29th October 1618

Jersey governor Walter Raleigh is executed in London

Sir Walter Raleigh, responsible for bringing tobacco and – reputedly – potatoes to Britain, was governor of Jersey between 1600 and 1603, during which time he worked on strengthening its defences against a possible French invasion. Although he didn’t commission Elizabeth Castle, on which work had begun around 50 years earlier and been ramped up around 10 years prior to Raleigh’s arrival, he did name it in honour of the monarch of the day, Queen Elizabeth I.

Walter Raleigh in Jersey

Jersey Post issued a series of six stamps in Raleigh’s honour in January 2019. Speaking at the time, Melanie Gouzinis, head of the philatelic bureau, commented that Raleigh had been “very much a ‘hands on’ Governor, improving the militia and the Island’s defences, fostering trade and attending sittings of the court. The building of Elizabeth Castle in the bay of St Aubin in the south of the Island commenced 425 years ago, in 1594 and it was Raleigh who named it after Queen Elizabeth I, using the Latin words ‘Fort Isabelle Bellissima’ meaning ‘Elizabeth the most beautiful’.”

However, Raleigh’s time in Jersey was just a minor act in an impressive political career, during which he played an important role in the colonisation of North America. He was knighted in his early 30s and sailed to south Africa in search of El Dorado, a reputed city of gold. Unsuccessful on his first attempt, he conducted a second expedition, during which he raided a Spanish outpost which, being in direct contravention of Britain’s 1604 peace treaty with Spain that had brought the 19-year Anglo Spanish war to an end, put the king, then James I, in a very difficult position. Spain demanded that Raleigh be arrested and executed. Thus, the king had him taken into custody in Plymouth and brought to London. He was beheaded in the Palace of Westminster on 29 October 1618 and his head was placed in a velvet bag and given to his wife. She is reputed to have kept it through the remainder of her life – almost 30 years – after which it was reunited with the rest of his body in his tomb in Westminster.


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