Figure 1: Ruins of Old Sherborne Castle. It was the Civil War in the mid-17th century that led to its present state.[1]

RALEIGH AT OLD SHERBORNE CASTLE

Figure 2: Sir Walter Raleigh (c. 1552 or 54 -1618) – Raleigh Statue outside Sherborne Abbey

Sir Walter Raleigh led an extraordinary life. In the Elizabethan court he rose to become one of the most famous courtiers and became a favourite of the queen. Under James I his meteoric rise descended. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London for 13 years from 1603 until 1616 and then executed in 1618. He made two attempts to find the lost gold of El Dorado. These expeditions failed in their quest but demonstrated his aptitude, belief and dedication to adventure. He styled himself as a Renaissance-man of the age with ambition and energy. He embraced the world around him to become a soldier, sailor, coloniser, courtier, explorer, scholar, writer and poet.

I would initially like to address the pronunciation of his name. According to an introduction in a 2018 biography of Sir Walter by Anna Beer, Raleigh’s surname was spelt in writings by his contemporaries in a number of different ways. I have always assumed that the spelling of his surname was ‘Raleigh’. Beer points out Sir Walter spelt his surname, in the main and consistently in his later life, as ‘Ralegh’. However, I am going to leave it as Raleigh as that is the most familiar to people. Beer also points out that the Devonian pronunciation of his first name sounds like ‘water’. It is not difficult to imagine his Dorset neighbours referring to him by a similar pronunciation to the Devonians. The Queen nicknamed him ‘water’[2], which may reflect the way he pronounced his name to her. For his surname the sound may be as rhymes with ‘barley’. The ‘raw-lee’ pronunciation may have come from, as Beer puts it ‘the punning attacks of his hostile contemporaries’.[3]

A Courtier on the Rise

The year of Raleigh’s birth is uncertain, perhaps circa 1554, in a place more certain, namely Hayes Barton, near East Budleigh in Devon.[4] His connection with Dorset started circa 1592. It was the courtier, Sir John Harington, who reported that Raleigh upon riding from London to Plymouth came upon Sherborne Castle and the surrounding countryside, and was so overcome with excitement he fell off his horse.[5] The Queen granted his desire and conveyed the estate to him in 1592. Hutchins mentions a rather dark tale associated with acquisition of the castle:

‘In 1592 he obtained by his merit and royal favour a grant of the manor and castle of Sherborne, and many other lands belonging to the see of Sarum : but he seems to have effected his design not without some fraudulent, or perhaps violent means, being charged with having persuaded Bishop Coldwell to pass it to the Crown on his election to the see of Salisbury ; after which Sir Walter obtained a grant of it. This was one of the greatest blemishes on his character, and probably one cause of his misfortunes. These rich possessions raised the envy and avarice of his fellow courtiers, who waited for, and soon after found an opportunity to deprive him of them.’[6]

At the age of either 31 or 34 he was knighted on the 6 January 1585 and he received appointments in the south west; the vice-admiral of the west, lord lieutenant of Cornwall and lord warden of the Stannaries. In November 1591 he succeeded Sir Christopher Hatton as captain of the guard. In late 1591, Raleigh and a pregnant Bess Throckmorton, one of the Queen’s maids of honour, were married in secret. Their son, Damerei, was born in 1592 and probably died in 1593. Their second son, Walter (1593-1618) or Wat was born at Sherborne in 1593 and was baptised at Lillington Church in Dorset, near Sherborne. Raleigh, whilst still renovating Old Sherborne Castle, quickly turned his eye to building The Lodge in the deer park near the old castle.[7] Living in and renovating the old castle was proving too difficult and uncomfortable for his architectural and social aspirations.

