29 October 1618 – Walter Raleigh
The fall from grace was nothing short of spectacular for the writer, poet, sailor, pioneer, discoverer and queen’s favourite Sir Walter Raleigh (or Ralegh).
Spanning two monarchs’ reigns, his was a jam-packed life full of adventures. Not least were his expeditions to the Americas in search of wealth and territory.
This kind of swashbuckling heroism was to earn him a place in the sun at Queen Elizabeth’s court. It was here that his first fall from grace was to occur.
He was a good looking bloke and able to charm the pants off the Virgin Queen Elizabeth. But he met and secretly fell in love with one of Lizzie’s ladies-in-waiting – Elizabeth Throckmorton (or Throgmorton depending on the source).
The torrid and illicit affair eventually wound up with a shotgun wedding, which covertly took place in 1591.
News of the marriage leaked out and old Queenie lost it completely, dumping her former favourite in the slammer.
Raleigh languished in jail for a while, but eventually charmed his way out of incarceration and led an expedition to what’s now known as Venezuela. His somewhat exaggerated findings made their way into one of his many books.
During this time, he also had it in for the Spanish and was busy capturing Cadiz or travelling to the Azores.
But then his ‘Get out of jail free card’ expired with the death of Elizabeth I in 1603. For the incoming king – James I of the House of Stuart – was not really a big fan, according to the ‘History Channel’.
It wasn’t long before James had him locked up on charges of treason. He was tried after he’d been implicated in the Main Plot – a bid to oust James in favour of her cousin Arabella, in cahoots with the Spanish. It failed needless to say and this time things didn’t look too good for Raleigh.
Thanks largely to old Walt’s consummate gift of the gab though, he was let off. James commuted his death penalty and Raleigh was chucked in the Tower for 12 years instead.
He got his second golden ticket to freedom in 1616 in order to hit Venezuela again in search of the now infamously tantalising El Dorado.
He obliged naturally, but this time his men attacked a post, which in turn incurred the wrath of the Spanish.
Well, the ambassador had stern words with James, who didn’t need much persuasion to lift the dormant death sentence.
The execution was scheduled to take place at Whitehall and the method, as was usual for landed gentry in those day, was beheading. When the day came, 66-year-old Raleigh didn’t want the whole thing drawn out: ‘Let us dispatch’ he said.
And if you were wondering if they really talked like that in Shakespeare’s day, get a load of this for a parting speech:
‘At this hour my ague comes upon me. I would not have my enemies think I quaked from fear’, while the axe he referred to as ‘sharp medicine’ but a ‘ sharp medicine for all diseases and miseries’. And with that, one of the greatest brains of the age was severed clean off.
The corpse was interred in a church in Beddington, but the head’s journey didn’t end there. It was embalmed and handed over to his wife Elizabeth who apparently carried it around with her in its own little bag, until the stench got too much.
Only when she died 29 years later, was the head reunited with his bod and both came to rest at St Margaret’s Church in Westminster.
Also on this day…
29 October 1935 – Allen Grierson
Allen Grierson was hanged on this day in 1935 for killing a woman.
He’d been found guilty of murdering Louise Berthe Gann and was sent to the gallows at Pentonville, aged 27.