Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER I.

Walter Ralegh's Pouth.

WHILST Walter Ralegh was a boy, England

was passing through years of great importance to her history. Even in his quiet Devonshire home there must have been much talk of what was going on in the outer world; of the Spanish marriage of Queen Mary, of the religious persecutions, of the new hope which filled men's minds at the accession of Elizabeth. Of these and such like things he must have heard his elders talk ; but we know nothing of the immediate influences which affected his boyhood.

He was born at the manor-house of Hayes, near Budleigh, in the east of Devon, in the year 1552. Part of the house still stands, and is now used as a farmhouse; a picturesque old place, with three gables, heavily mullioned windows, and a thatched roof with deep eaves; surrounded by tall hedges and wooded hills. The Raleghs were a good old family, but neither very rich nor very powerful. Walter's father, also called Walter, had been thrice married. Walter was the second son

of the third wife, Katherine Champernowne. She had been married before, and her sons, Humphry and Adrian Gilbert, Walter Ralegh's half-brothers, were in after years his associates in his schemes of adventure and discovery. Their names are remembered amongst the bravest of English seamen in the days of Elizabeth.

Devon produced most of the bold sailors of those times, and its ports were filled with shipping, and crowded with mariners returning from distant voyages, ready to tell long tales of their wondrous adventures. This cannot have been without in fluence upon the young Walter; for his home was not far distant from the sea. We can picture him, as a boy, watching with delight the busy stir of the seaport towns, and listening with breathless interest to the sailors' talk.

Some time in 1566, when he was fourteen years old, Ralegh went to Oxford to study at Oriel College. Under Henry VIII. much had been done for the improvement of Oxford, and the spirit of the new learning had given its studies fresh life. Erasmus and Colet had introduced the study of Greek, and Wolsey's magnificent foundation of the great college of Christchurch had given a fresh encouragement to learning. Under Mary, however, learning had again decayed, to be once more revived in the burst of new life and energy which greeted the accession of Elizabeth. Elizabeth herself was a fairly good scholar, and watched over the universities with fostering care. Just

1566]

RALEGH AT OXFORD.

7

before Ralegh went to Oriel, Elizabeth had visited Oxford in state, and we are told that her visit stirred

up

the scholars to follow their studies with new zeal. She was met outside the city gates by the chancellor and doctors of the University, and was greeted by a flood of speeches in Greek and Latin. To one of these, made in Greek, she answered, after a show of bashfulness, in the same tongue. The next day was Sunday, and after going to church in the afternoon, a Latin play called “Marcus Geminus” was acted before her. Puritan feeling was not yet strong enough to make such an amusement appear a profanation of "the Sabbath.” For four days the Queen stayed at Oxford, and spent her time in visiting the colleges, listening to speeches, talking kindly to the students, and advising them as to their work. In the evenings the scholars acted before her, and greatly pleased the Queen and her courtiers.

Ralegh himself came to Oxford just too late to see the Queen; but no doubt he found the students still talking of her gracious behaviour, and the kind words with which she had bidden them devote themselves to their studies.

He seems to have distinguished himself by the eagerness with which he studied, and the rapid progress he made.

We know as few particulars of his college life as we do of his early youth. Lord Bacon tells us one story about him. He writes : “There was in Oxford a cowardly fellow that was a very good archer; he was grossly abused by another, and moaned himself to Sir Walter Ralegh, then a scholar, and asked his advice what he should do to repair the wrong that had been offered him. Ralegh answered, Why, challenge him to a match of shooting.""

Ralegh left Oxford without taking a degree, and went in 1569 to France, that he might serve his apprenticeship in arms. By this time Protestantism had become a real power in Europe. The question which each nation had to decide in the midst of its internal struggles was which side it should take as a nation in the great conflict between Protestantism and Catholicism. In France the first struggle between the Huguenots, as the Protestants were there called, and the Catholics, had been brought to a close by the edict of Amboise (March 19th, 1563). But in 1567 the Huguenots rose again. They were alarmed by the successes which Alva, the general of Philip II., King of Spain, the most bigoted champion of Catholicism in Europe, had gained over their Protestant brethren in the Netherlands. Their first attempt was a failure, and for a time there was again peace. But in 1568 Alva offered to help the French King to put down the Huguenots, and war begun once more.

The Huguenots were aided in the struggle by the Protestants in the Netherlands and in Germany, and Queen Elizabeth sent them money. Elizabeth would not just then venture on open

1576)

WAR IN FRANCE.

9

war. Her own position was not strong enough for that. In France and the Netherlands for the time Catholicism was triumphant. At home, Elizabeth was hampered by the presence of Mary Queen of Scots, who had, in May, 1568, fled over the border to seek safety in England from her own subjects. Elizabeth stood alone as the champion of Protestantism, and her first care necessarily was not to endanger her own position. Still she was willing to help the Protestants as far as she could. She allowed her subjects on their own responsibility to fit out ships to attack Philip II. in his own waters, plunder his vessels and even his colonies, and bring home from the Spanish Main great store of booty. She did not interfere to prevent bands of English volunteers joining the Huguenot forces in France.

Ralegh went to France with one of these bands of gentlemen volunteers. He was present at the disastrous defeat of the Huguenots at Moncontour, and must have seen much hard fighting, both then and afterwards, when the Huguenots, in spite of defeats, continued their stubborn resistance. They gained no successes ; but they showed that they were too strong to be crushed, and got good terms from the King, at the Peace of St. Germains (1570). How Ralegh spent the next few years, we do not know. He stayed in France amongst the Huguenots till 1575 or 1576, sharing probably in the desultory fighting that went on from time to time. Peace between the Huguenots and Catholics

« PreviousContinue »