Walter Raleigh

Sir Walter Raleigh (c. 1554–1618) was a famous English explorer and writer during the Elizabethan age. One of Queen Elizabeth I's favourite courtiers, he was knighted for his actions and became very wealthy. He also tried to set up one of the first English settlements in North America. But he fell out of favour with King James I and was later executed. Learn more about this charismatic courtier and his daring escapades, and use our collection of printable resources to test your knowledge.

Fun facts: Walter was a tall, attractive man with a love of expensive clothes and jewellery. He was also confident, chivalrous and charismatic – all qualities that Queen Elizabeth admired. The story goes that instead of allowing the queen to walk through a puddle, Walter spread his expensive cloak on the ground in her path. No wonder he was a favourite courtier!

“For whosoever commands the sea commands the trade; whosoever commands the trade of the world commands the riches of the world, and consequently the world itself.”
Walter Raleigh

A Short Biography of Walter Raleigh

Sir Walter RaleighWalter was born in around 1554 in Devon, England, the youngest of five sons. He grew up in a family of famous men. His half-brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, and his cousin, Sir Richard Grenville, also served Queen Elizabeth I.

When Walter was about 15, he went to France to fight with the Huguenots in the Wars of Religion. He later studied at Oxford University, where his love of writing poetry began, and studied law in London, too.

From 1579 to 1583, Walter served in the army in Ireland. When he helped to stop an Irish rebellion, he became a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I. She knighted him and gave him land and wealth. Within two years, Walter was appointed Captain of the Queen’s Guard – a powerful position.

Walter strongly believed in the colonisation of North America. Although he stayed in England to serve Elizabeth, he sent expeditions to North America between 1584 and 1589. The aim was to set up a colony near Roanoke Island (on the coast of today’s North Carolina), to be named Virginia after the virgin Queen Elizabeth. But the colonists were disorganised and faced regular attacks from Native Americans and many were forced to return home. They did, however, bring back potatoes and tobacco, which were unknown in Europe at the time! Later expeditions were more successful, and the colonists began to build houses to settle there. But when their commander sailed back to England for supplies, he returned to find the colony deserted. The fate of the ‘Lost Colony of Roanoke Island’ remains a mystery to this day.

In 1592, Walter fell from favour when he secretly married Queen Elizabeth’s lady-in-waiting, Bessy Throckmorton, without the queen’s permission. Walter and Bessy were briefly imprisoned in the Tower of London for their actions. On their release, the couple went to live at Sherborne Castle in Dorset.

In 1594, Walter set off on a number of expeditions to South America with the aim of finding El Dorado, the legendary city of gold. Although he failed to find this land of riches, he explored much of the Orinoco river valley in Venezuela. He also attacked Spanish ships and ports for treasure, much to the renewed admiration of the queen.

When James I came to the throne in 1603 he wanted peace in Europe and did not like Raleigh’s attitude towards the Spanish. Raleigh’s enemies also tried to tarnish his reputation. Walter was charged with treason for plotting to overthrow the king and imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he lived for 13 years with his wife and servants. Walter used this time to write a book called History of the World. His works of poetry are also treasured to this day. On his release in 1616, Walter was sent to search for gold once again in South America. But against the king’s orders, he attacked Spanish territory. When Walter returned without any treasures, he was arrested and sentenced to death. He was beheaded on 29 October 1618.

Our Walter Raleigh Resources

A Letter From Walter Raleigh Worksheet

A Letter From Walter Raleigh Worksheet

Sir Walter Raleigh was one of Queen Elizabeth's favourite courtiers until he fell in love with someone who wasn't her! Our worksheet asks the kids to imagine they are Walter Raleigh begging for the queen's forgiveness...

A Letter To Walter Raleigh Worksheet

A Letter To Walter Raleigh Worksheet

Here's a fun activity to get the kids thinking and using their persuasive writing skills. Can they imagine they are a sailor wishing to join Walter Raleigh's crew? How would they persuade him to let them join?

Compare and Contrast Privateer and Pirate Worksheet

Compare and Contrast Privateer and Pirate Worksheet

Were privateers really just pirates who were on the right side of the law? Older kids can use our venn diagram to show the main differences and similarities between privateers and pirates. The results might be surprising!

Learn To Draw Walter Raleigh

Learn To Draw Walter Raleigh

Sir Walter Raleigh was an explorer best known for establishing an early colony in the New World. With our step by step guide, children can learn to draw him.

My Colony Worksheet

My Colony Worksheet

Elizabethan explorer Sir Walter Raleigh was granted a charter to found his own colonies in the New World. Our 'My Colony' worksheet asks the kids to imagine that they can found their own colony - where will they set it up, what will they call it, and what rules will they put in place?

Walter Raleigh Comprehension

Walter Raleigh Comprehension

This comprehension worksheet is aimed at older kids and asks them to read the text about Sir Walter Raleigh then use it to answer questions at the end. 

Walter Raleigh Factsheet

Walter Raleigh Factsheet

Learn a little about famous adventurer Sir Walter Raleigh with our factsheet, which the kids can use with our other Walter Raleigh printables.

Walter Raleigh Interview Worksheet

Walter Raleigh Interview Worksheet

Wouldn't it be great if we could interview famous people from the past? This worksheet asks the kids to imagine that they can do just that - what if they could interview Sir Walter Raleigh? Can they think of some good open questions? 

Walter Raleigh Poster

Walter Raleigh Poster

This cartoon style poster of the famous explorer Sir Walter Raleigh is simple to print out and use in classroom displays and projects. 

Walter Raleigh Story Paper

Walter Raleigh Story Paper

Our Walter Raleigh story paper is designed to get the children to put pen to paper and to write creatively. What did Sir Walter Raleigh discover when he first arrived in America? We have two versions available to download, lined and with handwriting lines.

Walter Raleigh Treason Trial Worksheet

Walter Raleigh Treason Trial Worksheet

Walter Raleigh was convicted of treason when James I came to the throne and spent the next 13 years in the Tower of London with a death sentence hanging over him.

Walter Raleigh Worksheet

Walter Raleigh Worksheet

This simple worksheet aims to help younger children capture what they have learned about Walter Raleigh. What would they have talked about if they met him?

Walter Raleigh Writing Page

Walter Raleigh Writing Page

Kids can use this useful writing page to record what they have learned about Sir Walter Raleigh, the famous explorer. We have two versions, colour and black and white.

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