A handsome young gentleman stood amid the crowds as the Queen of England Elizabeth I passed by with her retinue. when she was almost at his side, she stopped. A mud puddle was in her path. The quick-witted gallant, a seaman named Walter Raleigh, immediately spread out his cloak over the puddle. The queen, impressed by this selfless courteous act, stepped on it and smiled her gratitude for this expensive protection of the royal feet.
A romantic and fateful meeting of two great figures of history-but not exactly true.
Historian Thomas Fuller (1608-61) is believed to have invented this story. He was known for frequently adding fictitious anecdotes to enliven dull facts. The tale was perpetuated by Sir Walter Scott in his novel Kenilworth (1821). Here, Raleigh swears he will never brush the cloak ‘as long as it is in my possession’. The queen, who appreciated a compliment, tells Raleigh to go to her wardrobe-keeper with an order to give him ”a suit, and that of the newest cut”.
Raleigh is also said to have been the first man to bring potatoes to England, in 1586. However, there is no contemporary evidence of this. In his book Herball (1597), John Gerard refers to a C. Clusius who had cultivated potatoes in Italy in 1585. The vegetable gained immediate popularity and was cultivated in most European countries during the following decade.
Similarly, Raleigh is also credited, or to be more apt, blamed for introducing tobacco into England, on his return from the British colony of Virginia in 1586. But a Frenchman had introduced tobacco to France as early as 1559 or 1560. He was Jean Nicot, from whose name nicotine is derived.
Raleigh was beheaded in the Old Palace Yard at the Palace of Westminster on 29 October 1618. “Let us dispatch”, he said to his executioner. “At this hour my ague comes upon me. I would not have my enemies think I quaked from fear.” After he was allowed to see the axe that would be used to behead him, he mused: “This is a sharp Medicine, but it is a Physician for all diseases and miseries.” According to biographers, Raleigh’s last words (as he lay ready for the axe to fall) were: “Strike, man, strike!”
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