Sir Walter Raleigh’s treason

William_Segar_Sir_Walter_Raleigh_1598On Thursday 17th November 1603 Sir Walter Raleigh was tried at Winchester for his part in the Main Plot. The jury took 15 minutes to arrive at their verdict and even Lord Coke the attorney general was taken by surprise at the speed of the delivery – he was still taking a stroll round the gardens when the jury returned.  No one was particularly surprised by the outcome, probably least of all Sir Walter, but the consensus was that he had arrived in Winchester one of the most disliked men in the kingdom but departed as one of the most pitied.

Essentially Sir Walter was caught up by the Main Plot which conspired to kill James and his children and replace them with Arbella Stuart having been financed by the Spanish and the Hapsburgs. Much of the evidence against Raleigh was based on Lord Cobham’s evidence.

The King’s Sergeant when introducing the case announced that Cobham revered Raleigh and that the former was a simple untravelled man whilst Raleigh was much more worldly.

Raleigh defended himself ably and with humour noting that the entire content of his trial was based on hearsay by one man and that man had received a letter from his wife telling him to pin it on Raleigh.  He went on to say that under a law dating from the reign of Edward III that two men were required to condemn a man.  Coke, objected saying that horse thieves used that stratagem to avoid condemnation and that to argue against the king’s court on a point of law suggested treasonable intent in itself.

He continued to observe that he was not charged with the Bye Plot which was to kidnap James I – and that if he was part of the conspiracy why hadn’t he been trusted to take part in that particular hare-brained scheme.

Raleigh also made the very good point that the Spanish had never been his friends and that they didn’t look particularly kindly upon him in any event so to accuse him of being in cahoots with the Spanish verged upon the absurd.  He continued in that particular vein picking holes in the evidence and observing that he had thought that Lord Cobham was offering him a pension to work for peace- something that Cecil himself had accepted- so it was hardly treasonous.

Looking at the trial transcripts it is clear that under today’s laws the case would have been thrown out.  Somewhat ironically James and Cecil needed Raleigh out of the way so that they could make peace with the Spanish.


One thought on “Sir Walter Raleigh’s treason

  1. Yes poor Raleigh kept in the tower for years had his books taken off him by James the King as he found Sir Walters humour not to his taste. He was condemned long before that court date but totally innocent. His only real fault was marriage to one of Queen Bess girls. Throckmorton . That Queen had his death warrant out on her death bed but never signed it. James knew this and wanted to sign it himself without ever meeting Sir Walter but Cecil stopped it and put the idea of trail hoping for justice. Raleigh was an educated pirate in form who had one dream that was to build a city in the new world. I do not know this Bye plot but he could not have had any part in that of the Rye House plot anyway. I doubt if he had any guilt of any chance of rebellion. Politics was not his interest only the sea haunted his dreams to return to the salt waters if only a ship could be secured.If anything was a foot that would have been his work while jailed. Sad as he was one of our greatest sailor adventurers who could not stay out of trouble even so his dear wife tried . She related to Parr family from way back in time. I had my relation Harry Throckmorton until I was 12 he told me all of Raleigh marriage from old bibles he often talked of and at my 11 birthday he arrived with a tea chest full of bibles all from his family going back 15 generations. I had them for a month and he died sadly of heart problems . The tea chest collected by his daughter so upset a boy so young had gone through nearly all of the books.

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