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112: Elizabeth: The Golden Age

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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.

On June 4th, we learned all about the story of how Queen Elizabeth I ascended to the throne of England as depicted in the 1999 film simply called Elizabeth. That was what many consider to be the movie that elevated Cate Blanchett into the global spotlight as she was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her portrayal of the Queen.

Then, in 2007, her Hollywood stardom was cemented as she was nominated and took home the same award in 2008 for returning to portray the Queen in 2007’s sequel called Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

If you haven’t heard the Elizabeth episode yet, you might want to hop back and give that one a listen. While this isn’t technically a part two of the last movie because they’re covering two different movies … it’s basically a two-parter.

So, assuming you’re familiar with the story we heard about Queen Elizabeth I’s ascension to the throne in the Elizabeth episode, let’s travel back in time to what we now know as the Elizabethan era.[/vc_column_text][vc_custom_heading font_container=”tag:h2|text_align:center” use_theme_fonts=”yes” shrk_theme_font=”default”]Learn the true story behind Elizabeth: The Golden Age[/vc_custom_heading][vc_column_text]1585. Spain is the most powerful empire in the world. Philip of Spain, a devout Catholic, has plunged Europe into holy war. Only England stands against him, ruled by a Protestant Queen — Elizabeth.

That’s how our movie begins today, as we see that introductory text on top of scenes of stained glass windows.

Now, if you recall from our episode covering the movie simply called Elizabeth, our story there ended after the Ridolfi plot was uncovered and the Duke of Norfolk was beheaded.

That happened in June of 1572, so that’d mean we’re picking up the story about 13 years later.

And in those 13 years, tensions weren’t really calmed down. Although, there was one major change in the leaders involved in our story. If you’re a BOATS Producer, you’ve got access to the bonus episode that came out for the first movie where we heard the decree from Pope Pius V in 1570 that excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I and anyone who obeyed her orders from the Catholic Church.

Well, Pope Pius V died 1572. He was succeeded by Pope Gregory XIII, who also encouraged King Philip II of Spain in his plots to dethrone Queen Elizabeth I. But, he did change one thing about the declaration from his predecessor. Rather than excommunicating anyone who obeyed Queen Elizabeth, he changed that order to advise Catholics to obey Elizabeth outwardly — basically, put on the façade of following the Queen, but support a plot to overthrow her when the time came.

This is something the movie subtly implies when we hear one of the men around Elizabeth mention “Catholic assassin’s” being everywhere. That was a very real concern for Elizabeth. With the Pope’s decree and advising Catholics to be outwardly obedient to Elizabeth only to strike when the opportunity arose, we can only imagine how paranoid it must’ve made Elizabeth — and anyone around her.

Pope Gregory XIII died in 1585, though, the same year the movie’s timeline begins. So, he was succeeded by Pope Sixtus V.

Despite all these changes in the Church leadership, it makes sense why the movie doesn’t really mention because the attitude toward Elizabeth didn’t change much.

In fact, if anything Pope Sixtus V slowed down the attempts to overthrow Elizabeth because he didn’t really trust King Philip II of Spain. He still renewed the excommunication of Queen Elizabeth, but he didn’t want to back Philip’s plot to take over the throne of England until Philip’s troops landed in England.

That’s a big factor the movie leaves out, because it gives Philip a pretty big incentive to invade England as soon as possible. The sooner he did, the sooner the Church would send a handsome sum to back the Spanish. In fact, so secret was this plan that even today we only know about it because of a spy who managed to steal a copy of a letter signed by Cardinal William Allen that mentioned it.

Allen himself kept everything secret by burning all his communications.

Sort of makes you wonder what other things we don’t know about — things that spies didn’t happen to steal a copy of before they were burned and forever lost to history.

Back in the movie, after this introduction we see a beautiful castle with some more text on screen. It’s Fotheringhay Castle and, according to the movie, it’s serving as the prison for Mary, Queen of Scots.

Inside the castle, we see Mary as played by Samantha Morton. A message arrives for her. While we don’t see what’s inside the message, one of the women with Mary is very plain about their thoughts of Elizabeth. With talk of the bastard usurper having her throat slit, Mary quickly lashes out — that’ll be enough!

Then, slowly, a very slight smile crosses her lips. Throat slit? Please.

So, this scene is not something we can prove happened, but the point of the scene is to set up Mary as someone who’s conspiring against Elizabeth from her prison in Fotheringhay Castle — if you can call a beautiful countryside castle a prison. But, I suppose, anywhere you’re not granted the freedom to leave is a prison.

