Sir Walter Raleigh was truly the Renaissance man of Elizabethan England: soldier and diplomat serving in the wars between Spain and England, courtier and Captain of the Queen's Guard in Elizabeth’s flamboyant court, explorer of a New World and colonizer of Virginia, member of Parliament and devotee of science, musician and literary patron, historian and poet. A dashing and complex figure, often in advance of his times and rebellious against them, Raleigh had the misfortune not simply to combine brilliance and versatility with arrogance and intolerance, but to live beyond the expansiveness of Elizabeth’s reign into the sober times of her successor, James Stewart. Knighted by the Queen, Raleigh enjoyed her favor until he was eclipsed by Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex. Thereafter his fortunes fell, and he was finally imprisoned and tried by James I on grounds of treason. This book, conveying the excitement and flavor of Raleigh and his times, offers a new judgment of the man, and particularly of the famous trial that led to his imprisonment in the Tower and to his subsequent execution for treason. Mr. Wallace points out that, though the charges against Raleigh were questionable, the trial was legally just. On the other hand, the law itself, the court procedure, and the behavior of the prosecutor, Sir Edward Coke, were essentially unjust. After Raleigh’s death, jurists rallied to his defense, and changes in law and procedure were finally instituted. The trial thus has a historic importance not only in Raleigh’s life but also in English legal history.
Originally published in 1959.
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