A favorite of Queen Elizabeth I who was awarded numerous trade monopolies in the New World, Ralegh was the object of jealous attacks on his unorthodoxy, tolerance, and intellectual boldness. In 1592 a Jesuit pamphlet by Robert Parsons accused him of heading a “School of Atheism” and denounced his skeptical scientific inquiry as conjuring. An ecclesiastical commission established to investigate Ralegh’s baiting of a conventional parson named William Ironside yielded to Ralegh’s witty logic, but Ralegh was rarely circumspect. He spoke out, for example, against conducting witch-hunts for religious nonconformists.
All copies of The History of the World, a cynical assessment of human history that Ralegh composed during the thirteen years he was convened in the Tower of London, were recalled in 1614, at the command of King James I, who objected to the book’s allegorical frontispiece, to the fact that a condemned prisoner claimed authorship, and to its “too saucy” censuring of princes. The History’s prefatory “Premonition to Princes” asserted that the power of kings might seem great in the small theater of the world but was little next to the power of God, who would call even kings to account for their sins through Death, “the great Leveller.”
Officially executed for plotting to dethrone James, Ralegh was actually executed for his defiance of conventional Jacobean wisdom. Later, Puritans made his condemnation of tyrants in Prerogative of Parliaments a cornerstone of their dissent.