That aside, the movie’s timeline is a little bit off from history here.

By this, what I mean is that Mary wasn’t at Fotheringhay Castle in 1585. Instead, she was at Chartley Castle in 1585. Chartley is about 70 miles, or 112 kilometers, to the west of Fotheringhay.

Mary was moved to Fotheringhay in 1586 as a direct result of the plots against Elizabeth that we see in the movie. But, that’s the whole point of our story today, so to avoid spoiling the ending now let’s hop back into the movie’s timeline.

And we join back up with the movie in Spain where we see Jordi Mollà’s version of King Philip II riding in a carriage. Looking out the window, Philip says he’s sacrificing the forests of Spain to build the largest fleet the world has known.

Sitting across from the King is Rhys Ifans’ character, Robert Reston.

Sitting beside him in the carriage is his daughter, Isabella. She’s played by Aimee King.

Interestingly, one of those three characters is completely fictional. And it’s not Isabella, even though her father calls her Isabella and she’s cast in the credits as Infanta. Basically, that’s the title of Princess. And Isabella was really the daughter of King Philip II. So, that’d mean the fictional character in the carriage is Robert Reston.

Even though Reston is made up, that doesn’t mean the plot he’s sent to England to carry out against Elizabeth is fictional. It’s just that he wasn’t the leader of the plot.

And that leads us right back into the movie, because in the next scene we see Thomas Babington in the crowd. It’s the sort of brief shot that you’d never know who he was — the movie doesn’t explain who this random person is in the crowd. The only reason we know it’s someone important to the movie is because it’s an actor we know. In this case, Eddie Redmayne.

Although, there’s one major difference between the character of Thomas Babington and the real person he’s based on — his name wasn’t Thomas. It was Anthony.

It was Anthony Babington who was the chief conspirator, not someone named Robert Reston like we see in the movie. Hence why we know of this plot today as The Babington Plot.

Back in the movie, next we’re introduced to another major character. It’s Clive Owen’s character, Walter Raleigh. The movie portrays him at first as sort of a man of mystery. He first encounters Cate Blanchett’s version of the Queen by laying down a cloak in her way. Then, he says there was a puddle there. That’s why he laid down the cloak.

After Elizabeth passes, we see Walter pick up the cloak, but the movie never really shows us if there was a puddle there. The rest of the ground looks pretty dry, though.

That scene is all made up. In fact, most historians believe the real Walter Raleigh came into the picture as far as Queen Elizabeth was concerned around the year 1580 — about five years before the movie’s timeline.

At that time, Walter was rather outspoken against the way the English were handling things in Ireland; something he saw firsthand as he fought against Irish rebels. That brought him to the attention of the Queen, and by the time 1582 rolled around, he had earned the Queen’s favor.

Just like the movie implies here, Walter was an explorer who had traveled to the New World by the movie’s timeline. Although there were some conflicting reports in my research, most sources I could find mentioned a 1578 trip to America with his half-brother, a man named Sir Humphrey Gilbert.

It seems to be a common belief that this voyage was what made Walter want to go back to the Americas to establish a colony. We see this burning passion in Clive Owen’s character in the film. And, not to get ahead of our story, but the movie doesn’t ever mention the colony that he eventually set up … but you’ve probably heard of it. That was the colony at Roanoke Island, which would end up being the mysterious lost colony.

But, that’s a story for another day.

In the movie, after seeing Walter Raleigh, we see a procession of possible suitors for Elizabeth. King Philip II’s representatives, the ambassadors from Spain. King Eric of Sweden. Ivan, also known as Ivan the Terrible, the Czar of Russia.

None of the actual people are there, but rather envoys from the country carrying a painting of their leader. The one Elizabeth likes is Archduke Charles of Austria. She asks that he visit her court, so she can see him in person.

As we learned in the Elizabeth episode about the first movie in this two-parter, Queen Elizabeth had quite a few suitors. And it is true that Archduke Charles of Austria was one of them.

So was King Eric XVI of Sweden, and King Philip II of Spain.

Not so much Ivan the Terrible from Russia, because he died of a stroke on March 28th, 1584 — before the timeline of the movie. Or, maybe it’s that he died after the envoy sent to England and the news of his death hadn’t spread yet. In either case, most historians today don’t consider Ivan to be one of Elizabeth’s suitors.

