Raleigh and His Enemies
R ALEIGH'S little son, Walter, was now growing to be a big boy. But Queen Elizabeth had never forgiven his father, or allowed him to come to Court.
At last, as she thought how faithfully he had always served her and how gallantly he had fought for her, she began to be sorry. So she sent for her old friend, and made him once more Captain of the Guard. She talked to him very graciously, and in the evening they rode out on horseback together.
This made the other courtiers very jealous. The Earl of Essex especially was very bitter against Raleigh, and soon something happened which made him more bitter still.
The Queen sent Essex and Raleigh with a fleet to attack another town in Spain, or in the Spanish islands. Essex was chief commander.
Raleigh took with him the two galleons he had captured at Cadiz, which were now English warships.
They set sail for some beautiful islands, which lay in the Atlantic Ocean midway between the Old World and the New.
Raleigh reached the islands first. He anchored in a pleasant bay before a fine town with a strong fort; this was the town they had planned to capture. They waited and waited for the Earl of Essex, and still he did not come. The men were thirsty, for their water had run short. They longed to land on that beautiful shore and attack the town.
After three days of waiting, Raleigh lowered the small boats, and they rowed towards the land. As they drew near the shore they were met by a deadly shower of shot from the fort. The men were afraid to go on, until Raleigh, rowing his own boat right on to the rocks, called them to follow their leader.
Climbing over the broken rocks and buckling on his armour as he ran, he dashed gallantly on, followed by his men, now brave enough for any deed.
They captured the fort and then the town, which they found deserted. The Spaniards had fled into the woods. The town was very pleasant, with gardens full of fruit and fountains of pure sparkling water.
Early next morning the Earl of Essex came sailing into the bay. He had been chasing a Spanish treasure-ship. Great was his surprise to find the town already taken, and great too was his anger. Raleigh had gained all the honour of the fight. For Essex there was nothing left to do. He dared not punish Raleigh, but he became his enemy for life, because Raleigh had taken from him all the glory of this "Island Voyage."
When they returned to England, Essex tried to turn the Queen against Raleigh, but she would not listen to him.
Elizabeth was now growing very old. Her subjects began to wonder who would be ruler of England when she was dead. Her nearest relation was the King of Scotland, so most people thought that he would be the next King of England.
When Essex found that he could not make Queen Elizabeth hate Raleigh, he began to write many letters to King James of Scotland. James foolishly believed these letters, and soon came to dislike Raleigh though he had not even seen him.
Meanwhile, Essex tried to anger Raleigh in all the ways he could. On the Queen's birthday there was a tournament or mock-fight. Essex found out that Raleigh and his followers were going to wear orange-coloured plumes on their helmets; so to annoy Raleigh, Essex brought twice as many followers to the tournament, and they too wore orange plumes. He did this to make Raleigh's little band seem like part of his big one, and so he hoped to insult Raleigh in the presence of the Queen. But when the knights galloped into the lists and charged each other at full tilt, Essex tilted so badly that the people, instead of praising him, laughed at him.
The next day Essex came to the lists dressed in green. But he tilted even worse than the day before, and the people thought that the man in green was even sillier than the man in orange. So Raleigh had the best of it after all.
The Queen sent Essex to rule in Ireland, but he ruled badly, and came back to England without her leave. Elizabeth was very angry with him, and Essex thought that this was Raleigh's fault.
At last Essex became almost mad with rage and jealousy. He rode through the city of London at the head of two hundred gentlemen, crying, "For the Queen! For the Queen! To arms! Save the Queen from her evil councillors!" Then, as no one joined him, he called: "My life is in danger! Raleigh is plotting to kill me!" But the people only gazed at him in surprise, and no one took up arms for him.
He was easily captured, and put in the Tower; a few days later he was condemned to death as a rebel. And he was beheaded; for the Queen, even though she loved him very much, did not save him.
Raleigh's chief enemy at Court was gone, but many other men looked on him with jealousy, and tried to work him harm. But so long as the old Queen lived, her faithful Captain of the Guard was safe.
He was made Governor of Jersey, a rocky but beautiful island near the coast of France. So once more Lady Raleigh had to say good-bye to her husband. "Little Wat and myself," she says in a letter to a friend, "brought him aboard the ship."
This time the good-bye was not for long. The great Queen, who had done so much for Raleigh, was dying, and he felt his place was in England.
Brave in spirit as ever, Queen Elizabeth rode and hunted and held her Court almost to the last, trying to keep death away. But a day came when she lay upon her cushions too weary even to eat or speak, and soon the sad news travelled through England that Good Queen Bess was dead. Great was the sorrow of all her people.
