Friday 26th May. 8 AM – Lady Chapel, Ely Cathedral. Continuing yesterday’s scene and with the portrait session now finished and Raleigh seeking an audience with the Queen.
This will be another of those famous moments from Raleigh’s life that are a combination of myth and reality. In the scene he will present the queen with the spoils of his first visit to the New World – potatoes and tobacco, along with gold seized from Spanish ships.
In reality, and contrary to popular belief, Raleigh actually never visited the land he named Virginia after his Queen. Although he did later cross the Atlantic, at this time he was engaged in promoting the idea of a colony, rather than leading any expedition. Raleigh stayed in England, raising funds for the project and trying to persuade suitable people to leave their life in the Old World behind and become citizens of the New. In this he acted like a cross between a sponsor and a travel agent, tempting people with lavish descriptions of the beauty and perfection of the colony and demonstrating the exotic luxury (and riches) to be had there.
This is the idea we are trying to get over in this part of the scene –Raleigh is an adventurer with a dream – a dream that offers a new life in a new world, an apparent Eden untouched by the political and religious strife of Europe, and a source on untold riches. As such he shows the Queen the wonders to be had there – the strange vegetable he is (apocryphally) credited with having introduced to Ireland, the potato, and a leaf the Virginian natives smoked, tobacco, which he certainly greatly helped to popularise in England. He also brings with him two native Americans, Manteo and Wanchese, who are actually attested in England at this time and no doubt added greatly both to the exotic reputation of the court and Raleigh’s sales pitch. But it is the last gift he presents to the Queen that hints at the other side to Raleigh’s character – Spanish gold. Elizabeth’s favourite might have been a dreamer but it was dream he intended to finance with other people’s money.