Gateway to the Classics: The Story of Sir Walter Raleigh by Margaret Duncan Kelly
The Story of Sir Walter Raleigh by  Margaret Duncan Kelly

Raleigh and the Queen

O N the banks of the great river Thames stood the palace of the Queen. The sun was sparkling on the river and on the pure white marble steps which led up from the water-side to the Queen's landing-place. At the steps lay the royal boat, gay with glistening white sails, and with the banner of England waving above it. The way from the palace-gate to the river-side was guarded by soldiers in scarlet coats with shining spears in their hands. These were the Queen's soldiers of the Guard. They were the tallest, strongest, and finest men in England. They were waiting for the Queen to come forth.

The palace gate was flung open. First came the gentlemen of the Queen's household. Then came the great Queen herself, followed by the lords and ladies of her Court. She looked a queen indeed as she passed, tall and stately, through the soldiers of the guard. She wore a dress of lovely satin embroidered with pearls. The bright jewels in her crown blazed in the sunlight. Round her neck was a ruff of costly lace; diamonds sparkled in her ears and on her breast.

Behind the soldiers crowded the people, who had come just to catch a glimpse of their Good Queen Bess as she passed from the palace to her boat. They had given a great cheer when she first came forth, but now they were watching the brilliant procession in silence.

In the very front of the crowd stood a tall, handsome young man. His bright eyes were fixed eagerly on the Queen, as she came slowly towards him, smiling at the people as she passed.

The young man was Walter Raleigh, who was looking at last on the Queen whom he had served so well in Ireland.

As the Queen drew near the place where Raleigh stood she glanced at the ground and seemed to pause. Raleigh's quick eye saw that the ground at that place was muddy. Pushing past the guard, he flung from his shoulders his rich velvet cloak and spread it over the muddy spot. As he did so he bowed low before the Queen, his plumed hat in his hand, and the sun shining on his wavy dark hair. Looking up, he found the Queen was smiling graciously and thanking him for his courtesy. Then, stepping gently on the cloak, she passed on and went on board her boat.

Raleigh still stood where the Queen had left him. His face was glowing and his eyes were sparkling. Never would he forget this day when Elizabeth herself had first spoken to him.


Stepping gently on the cloak, she passed on.

Suddenly his thoughts were interrupted by a gentleman, who touched his arm where the muddy cloak was hanging.

"Sir," he said, "her Majesty has sent me to a gentleman who bears a muddy cloak. Will you please follow me?"

Raleigh, feeling as if he were in a dream, followed the royal messenger to the Queen's boat. The Queen was sitting with her ladies beneath a silken awning or shade to shield her from the sun.

"Sir," said the Queen, "we thank you for the offer of so fair a footcloth. What reward shall we give you?"

"I wish for no reward," answered Raleigh; "that your Majesty's foot should have touched my cloak is reward enough for me."

The Queen smiled. "What is your name?" she asked, "and where is your home?"

"Raleigh is my name, most gracious Queen, and my home is in Devonshire."

"Raleigh?" repeated the Queen; "we have heard that name before. Did you not risk your life to rescue your friend from the wild Irish rebels at a lonely ford beset with foes? Did you not fight and win, one man against twenty? We do not easily forget the daring deed of so gallant a subject."

"It was nothing," murmured Raleigh, with a blush; "no deed could be too dangerous in the service of your Majesty."

"You speak as bravely as you act," said Elizabeth, smiling again; "here is something to remind you always of this day." She gave him as she spoke a diamond ring; and Raleigh, kneeling before her, kissed her hand as he received it.

And that is the story that is told of how Raleigh first met Queen Elizabeth. From that day his fortune was made. The Queen never forgot her Squire of the Cloak, as she loved to call him. She even made him one of the gentlemen of her household.

The great lords and gentlemen, who lived near the Queen and were called her courtiers, were very jealous, because the Queen liked Raleigh so much.

One of these lords was called the Viceroy of Ireland, because he ruled Ireland for the Queen. He was very angry that Raleigh, who had only been a captain, should be given so much honour. So he said bitter things about Raleigh and tried to turn the Queen against him.

The Queen and the lords met together to judge between the Viceroy and his captain. First the Viceroy told his story. Then Raleigh answered him. He spoke so well that even the men who did not like him were forced to listen. All eyes were fixed on him. As for the Queen, she listened to every word he said as he stood there and told his story with flashing eyes and glowing words. She asked him many questions, and he could always give an answer. And when the lords saw how the Queen listened to Raleigh, it nettled them all.

So Raleigh was given more honour than ever. But sometimes he was afraid that all this good fortune would pass like a dream. He longed to become a great man and help the Queen to rule England; but he feared that in trying to gain more honour he might lose what he already had.

We are told that one day as he was thinking such thoughts as these, he took from his finger the diamond ring the Queen had given him. He was standing at the window of a summer-house in the Queen's garden looking over the river, and he wrote with the diamond these words on the window-pane—

"Fain would I climb, but that I fear to fall."

