Raleigh: Tudor Adventurer

The Last True Elizabethan

Tony Riches

Tudor adventurer, courtier, explorer and poet, Sir Walter Raleigh has been called the last true Elizabethan.

He didn’t dance or joust, didn’t come from a noble family, or marry into one. So how did an impoverished law student become a favourite of the queen, and Captain of the Guard?

The story which began with the best-selling Tudor trilogy follows Walter Raleigh from his first days at the Elizabethan Court to the end of the Tudor dynasty.

Book Excerpt

Excerpt 2 from Raleigh – Tudor Adventurer, by Tony Riches

Richmond Palace, 1582

Having wished to be a courtier for so many years, I fought against self-doubt now my chance had come. My mouth was dry as I waited outside the presence chamber. I believed I had more in common with the impassive Yeomen of the Guard, standing each side of the gilded doors, than anyone inside.

After what seemed an eternity of waiting, the doors opened and I was ushered into the presence chamber. The room reminded me of the stage of Master Burbage’s Theatre. Groups of men in rich clothes stood to both sides, like players waiting for their call. There at the centre, on a raised throne, sat Her Majesty.

I silently thanked Alice Goold for her training in court etiquette as my name was announced. Striding forwards with a confidence I didn’t feel, I kneeled, and waited for the queen to speak. All I could see was the embroidered hem of her gown as I breathed the unfamiliar scent of exotic perfume.

‘Welcome, Captain Raleigh.’

I looked up, and tried not to stare. She dressed in black taffeta and velvet, her gown matching the darkness of her eyes. A lace ruff framed her face, with a mantle of silk so fine it hovered in the air like the mist at dawn. A golden brooch, with the largest pearl I’d ever seen, was pinned over her heart. I wondered if this was looted from the Spanish by another Devon man, Sir Francis Drake.

Alice warned me the queen had ordered visitors thrown from the palace for staring at her, throwing whatever came to hand at them in a sudden rage. I’d thought it another of her teasing exaggerations, yet now I understood why people stared.

I’d often stared at her life-sized portrait, painted when the queen was younger, in the great hall of the Middle Temple. Although the work of a master, the painting failed to convey the power and intensity of her gaze. Her eyes glinted as if she knew my greatest secrets. When she spoke, her voice carried threatening authority in the strangely silent chamber.

‘We’ve heard of your exploits, and wish to know more of how we might best deal with the Irish.’ She gestured for a chair. One was brought for me, and placed uncomfortably close to the throne. I’d not expected such a personal welcome and had nothing prepared, but if there was one subject I knew more about than anyone present, it was the troubles in Ireland.

‘The key is to deal with the Earl of Desmond, Your Majesty. He’s a ringleader and stirs up discontent, but his followers are a fickle lot. They follow him from fear, not love, and will soon learn Your Majesty can be merciful, and generous with pardons.’ I saw her nod in agreement, and sensed others in the room listened in silence.

Her long fingers, thin enough to see her bones under the skin, played with her long string of perfect pearls.

‘Lord Grey demands more garrisons. He wishes to hunt down every one of the rebels. What do you say to that?’

‘Your Irish servants, like the Earl of Ormond, should be rewarded for their loyalty. It would cost nothing to grant secure tenure of their lands.’ I paused, aware I held the queen’s attention. ‘Your Majesty can hold Ireland with fewer men, if they are paid on time.’

‘My soldiers are not paid on time?’ She sounded surprised, and I had the briefest glimpse of the woman behind the mantle of royalty.

‘They are not, Your Majesty, and risk their lives for eight pennies a day. I believe the poorest of them is worth ten.’

She fixed me with unblinking eyes. ‘We value your experience. You must prepare a report for the Privy Council, and our Lord Treasurer will be pleased to meet with you, Captain Raleigh.’

Her tone left me in no doubt my audience was ended. I bowed and withdrew, remembering Alice’s warning not to turn my back on the queen. I recalled saying to my mother, long ago, that if I could contrive a way to meet the queen, we would have a more personal connection than her noble favourites. I smiled at the thought. We were both raised by sisters, and shared a unique bond.

* * *

I basked in the radiance of the queen’s attention. Others danced and japed like jesters to win royal favour. Some risked their lives in the joust at tourneys to impress Her Majesty. I did neither, yet soon became used to her summons, to the great envy of many.

‘Water!’ her shrill nickname for me, mocking my Devon accent, echoed from the privy chamber, where I was now a regular visitor. More than once, I suspected she sought my company to annoy her other courtiers and put them in their place.

I’d also grown used to Sir Francis Walsingham’s more discreet summons. He never took notes, but asked many questions. ‘What does Her Majesty say about the Duke of Alençon?’

I smiled at his question. He knew the answer, yet called me his eyes and ears for good reason. ‘She calls him her frog, and I don’t believe she has any intention of marrying him.’

‘The need for an alliance with France clouds the judgement of some of her advisors, who should know better.’ Sir Francis frowned. ‘Lord Burghley persuaded Her Majesty to announce she would marry the duke. He says she has given him a gold ring.’

‘Is that not part of her game, like a fisherman allowing out a little more line?’

‘It pleases those eager for her marriage, but the Duke of Alençon is a Catholic at heart. If she marries, she risks turning the country against her.’

I heard the annoyance in his usually impassive voice, a rare clue as to the strength of his feelings. ‘I understood the Duke of Alençon supports the Huguenot cause—’

‘When the Privy Council debated the pros and cons of this marriage, Her Majesty wept. Sir Robert Dudley has become concerned, and asked me to put an end to it.’ He looked me in the eye. ‘The Duke of Alençon is returning to Antwerp. Her Majesty will travel with him to the coast, then Sir Robert will escort him to Antwerp, and you will accompany them, Captain Raleigh.’

‘What is it you wish me to do?’

‘Be my eyes and ears. Stay close to the duke and see what you can learn. Look for any opportunity to turn the queen’s mind against this marriage.’

‘You credit me with too much influence, sir.’

‘Quite the contrary.’ He smiled. ‘Her Majesty well knows my own views on the matter. I showed my hand too early, but you have her attention – for now, at least.’


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Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of best-selling historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the lives of the Tudors. He also runs the popular ‘Stories of the Tudors’ podcast, and posts book reviews, author interviews and guest posts at his blog, The Writing Desk. For more information about Tony’s books please visit his website tonyriches.com and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches

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