I’m encountering all manner of person as my exploration of Raleigh continues. George Gascoigne was one of Raleigh’s role models. His ‘mind was a very opal’ Irwin,p.17. His career reflects the career of many Elizabethans. Education at Cambridge, followed by a stint at Gray’s Inn in 1555, minor posts at court and elected MP for Bedfordshire. Thus far we have an example of Tudor respectability of the kind promoted during the reign of Henry VII. Unfortunately he got himself into all manner of trouble, got himself disinherited and didn’t do too well at court. He managed to get himself into debt, not of itself unusual but he was unable to escape imprisonment for his inability to pay. In 1572 he was even accused of manslaughter and being a ‘common rhymer’.
To be an Elizabethan gentleman you needed a couple more ingredients even though a stint in prison seems positively de rigeur. You needed to be a poet. Gascoigne was not only a poet but also a translator of plays. One of them was used as a source by Shakespeare for The Taming of the Shrew. Gascoigne also advertised his skills. He wrote memoirs of his experiences as well. Spencer admired his works and it was Gascoigne who started the trend towards seeing Elizabeth as a goddess.
The next and most important ingredient has to be a bit of swashbuckle. Once again, Gascoigne has the necessary stuff. He fought for William of Orange in the Low Countries and was even held prisoner for some of that time. At home, together with Raleigh, Martin Frobisher (to whom he was related) and Raleigh’s half-bother Sir Humphrey Gilbert he planned daring voyages of exploration and conquest…not that he went on them because he died unexpectedly but he was part of the planning. And he did invest all his money in the Raleigh/Gilbert boys venture to discover the North West Passage.
Perhaps fortunately for Gascoigne he had acquired a patron so did have some funds – another Tudor essential- the earl of Leicester. In 1575 it was Gascoigne who penned the verses for the event that Leicester held at Kennilworth to impress Elizabeth.
He was born in 1535 and died in October 1577 after a rather varied career but, somehow, a typically Elizabethan one which inspired Sir Walter Raleigh. If you want to find out more about Gascoigne double click on the image to open a new window.