courtier, there was a limit even to Raleigh’s versatility, and he was not a statesman.  It was political ambition which was the vulnerable spot in this Achilles, and until he meddled with statecraft, his position was practically unassailed.  It must not be overlooked, in this connection, that in spite of Raleigh’s influence with the Queen, he never was admitted as a Privy Councillor, his advice being asked in private, by Elizabeth or by her ministers, and not across the table, where his arrogant manner might have introduced discussions fruitless to the State.  In 1598, when he was at the zenith of his power, he actually succeeded, as we shall see, in being proposed for Privy Council, but the Queen did not permit him to be sworn.  Nothing would be more remarkable than Elizabeth’s infatuation for her favourites, if we were not still more surprised at her skill in gauging their capacities, and her firmness in defining their ambitions.

Already, in 1583, Walter Raleigh began to be the recipient of the Queen’s gifts.  On April 10 of that year he came into possession of two estates, Stolney and Newland, which had passed to the Queen from All Souls College, Oxford.  A few days later, May 4, he became enriched by obtaining letters patent for the ‘Farm of Wines,’ thenceforward to be one of the main sources of his wealth.  According to this grant, which extended to all places within the kingdom, each vintner was obliged to pay twenty shillings a year to Raleigh as a license duty on the sale of wines.  This was, in fact, a great relief to the wine trade, for until this time the mayors of corporations had levied this duty at their own judgment, and some of them had made a licensing charge not less than six times as heavy as the new duty.  The grant, moreover, gave Raleigh a part of all fines accruing to the Crown under the provisions of the wines statute of Edward VI.  From his ‘Farm of Wines’ Raleigh seems at one time to have obtained something like 2,000_l._ a year.  The emoluments dwindled at last, just before Raleigh was forced to resign his patent to James I., to 1,000_l._ a year; but even this was an income equivalent to 6,000_l._ of our money.  The grant was to expire in 1619, and would therefore, if he had died a natural death, have outlived Raleigh himself.  We must not forget that the cost of collecting moneys, and the salaries to deputy licensers, consumed a large part of these receipts.

While Raleigh was shaking down a fortune from the green ivy-bushes that hung at the vintners’ doors, the western continent, at which he had already cast wistful glances, remained the treasure-house of Spain.  His unfortunate but indomitable half-brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, recalled it to his memory.  The name of Gilbert deserves to be better remembered than it is; and America, at least, will one day be constrained to honour the memory of the man who was the first to dream of colonising her shores.  Until his time, the ambition of Englishmen in the west had been confined to an angry claim to contest the wealth and beauty of the New World with the Spaniard.  The fabulous mines of Cusco, the plate-ships of Lima and Guayaquil, the pearl-fisheries of Panama, these had been hitherto the loadstar of English enterprise.  The hope was that such feats as those of Drake would bring about a time when, as George Wither put it,

                      the spacious West,
    Being still more with English blood possessed,
    The proud Iberians shall not rule those seas,
    To check our ships from sailing where they please.

Even Frobisher had not entertained the notion of leaving Spain alone, and of planting in the northern hemisphere colonies of English race.  It was Sir Humphrey Gilbert who first thought of a settlement in North America, and the honour of priority is due to him, although he failed.

His royal charter was dated June 1578, and covered a space of six years with its privilege.  We have already seen that various enterprises undertaken by Gilbert in consequence of it had failed in one way or another.  After the disaster of 1579 he desisted, and lent three of his remaining vessels to the Government, to serve on the coast of Ireland.  As late as July 1582 the rent due to him on these vessels was unpaid, and he wrote a dignified appeal to Walsingham for the money in arrears.  He was only forty-three, but his troubles had made an old man of him, and he pleads his white hairs, blanched in long service of her Majesty, as a reason why the means of continuing to serve her should not be withheld from him.  Raleigh had warmly recommended his brother before he was himself in power, and he now used all his influence in his favour.  It is plain that Gilbert’s application was promptly attended to, for we find him presently in a position to pursue the colonising enterprises which lay so near to his heart.  The Queen, however, could not be induced to encourage him; she shrewdly remarked that Gilbert ’had no good luck at sea,’ which was pathetically true.  However, Gilbert’s six years’ charter was about to expire, and his hopes were all bound up in making one more effort.  He pleaded, and Raleigh supported him, until Elizabeth finally gave way, merely refusing to allow Raleigh himself to take part in any such ‘dangerous sea-fights’ as the crossing of the Atlantic might entail.