The Queen, who was walking in the garden with one of her ladies, saw Raleigh writing on the window. "We must read what my Squire of the Cloak has written," she said. "He wrote with the ring we gave to him; perchance what he wrote is for our eyes." Going to the summer-house which Raleigh had now left, she read the line. "He fears to fall," she said; "he fears to lose our favour? We will tell him that the man who wishes to be great must never fear."

So taking one of her diamonds she wrote on the window-pane just under Raleigh's line—

"If thy heart fail thee, then climb not at all!"

When Raleigh saw these words and heard that the Queen had written them herself, he felt both proud and happy. He knew she meant he was not to lose heart, but to go on striving to become a great man.

The Queen gave Raleigh many services to do for her. Every service was done so well that he was rewarded with lands and money. Every day he gained more honour and power.

One day he was called to the Queen's presence. She was seated on her throne in the great hall of her palace. The walls were covered with rich tapestry, which was silken cloth most beautifully embroidered in gold and silver and coloured threads by the hands of fair ladies. The hall was brilliantly lighted with torches of wax, for in those days they had no gas. The torch-light shone on the glittering armour, which hung round the hall.

But more brightly even than the polished armour sparkled the gay dresses and the jewels of the lords and ladies who were standing round the hall. It was a splendid sight.

As Raleigh entered, all eyes were turned on him. He was dressed in white satin, with a short close-fitting coat of rich brown velvet, embroidered with silver and pearls. His sword-belt also was of brown velvet. At his side he wore a jewelled dagger. In his hand he carried his velvet hat, with a long black feather fastened with a blood-red ruby pin. Even his shoes were sparkling with diamonds.

Kneeling before the Queen, Raleigh awaited her pleasure. She lifted a gleaming sword from her side.

"Walter Raleigh!" she said in a loud clear voice that all might hear, "In the name of God and Saint George, we dub thee Knight! Be Faithful, Brave, and Fortunate." As she spoke she struck Raleigh's shoulders gently with the blunt edge of the sword, and then exclaimed, "Arise, Sir Walter Raleigh!"

So Raleigh was made a knight, and every one thought how noble a knight he seemed.

It was a gay life at the Court of Queen Elizabeth. The Queen liked all her courtiers to wear fine clothes, and to be always gallant and merry.

She took great delight in music and poetry. So the young courtiers would sing sweet songs to please her, and make many a verse of poetry in praise of their maiden Queen. Some of these verses are so beautiful that they will never be forgotten. When Raleigh found that the Queen loved poetry, he was glad. He wrote several poems which gave the Queen much pleasure. Some of these poems are lost, but those which were kept show that Raleigh could write as well as he could fight.

In the evenings the Queen loved to have acting and dancing and "pleasing shows." Sometimes even in the daytime she would walk in her gardens dressed in fancy dress, followed by her pages dressed as wood-land fairies. Often they would dance on the lawn, where the grass was kept as smooth as soft green velvet. Sometimes the Queen and her courtiers would meet together to watch the young knights show their courage and skill in arms at a tournament or mock-fight. The place where they fought was called the lists. The knights fought on horseback armed with blunted lances. They would gallop into the lists in shining armour with plumes of their chosen colour nodding on their helmets. Then when the signal was given they would charge each other at full tilt, and the knight who was unhorsed had to own himself vanquished.

At these tournaments Raleigh bore himself gallantly, and sometimes carried off the victor's prize.

The Queen made him Captain of the Guard, and so it was his duty often to be near her. He wore sometimes the uniform of the Guard, which was the colour of a golden orange, and was trimmed with fur. Sometimes he wore a suit of silver armour richly studded with diamonds, rubies, and pearls.

But all this splendour did not make Raleigh lazy. All day long he had to be at Court, but often in the evening he would read and study until the birds sang in the morning. He sat with his books in a little turret-room looking into and over the river Thames. This was his favourite room in the beautiful river-side house the Queen had given him.

In the autumn Raleigh used to ride away from the gay and brilliant Court back to his old home in Devonshire. The Queen had made him a judge over the Cornish and Devon miners. The judgment-seat was a very strange one. It was a great granite stone on a wild windy moor, far away from any house or cottage. Here the rough miners would gather round their judge and tell him their wrongs and their troubles. Raleigh listened patiently, and judged so wisely that the miners loved him always. Long afterwards, when he was in great trouble and many of his friends deserted him, he found these poor men still faithful.

So Raleigh had become one of the greatest men in England.

But sometimes in the midst of his busy Court life he would remember his old longing to win the strange new lands across the sea for England. He could not go himself, for the Queen would not spare the Captain of her Guard. But he was now so rich that he fitted out many ships and sent them to the New World. The adventures of Raleigh's sailors and their wonderful discoveries will be told in another chapter.

In the meanwhile news came to England which made every man, woman, and child wild with excitement. This news was so great, so terrible, that it even put a stop to the dancing and music and jollity of the Court. The Queen no longer wanted the Captain of the Guard to stay by her side. Every man in England was needed to fight England's greatest enemy. For the Spaniards were coming in all their strength to conquer these daring English people, who had so long defied them.

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