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Sir Walter Ralegh (Raleigh); Walter Ralegh

3 of 48 portraits of Sir Walter Ralegh (Raleigh)

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Sir Walter Ralegh (Raleigh); Walter Ralegh

by Unknown artist
oil on canvas, 1602
78 1/2 in. x 50 1/8 in. (1994 mm x 1273 mm)
Given by Lennard family, 1954
Primary Collection
NPG 3914

Sittersback to top

Artistback to top

  • Unknown artist, Artist. Artist or producer associated with 6583 portraits.

This portraitback to top

This portrait was painted in 1602, when Ralegh was at the height of his renewed favour with the Queen. It shows him together with his eight-year old son, also Walter (1593-1618), who is made to mimic his father's confident pose. Both father and son are dressed in splendid costumes; Ralegh's jacket is embroidered with seed pearls, and his son's blue suit is silver-braided. A contemporary of Ralegh described him as, 'framed in so just a proportion and so seemly an order, as there was nothing in him that a man might well wish to have been added or altered'.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Bolland, Charlotte, Tudor & Jacobean Portraits, 2018, p. 82 Read entry

    Nicknamed 'Water' by the queen, Ralegh was one of Elizabeth's favoured courtiers. She made him Captain of the Guard in 1582 and knighted him in 1585. He fell from favour after secretly marrying Elizabeth Throckmorton, one of the queen's maids of honour, and retired to his estate at Sherborne in Dorset. A soldier, philosopher, explorer and poet, Ralegh wrote on subjects as diverse as shipbuilding, politics and world history. He organised a number of expeditions to North America and is credited with popularising tobacco in England. Implicated in a plot during the early years of James I's reign, Ralegh was imprisoned in the Tower of London for thirteen years. On his release he was given permission to look for gold in the region in South America then known as Guiana, but during the journey a detachment of his men attacked a Spanish outpost in violation of peace treaties with Spain; the treason charge was revived on his return to England, and he was executed in September 1618. This portrait was painted in 1602 when Ralegh was at the height of his renewed favour with Elizabeth I, following service in the navy at Cadiz and against the third Spanish Armada during the autumn of 1597. He is shown alongside his eight-year-old son, also named Walter but known as Wat, whose pose mimics that of his father but whose fashions are more up to date, with full Venetian hose and a turned-down collar. Wat accompanied his father on the ill-fated journey to Guiana and was killed during the attack on the Spanish settlement.

  • Charles Nicholl, Shakespeare and his Contemporaries, 2015, p. 121
  • Nicholl, Charles, Character Sketches: Elizabethan Writers, 1997, p. 51
  • Nicholl, Charles, Insights: Shakespeare and His Contemporaries, 2005, p. 98
  • Ribeiro, Aileen, The Gallery of Fashion, 2000, p. 56
  • Ribeiro, Aileen; Blackman, Cally, A Portrait of Fashion: Six Centuries of Dress at the National Portrait Gallery, 2015, p. 75
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 511
  • Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, p. 257

Events of 1602back to top

Current affairs

The Lord Deputy of Ireland Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy secures the surrender of the Spanish force sent to Ireland to assist the Catholic rebellion led by Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone.

Art and science

The full-length portrait of Sir Walter Ralegh and his son is painted by an unknown artist.
The Bodleian Library of Oxford University is inaugurated by the scholar and diplomat Sir Thomas Bodley.
Akbar, Mughal Emperor of India, constructs the Buland Darwaza ('Great Gateway') in Fatehpur Sikri, India, to commemorate his conquest of Gujarat.


Foundation of the Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC) and the Amsterdam Stock Exchange.
The Dutch fleet arrives in Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) and is welcomed as aid against the Portuguese.
Abbas I, Shah of Persia expels the Portuguese from Bahrain in the Persian Gulf and launches a campaign against the Ottoman Empire.

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