Before we continue, though, as a little side note, there’s a sequence where we see Clive Owen’s version of Walter Raleigh bringing gifts from the New World to Elizabeth. Potatoes and tobacco. Then, he says he named the land Virginia in honor of Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen.

That … might be true.

The truth is we don’t really know for sure. What we do know is that it was around 1583 when Elizabeth granted Walter the rights to start a colony north of the Spanish in Florida. Some historians think he came up with the name Virginia because of Elizabeth being the Virgin Queen. Others think perhaps the name came from Elizabeth herself. Still others think perhaps it’s none of the above and the name came from a native word.

In either case, though, since it was Elizabeth who granted Walter’s trip to the New World in 1583, he wouldn’t have been a brand-new acquaintance to the Queen in 1585 like we saw in the movie.

Oh, and there’s also plenty who believe it was Walter who introduced both potatoes and tobacco to the English after returning from Virginia. Still others insist potatoes came to the English from Spain. As for tobacco, other stories yet suggest it wasn’t until 1586 when Walter introduced it to England.

So, as we can tell, there’s quite a few conflicting stories about Walter Raleigh and whether he was the first to bring potatoes and tobacco to England or not. It’s a good story. There just doesn’t seem to be enough documentation to prove it one way or the other.

Back in the movie, we see the relationship between Walter and Elizabeth grow closer through one of Elizabeth’s ladies-in-waiting. Her name is also Elizabeth, but everyone calls her Bess.

She’s played by Abbie Cornish in the film, and her character’s full name is Bess Throckmorton. While Bess was a real person, it’s worth pointing out that some historians think her name might’ve been Throgmorton. And since that’s a minor detail, for the sake of consistency I’ll call her Throckmorton throughout this episode since that’s what the movie went with.

Back in the movie, we’re back with Mary Stuart when we see her refer to Tom Hollander’s character, Sir Amias Paulet, as her jailor. This scene isn’t one of historical significance, but it sets up Paulet as the one overseeing Mary’s imprisonment and furthers the storyline that Mary Stuart is sending letters to the plot against Elizabeth.

And that’s true.

Most historians believe Paulet’s beliefs were more in line with Calvinism than Protestant, though. But, without opening up a line of discussion on religious theology, for the purpose of our story today, it’s enough to know Paulet was very strongly anti-Catholic.

In January of 1585, Paulet was appointed as the jailer of Mary Stuart. Remember, she wasn’t at Fotheringhay Castle like the movie shows, though. She was at Chartley Castle — but that part of the story is a minor detail since Paulet was her jailer both at Chartley and Fotheringhay.

As for the letters, Mary did send letters to the plots against Elizabeth. You’ll notice I said plots, multiple. We’ll learn more about why that is here in a moment.

Back in Elizabeth’s court, according to the movie, Bess being the liaison between Elizabeth and Walter leads to plenty of isolated moments between Walter and Bess. This leads to some rather intimate moments between Walter and Bess.

We see this in the movie as Walter consoles Bess after she found out about the death of her cousin, Francis. We haven’t talked about him too much, but we see him involved in a plot against Elizabeth and moments of him asking Bess for help — to get back in good favor with Elizabeth.

Oh, and Francis Throckmorton is played by Steven Robertson in the movie.

While those specific scenes between Bess and Francis were made up, the basic plotline we see happening here has some basis in truth.

What the movie’s referring to here was what we know today as The Throckmorton Plot. As you can probably guess, it’s named after Francis Throckmorton and his brother, Thomas, who doesn’t show up in the movie at all.

Francis and Thomas devised the plan in Paris, where they met a spy for Mary Stuart named Thomas Morgan. The basic idea for the plan was that the two brothers, with backing from Spain and the Pope, would help English Catholics revolt against Elizabeth while simultaneously having Francis himself use the connection to Elizabeth through his cousin, Bess, to assassinate the Queen.

All of this would help put Mary on the throne of England while removing Elizabeth from power.

Probably the biggest difference between the plot we saw in the movie and what really happened was the timeline. Remember, the beginning of the movie starts us out at 1585. Well, the Throckmorton plot was stopped before that by Walsingham. He caught wind of it in 1583 and Thomas managed to escape the country, but Francis was imprisoned and, under torture, admitted to the plot.

By the time January of 1584 rolled around, the Spanish ambassador involved in the plot, a man named Bernardino de Mendoza, was thrown out of England. As you can probably guess, this escalated tensions between Spain and England.

