The Worlds Famous Orations. Great Britain: I. (7101777). 1906.
His Last Words on the Scaffold
Sir Walter Raleigh (1554?1618)
Born in 1552, died in 1618; commanded, in 1580, an English company in Ireland, where he introduced the potato in 1584; a captain of the guard in 1587; sent expeditions to Virginia in 1584, 85, 87, and 90; served against the Armada in 1588; explored the Orinoco in 1595; commanded a squadron which destroyed the Spanish fleet at Cadiz in 1596; accused of treason and sent to the Tower in 1603, writing while there his History of the World; commanded an unsuccessful expedition to South America in 1616; condemned and executed in 1618.
I THANK1 my God heartily that He hath brought me into the light to die, and not suffered me to die in the dark prison of the Tower, where I have suffered a great deal of adversity and a long sickness; and I thank God that my fever hath not taken me at this time, as I prayed God it might not.
There are two main points of suspicion that his majesty hath conceived against me, wherein his majesty can not be satisfied, which I desire to clear and resolve you in. One is, that his majesty hath been informed that I have had some plot with France, and his majesty had some reason to induce him thereunto. One reason that his majesty had to conjecture so was that when I came back from Guiana, being come to Plymouth, I endeavored to go to Rochelle, which was because I would fain have made my peace before I came to England. Another reason was, that upon my flight I did intend to fly to France for saving of my life, having had some terror from above. A third reason was, the French agents coming to me, and it was reported I had commission from the king of France.
But this I say: For a man to call God to witness to a falsehood at any time is a grievous sin! And what shall we hope for at the Day of Judgment? But to call God to witness to a falsehood at the time of death is far more grievous and impious, and there is no hope for such a one. And what should I expect that am now going to render an account of my faith? I do, therefore, call the Lord to witness, as I hope to be saved, and as I hope to be seen in His kingdom (which will be within this quarter of an hour), that I never had any commission from the king of France, nor any treaty with the French agent, nor with any from the French king; neither knew I that there was an agent, or what he was, till I met him in my gallery at my lodging unlooked for. If I speak not truth, O Lord, let me never come into thy glory!
The second suspicion was, that his majesty hath been informed that I should speak dishonorably and disloyally of him. But my accuser was a base Frenchman, a kind of chemical fellowone whom I knew to be perfidious; for being drawn into this action at Winchester, in which my hand was touched, and he being sworn to secrecy overnight, he revealed it in the morning.
But in this I speak now, what have I to do with kings? I have nothing to do with them, neither do I fear them. I have now to do with God; therefore, as I hope to be saved at the last day, I never spoke dishonorably, disloyally, nor dishonestly of the king, neither to this Frenchman, nor to any other; neither had I ever, in all my life, a thought of ill against his majesty; therefore I can not but think it strange that this Frenchman, being so base, so mean a fellow, should be so far credited; and so much for this point. I have dealt truly, and I hope I shall be believed. I confess I did attempt to escape, and I did dissemble, and made myself sick at Salisbury, but I hope it was no sin. The prophet David did make himself a fool, and did suffer spittle to fall upon his beard, to escape the hands of his enemies, and it was not imputed to him as sin, and I did it to prolong time till his majesty came, hoping for some commiseration from him.
I forgave this Frenchman and Sir Lewis Stukely, and have received the sacrament this morning from Mr. Dean; and I do also forgive all the world. But this much I am bound in charity to speak of this man, that all men may take good heed of him; Sir Lewis Stukely, my kinsman and keeper, hath affirmed that I should tell him that I did tell Lord Carew and Lord Doncaster of my pretended escape. It was not likely that I should acquaint two privy counselors of my purpose; neither would I tell him, for he left me six, seven, eight, nine, or ten days, to go where I listed, while he rode about the country. Again, he accused me that I should tell him that Lord Carew and Lord Doncaster would meet me in France, which was never my speech or thought.
Thirdly, he accused me that I showed him a letter and that I should give him £11,000 or £10,000. I merely showed him a letter, that if he would go with me his debts should be paid when he was gone: neither had I £1,000, for if I had had so much I could have done better with it and made my peace otherwise.
Fourthly, when I came to Sir Edward Pelham, who had been sometimes a follower of mine, who gave me good entertainment, he gave out that I had received some dram of poison in Sir Edward Pelhams house; when I answered that I feared no such thingfor I was well assured of them in the house. Now, God forgive him, for I do, and I desire God to forgive him. I will not only say, God is the God of revenge, but I desire God to forgive him, as I hope to be forgiven.
There was a report spread that I should rejoice at the death of Lord Essex, and that I should take tobacco in his presence; when, as I protest, I shed tears at his death, tho I was one of the contrary faction; and, at the time of his death, I was all the while in the armory at the further end where I could but see him. I was sorry that I was not with him, for I heard he had a desire to see me and be reconciled to me. So that I protest I lamented his death, and good cause had I, for after he was gone I was little beloved.
And now I entreat you all to join with me in prayer, that the great God of Heaven, whom I have grievously offended, being a man full of all vanity, and having lived a sinful life, in all sinful callings, having been a soldier, a captain, a sea captain, and a courtier, which are all places of wickedness and vice; that God, I say, would forgive me, cast away my sins from me, and receive me into everlasting life. So I take my leave of you all, making my peace with God.
Note 1. Delivered in the Old Palace Yard at Westminster, October 29, 1618. When Raleighs head lay on the block awaiting the ax, some one remarked that it ought to be turned to the East. What matter, said he, how the head lie, if the heart be right? Raleighs writings, in a complete edition of eight octavo volumes, were published at Oxford in 1829. [back]