Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sir Walter Raleigh's Pipe ca 1617

This pipe pouch with clay pipes and tobacco stopper from the Wallace Collection in London is believed to have been Sir Walter Raleigh's own.

Composed of Leather, metal, clay, bone, bamboo, wood and silver   
Height: 24.2 cm, pouch, open
Width: 12 cm, pouch, open

It was found in his cell after his execution 29 October 1618 for treason under the rule of King James I.

Sir Walter Raleigh's cell in the Tower of London

The hand written inscription on the tobacco pouch reads:

'Comes meus fuit in illo miserrimo tempore' 

'He was my companion during that very unhappy time'

Below the inscription is a hand drawn heart enclosing the initials W.R. and the year of 1617

Walter Raleigh in 1611 for his book on the History of the Worlds, written while in prison

In 1617, Sir Walter was sitting in prison with hopes of a royal pardon dissipating, looking back at his life. Quite an eventful life it had been...

With such highs as becoming the favorite (or rather one of a selected few) of Queen Elizabeth I

Portrait of Elizabeth to commemorate the defeat of the Spanish Armada (1588), depicted in the background. Elizabeth's hand rests on the globe, symbolising her international power.

being granted in 1583 a Royal Patent to explore the New World and lay the grounds for a colony north of Spanish Florida, 

The full title in the cartouche reads, "Americae pars, Nunc Virginia dicta, primum ab Anglis inuenta sumtibus Dn. Walteri Raleigh, Equestris ordinis viri Anno Dm. MDLXXXV regm verso Sereniss: notrae Reginae Elisabethae XVII. Hujus vero Historia peculiari Libro discripta est, additis etiam Indigenarum Iconibus." The box on the left reads, "Autore Ioanne with Sculptore Theodoro DeBry, Quiet excud." 1585

naming the new found land Virginia, in honor of his Queen and protector Elizabeth the "Virgin Queen", 

Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607

Jamestown in 1610

Jamestown pipes dated 1608-1610 "sit atop fragments of a sagger, a small, clay, pipemaking oven."
Photograph courtesy Michael Lavin, Jamestown Rediscovery. National Geographic News

Pipes dated 1608-1610 "stamped with the names of Sir Walter Raleigh and other eminent men back in England such as Earl of Southampton (Henry Wriothesley), Shakespeare’s major patron and top Virginia Company official." Photograph courtesy Michael Lavin, Jamestown Rediscovery. National Geographic News

coming back from the New World a fervent tobacco pipe smoker who introduced Queen Elizabeth I and her Court to this new found pleasure,

First known image of a man smoking in England, from Chute's pamphlet "Tabaco", 1595
 being knighted in 1585, 

Arranging for the construction of  "The Ark Royal" , which weighed 800 tons and was completed in 1587.  The "Ark Royal" was chosen to lead the English fleet against the Spanish Armada in 1588.

  The Ark Royal had four masts and a normal crew of 270.

Launching expeditions to find the El Dorado, 

and publishing upon his return an account of the riches to be found in Guiana: first in The Discovery of the large, rich and beautiful Empire of Guiana in 1596, followed by his Brevis et admiranda descriptio regni Guianae: auri abundantissimi, in America.

Eldorado, Illustration from "Regni Guianae," by G. Raleigh, 1594-96

The lows included being emprisoned and disgraced for secretly marrying one of the Queen's Ladies-in-waiting, 

Full-sized portrait of Elizabeth Raleigh, ca. 1600 by Robert Peake the Elder (ca. 1551-1619)

the loss of protection when Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603, 

King James I of England, VI of Scotland in 1606

the aversion that her successor to the throne, King James I of England, VI of Scotland, had for tobacco, 

As he made clear in his violent Counterblaste to Tobacco in 1604.

Richard Braithwaite’s The Smoking Age (1617)

But the lowest point of all, and clearly of more critical relevance than tobacco to his current predicament, was his repeated failure to find the gold mines and treasures of El Dorado.

The scene depicted in this ancient artwork, on display at the Gold Museum in Bogota, Colombia, shows the origin of the El Dorado myth. Legend tells of a Muisca king who would cover himself in gold dust during festivals, then dive from a raft into Lake Guatavita.


  1. It is amazing how interwoven tobacco is to world history. While I, myself, am not a smoker, I did have a higher appreciation for it after reading this article... given the solace it gave Raleigh during such trying tribulations. Thank you for sharing this excellent piece of investigative historical reporting.

  2. Raleigh should be named the Patron Saint of the Pipe Club of London!
    John Wade Long, Jr. - PCoL Webmaster