“Strike man, strike!”
Those were the last words of Sir Walter Raleigh, spoken to an executioner who was taking his time, at the end of one of the most colourful lives of the whole Elizabethan era. The attitude–not of defiance, but of expediency–typified this adventurer’s life.
Raleigh had charmed Elizabeth I, but failed to do so with her successor, James I of England, who inherited the throne on the death of the childless ‘Virgin Queen’ in 1603. Despite the religious horrors of her early years, Elizabeth was pragmatic about religion, and actively sought to calm the religious stresses that the ‘bloody reign’ of her half-sister, Queen Mary I, had unleashed.
Raleigh was born into a strongly Protestant and well-connected family in Devon. Their lives had been blighted by religious persecution, and the aspiring Raleigh fitted Elizabeth’s cause well. As a young soldier of seventeen, he began a three year period of fighting for the Hugenots in France, an apprenticeship that was to fashion his outer persona as a handsome, gallant and efficient soldier.
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