Sir Walter Raleigh Never Laid His Cloak Before Queen Elizabeth
About the true story behind the myth that Sir Walter Raleigh laid his clock at the feet of Queen Elizabeth.
GREAT HAPPENINGS THAT NEVER HAPPENED
Sir Walter Raleigh Never Laid His Cloak before the Feet of Queen Elizabeth.
Seaman, courtier, explorer, poet, privateer, and soldier of fortune, Sir Walter Raleigh was unquestionably the hands-down favorite of Queen Elizabeth I, even though he was far from handsome, being endowed with a long face, a high forehead, and "pig eyes." However, that he once stepped forth from a crowd, gallantly doffed his cloak, and threw it over a mud puddle to protect the feet of the passing queen is pure fiction.
Raleigh, who was born in Devonshire about 1552, first caught the queen's attention in 1581, when, with great cogency and wit, he urged England to conquer Ireland. The queen rewarded Sir Walter with honors and wealth, granting him extensive landholdings and estates in England and Ireland and business monopolies in such varied enterprises as wine licenses and the export of textiles. He was knighted in 1584 and named captain of the queen's guard two years later. But Sir Walter incurred Elizabeth's displeasure in 1592 for an illicit love affair with one of her maids of honor. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London, later freed, and ultimately beheaded for treachery.
The story of the cloak and the mud puddle probably originated with historian Thomas Fuller, known for his imaginative elaborations on historical fact. Later, Sir Walter Scott kept the myth alive in his 1821 Elizabethan romance, Kenilworth. "Hark ye, Master Raleigh, see thou fail not to wear thy muddy cloak," the queen exhorts Sir Walter, "in token of penitence, till our pleasure be further known." Sir Walter vows never to clean the cloak, and later the queen, delighted with his gallantry, invites him to visit the royal wardrobe keeper that he may be fitted for "a suit, and that of the newest cut."
Other myths about Raleigh are legion. One is that he introduced the potato to England in 1586. He didn't. According to John Gerard, author of the 1597 work Herball, a C. Clusius first grew potatoes in Italy in 1585, and their popularity quickly spread throughout England and the Continent.
Nor was Sir Walter the man responsible for bringing tobacco to England. In his 1893 book, Literary Blunders, H. B. Wheatley muses that "one of the finest answers ever given in an examination was that of the boy who was asked to repeat all he knew of Sir Walter Raleigh." The boy wrote that Raleigh had introduced tobacco into England, and while smoking it remarked, "We have this day lighted such a fire in England as shall never be put out."
As legend has it, Sir Walter mucked about in the English colony of Virginia in 1586 and took a shipload of tobacco back home with him. In point of fact, he never made it to the North American mainland at all, although he was responsible for establishing three settlements on offshore islands near the North Carolina coast. In any event, it was the Frenchman Jean Nicot, from whose name the word nicotine is derived, who introduced tobacco to France in 1560, and it was from France, not the New World, that tobacco reached England.
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