Patriot or Traitor: The Life and Death of Sir Walter Ralegh

Written by Anna Beer
Review by Nicky Moxey

It’s said that good non-fiction should be as gripping as a tense murder-mystery. With this fascinating biography, Anna Beer has indeed met that standard. My knowledge of Walter Ralegh was vague, to say the least – a cloak across a puddle, playing bowls as the Armada arrived, one of Elizabeth’s favourites; and a dastardly pirate. Ms Beer shows us his meteoric rise in the Queen’s service, and paints a vivid picture of the personalities and the culture of the time. Ralegh’s skill as a poet was just as important as his ability to lead expeditions to South America; and Ms Beer gives us windows into Ralegh’s soul through his own words, or the writings of others at court. He had many enemies, and King James’ ascension to the throne was the last straw in Ralegh’s fall, although he made one last throw of the dice…

Ralegh’s portrait is on the book’s cover, deep brown eyes staring straight at you; handsome, cultured, enigmatic, melancholy. Anna Beer’s book paints his picture, warts and all, with a great deal of affection, and sets him firmly in his context. If you are interested in the Elizabethan or early Stuart ages, you should read it.