Blue Badge Guide, Cindy Chant, explains why Sherborne is celebrating the town’s favourite Elizabethan, Sir Walter Ralegh
In America, as well as much closer to home in Britain and more particularly in the South West where the Elizabethan adventurer and explorer was born and grew up, there are various events taking place throughout 2018 to mark the anniversary of Sir Walter Ralegh’s death.
In Sherborne Ralegh 400 (please note we are adopting Ralegh’s preferred spelling of his name – Ed) is being marked by a number of events because this remarkable man chose Sherborne as his home for 25 years.
So how did Ralegh, from his humble origins in a Devonshire farmhouse in Hayes Barton become one of the greatest figures of Queen Elizabeth’s Court, enjoying a life style and status of the landed nobility?
As Cindy says, “To many people of his day, Walter Ralegh was the greatest of heroes. To others he was an arrogant liar, who deserved every one of his 13 years in the Tower of London. To the Spanish, he was the most hated of all pirates.
“But to Sherborne, he is its adopted son! Ralegh discovered Sherborne, and the Old Castle, which belonged to the Bishop of Salisbury, on his many journeys travelling back to Devon.
“He had long coveted what is now known as the “Old Castle” and being one of Queen Elizabeth 1’s favourites, she gave it to him. He soon realised that the “Old Castle” didn’t quite give him the scope he required and so he decided to improve upon the building that is now known as the “New Castle”, adding additional wings so it’s now the shape we have come to recognise.”
When Ralegh upset the Queen and was expelled from Court, Sherborne became his home, and for 25 years, he and his family lived in the town. They attended Abbey Services, they shopped, they enjoyed a range of events in The Church House with plays, musical events, dancing and they entertained with dinner parties, exchanged court gossip, and received lots of visitors.
Of all Ralegh’s possessions, of all places on earth, Sherborne was the most valued, and he referred to it as his “Fortune’s Fold”
However behind the facade, Ralegh faced troubled times, and he was ill prepared for the arrival of the unknown new King James 1. Ralegh got into financial and political difficulties, and his end came fairly quickly. At the demands of the Spanish ambassador, he was ultimately executed on the scaffold on 29 October 29. 1618.
His Will was seized by the Crown Lawyers, and found to have an important section missing. Unfortunately Lady Ralegh, and their remaining son Carew, received nothing and so Sherborne Castle and all its estates were acquired by Sir John Digby, whose descendants have held it ever since.
But it is Ralegh’s name that has come down to us today: a man of dazzling brilliance, and indomitable spirit, eventually drowned by his own visionary dreams of new worlds and undiscovered riches. He lived a life that stamped itself on the public imagination ever since and Sherborne will be remembering him with Tudor readings, a banquet and Cindy Chant’s unmissable walk entitled “Ramble in the Footsteps of Ralegh.” See the ad in this issue for more details.