PATRIOT OR TRAITOR by Anna Beer
Kirkus Star

PATRIOT OR TRAITOR

The Life and Death of Sir Walter Ralegh
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

A new biography of Sir Walter Ralegh (c. 1554-1618), a handsome, wily, politically astute, and powerful figure in Elizabethan England.

Beer (Sounds and Sweet Airs: The Forgotten Women of Classical Music, 2016, etc.) creates a sharp, sympathetic, and discerning portrait of a charming man of “dark, Celtic, good looks” who became a favorite of Elizabeth I only to fall precipitously from grace under the queen’s successor, James VI of Scotland. Without a noble background, Ralegh’s unlikely rise to prominence was fueled by his “energy, vision and intelligence” mixed with “arrogance, violence and deception.” An improbable naval hero (he could not sleep onboard ship, he claimed), he survived sea battles; a womanizer, who married in secret without the queen’s approval, he rose above sex scandals. He was a “cultural relativist in a century of religious absolutism” and a “poster boy” for “a more decent form of British imperialism, concerned not with “trade and plunder” but with settlement. For a time, his loyalty to Elizabeth ensured that he would survive the rivalries that rent the fabric of the court; in 1584, he gained a coveted patent “to discover unknown lands, to take possession of them in the Queen’s name, and to hold them for six years.” His plan to found the colony of Virginia was, Beer acknowledges, “only a tiny part of a larger geo-political struggle; Protestant England’s war with Catholic Spain”—the adversary nation that Ralegh hated vehemently. The author is forthright about her subject’s failings and clear in her admiration, as well, especially for his talent for rhetoric: “He was the master of persuasion, a man who could make you believe that defeat was victory, that black was white.” In 1592, imprisoned by Elizabeth, he bribed his way to freedom; two years later, he was “a freewheeling adventurer” once again, in South America on a quest for gold. After Elizabeth died, he became “a small cog in the very large machine of international power politics,” imprisoned, condemned, and beheaded.

A penetrating, spirited recounting of a courtier’s roiling life and times.

Pub Date: Nov. 13th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-78607-434-8
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Oneworld Publications
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2018




MORE BY ANNA BEER

NonfictionMILTON by Anna Beer
by Anna Beer
NonfictionMY JUST DESIRE by Anna Beer
by Anna Beer

SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS:

NonfictionSIR WALTER RALEIGH by Raleigh Trevelyan
by Raleigh Trevelyan
NonfictionTHE TEMPTATION OF ELIZABETH TUDOR by Elizabeth Norton
by Elizabeth Norton
NonfictionELIZABETH by David Starkey
by David Starkey