You are Sherborne’s “Adopted” Son, Sherborne’s “Golden Boy”. Your home here was “fortune’s fold”. You are so entwined with Sherborne. Sherborne is so entwined with you.
Walter Raleigh was born in 1553 or thereabouts; the youngest son of a Devon farmer.
He has been documented as:
- A brave and noble soldier and sailor.
- A brilliant courtier.
- A great explorer, scientist, and historian. (He popularised tobacco, introduced potatoes to Ireland, and wrote a History of the World!).
- A wise statesman.
- A prolific poet.
- And never afraid to take risks.
- A true Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggar Man, Thief.
He had every talent a man could have!
Surely one of the most remarkable figures in Elizabethan England, and we here in the town of Sherborne were fortunate to have him share part of his life with us. Albeit some 400 years ago.
So how did all this happen?
On his many rides from Devon, through Dorset to London, Raleigh had seen Sherborne and the castle. Indeed the London road ran alongside the outer walls of the castle. Built by Bishop of Salisbury, Roger de Caen, between 1122-1137, it was a massive solid building with four gate towers, a huge banqueting hall, drawbridge and moat.
Raleigh had a passionate desire to have it for himself. He was already a favourite in Queen Elizabeth’s Court, and so he persuaded her to give it to him. He gave her a jewel worth £250, and in 1592 she granted the castle to him.
But Raleigh acquired it only just in time, as he had secretly married Bess Throckmorton, one of the Queens’ ladies in waiting. This was an unforgivable act in those times; the Queen had to give her permission for such a marriage.
In a jealous rage Elizabeth had them both locked in The Tower. However, as time passed her anger cooled and soon the Raleighs came to live in their new home, the castle in Sherborne.
The town gave them a public welcome, and the Abbey bells were rung. They soon settled into their new home, enjoying the peaceful life, and soon their son, Wat, was born, and a few years later their second son, Carew.
They made friends with the local gentry, including Sir John Horsey from Clifton Maybank and Charles Thynne form nearby Longleat. They surrounded themselves with intellectuals and people involved with the sciences.
Their life in Sherborne also included involvement with the townsfolk. They regularly attended services in the Abbey, where they sat in what is known as the Leweston Chapel. He quite possibly invited Her Majesties Players who performed at Church House in Half Moon Street in 1597. Raleigh even involved himself in trying to help one of the Almshouse residents, Elinor Dyer, who claimed that she had been cheated out of her rights as a tenant of a house owned by the Almshouses. His intervention was successful.
However, after a while they began to find the Old Castle damp and uncomfortable to live in, repairs and alterations were proving too expensive, so Raleigh began to convert a nearby Tudor hunting lodge into a new home, which eventually became known as the New Castle. (After the Old Castle was destroyed in the Civil War and the title was transferred.)
Sir Walter laid out and planted extensive gardens and orchards, and drew “the river through rocks into his garden” according to Sir John Harrington. Bess grew the pretty pink flowers now referred to as “Lady Bess’s Pinks” which flower there every year to this day.
On the edge of his garden Raleigh found himself a favourite quiet place, where he could have a pensive time, whilst enjoying a smoke of his pipe, keeping one eye on the old road; the avenue of potential news. It was here, at ‘Raleigh’s Seat’, legend has it that one of his gardeners poured a pail of water over him, having seen only the smoke from behind and believing him to be on fire!
The Raleighs grew to love their lives in Sherborne, and they called their home “Fortune’s Fold”.
Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, and the new monarch, James, was less enamoured with him. Sadly Raleigh’s life became miserable with poor health, a failed voyage to find ‘El Dorado’ in the West Indies in search of gold -that was not found-, the death of his son Wat, and then, on top of everything, charges of treason against King James – who had never liked him- and sadly he ended up in the Tower again.
Ultimately he was executed on the scaffold in Old Palace Yard at Westminster, October 29, 1618. As he lay with his head on the block awaiting the axe, someone remarked that it ought to be turned to the East. “What matter,” he said, “how the head lie, if the heart be right?”
I THANK my God heartily that He hath brought me into the light to die, and not suffered me to die in the dark prison of the Tower, where I have suffered a great deal of adversity and a long sickness; and I thank God that my fever hath not taken me at this time, as I prayed God it might not.
His will was seized by the Crown lawyers, and although Raleigh had planned ahead for the estates to be left in trust for his son, -so they could not be legally forfeited by himself to the crown,- a clerical error rendered the deed in question void and King James took everything.
Unfortunately Lady Raleigh and and their remaining son, Carew, did not benefit anything but a tiny annuity which she had to fight to keep in later years.
Sherborne Castle and all its estates were given by James to his friend Robert Carr, and then, following Carr’s death in 1645, to Sir John Digby, whose descendants have held it ever since.
❤︎ If you’ve enjoyed reading about Walter, join my walk on Sunday 12th February and I’ll take you on a stroll in his footsteps from the Abbey to Castleton and back again.