On June 11, 1583, Sir Humphrey Gilbert sailed from Plymouth with a little fleet of five vessels, bound for North America.  According to all authorities, Raleigh had expended a considerable sum in the outfit; according to one writer, Hayes (in Hakluyt), he was owner of the entire expedition.  He spent, we know, 2,000_l._ in building and fitting out one vessel, which he named after himself, the ‘Ark Raleigh.’

Sir Humphrey Gilbert was not born under a fortunate star.  Two days after starting, a contagious fever broke out on board the ‘Ark Raleigh,’ and in a tumult of panic, without explaining her desertion to the admiral, she hastened back in great distress to Plymouth.  The rest of the fleet crossed the Atlantic successfully, and Newfoundland was taken in the Queen’s name.  One ship out of the remaining four had meanwhile been sent back to England with a sick crew.  Late in September 1583 a second sailed into Plymouth with the news that the other two had sunk in an Atlantic storm on the 8th or 9th of that month.  The last thing known of the gallant admiral before his ship went down was that ’sitting abaft with a book in his hand,’ he had called out ’Be of good heart, my friends!  We are as near to heaven by sea as by land.’

At the death of Gilbert, his schemes as a colonising navigator passed, as by inheritance, to Raleigh.  That he had no intention of letting them drop is shown by the fact that he was careful not to allow Gilbert’s original charter to expire.  In June 1584 other hands might have seized his brother’s relinquished enterprise, and therefore it was, on March 25, that Raleigh moved the Queen to renew the charter in his own name.  In company with a younger half-brother, Adrian Gilbert, and with the experienced though unlucky navigator John Davis as a third partner, Raleigh was now incorporated as representing ’The College of the Fellowship for the Discovery of the North West Passage.’  In this he was following the precedent of Gilbert, who had made use of the Queen’s favourite dream of a northern route to China to cover his less attractive schemes of colonisation.  Raleigh, however, took care to secure himself a charter which gave him the fullest possible power to ’inhabit or retain, build or fortify, at the discretion of the said W. Raleigh,’ in any remote lands that he might find hitherto unoccupied by any Christian power.  Armed with this extensive grant, Raleigh began to make his preparations.

It is needful here to pass rapidly over the chronicle of the expeditions to America, since they form no part of the personal history of Raleigh.  On April 27 he sent out his first fleet under Amidas and Barlow.  They sailed blindly for the western continent, but were guided at last by ’a delicate sweet smell’ far out in ocean to the coast of Florida.  They then sailed north, and finally landed on the islands of Wokoken and Roanoke, which, with the adjoining mainland, they annexed in the name of her Majesty.  In September this first expedition returned, bringing Raleigh, as a token of the wealth of the new lands, ’a string of pearls as large as great peas.’  In honour of ‘the eternal Maiden Queen,’ the new country received the name of Virginia, and Raleigh ordered his own arms to be cut anew, with this legend, Propria insignia Walteri Ralegh, militis, Domini et Gubernatoris Virginiae.  No attempt had been made on this occasion to colonise.  It was early in the following year that Raleigh sent out his second Virginian expedition, under the brave Sir Richard Grenville, to settle in the country.  The experiment was not completely successful at first, but from August 17, 1585, which is the birthday of the American people, to June 18, 1586, one hundred and eight persons under the command of Ralph Lane, and in the service of Raleigh, made Roanoke their habitation.  It is true that the colonists lost courage and abandoned Virginia at the latter date, but an essay at least had been made to justify the sanguine hopes of Raleigh.

These expeditions to North America were very costly, and by their very nature unremunerative for the present.  Raleigh, however, was by this time quite wealthy enough to support the expense, and on the second occasion accident befriended him.  Sir Richard Grenville, in the ‘Tiger,’ fell in with a Spanish plate-ship on his return-voyage, and towed into Plymouth Harbour a prize which was estimated at the value of 50,000_l._ But Raleigh was, indeed, at this time a veritable Danae.  As though enough gold had not yet been showered upon him, the Queen presented to him, on March 25, 1584, a grant of license to export woollen broad-cloths, a privilege the excessive profits of which soon attracted the critical notice of Burghley.  Raleigh’s grant, however, was long left unassailed, and was renewed year by year at least until May 1589.  It would seem that his income from the trade in undyed broad-cloth was of a two-fold nature, a fixed duty on exportation in general, and a charge on ‘over-lengths,’ that is to say, on pieces which exceeded the maximum length of twenty-four yards.  When Burghley assailed this whole system of taxation in 1591, he stated that Raleigh had, in the first year only of his grant, received 3,950_l._ from a privilege for which he paid to the State a rent of only 700_l._ If this was correct, and no one could be in a better position than Burghley to check the figures, Raleigh’s income from broad-cloth alone was something like 18,000_l._ of Victorian money.