Figure 3: Old Sherborne Castle

Sherborne Old Castle was built by Bishop Roger of Salisbury between the years 1107 and 1135 and was built as a semi-military and semi-domestic castle.[8] This is an important distinction from the defended military castle of the Norman building programme in England and making some distinction towards a residence. Although both types also would have had an administrative function for managing estates. The castle would have been a central point whereby Roger could manage his manors of the diocese in the region. It was well sited at the junction of the arterial roads leading into and away from the south west.[9]

From Church Lands to Crown Lands

Although ruined today it must have been intact and habitable enough for Raleigh and Bess in 1592. This is when the Queen took a lease from the Bishop of Salisbury for his Sherborne estates and sublet the property and lands to Raleigh.[10] From 1542 the county of Dorset had ceased to be part of the Diocese of Salisbury and became part of the newly created Diocese of Bristol. Whilst the bishopric of Salisbury retained Sherborne Castle, it was no longer a key asset.[11] It seems probable therefore that the Bishop of Salisbury was content to lease the property to Elizabeth as it ceased to have any relevant function.

The Reverend John Hutchins, writing in the 18th C, describes the detail of the transactions with which the Queen acquired the lease of the lands of Sherborne, Wotton Whitfield, Burton, Holnest, Yateminster (Yetminster), Candel Bishop, Castleton, Newland, the hundreds of Sherborne and Yateminster from 1578 onwards.[12] Hutchins comments upon the Queen:

‘Queen Elizabeth followed the example of her father. She was a princess of many and great virtues, but alloyed with some of his ill qualities. Actuated with the same spirit of avarice, sacrilege, and rapacity for church-lands, under colour of frugality of the public money and the privy purse, she rewarded her favourites and ministers with the spoils of the Church, made great havoc among the lands of the bishops and deans and chapters, and permitted, or at least connived at, the depredations of her ministers, which was one of the greatest blemishes of her reign.’[13]

Raleigh’s Residence at the Old Castle

Raleigh demolished various parts of the castle including the great hall in the south range. The village of Castleton which was built up by 1536 in the outer court was demolished and rebuilt to the west. His building works consisted of a new south wall on the main keep, with an impressive compass window, the base of which started on the ground and supported the projecting windows on the first and second floors. He also built a grand entrance stairway to the first floor from the west courtyard of the keep. He purchased the freehold of the castle in 1599.[14] He also converted the gatehouse into lodgings for John Meere, his caretaker.[15]

Figure 4: South west gatehouse from the inner bailey.

 

Figure 5: South west gatehouse, approaching the castle. The mullioned windows & chimney stack were added by Raleigh. He set his sights on re-building the earlier 16th C hunting lodge in the deer park across from the castle and south of the lake, which started in 1593.[16]

Figure 6: Remains of the great keep which received Raleigh’s renovations: The 12th C column, which Raleigh relocated from 2nd floor[17] and base of the grand compass window (rubble projection located in wall sited in front of the column). A compass window is a bay window of semi-circular shape.

Figure 7: Remains of compass window

 

Figure 8: English Heritage sign illustrating Raleigh’s Compass window (excuse the flies!).

 

Figure 9: Remains of the Great Tower Stairs – Raleigh had the lower flight of stairs widened between 1592-4.

 

Newcomers taking up positions in the Tudor Court, or those with ambitions to do so, began to establish themselves as estate owners across England. These courtiers may have had estates in various places and lodgings in London. Whilst they may also have built in more than one place, they had a desire to nominate one estate as their main seat with a church close by for family burials. Those with newly acquired wealth often sought to build and seek political power in the places where their family historically had links.[18] Raleigh was potentially setting out to establish himself at Sherborne even though he had no ancestral links there. In 1584 Raleigh had attempted to purchase back his family home of Hayes Barton in Devon but was not able to.[19]

Not only had Raleigh acquired a Bishop’s castle, in London, he had been granted by the Queen what had been a grand Bishop’s palace built in circa 1345. This was Durham House on the Strand and he spent lavishly on furnishings and decoration for it.