Francis was executed in July of the same year, and with it died The Throckmorton Plot.

All of that was before the movie’s timeline.

Which leads us back into the movie, where we see yet another plot to assassinate Elizabeth.

This time, it’s Eddie Redmayne’s character. In the movie he’s Thomas Babington, but as we learned earlier, the real person’s name was Anthony Babington. And as we mentioned earlier, he was the chief conspirator in what’s known as The Babington Plot.

I know, all these plots have real original names.

Like the plots before them, Babington’s plot was essentially the same. Assassinate Queen Elizabeth and establish Mary, Queen of Scots on the throne. One of the key differences between the Babington plot and the others we’ve learned about both in this movie and the one before it was that the Spanish weren’t quite as involved in this one as the movie makes it seem.

But, it’s logical to assume that had the Catholic Mary Stuart been able to seize the throne that she would’ve reached out to the Spanish for support, so it’s easy to see how it can all fit together so well like the movie shows.

In the movie, we see Eddie Redmayne’s version of Babington get almost to the point of shooting Elizabeth. Then, he pulls the trigger to find out that the gun wasn’t even loaded.

That never happened. Babington never pulled a gun on Elizabeth.

So, then, what really happened?

As we learned earlier, the man we see in the movie as the mastermind behind the plot was fictional. That’d be Rhys Ifans’ character, Robert Reston.

Well, if there was someone he was based on it’d probably be John Ballard. Except, there’s already someone in the movie with that name. Not in this movie, though. In 1998’s Elizabeth the character of John Ballard was played by Daniel Craig. He’s the Jesuit priest we learned about when we covered that movie.

Except, as we learned in that the plot in the first movie closely resembled The Ridolfi Plot — a plot to assassinate Elizabeth that had the same basic structure as the Throckmorton and Babington plots, but took place about ten years before the other two.

And even though we learned a bit about him in that episode, that’s mostly because he was in that movie. In The Golden Age, Ballard doesn’t make an appearance. Instead, they created the fictional character of Robert Reston to fulfill John Ballard’s role because, historically speaking, Ballard was one of the co-conspirators behind The Babington Plot.

In the movie, we see the plot get linked to Mary Stuart through her letters. Her jailer, Paulet, reveals a letter that Mary’s written. In that moment, Samantha Morton’s version of Mary, Queen of Scots realizes there’s a traitor in her midst — but the damage has been done. Her treasonous letters have been brought to light, and with it she’s condemned to death.

And while the movie fictionalizes the specifics, it is true that the Babington plot was exposed through letters between the conspirators and Mary Stuart.

You see, after so the previous plots against Elizabeth that had the common denominator of establishing Mary as the replacement Queen, Sir Francis Walsingham, knew there was something going on with Mary. He just couldn’t prove it.

Walsingham, who’s played by Geoffrey Rush in the movie, was a smart man who earned the nickname spymaster for his tact in uncovering the plots against Elizabeth.

For Babington’s plot, what he did was use two double agents. None of them are in the movie, but the key men were named Gilbert Gifford and Thomas Phelippes.

Gifford was a Catholic who had been captured by Walsingham in 1585 and turned into a double agent. As for Phelippes, he was a decipherer — he encrypted messages. Both of them were placed in Chartley Castle and it didn’t take long for Mary Stuart to take the bait.

She didn’t know it, of course, but she trusted the Catholic deacon, Gifford. He, in turn, suggested she be extra careful by using Phelippes’ skills to encrypt her messages.

Of course, this also meant Walsingham would get a copy of the decrypted letters.

And that’s exactly how Walsingham was able to finally convict Mary Stuart — to get the proof he needed to have cause for executing the Queen who wanted to seize Elizabeth’s throne.

In particular, it this letter written on July 7th, 1586 from Babington to Mary:

Myself with ten gentlemen and a hundred of our followers will undertake the delivery of your royal person from the hands of your enemies.

For the dispatch of the usurper, from the obedience of whom we are by the excommunication of her made free, there be six noble gentlemen, all my private friends, who for the zeal they bear to the Catholic cause and your Majesty’s service will undertake that tragical execution.

Seven days later, Mary received the letter. She replied three days after that:

For I have long ago shown unto the foreign Catholic princes, what they have done against the King of Spain, and in the time the Catholics here remaining, exposed to all persecutions and cruelty, do daily diminish in number, forces, means and power. 