Such were the sources of an opulence which we must do Raleigh the credit to say was expended not on debauchery or display, but in the most enlightened efforts to extend the field of English commercial enterprise beyond the Atlantic.  We need not suppose him to have been unselfish beyond the fashion of his age.  In his action there was, no doubt, an element of personal ambition; he dreamed of raising a State in the West before which his great enemy, Spain, should sink into the shade, and he fancied himself the gorgeous viceroy of such a kingdom.  His imagination, which had led him on so bravely, gulled him sometimes when it came to details.  His sailors had seen the light of sunset on the cliffs of Roanoke, and Raleigh took the yellow gleam for gold.  He set his faith too lightly on the fabulous ores of Chaunis Temotam.  But he was not the slave of these fancies, as were the more vulgar adventurers of his age.  More than the promise of pearls and silver, it was the homely products of the new country that attracted him, and his captains were bidden to bring news to him of the fish and fruit of Virginia, its salts and dyes and textile grasses.  Nor was it a goldsmith that he sent out to the new colony as his scientific agent, but a young mathematician of promise, the practical and observant Thomas Hariot.

Some personal details of Raleigh’s private life during these two years may now be touched upon.  He was in close attendance upon the Queen at Greenwich and at Windsor, when he was not in his own house in the still rural village of Islington.  In the summer of 1584, probably in consequence of the new wealth his broad-cloth patent had secured him, he enlarged his borders in several ways.  He leased of the Queen, Durham House, close to the river, covering the site of the present Adelphi Terrace.  This was the vast fourteenth-century palace of the Bishops of Durham, which had come into possession of the Crown late in the reign of Henry VIII.  Elizabeth herself had occupied it during the lifetime of her brother, and she had recovered it again after the death of Mary.  Retaining certain rooms, she now relinquished it to her favourite, and in this stately mansion as his town house Raleigh lived from 1584 to 1603.  In spite of his uncertain tenure, he spent very large sums in repairing ‘this rotten house,’ as Lady Raleigh afterwards called it.

Some time between December 14, 1584, and February 24, 1585, Raleigh was knighted.  On the latter date we find him first styled Sir Walter, in an order from Burghley to report on the force of the Devonshire Stannaries.  His activities were now concentrated from several points upon the West of England, and he became once more identified with the only race that ever really loved him, the men of his native Devonshire.  In July he succeeded the Earl of Bedford as Lord Warden of the Stannaries; in September he was appointed Lieutenant of the County of Cornwall; in November, Vice-Admiral of the two counties.  He, appointed Lord Beauchamp his deputy in Cornwall, and his own eldest half-brother, Sir John Gilbert of Greenway, his deputy in Devonshire.  In the same year, 1585, he entered Parliament as one of the two county members for Devonshire.  As Warden of the Stannaries he introduced reforms which greatly mitigated the hardships of the miners.

It is pleasanter to think of Raleigh administering rough justice from the granite judgment-seat on some windy tor of Dartmoor, than to picture him squabbling for rooms at Court with ‘Pecora Campi,’ or ogling a captious royal beauty of some fifty summers, Raleigh’s work in the West has made little noise in history; but it was as wholesome and capable as the most famous of his exploits.

In March, 1586, Leicester found himself in disgrace with Elizabeth, and so openly attributed it to Raleigh that the Queen ordered Walsingham to deny that the latter had ceased to plead for his former patron.  Raleigh himself sent Leicester a band of Devonshire miners to serve in the Netherlands, and comforted him at the same time by adding, ’The Queen is in very good terms with you, and, thanks be to God, well pacified.  You are again her “Sweet Robin."’ It seems that the strange accusation had been made against Raleigh that he desired to favour Spain.  This was calculated to vex him to the quick, and we find him protesting (March 29, 1586):  ’I have consumed the best part of my fortune, hating the tyrannous prosperity of that State, and it were now strange and monstrous that I should become an enemy to my country and conscience.’  Two months later he was threatened with the loss of his post as Vice-Admiral if he did not withdraw a fleet he had fitted out to harass the Spaniards in the Newfoundland waters.  About the same time he strengthened his connection with the Leicester faction by marrying his cousin, Barbara Gamage, to Sir Philip Sidney’s younger brother Robert.  This lady became the grandmother of Waller’s Sacharissa.  The collapse of the Virginian colony was an annoyance in the summer of this year, but it was tempered to Raleigh by the success of another of his enterprises, his fleet in the Azores.  One of the prizes brought home by this purely piratical expedition was a Spanish colonial governor of much fame and dignity, Don Pedro Sarmiento.  Raleigh demanded a ransom for this personage, and while it was being collected he entertained his prisoner sumptuously in Durham House.