It is worth noting that Raleigh’s significant financial gain had followed his appointments when he received substantial estates. This gave him the money to progress his architectural projects of first Old Sherborne Castle and the building of The Lodge. In 1586, the execution of Anthony Babington, the supporter of the conspiracy to put Mary Queen of Scots on the throne, had increased Raleigh’s wealth as he was a beneficiary of Babington’s Derbyshire properties. He was also granted by Elizabeth, 42,000 acres of land in Ireland, which provided income from leases and tenants.[20]

Figure 10: View of Sherborne Castle (originally The Lodge) from Old Sherborne Castle – Raleigh set his sights on creating a new home fit for a rising star.

In my next post I will be looking at Lillington Church, near Sherborne. The Lodge (or nowadays, Sherborne Castle) will be in a later post.

 

NOTES

[1] ‘Castleton’, in An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Dorset, Volume 1, West (London, 1952), pp. 63-70. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/rchme/dorset/vol1/pp63-70 [accessed 28 April 2019].

[2] Catherine MacLeod, Elizabethan Treasures: Miniatures by Hilliard and Oliver (London: National Portrait Gallery, 2019), p. 75.

[3] Anna Beer, Patriot or Traitor: The Life and Death of Sir Walter Raleigh (London: Oneworld, 2018), p. ix.

[4] Mark Nicholls and Penry Williams, ‘Raleigh, Sir Walter (1554-1618)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn. Sept 2015, <https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/23039> [accessed: 5 May 2019]

[5] Beer, p. 32.

[6] John Hutchins, The History And Antiquities of the County of Dorset, 3rd edn: Corrected, Augmented, and Improved by William Shipp and James Whitworth Hodson, 4 vols (London: John Bowyer Nichols, 1873), IV, p. 276.

[7] Mark Nicholls and Penry Williams, ‘Raleigh, Sir Walter (1554-1618)’.

[8] ‘Castleton’, in An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Dorset, Volume 1, West.

[9] Peter White, Sherborne Old Castle (London: English Heritage, 2016), p. 26.

[10] Mark Nicholls and Penry Williams, ‘Raleigh, Sir Walter (1554-1618)’.

[11] White, p. 34.

[12] Hutchins, p. 214.

[13] Hutchins, p. 214.

[14] White, pp. 34-35.

[15] White, p. 5.

[16] John Goodall, The English Castle (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2011), p. 447.

[17] White, p. 17.

[18] Maurice Howard, The Early Tudor Country House: Architecture and Politics 1490-1550 (London: George Philip, 1987), p. 29.

[19] Mark Nicholls and Penry Williams, ‘Raleigh, Sir Walter (1554-1618)’.

[20] Mark Nicholls and Penry Williams, ‘Raleigh, Sir Walter (1554-1618)’.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Beer, Anna, Patriot or Traitor: The Life and Death of Sir Walter Raleigh (London: One world, 2018) – check MHRA book for comma before (

‘Castleton’, in An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Dorset, Volume 1, West (London, 1952), pp. 63-70. British History Online <http://www.british-history.ac.uk/rchme/dorset/vol1/pp63-70> [accessed 28 April 2019]

Goodall, John, The English Castle (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2011)

Howard, Maurice, The Early Tudor Country House: Architecture and Politics 1490-1550 (London: George Philip, 1987)

Hutchins, John, The History And Antiquities of the County of Dorset, 3rd edn: Corrected, Augmented, and Improved by William Shipp and James Whitworth Hodson, 4 vols (London: John Bowyer Nichols, 1870), IV

MacLeod, Catherine, Elizabethan Treasures: Miniatures by Hilliard and Oliver (London: National Portrait Gallery, 2019)

Nicholls, Mark and Penry Williams, ‘Raleigh, Sir Walter (1554-1618)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn. Sept 2015, <https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/23039> [accessed: 5 May 2019]

White, Peter, Sherborne Old Castle (London: English Heritage, 2016)