Sir Walter Raleigh - Frederick Ober

Sir Walter and Sir Humphrey


Walter Raleigh had a true and steadfast friend in his half-brother, Humphrey Gilbert, who was thirteen years his senior. He it was, perhaps, who turned Walter's attention to maritime affairs; though this was scarcely necessary, since Devon was the home of seafarers, as explained already, who were the mainstays of England's navy. This navy was not a very large one at the time the boys were growing up, consisting, well into Queen Elizabeth's reign, of less than twenty war-ships. But the merchant marine was growing apace, and the sturdy sailors who made voyages to every known port of Europe, and sometimes to Africa, were destined to be important factors in the building up of Britain.

Humphrey Gilbert was a second son, and had not inherited as large a fortune as his elder brother, but his education was carefully attended to by his mother. He passed through Eton and Oxford, and, after a short season devoted to studying law, turned to the more congenial pursuit of navigation and the art of war. He became proficient in both sciences, also in cosmography, and as early as 1566 had written a Discourse of Discovery for a New Passage to Cathay, which is said to have incited Martin Frobisher to make his voyage in search of a northwest passage to India and China.

In 1571 he entered Parliament, and in 1572, while Raleigh was still in France, he went as a soldier to the Netherlands, whither Walter followed him about four years later. These two, however, were not there together, as Raleigh did not return to England from France until 1575. Both were in Ireland, engaged in bloody strife with the natives of that persecuted island, but, also, at periods a few years apart. They did not join in a common enterprise until 57 7 or 1578, when Humphrey, having secured a charter from the Queen, set about verifying his theory of a northwestern passage by a voyage to Newfoundland and beyond.

The year previous he had written a treatise for the Queen, informing her how the Spaniards might be fallen upon under pretence of a voyage of discovery. Sir Humphrey, like Sir Walter, was possessed of the idea that Spain was an enemy to be met and overcome in the distant seas which she had discovered' and claimed exclusive rights in. A captain of a ship engaged with Humphrey in this voyage to America sets forth England's opportunities as follows:

"It seemeth probable, by event or precedent attempts made by the Spanyards and the French at sundry times, that the countreys lying north of Florida God hath reserved to be reduced unto Christian civility by the English nation. For, not long after that Christopher Columbus had discovered the islands of the West Indies for Spayne, Iohn and Sebastian Cabot made discovery of the rest, from Florida northwards, in behalf of England. Sir Humfrey Gilbert, knight, was the first of our nation that carried people to erect an habitation and government in those northerly countreys of America. About which, albeit he had consumed much substance (and lost his life at the last, his people also perishing for the most part), yet the mystery whereof we must leave to God."

In 1578, then, Sir Humphrey sailed for America with seven ships and three hundred and fifty men. One of the vessels, the Falcon, was commanded by Raleigh, who had doubtless received information of the Floridas, when he was in France, from Admiral Coligny, whose colony of Huguenots was massacred there in 1565. Disasters in general met the fleet from the first, and Raleigh's ship was separated from the rest on the coast of Africa. Sailing for the West Indies, he met and took a Spanish frigate, after a brisk sea-fight, but was unable to bring her to port, and so returned to England without her. From this adventure toward America Raleigh emerged with the loss of some capital, and yet with his faith unshaken in the eventual success of such enterprises.

England had done hardly anything toward following up the discoveries of the Cabots, though the erudite historian, Hakluyt, attempted to prove her title to America unimpeachable, "owing to the admitted fact that we of England were the first discoverers of the continent, above a year and more before Columbus to wit: in 1496."

The accounts of the Cabot voyages had become mere traditions when Hakluyt gathered them into his great work and that was some time after Sir Humphrey's first voyage—so that it is due to this great navigator, as well as Walter Raleigh, to more than mention their attempt at exploration in the year 1578. "Raleigh and Hakluyt," says Sir Clements Markham, "were virtually the founders of those colonies which eventually formed the United States. Americans revere the name of Walter Raleigh; they should give an equal place to that of Richard Hakluyt." Nor should we forget to include that intrepid navigator Sir Humphrey Gilbert.

The voyage of 1578 ended disastrously; but Raleigh, who was by this time expert in maritime affairs, would fain have embarked again with his half-brother Humphrey, heart and soul, in any enterprise looking toward discovery and colonization in the country only half revealed by the Cabots. But first he was to expend much energy and waste several of the best years of his life in barbarous warfare. France and the Netherlands had been his field of emprise during youth, but his maturer years were to be given over to the pursuit of Queen Elizabeth's rebellious subjects, the "Irishry," as they were contemptuously called by the English. He received a commission as captain, under Lord Grey of Wilton, then Lord Deputy of Ireland, who set him an example in cruelty which he unhappily followed.

This service in Ireland, he wrote the Earl of Leicester, in 1581, he "would disdayne as much as to keep sheape"; yet he entered heartily into it, and seemed to feel no compunctions at the barbarous methods employed in subduing the rebels. In another letter of this time he commends the relatively humane policy of his half-brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, who had previously subdued them without resorting to extreme measures, but he evidently did not emulate him. Meeting, on one of his forays, with an Irish peasant bearing a backload of withes, he asked him for what purpose they were gathered.

