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Sir Walter Raleigh

The Sir Walter Raleigh Collection is a distinguished component of the North Carolina Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The collection of over one thousand titles preserves writings by Raleigh, materials about Raleigh, and works on English exploration during the Elizabethan Era.


Sir Walter Raleigh (1554?-1618) was born in Devon to a family of modest means but good connections. After serving as a mercenary in France while a teenager, Raleigh joined the court of Elizabeth I where he soon became a favorite of the Queen. A position at court opened doors for Raleigh; in 1584 he took over his half brother Humphrey Gilbert's patent to explore and colonize the east coast of America. Raleigh never traveled to North America himself, but, shortly after gaining the patent, he sent three expeditions to North America. The first, in 1584, was chiefly a reconnaissance mission. The second, in 1585, created a base camp for further exploration. On the final expedition, in 1587, colonists established what was meant to be a permanent settlement on Roanoke Island in present-day North Carolina. The colony failed, and the fate of the colonists remains a mystery. The settlement is known today as "The Lost Colony."

In addition to explorations of North America, Raleigh also organized several expeditions to South America, specifically Guiana. Raleigh himself sailed on two of these missions. The actions of Raleigh's crew on his last trip to Guiana proved to be Raleigh's undoing. Queen Elizabeth had briefly imprisoned Raleigh in 1592 to show her displeasure over Raleigh's secret marriage. A more serious, long-term imprisonment began in 1603. The new monarch, James I, did not share his subjects' dislike of Spain, and the new king wanted anti-Spanish adventurers like Raleigh neutralized. Raleigh was arrested, charged with treason, and sentenced to death in December 1603. Raleigh remained imprisoned in the Tower of London until 1616 when he received a reprieve of his sentence. The reprieve was revoked in 1618 when men under Raleigh's command attacked a Spanish camp during their explorations of the Orinoco River. On the basis of the 1603 treason charge, Raleigh was beheaded on October 19, 1618.

Raleigh was the classic "Renaissance man." In addition to being a soldier, courtier, and adventurer, he was also a freethinker, poet, and historian. The Sir Walter Raleigh Collection contains Raleigh's surviving writings in contemporary and modern editions. In addition to Raleigh's own works, it includes volumes on Raleigh, associates of Raleigh such as John White and Humphrey Gilbert, Elizabeth I and her court, and English explorations of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The collection is comprised of a variety of printed materials, including primary texts, scholarly monographs and journals, historical pamphlets, brochures, and ephemera. It also contains some audiovisual materials and a few manuscripts. The collection has been built through gifts and purchases; collecting is ongoing. The following examples of recent acquisitions give some idea of the collection's range:

Walter Bigges. Sir Frances Drakes' West Indian Voyage. Amsterdam: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, 1969. [facsimile of 1589 edition]

Anthony Burgess. A Dead Man in Deptford. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1995.

Cecil H. Clough and P. E. H. Hair, editors. The European Outthrust and Encounter: ... Essays in Tribute to David Beers Quinn .... Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1994.

Ivor Noel Hume. The Virginia Adventure: Roanoke to James Towne. New York: Knopf, 1994.


Sample title pages from the Raleigh Collection

Sir Walter Rawleighs Ghost, or Englands Forewarner

A Brief Relation of Sir Walter Raleigh's Troubles. . . .

The Prince or Maxims of State

History of the World

The Sir Walter Raleigh Collection is available for use by both scholars and the general public without appointment. All the materials in the collection are listed in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's online catalog. Several titles have been digitized and made available to the general public on the Internet Archive website. Click here to see this list and digital copies of the works.

For more information about the Sir Walter Raleigh Collection at the University of North Carolina click here.