400th Commemoration Service of Sir Walter Raleigh at Westminster Abbey

On October 28th, First Colony Foundation was represented by Foundation Curator Bly Straube, Foundation Conservator Alexandra Klingelhofer, and Vice-President Eric Klingelhofer at the service in Westminster Abbey’s St Margaret’s Church commemorating the 400th year of Sir Walter Raleigh’s burial there. The service was led by the rector, Canon Jane Sinclair, the sermon on Raleigh was given by John Hall, Dean of the Abbey, and the organist was the celebrated Peter Holder. The Choir sang the traditional-word Eucharist, and the offertory hymn and motet were writings by Raleigh set to music by his contemporary William Byrd. it was both beautiful and moving.

400th Sir Walter Raleigh Commemoration at Westminster Abbey
Bly and Eric by the memorial plaque to Sir Walter Raleigh in St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster. Photo by Alexandra Klingelhofer.

At a following reception at St Margaret’s, the FCF representatives were introduced to members of East Devon landowning families, among whom were Lord Clinton and Sir Francis Gilbert.

Pouch has “WR 1617” and a Latin inscription: Comes meus fuit in illo miserrimo tempore (“It was my companion at that most miserable time”). It probably refers to his last and disastrous expedition in search of El Dorado, which sailed from Plymouth 12 June 1617, not his imprisonment and execution in 1618.
The next afternoon, Eric and Bly participated in a symposium on Sir Walter Raleigh, giving illustrated talks on, respectively, the archaeology of his colonies in Ireland and  ‘Virginia’ and the artifacts associated with his colonists in the new World. The audience of over a hundred included several British scholars, including Peter Barber, who had talked on John White’s Virginea Pars map at First Colony Foundation’s Roanoke Symposium in September.

The symposium was followed by a lecture on the life of Raleigh by Mark Nichols of Cambridge University, his biographer, who had participated in the 2012 symposium in Manteo.

Bly and Eric also saw close-up photos of SWR’s tobacco pouch in a display on Raleigh’s life; they concluded that the pouch could well be original with its date of 2017, but the pipes inside are from the seventeenth-century friend of Raleigh who inherited the pouch from him.

St. Margaret's Church at Westminster Abbey
St. Margaret’s Church at Westminster Abbey

The Sir Walter Raleigh Memorial at St Margaret’s Church

Sir Walter Raleigh (or Ralegh), explorer, courtier, writer and poet, is buried in the chancel of St Margaret’s Church Westminster and there is a memorial tablet and stained glass window to him there. The brass memorial on the south east wall of the church was given in 1845 by the Roxburghe Society, replacing one of wood which had decayed. This includes his coat of arms (gules, five lozenges in bend, argent) and the inscription reads:

Within ye chancel of this church was interred the body of the great Sr. Walter Raleigh, Kt. on the day he was beheaded in Old Palace Yard, Westminster Oct. 29th Ano.Dom. 1618. Reader – should you reflect on his errors Remember his many virtues and that he was a mortal

Sir Walter Raleigh was born at Hayes in Devon, a son of Walter, deputy vice-admiral in the south west of England in the reign of Mary I (d.1581), and his third wife Katherine (Champernowne) (she was sister to Kat Astley, governess to Princess Elizabeth). His elder brother was Sir Carew Raleigh, Member of Parliament, and Sir Humphrey Gilbert was a half brother. It was Gilbert who introduced him to the royal Court. He served as a soldier in Ireland and became a favourite of Elizabeth I. Despite what the window depicts, he himself did not go to Virginia but was the mastermind behind expeditions to colonize this part of America.