One of the most colorful and politically powerful members of the court of Queen Elizabeth I, Raleigh has come to personify the English Renaissance. Born at Hayes Barton, Devonshire, most likely in 1554, Raleigh came from a prominent family long associated with seafaring. In his mid-teens, Raleigh interrupted his education to fight with Huguenot forces in France. Upon his return to England in 1572, he attended Oxford University for two years and left, without earning a degree, to study law in London. One of the first examples of his poetry appeared in 1576 as the preface to George Gascoigne’s satire The Steele Glas. Two years later, Raleigh and his half-brother Sir Humphrey Gilbert sailed to North America in an unsuccessful attempt to find the Northwest Passage. In 1580, Raleigh took part in the English suppression of Ireland, earning a reputation as a war hero primarily for leading a massacre of unarmed Spanish and Italian troops. Upon his return to England, Raleigh was summoned by Queen Elizabeth to serve as an advisor on Irish affairs. Elizabeth was taken with Raleigh’s personal charm, and he soon became one of her court favorites. In addition to lucrative royal commissions and grants, he was knighted in 1585, and in 1587, he was named captain of the Queen’s personal guard. The majority of Raleigh’s poetry was written during this period, much of it designed to flatter Elizabeth and secure her royal favor. He was able to use that influence to ensure the Queen’s favorable reception of his friend Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queen (1590). Raleigh also used his influence to gain the Queen’s support...
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