"To hang English churls with," answered the man, facing him dauntlessly.

"Ha!" exclaimed Raleigh. "Perhaps we may forestall thee," and at once gave orders for the man to be strangled with his own withes, as also some comrades who, like him, were rebels.

In after years, having made acquaintance with sorrow and misfortune, Raleigh would have set at liberty a man capable of such a sturdy answer; but in the first years of his soldiering he was undoubtedly thoughtless and cruel. Other deeds of his give color to this assertion. A party of Spaniards and Italians, which included many released convicts and ruffians, had invaded Ireland, with the intent of succoring their coreligionists, and had built a fort which they called Del Oro. It was at about the time of its completion that Raleigh received an appointment to command at its siege. He distinguished himself by his gallant bearing in the face of danger, fighting valorously with his men in the trenches, stimulating them repeatedly by his brave example; but, alas! he stained his hands with the blood of his opponents after they had surrendered as prisoners of war. Six hundred of the garrison were brutally massacred, and the records of the time have not held Commander Raleigh guiltless of the bloody transaction.

Raleigh's experience in France and the Netherlands, especially in the former country, now stood him in good stead, and by means of sudden forays, ambushes, and skilfully planned attacks, he kept the rebels in a state of constant consternation. His dash and gallantry moved him to the wildest exploits, in one of which he had his horse shot under him, and was saved from death only by the prompt interposition of a soldier, who risked his life to rescue that of his beloved commander. The most romantic and hazardous of his numerous adventures was that in which he succeeded in capturing a powerful Irish chieftain, Lord Roche, and transporting him in custody to Cork, where he then had his headquarters.

This insurgent nobleman held sway at his castle of Bally, about twenty miles from Cork, and as he was a suspected promoter of disaffection, being surrounded by a formidable force of adherents also, it was resolved by the Earl of Ormond, Raleigh's superior at that time, to effect his capture, if such a thing were possible. The ardent Raleigh offered his services, which were accepted, and, taking a small body of faithful soldiers, he set out on a night march into the enemy's country. He had hoped to keep his foray a secret from the Irish, but their spies, with whom the land was swarming, gave information to the Seneschal of Imokelly, one Fitz Edmonds, who gathered together a band of eight hundred men and laid an ambuscade, intending to waylay Raleigh on the road. The wary commander, however, also had spies, who warned him in season, and by a long detour this peril was avoided. When arrived in the vicinage of Bally he was met by a rabble of tenantry and townsmen, nearly five hundred in number, with whom he first held parley, and then, detaching the main body of his soldiers to hold them in check, with a handful of the most intrepid he made a dash for the castle. He was met at the gate with a refusal to his demand for permission to enter, but by stratagem succeeded in getting six of his followers within, and soon after the remainder of his horsemen came clattering into the court, having dispersed the tenantry and forced their way to the castle.

Finding his court-yard full of armed Englishmen, Lord Roche bowed to the inevitable and proffered Raleigh his hospitality, which was promptly accepted. At the bountiful board, around which were seated Raleigh, a few of his retainers, and Lord Roche and his family, the nobleman professed the most devoted loyalty to the Queen; but finally, finding that his uninvited guest was inflexibly resolved upon taking him to Cork, consented to accompany him thither provided he might have time to arrange his affairs and proceed by daylight. But there was no denying the valiant young Englishman, who, though courteous and deferential in his bearing, was determined to set out with his prisoner that very night. He, too, well knew the perils of delay and the impossibility of proceeding through the open country by daylight, swarming, as it was certain to be, with a furious populace armed with rude but effective weapons which they well knew how to wield.

The night was dark, but Raleigh, knowing that ambuscades would be set for him along the only highway, led his men over a narrow and rugged trail among the hills, in following which several were badly injured by falls and one was killed. But he succeeded in reaching Cork, with his prisoner, unscathed, and had the pleasure of presenting him to Lord Ormond as a trophy of his prowess. This gallant though rash exploit gained great fame for Walter Raleigh in Ireland, where a feat of arms so skillfully carried out could not but compel the admiration even of his enemies. The fame of it also reached the English court, for, at the departure of Lord Ormond, he was, together with' two others, given' the government of Munster. He held it till near the end of December, 1581, when, having subjugated the most troublesome of the rebels, he was permitted to return to England.

In February, 1582, we find him as one of the convoy of the Duc d'Alencon to the Netherlands, and two months later a "Queen's Warrant" was issued appointing him a captain in Ireland, "Where," it quaintly reads, "we be given to understand that Captain Appesley is not long since deceased, and the band of footmen, which he had, committed to James Fenton, For that, as We are informed, the said Fenton hath otherwise an entertainment by a certain ward under his charge; but chiefly that Our pleasure is to have Our servant, Walter Rawley, trained some time longer in that Our realme for his better experience in martial affairs, and for the special care that We have to do him good, in respect of his kindred that have served Us, some of them near about Our person; these are to require you that the leading of the said band may be committed to the said Rawley." For reasons best known to the Queen herself, the "said Rawley" was allowed to remain in England for a period longer, and it is doubtful if he returned to Ireland during several years thereafter, "for that he is, for some considerations, by Us excused to stay here."