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

In the Tower

I T was night, and the old castle of Winchester was dark and silent; but in one bare prison-room a dim light was burning. By the light of a flickering candle Sir Walter Raleigh was writing a farewell letter to his wife.

"My love I send you," he wrote, "that you may keep it when I am dead." Then he talked of what she must do for herself and her poor fatherless boy. He told her once more: "Your son is the child of a true man." Thus he tried to comfort "dear Bess," as he loved to call her.

This brave and beautiful lady, whom he had chosen and loved in his happiest times, was almost the only friend who had not left him in the time of trial. She was doing all she could to gain mercy for her husband from the King.

But all her prayers seemed in vain. Just when she had almost given up hope, news came that the King had decided to keep Raleigh in prison to the end of his days, but to spare his life. So Raleigh was carried back to the Tower of London, where he was to pass many long, weary years.

The great prison called the Tower is surrounded by strong outer walls. Within these walls stand, not one only, but many grim towers. One of them was called the Bloody Tower, because two poor little princes had once been murdered there. In this tower Raleigh had to live. From his window he could look over the river Thames and watch the ships and boats. The Governor of the Tower was very kind to Raleigh. He did everything he could to make the prison life easy for him; he even gave him his own garden, and allowed him to be there as much as he liked.

Damp and gloomy as the Tower was, Lady Raleigh begged to be allowed to live there with her husband. Her prayer was granted, so she and little Walter, who was now ten years old, came to the Tower, and made Raleigh's life there brighter and happier.

There was a little hen-house in the garden. Here Sir Walter spent many long hours making strange mixtures with drugs; he was trying to make a medicine which would cure all kinds of illness. He could no longer serve his country in battle, but he longed to work for it in some way. In the garden, too, he built a furnace, in which he could melt metals and find out what they were made of.

Sometimes as Raleigh walked in the Tower garden, crowds would gather in the street below to gaze at the great sailor who had explored the mysterious land of Guiana and fought so gallantly against the Spaniards. They no longer believed the wicked stories about him, so they were angry with the King for keeping him in prison.

Even the King's wife, Queen Anne, begged her husband to set Sir Walter Raleigh free. When James refused, she, too, was very angry. She went often to the Tower to see Raleigh, and brought with her young Prince Henry, the King's eldest son. Prince Henry was not at all like his mean and cowardly father. King James hated fighting and adventure; he could not bear even to look at a sword. But the young Prince loved all that was brave and noble. He admired above all men the great English sailors who had done such splendid deeds in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Raleigh was almost the only one of these heroes left. Yet, instead of receiving the highest honour in the land, he had been thrust into prison. "No king but my father," cried the Prince with scorn, "would keep such a bird in such a cage!"

Prince Henry was especially interested in ships, and Raleigh told him the best way to build one. The Prince built a fine ship in this way, and admired Raleigh more than ever.

Often as Raleigh watched from his Tower window the stately ships sailing down the river, bound for the open sea, he thought of the days when he too had sailed the ocean. He remembered the dangers and hardships of a sailor's life, and he thought at last of a way in which he could make that life easier.

If sailors run short of fresh water when far away from any land, they either die of thirst or go mad through drinking the sea-water. But Raleigh, as he worked in his little hen-house with different kinds of water and drugs and melted metals, discovered a wonderful way in which salt sea-water might be made fresh.


Lady Raleigh went to plead with the King for mercy.

A new trouble now came to Raleigh. Though all his riches had been taken from him, he still had his beautiful manor-house in the west country. There was, however, at the Court of King James a greedy Scotchman who wanted Raleigh's house and lands. The King promised to give them to him. When Lady Raleigh heard this she was in despair, for she knew they would have no money left if they lost all their lands. So one day she went to the royal palace to plead with the King for mercy. She took with her young Walter and the little baby boy who had been born in the Tower. She knelt with the two children at the King's feet and prayed him not to take from those little ones their daily bread, and leave them without a home.

But James only thrust her away with harsh and cruel words. Afterwards Lady Raleigh was given a small sum of money to make up for the great sum of which she had been robbed. The King did this, because he was afraid of what honest people might say of his dishonest deed.

Years passed by. Young Walter was sent away to the great University of Oxford. But still his father was kept in the Tower. The noble young Prince, who was always trying to help Sir Walter, became very ill. Queen Anne sent to the Tower for a bottle of Raleigh's medicine, which had once saved her own life. It was given to the Prince, but in vain. He died, and Raleigh knew that his best and most powerful friend had gone.

A new Governor came to the Tower, who built a great wall before the gate that the people might not gaze upon the prisoner. He made strict rules to make the prison life still harder to bear. For some time he would not let Lady Raleigh live in the Tower, and she had to take a house on the Tower hill to be near her husband. Raleigh himself was kept more closely in his prison rooms, and only allowed to go to the garden at certain times.

But though Raleigh felt that now that Prince Henry was dead he would never be set free, he did not give way to sadness and despair. He had always been fond of reading and study. Even in the days of his busy Court life he had found time to read. Now in his quiet prison he often read all day long. Some of the cleverest and most learned men in England loved to talk to this great prisoner whom the stupid King kept in the Tower. They brought Sir Walter all the books he wanted. They helped him, too, with the great book he had made up his mind to write. This book was to tell the history of the whole world from the time God made it to Sir Walter's own lifetime. It was brave of Raleigh to begin so great a history, for it is really a work which would take a man's whole lifetime to write.

After several years of hard work Raleigh finished the first part of the History of the World. Every one except the King thought it was a great and wonderful book.

The next chapter will tell why the second part of the History was never written.

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