Death of the Fox

(Great Characters in Literature)

Characters Discussed

Sir Walter Ralegh

Sir Walter Ralegh, captain of the guard under Queen Elizabeth and a leading Elizabethan courtier. Ralegh has been a soldier, seafarer, explorer, and counselor to the queen as well as an amateur scientist and engineer, antiquarian, historian, and poet. Known to enemies and friends as the Fox for his shrewd pursuit of public and personal ambitions, Ralegh is now an old man under suspended sentence of death for leading a pro-Spanish plot against King James I fifteen years earlier, in 1603. He is innocent of that charge. Although Ralegh had been proud, headstrong, and lusty as a young man, his years in prison have deepened his meditative and philosophical nature; he reflects on his life as he awaits sentencing and then execution on Lord Mayor’s Day, October 29, 1618. Reared to eminence and great wealth under Elizabeth, Ralegh was banished from court in 1592 after his affair with Elizabeth Throckmorton, later his beloved wife Bess. He discovered Guiana for England in 1595, however, and was the old queen’s most loyal courtier in her declining years. He was brought to trial by King James shortly after the latter’s succession in 1603, and his self-defense at Winchester confounded the king’s own lawyers. Imprisoned thereafter in the Tower of London, he was released in 1617. His subsequent disastrous expedition to Guiana, which resulted in an unsuccessful attack on a Spanish stronghold and the death of his son, led to his reimprisonment by the king. He is unjustly sentenced to execution at Westminster by Henry Yelverton, James’s attorney general. He is visited by his wife Bess and a scholar friend, Thomas Hariot, on the last night of his life, and is examined spiritually in the morning and justified by Robert Tounson,...

(The entire section is 734 words.)