So as, if remedy be not thereunto speedily provided, I fear not a little but they shall become altogether unable for ever to rise again and to receive any aid at all, whensoever it were offered. Then for mine own part, I pray you to assure our principal friends that, albeit I had not in this cause any particular interest in this case…

I shall be always ready and most willing to employ therein my life and all that I have, or may ever look for, in this world.

It’s clear that Mary wanted them to act sooner rather than later as the Catholics in England were growing smaller in number with each passing day.

Then, Mary ended the letter with:

Let the great plot commence.

That’s all the proof Walsingham needed. Mary had committed treason against Queen Elizabeth. However, Walsingham let the letter be delivered to Babington after he ordered Phelippes to includ this little bit:

I would be glad to know the names and quelityes of the sixe gentlemen which are to accomplish the dessignement, for that it may be, I shall be able uppon knowledge of the parties to give you some further advise necessarye to be followed therein; and even so do I wish to be made acquainted with the names of all such principal persons as also from time to time particularlye how you proceede and as son as you may for the same purpose who bee alredye and how farr every one privye hereunto.

With that, Walsingham both had Mary Stuart on treason and only had to wait to learn the name of the men involved in the plot.

Except, that never happened. Babington never got the letter.

On August 4th, 1586, John Ballard was arrested. After being tortured, he named Anthony Babington who, in turn, was arrested before Babington ever received the letter from Mary Stuart. Through torture, more names were extracted, and those men arrested.

Back in the movie, we see the end result of the Babington plot with Mary, Queen of Scots being executed — beheaded.

And that’s true.

As we learned earlier, though, Mary wasn’t at Fotheringhay Castle the whole time like the movie implies. Instead, the letters she sent came from Chartley Castle. In October of 1586, Mary was sent to Fotheringhay Castle because it was much more secure than Chartley. Walsingham didn’t want an escape plot by her many supporters.

It was here at Fotheringhay that Mary was tried. The most damning parts of the letters implicating her in treason were read aloud to the lords, bishops and earls in attendance. For the most part, the trial was a show. Mary wasn’t allowed to have any sort of defense.

So, we don’t really know what it would’ve been like if she had. Convicted of treason, Elizabeth signed the document allowing her cousin to be executed.

On February 8th, 1587, Mary Stuart was beheaded in front of 300 witnesses.

Back in the movie, after Mary’s death, we see the Spanish try taking the throne in a more direct route. No more plots of assassinations. This time, with the full strength of the Spanish Armada, Philip plans to invade England.

And, according to the movie, England’s own Navy and military are sorely lacking compared to the Spanish offensive.

Just then, something miraculous happens. Clive Owen’s version of Walter Raleigh is on board one of the English ships when they have the idea to send in some fire ships to break up the Armada’s formation. They do, and in one of the next scenes we see Elizabeth looking over the channel to see fire on the horizon — the Armada is in flames!

The story of the Armada itself could probably be an entire episode by itself — or an entire movie by itself — but for the purposes of our story today, the basics of this plotline in the film.

There were some changes, though.

For example, the timeline is off. Remember, Mary was executed in the beginning of 1587. The Spanish Armada didn’t set sail right away like the movie makes it seem.

It was in May of 1588 when 130 Spanish ships set sail for England. This marked the latest escalation of hostilities between the two nations in a war that was never officially declared.

The man in charge of the English naval defense was Sir Francis Drake. We saw Drake briefly in the movie in one of the scenes where Clive Owen’s character, Walter Raleigh, suggests using fireships against the Spanish.

The basic gist of that is true, but the movie really hypes up Walter Raleigh’s role in this. He was in charge of a ship, the Ark Raleigh, that was involved in the defense against the Armada, but in truth, it was Drake who was the major reason behind the Spanish defeat.

Oh, and as a fun little fact, if the name Sir Francis Drake sounds familiar to you then you’re probably a fan of the popular Uncharted series of games. In the first game of that series we find out the hero in those games, Nathan Drake, is a descendant of Sir Francis. Except, of course, Nathan Drake is a fictional character as is the storyline of the Uncharted games — but still — that’s a bit of trivia for you.

The real Sir Francis Drake was the vice admiral of the English fleet when it came upon the Spanish Armada attempting to invade England. The movie also plays up the desperation for the English who, in truth, didn’t lose any ships to the advancing Spanish.

The movie shows the Armada dropping anchor due to weather, but in truth it was fter Drake captured a Spanish ship that the Armada decided to drop anchor near Calais, France.

