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

Written by Anna Beer
Review by Jeanne Greene

The man Beer describes as “a true Renaissance man” had a tenuous place in society—birth date unknown—as the fifth son of a gentleman. He became a soldier in 1569, returned to London 13 years later—just a Captain, but good looking, well-dressed, well-spoken for sure—and, when he caught the eye of the Queen, she decided to keep him around. Access to Queen Elizabeth made Raleigh influential and rich, something his enemies noticed, and then she sent him on a voyage of discovery. Although Raleigh never set foot in North America, he returned with a new vision.  Was he brilliant or just clever? A man of action, or a self-aggrandizer? Either way, jealousy eventually took him down; Raleigh was sentenced to death for crimes against the state in 1618. Beer lists his achievements, from naval genius to great writer, and suggests his poetry as the key to the man. What stands out is this statement, however: he knew how to get things done.