Meanwhile, a greedy courtier, eager to gain the favour of the new King, rode northwards with all speed. At the royal palace of Scotland he knelt before King James, and offered him a "blue ring from a fair Lady." When King James saw the ring he was glad, for he knew that Elizabeth must be dead, and that he was now King of England.
As King James travelled to his new country, he was met on the way by many of Raleigh's enemies. They told him that Sir Walter Raleigh was a dangerous man. So King James came to England hating Raleigh more than ever.
Raleigh soon found this out, for the King took from him all the honours Elizabeth had given him; even his beautiful London house, with its gardens sloping down to the river Thames, was seized.
One hot summer day Sir Walter was walking up and down the terrace at Windsor Castle. He wore his great riding-boots and spurs, for he was to go hunting with the King. The sun shone on his gay hunting-cap with its long feather, and on the gold-embroidered cloak flung carelessly over one shoulder; but his face, as he gazed across the sunny fields, was thoughtful and sad. He was wondering, perhaps, how he could show the King that he was really a true and faithful subject, and that the stories of his enemies were false.
Suddenly a nobleman who was one of Raleigh's greatest enemies came from the Palace. He called Raleigh to the presence of the King's councillors. Raleigh soon found to his horror that he was accused of a terrible crime. A nobleman who had been unjustly treated by King James, had plotted to kill the King and make Lady Arabella, the King's cousin, Queen of England.
This man had tried to save himself by blaming Sir Walter Raleigh. He even said that the Spaniards had given Raleigh a great sum of money to persuade him to plot against King James.
The King's councillors, who were no friends of Raleigh, listened with dark faces to his angry denial of this shameful charge. A few days later a guard of soldiers carried Raleigh from his own house to the gloomy Tower of London.
In this prison he was kept for many weeks until the time came for his trial. The nobleman who had accused him was shut up in another part of the Tower. This man had once been Raleigh's friend, though he had now falsely accused him in his guilty fear of death.
To this poor wretch Raleigh wrote a letter begging him to tell the truth. On a dark foggy November night, Raleigh's faithful servant twisted the letter round an apple, and stole silently through the narrow passages of the Tower till he came to the nobleman's prison window. The window was open, so he threw the apple into the room. Soon he received a letter in return, which he brought to his master.
Raleigh read it with great joy, for it confessed that he was a true and innocent subject. A few days later fifty horsemen rode into the courtyard of the Tower. They had come to guard the prisoner on his way to the trial, which was to be in Winchester Castle, far away in the country.
All kinds of wicked stories had been spread among the people by Raleigh's enemies, and the very men who had cheered him as the hero of Cadiz rushed at his carriage yelling, "Down with the traitor! Down with the villain who sold his country to the Spaniards!" They would have torn him to pieces if the soldiers had not driven them off. But Raleigh sat, proud and calm as ever. At last, after travelling many days on roads thick with mud, they reached the old town of Winchester.
The great judgment hall in the ancient castle was crowded with people who had been waiting all night long to hear the trial. The Lord Chief Justice sat on the platform in a great satin chair. On either side were earls and barons.
There was a sudden hush as the prisoner entered. He faced his judges proudly, for he knew that he was innocent. But he had not much hope. The judges were his enemies, and he knew they would not judge him justly.
He had in his pocket the letter in which the traitor nobleman confessed that he had accused Raleigh falsely. But he soon found that this letter was useless. The miserable man had once more betrayed his friend. To escape from death he had sworn again that Raleigh was guilty.
"My lords," said Raleigh, "I claim to have my accuser brought here to speak face to face." But the lords refused; they were afraid that the traitor would not dare to tell his false story when face to face with Sir Walter Raleigh.
Then Raleigh stood up to answer the shameful charge which had been brought against him. He had spent his life in fighting for England against Spain, and now he was accused of being a Spanish spy. He reminded the judges how he had always hated the cruel Spaniards. Was it likely that he would join their side? "I was not so mad!" he cried; "I knew the state of Spain well. Thrice had I served against them myself at sea, wherein for my country's sake I had expended of my own property forty thousand marks."
As Raleigh pleaded for his life with burning words of truth, a thrill of sympathy passed through the crowd. One man said afterwards that "when he saw Sir Walter Raleigh first he was so led with the common hatred that he would have gone a hundred miles to see him hanged; but ere they parted he would have gone a thousand to save his life." But nothing could move the cruel judges or cowardly jury.
Sir Walter Raleigh was condemned to death as a traitor to his country.