The Execution of Sir Walter Ralegh, 1618

A 1588 portrait of Ralegh. Image from the National Portrait Gallery, London.On October 29, 1618, Sir Walter Ralegh was beheaded on a charge of treason in London. The former court favorite of Elizabeth I of England had fallen far from his once-respected status.

Born sometime around 1554, Ralegh was a true Renaissance man before leading efforts to colonize the New World, serving as a courtier, soldier, poet, historian and member of Parliament.

His first foray into colonization began in in 1584 when he received a royal patent for colonizing the region between Florida and Nova Scotia. An exploratory voyage to Roanoke Island led to the establishment of a colony in 1585, but it was abandoned due to supply problems. In another ill-fated expedition, the crew left the colonists at Roanoke Island, and when a relief expedition arrived in 1590, the colonists were missing—the now-famous Lost Colony.

An 1860 sketch of Raleigh before his beheading.In 1603, Ralegh was implicated in a plot against James I, and imprisoned for more than 10 years. In 1617, he led an expedition into Spanish-controlled Guyana in search of a legendary golden city. The enterprise failed, and the resulting diplomatic crisis it caused led to the restoration of Ralegh’s treason charges and his execution.

North Carolina’s capital city of Raleigh stands as a reminder of his important role in the origins of the state.

Visit: Roanoke Island Festival Park, a celebration of England’s first attempt at permanent colonization in the New World. Ralegh was the expedition’s main backer.

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