Sir Walter Raleigh
A secret marriage with one of Queen Elizabeth’s ladies, caused the disfavor of his queen. Their marriage appears from the outside as an amazing love story – Sir Walter Raleigh and Elizabeth “Bess” Throckmorton.
A love child, a secret marriage, imprisonment, death of child, and execution – their love had to endure conditions that the modern reader could not fathom. But, it’s their love story that keeps modern readers interested in the time period.
The fact that Elizabeth kept her husband’s embalmed head after he was executed shows her attachment to the husband she married without the queen’s consent, and it is evident in her letter that she is distraught by his death.
Here is his letter to Elizabeth Throckmorton, his wife:
You shall now receive, dear wife, my last words in these my last lines. My love I send you, that you may keep it when I am dead; and my counsel, that you may remember it when I am no more. I would not by my will present you with sorrows, dear Bess; let them go to the grave and be buried with me in dust. And seeing it is not the will of God that I shall ever see you more in this life, bear it patiently and with a heart like thyself.
Firstly, I send you all the thanks my heart can conceive, or my words can express, for your many troubles and cares taken for me; which, though they have not taken effect as you wished, yet the debt is nathless, and pay it I never shall in this world.
Secondly, I beseech you by the love you bear me living, do not hide yourself in grief many days, but seek to help the miserable fortunes of our poor child. Thy mourning cannot avail me; I am but dust…. Remember your poor child for his father’s sake, who chose and loved you in his happiest time. God is my witness, it is for you and yours I desired life; but it is true I disdain myself for begging of it. For know, dear wife, that your son is the son of a true man, and one who is his own respect despiseth death, and all his misshapen grisly forms. I cannot write much. God knows how hardly I stole the time, when all sleep; and it is time to separate my thoughts from the world. Beg my dead body, which living is denied thee, and either lay it at Sherbourne or in Exeter, by my father and mother. I can write no more. Time and Death call me away.
The everlasting God, Infinite, Powerful, Inscrutable; the Almighty God, which is Goodness itself, Mercy itself; the true light and life, –keep thee and thine, have mercy on me and teach me to forgive my persecutors and false witnesses, and send us to meet again in His Glorious Kingdom. My own true wife, farewell. Bless my poor boy. Pray for me, and let the good God fold you both in His arms. Written with the dying hand of sometime thy husband, but now, alas! overthrown. Yours that was, but not now my own, W. Raleigh
Elizabeth Throckmorton had tried in vain to save her husband but certain death – something which seems evident in this letter to her brother after Walter’s execution:
I desire, good brother, that you will be pleased to let me bury the worthy body of my noble husband in our church at Beddington, where I desire to be buried also. They have given me his dead body, though they denied me his life. this night he shall be brought you with two or three of my men. Let me hear presently. Gold hold me in my wits. Elizabeth Ralegh
Walter’s Letter – Love in Letters of Statesmen, Warriors, Men of Letters, and Others, with a Brief Note on Every Writer Book by Henri PeNe Du Bois (1893)