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Sir Walter Raleigh
(1554 - 1618) U.K.

Sir Walter Raleigh

Adventurer, explorer, poet, and writer


Born in Devon, a favourite of Elizabeth I, he was knighted in 1584, and made several attempts (1584-87) to establish a colony in "Virginia" (now North Carolina). In 1595 he led an expedition in South America (described in his Discovery of Guiana) and distinguished himself in expeditions against the Spaniards in Cadiz (1596), and the Azores (1597).

Raleigh was something of an amateur scientist, particularly interested in botanical specimens obtained from the New World, and their potential use for medicinal purposes; he is also remembered (albeit inaccurately) as the person who introduced the smoking of tobacco to Europe - a dubious title which rightfully belongs to his kinsman, the notorious privateer Sir John Hawkins. In an age of religious zealotry and heretical suspicion, Raleigh's interest in genuine scientific experimentation enhanced his reputation as dabbling in sorcery.

After James I's accession (1603) he was condemned to death on charge of conspiracy, but was reprieved and imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he wrote his unfinished History of the World. Released in 1616, to lead a gold-seeking expedition to the Orinoco, which failed disastrously, he was behaded on his return, under his former sentence.


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