On October 7, 1586, Raleigh’s old friend Sir Philip Sidney closed his chivalrous career on the battle-field at Zutphen.  Raleigh’s solemn elegy on him is one of the finest of the many poems which that sad event called forth.  It blends the passion of personal regret with the dignity of public grief, as all great elegiacal poems should.  One stanza might be inscribed on a monument to Sidney: 

    England doth hold thy limbs, that bred the same;
      Flanders thy valour, where it last was tried;
      The camp thy sorrow, where thy body died;
    Thy friends thy want; the world thy virtues’ fame.

This elegy appeared with the rest in Astrophel in 1595; but it had already been printed, in 1593, in the Phoenix Nest, and as early as 1591 Sir John Harington quotes it as Raleigh’s.

It was not till the following spring that Raleigh took possession of certain vast estates in Ireland.  The Queen had named him among the ‘gentlemen-undertakers,’ between whom the escheated lands of the Earl of Desmond were to be divided.  He received about forty-two thousand acres in the counties of Cork, Waterford, and Tipperary, and he set about repeopling this desolate region with his usual vigour of action.  He brought settlers over from the West of England, but these men were not supported or even encouraged at Dublin Castle.  ‘The doting Deputy,’ as Raleigh calls him, treated his Devonshire farmers with less consideration than the Irish kerns, and although it is certain that of all the ‘undertakers’ Raleigh was the one who, after his lights, tried to do the best for his land, his experience as an Irish colonist was on the whole dispiriting.  By far the richest part of his property was the ‘haven royal’ of Youghal, with the thickly-wooded lands on either side of the river Blackwater.  He is scarcely to be forgiven for what appears to have been the wanton destruction of the Geraldine Friary of Youghal, built in 1268, which his men pulled down and burned while he was mayor of the town in 1587.  Raleigh’s Irish residences at this time were his manor-house in Youghal, which still remains, and Lismore Castle, which he rented, from 1587 onwards, of the official Archbishop of Cashel, Meiler Magrath.

We have now reached the zenith of Raleigh’s personal success.  His fame was to proceed far beyond anything that he had yet gained or deserved, but his mere worldly success was to reach no further, and even from this moment sensibly to decline.  Elizabeth had showered wealth and influence upon him, although she had refrained, at her most doting moments, from lifting him up to the lowest step in the ladder of aristocratic preferment.  But although her favour towards Raleigh had this singular limit, and although she kept him rigidly outside the pale of politics, in other respects her affection had been lavish in the extreme.  Without ceasing to hold Hatton and Leicester captive, she had now for five years given Raleigh the chief place in her heart.  But, in May 1587, we suddenly find him in danger of being dethroned in favour of a boy of twenty, and it is the new Earl of Essex, with his petulant beauty, who ’is, at cards, or one game or another, with her, till the birds sing in the morning.’  The remarkable scene in which Essex dared to demand the sacrifice of Raleigh as the price of his own devotion is best described by the new favourite in his own words.  Raleigh had now been made Captain of the Guard, and we have to imagine him standing at the door in his uniform of orange-tawny, while the pert and pouting boy is half declaiming, half whispering, in the ear of the Queen, whose beating heart forgets to remind her that she might be the mother of one of her lovers and the grandmother of the other.  Essex writes: 

I told her that what she did was only to please that knave Raleigh, for whose sake I saw she would both grieve me and my love, and disgrace me in the eye of the world.  From thence she came to speak of Raleigh; and it seemed she could not well endure anything to be spoken against him; and taking hold of my word ‘disdain,’ she said there was ’no such cause why I should disdain him.’  This speech did trouble me so much that, as near as I could, I did describe unto her what he had been, and what he was....  I then did let her know, whether I had cause to disdain his competition of love, or whether I could have comfort to give myself over to the service of a mistress which was in awe of such a man.  I spake, with grief and choler, as much against him as I could; and I think he, standing at the door, might very well hear the worst that I spoke of himself.  In that end, I saw she was resolved to defend him, and to cross me.

