State Papers Relating to the Defeat of the Spanish Armada

Date: n.d.

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G. B. Harrison A Jacobean Journal Routledge London n.d.

Sir Walter Raleigh Tried for Treason


November 17, 1603: This day was Sir Walter Raleigh indicted at Winchester before the Commissioners. He was indicted on many counts, principally that he did conspire to deprive the King of his government; to raise up sedition within the realm; to alter religion; to bring in the Roman superstition and to procure foreign enemies to invade the kingdom.

The case for the King was opened by Sergeant Hele, who spoke briefly of the particulars of the indictment, which were that Raleigh had conference with Cobham on the 9th June last of an insurrection to be made to depose the King and to kill his children; and that the money for this was to be procured by the Count Aremberg (the Archduke’s Ambassador) from the King of Spain, five or six hundred thousand crowns, and of this Raleigh should have 8,000. Furthermore that Raleigh would have Cobham go to persuade both the Archduke and the King of Spain to assist the pretended title of Lady Arabella; "and as for the Lady Arabella," quoth Sergeant Hele, "she, upon my conscience hath no more title to the Crown than I have, which before God I utterly renounce." And after a few more words he gave way to Master Attorney-General.

The Attorney began a long speech to the jury, in which first he sought to include Sir Walter in the Bye plot, being the treason of the priest Watson, and then to speak of Cobham’s treasons.

To which Sir Walter, after he had been speaking for some time, answered, "Here is no treason of mine done. If my Lord Cobham be a traitor, what is that to me?"

To which Mr. Attorney replied:

"All that he did was by thy instigation, thou viper; for I ’thou’ thee, thou traitor."

The examination of the Lord Cobham was then read, wherein he de-dared that he had never entered into these courses but by Raleigh’s instigation, and that he would never leave him alone.

To these accusations of Cobham, Sir Walter answered in his own defense, saying that it would be a strange thing for him to make himself a Robin Hood, or a Kett or a Cade, for he knew England to be in a better state to defend itself than ever it was, Scotland united, Ireland quieted and Denmark assured. Moreover, he knew the Spaniard was discouraged and dishonored.

Then passed further passages between Sir Walter and his judges in the which he prayed that his accuser should be brought face to face and be deposed, but the Lord Chief Justice answered: "You have no law for it; God forbid any man should accuse himself upon his oath." And Mr. Attorney said: "The law presumes a man will not accuse himself to accuse another."

This matter of Lord Cobham’s accusation was long disputed between Sir Waiter and his judges, until at length he declared that they had not proved any one thing by direct proofs, but all by circumstances. Hereupon Mr. Attorney answered: "Have you done? The King must have the last."

To which Sir Walter replied: "Nay, Mr. Attorney, he which speaketh for his life must speak last. False repetitions and mistakings must not mar my cause. . . . I appeal to God and the King in this point whether Cobham’s accusation be sufficient to condemn me."

"The King’s safety and your clearing cannot agree," cried Mr. Attorney. "I protest before God I never knew a dearer treason."

To this Sir Walter replied that he never had intelligence with Cobham since he came to the Tower, but Mr. Attorney interrupted him, saying: "Go to, I will lay thee upon thy back for the confidentest traitor that ever came at a bar. Why should you take 8,000 crowns for a peace?"

Hereupon the Lord Cecil spoke to Mr. Attorney willing him not to be so impatient, to which he answered in a chafe: "If I may not be patiently heard, you will encourage traitors and discourage us. I am the King’s sworn servant and must speak; if he be guilty, he is a traitor; if not, deliver him."

Then he sat down and would speak no more until the Commissioners urged and entreated him. So after much ado he went on, and made a long repetition of all the evidence for the direction of the jury; and at the repeating of some things, Sir Walter interrupted him and said he did him wrong.

To which Mr. Attorney made reply: "Thou art the most vile and execrable traitor that ever lived."

"You speak indiscreetly, barbarously and uncivilly," answered Sir Walter.

"I want words sufficient to express thy viperous treasons," said Mr. Attorney.

And Sir Walter answered: "I think you want words indeed, for you have spoken one thing half a dozen times."

This was the last evidence. So a marshal was sworn to keep the jury private. The jury departed and stayed not a quarter of an hour, but returned and gave their verdict of guilty. So Sergeant Hele demanded judgment against the prisoner, and Sir Walter being asked whether he had aught to say, desired that the King should know of the wrongs done him by Mr. Attorney. Further he desired them to remember three things to the King. "First," quoth he, "I was accused to be a practicer with Spain: I never knew that my Lord Cobham meant to go thither. I will ask no mercy at the King’s hands if he will affirm it. Secondly, I never knew of the practice with Arabella. Thirdly, I never knew of my Lord Cobham’s practice with Aremberg, nor of his surprising treason."

So the Lord Chief Justice made a speech to the prisoner, saying that he had two vices chiefly lodged in him, an eager ambition and a corrupt covetousness. Then he spoke somewhat of the heathen and blasphemous opinions with which the world taxes him, praying him not to go out of the world with these imputations upon him, for saith he: "Let not any devil Persuade you to think there is no eternity in Heaven; for if you think thus, you shall find eternity in hell fire."

The Lord Chief Justice said further: "You have showed a fearful sign of denying God in advising a man not to confess the truth. It now comes in my mind, why you may not have your accuser come face to face; for such an one is easily brought to retract when he seeth there is no hope of his own life. It is dangerous that any traitors should have access to or conference with one another; when they see themselves must die, they will think it best to have their fellow live, that he may commit the like treason again, and so in some sort seek revenge."

So judgment was passed upon him that he should be hanged and quartered.

It is much noted that Raleigh answered with that temper, wit, learning, courage, and judgment that, save that it went with the hazard of his life, it was the happiest day that ever he spent. And so well he stifled all advantages that were taken against him that were not fama malum gravius quam res and an ill name half hanged, in the opinion of all men he had been acquitted. A Scotsman that brought the news to the King said that whereas when he saw him first he was so led with the common hatred that he would have gone a hundred miles to see him hanged, he would ere he parted have gone a thousand to have saved his life. Never was a man so hated and so popular in so short a time.

1 Actually, Raleigh lived fifteen years longer.


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Chicago: G. B. Harrison, ed., "Sir Walter Raleigh Tried for Treason," State Papers Relating to the Defeat of the Spanish Armada in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris (Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Co., 1951), Original Sources, accessed April 24, 2024,

MLA: . "Sir Walter Raleigh Tried for Treason." State Papers Relating to the Defeat of the Spanish Armada, edited by G. B. Harrison, in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, edited by Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris, Harrisburg, Pa., Stackpole Co., 1951, Original Sources. 24 Apr. 2024.

Harvard: (ed.), 'Sir Walter Raleigh Tried for Treason' in State Papers Relating to the Defeat of the Spanish Armada. cited in 1951, History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. , Stackpole Co., Harrisburg, Pa.. Original Sources, retrieved 24 April 2024, from