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Sir Walter Ralegh (Raleigh)

1 of 48 portraits of Sir Walter Ralegh (Raleigh)

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Sir Walter Ralegh (Raleigh)

by Nicholas Hilliard
watercolour on vellum, circa 1585
1 7/8 in. x 1 5/8 in. (48 mm x 41 mm) oval
Purchased with help from the Art Fund and the Pilgrim Trust, 1959
Primary Collection
NPG 4106


The face has been outlined with a dark brown…
Dots on the lower eyelid indicate the line of…
The collar shows the variations in tone used…
The red pigment in the sash has faded to a li…

Sitterback to top

  • Sir Walter Ralegh (1554-1618), Soldier, sailor, poet and writer. Sitter in 48 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Nicholas Hilliard (circa 1547-1619), Miniature painter. Artist or producer associated with 34 portraits.

This portraitback to top

This appears to be the earliest portrait of Walter Ralegh, painted around the time he received his patent to colonize America. Tall, dark-haired and pale, Ralegh is fashionably dressed with a wide ruff that was popular in the 1580s and early 1590s.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Tudor Portraits Resource Pack, p. 31
  • 100 Writers, p. 21
  • Bolland, Charlotte, The Tudors Passion, Power and Politics, 2022, p. 131
  • Charles Nicholl, Shakespeare and his Contemporaries, 2015, p. 121
  • Cooper, John, A Guide to the National Portrait Gallery, 2009, p. 15 Read entry

    The complete Renaissance man; scholar, poet, explorer, courtier. Ralegh wrote History of the World (1614) and lines such as ‘Now what is love? I pray thee, tell./ It is that fountain and that well,/ Where pleasure and repentance dwell.’

  • Cooper, Tarnya, Searching for Shakespeare, 2006 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 2 March - 29 May 2006), p. 189
  • Cooper, Tarnya, Searching for Shakespeare (hardback), 2006 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 2 March - 29 May 2006), p. 189
  • Dodd, Christopher, Unto the tideway born, 2015, p. 50
  • MacLeod, Catharine, Tudor Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery Collection, 1996, p. 31
  • MacLeod, Catharine (preface, appreciation) Wilks, Timothy (introduction) Smuts, Malcolm (appreciation) MacGibbon, Rab (appendix), The Lost Prince: The Life and Death of Henry Stuart, 2012 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 18 October 2012 to 13 January 2013), p. 149
  • MacLeod, Catharine; Rab, MacGibbon; Button, Victoria; Coombs, Katherine; Derbyshire, Alan, Elizabethan Treasures: Miniatures from Hilliard and Oliver, 2019 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 21 February - 19 May 2019), p. 74
  • Nicholl, Charles, Character Sketches: Elizabethan Writers, 1997, p. 50
  • Nicholl, Charles, Insights: Shakespeare and His Contemporaries, 2005, p. 95
  • Piper, David, The English Face, 1992, p. 55
  • Rab MacGibbon, National Portrait Gallery: The Collection, p. 20
  • Rogers, Malcolm, Master Drawings from the National Portrait Gallery, 1993 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 5 August to 23 October 1994), p. 23
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 511
  • Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, p. 255
  • Walker, Richard, Miniatures: 300 Years of the English Miniature, 1998, p. 20 Read entry

    Hilliard or his studio was also responsible for the miniatures of three of her favourites - Robert Dudley, Water Ralegh and Francis Drake.

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Subject/Themeback to top

Events of 1585back to top

Current affairs

Anglo-Dutch treaty of alliance against Spain is signed at Nonsuch Palace.
Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester arrives in the Netherlands with 7,000 soldiers to fight for the Dutch Protestant cause and is appointed Governor-General of the Netherlands.
An expedition, funded by Sir Walter Ralegh and led by his cousin, Sir Richard Grenville, establishes an ill-fated colony on Roanoke Island. The area is named Virginia after Queen Elizabeth I.

Art and science

Miniature of Sir Walter Ralegh is painted by Nicholas Hilliard at about this time.
The publisher Robert Waldegrave is imprisoned for printing Puritan books.
The explorer John Davis discovers the strait named after him between Greenland and Canada while searching for the Northwest Passage to the Far East.


Henry III of France bows to pressure from the militant Catholic Henry, Duke of Guise to sign the Treaty of Nemours, which revokes all toleration of Huguenots. Opposition to the legal heir to the crown, the Protestant Henry of Navarre provokes the final French War of Religion.
Sack of Antwerp by Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma, the Hapsburg Governor of the Netherlands. The city's pre-eminence as a centre of international commerce is lost to Amsterdam.

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