It was probably about this time, and owing to the instigation of Essex, that Tarleton, the comedian, laid himself open to banishment from Court for calling out, while Raleigh was playing cards with Elizabeth, ’See how the Knave commands the Queen!’ Elizabeth supported her old favourite, but there is no doubt that these attacks made their impression on her irritable temperament.  Meanwhile Raleigh, engaged in a dozen different enterprises, and eager to post hither and thither over land and sea, was probably not ill disposed to see his royal mistress diverted from a too-absorbing attention to himself.

On May 8, 1587, Raleigh sent forth from Plymouth his fourth Virginian expedition, under Captain John White.  It was found that the second colony, the handful of men left behind by Sir Richard Grenville, had perished.  With 150 men, White landed at Hatorask, and proposed to found a town of Raleigh in the new country.  Every species of disaster attended this third colony, and in the midst of the excitement caused the following year by the Spanish Armada, a fifth expedition, fitted out under Sir Richard Grenville, was stopped by the Government at Bideford.  Raleigh was not easily daunted, however, and in the midst of the preparations for the great struggle he contrived to send out two pinnaces from Bideford, on April 22, 1588, for the succour of his unfortunate Virginians; but these little vessels were ignominiously stripped off Madeira by privateers from La Rochelle, and sent helpless back to England.  Raleigh had now spent more than forty thousand pounds upon the barren colony of Virginia, and, finding that no one at Court supported his hopes in that direction, he began to withdraw a little from a contest in which he was so heavily handicapped.  In the next chapter we shall touch upon the modification of his American policy.  He had failed hitherto, and yet, in failing, he had already secured for his own name the highest place in the early history of Colonial America.

We now reach that famous incident in English history over which every biographer of Raleigh is tempted to linger, the ruin of Philip’s Felicissima Armada.  Within the limits of the present life of Sir Walter it is impossible to tell over again a story which is among the most thrilling in the chronicles of the world, but in which Raleigh’s part was not a foremost one.  We possess no letter of 1588 in which he refers to the fight.

On March 31, he had been one of the nine commissioners who met to consider the best means of resisting invasion.  In the same body of men sat two of Raleigh’s captains, Grenville and Ralph Lane, as well as his old opponent, Lord Grey.  Three months before this, Raleigh had reported to the Queen on the state of the counties under his charge, and his counsel on the subject had been taken.  That he was profoundly excited at the crisis in English affairs is proved by the many allusions he makes to the Armada in the History of the World.  It is on the whole surprising that he was not called to take a more prominent part in the event.

It is believed that he was in Ireland when the storm actually broke, that he hastened into the West of England, to raise levies of Cornish and Devonian miners, and that he then proceeded to Portland, of which, among his many offices, he was now governor, in order that he might revise and complete the defences of that fortress.  Either by land or sea, according to conflicting accounts, he then hurried back to Plymouth, and joined the main body of the fleet on July 23.  There is a very early tradition that his advice was asked by the Admiral, Howard of Effingham, on the question whether it would be wise to try to board the Spanish galleons.  The Admiral thought not, but was almost over-persuaded by younger men, eager for distinction, when Raleigh came to his aid with counsel that tallied with the Admiral’s judgment.  In the History of the World Raleigh remarks: 

To clap ships together without any consideration belongs rather to a madman than to a man of war.  By such an ignorant bravery was Peter Strozzi lost at the Azores, when he fought against the Marquis of Santa Cruz.  In like sort had Lord Charles Howard, Admiral of England, been lost in the year 1588, if he had not been better advised than a great many malignant fools were that found fault with his demeanour.  The Spaniards had an army aboard them, and he had none.  They had more ships than he had, and of higher building and charging; so that, had he entangled himself with those great and powerful vessels, he had greatly endangered this kingdom of England.

Raleigh’s impression of the whole comedy of the Armada is summed up in an admirable sentence in his Report of the Fight in the Azores, to which the reader must here merely be referred.  His ship was one of those which pursued the lumbering Spanish galleons furthest in their wild flight towards the Danish waters.  He was back in England, however, in time to receive orders on August 28 to prepare a fleet for Ireland.  Whether that fleet ever started or no is doubtful, and the latest incident of Raleigh’s connection with the Armada is that on September 5, 1588, he and Sir Francis Drake received an equal number of wealthy Spanish prisoners, whose ransoms were to be the reward of Drake’s and of Raleigh’s achievements.  More important to the latter was the fact that his skill in naval tactics, and his genius for rapid action, had very favourably impressed the Lord Admiral, who henceforward publicly treated him as a recognised authority in these matters.