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This ornament of his country, in whom was combined almost every variety of talent with almost every acquirement of science, and who with the most heroic courage of chivalry united the most ardent spirit of enterprise, was the fourth son of Walter Ralegh, Esq. of Fardel, in the parish of Cornwood near Plymouth, an ancient and very respectable family in Devonshire. His mother was Katharine, daughter of Sir Philip Champernon of Modbury, and relict of Otho Gilbert, Esq. of Compton in Devonshire. To Mr. Ralegh she bore two sons, Carew and Walter. The latter was born in 1552, at Hayes Farm, f in the parish of Budley, Devonshire, near the spot where the Ottery discharges itself into the British Channel. On attaining the age of sixteen, he was sent
* Authorities. Oldys', Birch's, and Cayley's Lives of Sir Walter Ralegh; Fuller's Worthies of Devon; Campbell's Lives of the Admirals; and Mortimer's History of England.
f Of this farm, belonging to a Mr. Drake, his father had only a lease. This appears from a letter addressed to that gentleman by Sir Walter in 1584, when his fortunes had begun to flourish, entreating to purchase it; as 'for the natural disposition he had to it, being born in that house, he had rather seat himself there than any where else.'
to finish his education at the University of Oxford, where he became a gentleman-commoner of Oriel College. There he distinguished himself by the strength and vivacity of his genius, and by his close application to his studies: notwithstanding which, however, a disposition for more active scenes of life frequently discovered itself in his conversation. His father therefore, finding the thirst of fame his ruling passion, resolved to introduce him into the military service. Accordingly, after remaining a short time at Oxford, in 1569 he became one of the troop of a hundred gentlemen volunteers, whom Queen Elizabeth permitted Henry Champernon to conduct into France, for the service of the Protestant princes. Finem Det Mihi Virtus, or 'Let valour decide the contest,' streamed on their standard. Here Ralegh enjoyed the opportunity at once of acquiring experience in the art of war, of improving himself in the knowledge of the modern languages, and of acquiring all the accomplishments of a gentleman. He did not return till the end of the year 1575.*
* "In France," says Hooker, "he spent good part of his youth in wars and martial services." That he became a student of the Middle Temple after quitting college, is disproved by his own testimony; for in his reply to the Attorney-General upon his arraignment, he lays a heavy imprecation upon himself, "if ever he read a word of law or statutes, before he was a prisoner in the Tower." If therefore the lines prefixed to Gascoigne's 'Steele-glass,' and subscribed « Walter Rawely of the Middle Temple,' were (as, from other circumstances, it is probable they were) his, we must conclude that young gentlemen then, as at present, occasionally occupied chambers in the Inns of Court, without ever studying much less intending to practise the law.
At the time of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew's, which (according to Natalis Comes) destroyed 60,000 victims of all ranks and ages, he perhaps found refuge in the embassador Walsingham's
The activity of his temper, however, did not suffer him to rest long at home; for in 1578, he entered into the service of the Prince of Orange against the Spaniards.
Soon after this, he had an opportunity of trying his fortune at sea. His half-brother, Sir Humphry Gilbert, having obtained a patent to plant and settle some of the northern parts of America, not claimed by any nation in alliance with England, Ralegh engaged with a considerable party in an expedition to Newfoundland. But the voyage proved unsuccessful: for divisions arising among the volunteers, Sir Humphry was in 1579 obliged to set sail with only a few of his friends; and, after various misfortunes, returned with the loss of one of his ships in an engagement, in which Ralegh himself was exposed to great danger.
In 1580, the Spanish and Italian forces having invaded Ireland, under the Pope's banner, for the support of the Desmonds then in rebellion in the province of Munster, he obtained a captain's commission under the Lord Deputy Arthur Lord Grey de Wilton; where under the command of Thomas Earl of Ormond, governor of Munster, he surprised the Irish kerns at Rekell, and took every rebel upon the spot * He assisted, likewise, at the siege of Fort Del
house, in company with Lord Wharton, young Philip Sidney, and others. During the whole interval from 1569 to 1579, of the twenty-four hours (we are told) he allowed only five to sleep, and constantly devoted four to study.
* Among them was one loaded with withs (or willows), who being asked, « What he intended to have done with them i' rudely answered, 'To have hung up the English churls;' upon which Ralegh said, ' They should now serve for an Irish kern/ Ore, which the Spanish troops had built as a place of retreat. The Lord Deputy himself besieging it by land, Sir William Winter the Admiral by sea, and Ralegh commanding in the trenches, it was obliged to surrender at discretion; and the principal part of the garrison were (under the superintendence of the latter and Mackworth, who first entered the castle) inhumanly put to the sword.
During the winter of this year, Ralegh had quarters assigned him at Cork; when observing the seditious practices of David Lord Barry and others, he took a journey to Dublin, and remonstrated with Lord Grey so strongly upon the occasion, that his Lordship gave him full commission to seize the lands of this turbulent nobleman, and to reduce him to peace and subjection by such means as he should think proper; for which purpose, he was furnished with a party of horse. But before he could carry his purpose into effect, Barry himself burnt his castle to the ground, though it was his principal seat, and laid waste the country round it with greater devastation, than even the zeal of his enemies would have inflicted.
In his return to his quarters, Ralegh was attacked by Fitz-Edmonds, an old rebel of Barry's faction, at
and ordered him immediately to be hanged. We read of another rebel of higher rank named O'Rourke, who petitioned that, • instead of a rope, he might be hanged in a withy;' assigning, as a reason for his request, that * it was a distinction, which bad been paid to his countrymen before him.' This example Lord Bacon applies, to illustrate the tyranny of custom. At this siege, fell the son of Sir John Cheke*
a fort between Youghal and Cork. Though inferior however in number, he forced his way through the enemy, and crossed the river. A gentleman of his company who was by some accident thrown into the middle, between the fear of drowning and of being taken, calling out for help, Ralegh with some difficulty extricated him from his perilous situation. He now waited, with a staff in one hand and a pistol in the other, for the rest of his company, who were yet on the farther side of the river: upon which Fitz-Edmonds, though he had got a reinforcement of twelve men, finding him thus bravely stand his ground, only exchanged a few rough words with him, and retired.
In 1581, the Earl of Ormond going to England, his government of Munster was given to Captain Ralegh, in commission with Sir William Morgan and Captain Piers. Ralegh resided, for some time, at Lismore; but afterward returning, with his little band of eighty foot and eight horse, to his old quarters at Cork, he received intelligence that Barry was at Clove with several hundred men: upon which, he attacked him at the head of all his forces with great gallantry, and put him to flight. Pursuing his journey, he overtook another company of the enemy, whom, though he had only six horsemen with him, he likewise defeated with considerable loss.
For these, and other signal services, he received a grant from the crown of a large estate in Ireland. But a misunderstanding between him and the Lord Deputy,* prevented his advancing in his profession.
* " I have spent some time here," says he in a letter to the Earl of Leicester (dated from the camp at Lismore, August 25,