HE reign of Queen Elizabeth was great, not only because she
was a wise ruler, but because she was surrounded by so many
wise, and great, and good men. One of these wise men, Sir
William Cecil, afterwards called Lord Burleigh, was her
secretary of state and her chief adviser during nearly all
her reign, until he died in
There were so many great men in England at this time that you could not remember all their names, and to tell stories about them all would fill a whole book. In the reign of Elizabeth it is not only the men who were soldiers that we remember as great, but the men who wrote books, the men who sailed over the sea and discovered new countries, and the men who by careful thinking and wise acts kept peace at home.
Sir Walter Raleigh was one of the great men who lived at this time. He was a soldier and a sailor, a courtier, and a writer of books. But clever though he was, until the great Queen noticed him, he remained only a simple country gentleman.
One day Elizabeth was passing along the streets, and the people as usual came crowding to see her. Among them was Sir Walter Raleigh. The Queen stepped from her coach and, followed by her ladies, was about to cross the road. But in those days the streets were very badly kept, and Elizabeth stopped before a puddle of mud. She was grandly dressed, and how to cross the muddy road, without soiling her dainty shoes and skirts, she did not know. As she paused Sir Walter sprang forward. He, too, was finely dressed and he was wearing a beautiful new cloak. This he quickly pulled off and, bowing low, threw upon the ground before the Queen.
Quickly pulling off his cloak he threw it upon the ground.
Elizabeth was very pleased, and, as she passed on, she smiled at the handsome young man who had ruined his beautiful cloak to save her dainty shoes, and ordered him to attend her at court. Raleigh's fortune was made. He went to court, and soon became so great a favourite that at one time he even thought that he might marry the Queen.
"Fain would I climb, but that I fear to fall," he one day wrote with a diamond upon a window. And the Queen, seeing it, wrote underneath, "If thy heart fail thee, climb then not at all." So Raleigh climbed, and although he never reached the throne, he climbed high.
Elizabeth gave him money and lands till he became very rich. He wanted to sail away over the sea in search of new countries and treasure, as Drake had done. But the Queen would not let him go.
As Raleigh could not go himself, he spent a great deal of his money in buying ships and sending other men over the sea to find new lands. These men sailed to America, which was then wild and unknown. Landing there, they claimed it for England, and Raleigh named it Virginia of Elizabeth. She liked to call herself the Virgin Queen which means "the Queen who has never married." One of the United States of America is still called Virginia.
For a long time Elizabeth was very pleased with Raleigh, but at last she became angry with him and sent him to prison in the dreadful Tower. The reason for this was that Sir Walter had dared to love and marry another lady, one of the Queen's own maids of honour. Elizabeth was always very angry if any of the gentlemen in her court married. Many of them wished to marry her, but she refused them all. Still she wished them to think that she was the cleverest and most beautiful woman in all the world; she wished them all to love and admire her so much that they would never think of marrying any other lady. And when they did marry another, she was always very angry.
Sir Walter, happily, was not kept in prison for very long, and some years later he really did have his wish, and sailed away to explore America. He did not find the golden land which he had imagined, but he brought home many strange stories, and many curious and useful things.
Two of the things which Raleigh brought home with him were tobacco and potatoes. Elizabeth had given him estates in Ireland, and there he planted the potatoes, and showed the people how to grow them. Even to this day the poor people in Ireland grow many potatoes, and live on them very largely.
People were pleased with the new vegetable, but they were very much astonished when he showed them how to use tobacco. Such a thing had never been seen before, and it took people some time to grow accustomed to it.
One day, soon after Raleigh had returned home, he was sitting smoking when a servant came into the room. The man stood still in horror. Smoke filled the room and was pouring out of his master's mouth. He must be on fire, thought the servant. Without saying a word he ran away and returned as quickly as he could with a pail of water. This he threw over his master, hoping to put out the fire and so save his life.
Raleigh, you may imagine, was not very pleased at finding himself suddenly drenched with cold water, just when he was enjoying a quiet smoke, but, when he understood the mistake his servant had made, he laughed heartily.
Raleigh had many adventures. He swept the ocean in his ships, and he fought by land and sea. But he wrote books too, and one of his friends was the poet Spenser, who tells beautiful stories in his poem called The Faerie Queen.
The greatest writer of this time (perhaps the greatest poet of any time), was Shakespeare. His name you know, and some day you will read the stories he wrote.
Another writer, and great soldier too, was Sir Philip Sidney. He was so handsome, and brave and kind that every one loved him. Queen, statesmen and people, soldiers, courtiers and poets, all loved him. He lived well, wrote well, fought well, and died well. He fell fighting for his country. Wounded and groaning with pain, he asked for a cup of water. While it was being brought, he noticed a soldier lying beside him in great agony. "Give it to him," he said, pointing to this poor soldier. The man refused to have it. "Nay, but take it," said Sir Philip, "you need it more than I do."
Sir Philip never recovered from his wound. A fortnight later he died; still young, brave, and handsome.