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SIR WALTER RALEGH.
WALTER RALEGH, descended from an ancient family, and allied to the Courtenays, earls of Devonshire, and other illustrious houses, was the son of Walter Ralegh, Esq. of Fardel, in the parish of Cornwood, near Plymouth, .and born upon a farm called Hayes, in the parish of Budley, Devonshire, in 1552. He entered commoner of Oriel College, Oxford, about the year 1568, though it appears that he continued but a short time at the university: for some time in the following year, according to Camden, we find him in France; where, Hooker says, “ he spent good part of his youth in wars and martial services." He served with the Hugonots, and escaped the massacre of St. Bartholomew, by taking re
fuge with sir Philip Sidney, in the house of the English ambassador. The assertion that he became student of the Middle Temple, after quitting college, is disproved by his own teso timony; for, in his reply to the attorney-general, on his arraignment, he lays a heavy imprecation on himself, “ if ever he read a word of law or statutes, before he was a prisoner in the Tower."
He is supposed to have returned to England in 1575. About two years after, he served in Holland against Don John of Austria ; and on his return home, accompanied sir Henry Gilbert, his uterine brother, on an expedition, the object of which was to plant and inhabit certain northern parts of America-an expedition, which, though unfortunate, kindled his spirit of maritime enterprize. In this martial and adventurous life, he had now spent ten years; yet never lost sight of his own improvement. He slept only five hours of the night, that he might regularly devote four to study.
His next military destination was to Ireland, where he was eminently serviceable in quellings the rebellion in 1580; and had the misfortune to see the Spanish prisoners at Smerwich Fort
put to death by order from the lord lieutenant. It was at this period he became acquainted with Spenser, (as before mentioned) then secretary to lord Grey.
About the year 1582, he was admitted to court, and employed soon after in several embassies. ' A patent was granted him by her majesty, in 1584, for himself, his heirs and assigns, to discover “ such remote heathen and barbarous lands, not actually possessed by any christian prince, nor inhabited by christian people, as to him or them should seem good," and to hold the same with all prerogatives, commodities, jurisdictions, royalties, privileges, &c. Two ships were soon after fitted out for an American voyage, by the direction, as some say, at the expence, of Ralegh. In this voyage, part of Virginia was discovered, of which an account was written by one of the captains (Barlowe) to Ralegh, who laid it before Elizabeth:
In the approaching sessions of parliament, 1584, he was elected, in company with sir William Courtenay, one of the knights of the shire for the county of Devon, and about the same time received the honour of knighthood.
Early in 1583, sir Walter projected a second voyage to Virginia, and seven sail were got ready for sea, with a hundred men aboard, with the design of colonizing the country; but the expedition failed through an unlucky accident.
On the quelling of the Munster rebellion, the extensive territories of the earl of Desmond were forfeited to the crown. The forfeiture consisted in the whole of 574,000 acres, of which Ralegh obtained 12,000, and which he planted at his own expence. This estate he sold, at the close of the queen's reign, to Richard Boyle, afterwards earl of Cork, and which was the foundation of that family's fortune. He was next appointed, by her majesty, seneschal of the duchies of Cornwall and Exeter, and lord-warden of the Stannaries, in Devonshire and Cornwall; and in 1586, received the additional honour of being appointed captain of the guard, as also lieutenant-general of the county of Cornwall. The year following, he obtained a grant of the lands of Anthony Babington, the leader of the conspiracy in favour of Mary queen of Scots.
About this time also, he was preparing to
replace his unsuccessful colony in Virginia, by a new one, consisting of 150 men under the command of Mr. John White, appointed governor, and twelve assistants, to whom he gave a charter, and incorporated them under the firm Governor and Assistants of the city of Ralegh, in Virginia.” This was the fourth voyage to that country, a third having been fruitless, in consequence of the failure of the first.
In 1587, we find the name of Ralegh in the council of war, called November 27th, for putting the forces of the realm in the best posture of defence against the celebrated armada. He was also of the number of those who equipped vessels at their own charge, to reinforce the fleet. In addition to his other honours, he was one of the gentlemen of her majesty's privy chamber.
Of Virginia he had hitherto been the sole proprietor; but finding his difficulties grow upon him, having expended 40,0001. upon the project, he assigned over, in 1589, to a company of gentlemen and merchants of London, the right of continuing the plantation with English subjects, reserving to himself only the fifth part of all gold and silver ore.