Then, while the Armada waited to communicate with Spanish forces on land, the English fireships attacked. This caused a panic in the Spanish that scattered the Armada, and only then did weather play a role in the battle when it hampered their ability to regroup afterward.

As they were, the English continued to attack and harass the Spanish ships so much that their commander finally ordered them back to Spain.

Although the movie makes it seem like the fireships managed to sink the entire Spanish Armada, that’s not true at all. Yes, the Armada was forced back to Spain, but about two thirds or so of the 130 ships that set sail returned — or, somewhere between 80 to 90 ships.

Still, it was a humiliating defeat for the Spanish in what we now know as the largest single attack of the war.

Well, war was never officially declared. So, it’s more accurate to say it was the largest engagement between the English and Spanish during the conflict of the two countries from 1585 to 1604 that historians refer to as the Anglo-Spanish War.

Back in the movie, after the Armada’s defeat, we see Elizabeth visit Walsingham. He’s ill, lying in bed. He tells Elizabeth that she doesn’t need him anymore. Holding his hand in hers, she says, “You rest here.”

Then, she kisses his forehead as his family cries in the background. Although we don’t see him die, that seems to be what the movie is implying.

And, that’d be correct.

After complaining of sickness that many historians believe might’ve either been, or led to, testicular cancer, Sir Francis Walsingham died at his home on April 6th, 1590 at the age of 58.

As the movie comes to a close, we see Elizabeth with Walter and Bess once more. There doesn’t seem to be much anger between the trio as Elizabeth smiles, holding Walter and Bess’ child.

Hearing Cate Blanchett’s voiceover, she says she’s the Virgin Queen. Unmarried. Without a master, childless, and a mother to her people.

Dramatized as that may be, it is true that Elizabeth never officially married. The nickname of Virgin Queen also is one attributed to her, although it’s never been proven she was a virgin — her first love being something we learned a bit more about in the episode covering the first movie.

As for Sir Walter Raleigh, it is true that he married Elizabeth Throckmorton — Bess.

What’s not likely to be true is that Elizabeth would’ve held their first child together like we saw in the movie.

For one, the timeline is all off.

It wasn’t until July of 1591 that Bess got pregnant. The couple was married in secret, and their first son was born in March of 1592.

Although, like we saw in the movie, Elizabeth wasn’t happy when she found out. By June of 1592, both Walter and Bess were imprisoned in the Tower of London.

A couple months later, Walter was released. That was in August. Then, a few months after that, Bess was — in December. But, that doesn’t mean all things were forgiven. For the next five years or so, they officially remained out of favor of the Queen before finally being restored. For a time, he returned to the New World exploring what we now know as Guyana and Venezuela in South America.

At the very end of the movie, we see some text on the screen that says King Philip died ten years after the Spanish Armada was defeated. After which, England entered a time of peace and prosperity.

Then, it gives the dates of Elizabeth’s life from 1533 to 1603.

Those dates are correct. More specifically, Elizabeth lived from September 7th, 1533 to March 24th, 1603. She died at the age of 69, reigning over England for 44 of those years.

King Philip II, on the other hand, was born on May 21st, 1527 and died at the age of 71 on September 13th, 1598 — ten years after the Armada’s defeat in 1588.

While Elizabeth’s long reign helped establish England’s identity and build them as a power in Europe, everything didn’t end so happily for the characters in our story today.

About four months after Elizabeth died, Walter Raleigh was arrested. He was charged with treason as a part of a plot against Elizabeth’s successor, King James I.

After a trial in which he was found guilty, the King decided to spare his life, instead keeping him imprisoned for 14 years, until 1617, when he was pardoned. Upon being pardoned, he was given permission to return to the New World, which he did in search of the fabled city of El Dorado — a story that many historians believe might’ve started from the book he wrote about his first expedition to Venezuela.

This time, Walter took his son — who was also named Walter. While on the expedition, some of Walter Sr.’s men attacked a Spanish outpost. That was a violation of the peace treaty between England and Spain that’d come after the end of the Anglo-Spanish War.

So, when they returned to England, the Spanish demanded Walter Raleigh pay for his men’s deeds with his own life.

Not wanting to face another war with the Spanish, King James complied. Although some historians think Walter could’ve escaped easily, he didn’t. On October 29th, 1618, Sir Walter Raleigh was beheaded.

His body was buried, but his head was embalmed and given to his wife, Bess. Some tell the story she kept his head until her own death about 29 years later in 1647.



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