Friday, October 29, 2010

"Strike, man, strike!"

"Raleigh is my name, most gracious Queen, the youngest son of a large but honourable family of Devonshire." (From "Kenilworth")
Sir Walter Raleigh was beheaded on October 29, 1618.  His crime was treason; involvement in the Main Plot against King James I.  This plot was intended to be a coup d'etat that would install Catholic Arabella Stuart onto the throne.  Little was proven against Raleigh, other than a meeting with Lord Cobham Henry Brooke, who was a primary conspirator.  Wishing not to show fear at his impending death, Raleigh is said to have uttered the words in the title line to hurry his executioner.

Raleigh is associated with Elizabeth I of England, with whom he enjoyed a period of substantial favor, an later, disfavor.  Both characters are part of Walter Scott's "Kenilworth".  Scott focuses on Raleigh's period of favor in this passage:

'The Queen paused, and then said hastily, "You are very young to have fought so well, and to speak so well. But you must not escape your penance for turning back Masters. The poor man hath caught cold on the river for our order reached him when he was just returned from certain visits in London, and he held it matter of loyalty and conscience instantly to set forth again. So hark ye, Master Raleigh, see thou fail not to wear thy muddy cloak, in token of penitence, till our pleasure be further known. And here," she added, giving him a jewel of gold, in the form of a chess-man, "I give thee this to wear at the collar."


Raleigh, to whom nature had taught intuitively, as it were, those courtly arts which many scarce acquire from long experience, knelt, and, as he took from her hand the jewel, kissed the fingers which gave it. He knew, perhaps, better than almost any of the courtiers who surrounded her, how to mingle the devotion claimed by the Queen with the gallantry due to her personal beauty; and in this, his first attempt to unite them, he succeeded so well as at once to gratify Elizabeth's personal vanity and her love of power.'

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