16th century / Tudor
Tudor adventurer, courtier, explorer and poet, Sir Walter Raleigh has been called the last true Elizabethan. He didn’t dance or joust, didn’t come from a noble family, or marry into one. So how did an impoverished law student become a favourite of the queen, and Captain of the Guard? The story which began with the Tudor trilogy follows Walter Raleigh from his first days at the Elizabethan Court to the end of the Tudor dynasty.
This fascinating account of Sir Walter Raleigh's life spans the years from 1576 until 1603 when the other star of this book, Queen Elizabeth I, dies. Tony Riches has researched the period extremely well, illustrating Raleigh's achievements and numerous failures as well as his unswerving ambition. He depicts a man of culture, a poet and an adventurer, a man who is obsessed with becoming the Queen's right-hand man. From a humble background, Raleigh is convinced that he is as worthy as anyone else to win the Queen's favour, which he does as many times as he loses it. I found myself smiling as each time Raleigh is depicted visiting the queen, her first question is always which favour does he want now. An amusing illustration of how his ambition never seemed to be quite satisfied. Raleigh's eye was always on the next step up the ladder.
Mr Riches doesn't neglect the other side of Raleigh's character, that of a man who falls in love and risks his position at court to marry the woman he loves. Although once he has her, he spends more time away from her and his son, than with them. He also depicts Raleigh as a loyal, compassionate man who treats those who work for him generously, although his attitude to governing the Irish is quite different.
The book vividly portrays the Elizabethan age, with its descriptions of a court full of intrigue and gossip, of the constant threat of battles with the Spanish and the competition to explore the New World to establish colonies, and above all to find gold. Raleigh saw his own salvation in these ventures and invested a lot of money in ships and expeditions, few of which brought him any long-term profit. Mr Riches portrays a powerful picture of how a man's fortunes could grow or disappear entirely on the whim of the monarch or the treachery of those around her.
It was an engrossing read about a man about whom I knew very little and I am left with an image of a 16th century man, Sir Walter Raleigh, who by today's standards we would probably have considered to be a good businessman, a good employer, a loving but absent husband and altogether too much of a risk-taker to achieve all his unbounded ambitions.
Although this is the third book in the Elizabethan series, it is an enjoyable read in its own right. However, I just might have to read the first two books as well.
Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds
© Joan Fallon