The History of England from the
Invasion of Julius Cæsar to the Revolution of 1688

David Hume

Chapter 48, Footnote #02
What Did Raleigh Intend?

Some of the facts in this narrative, which seem to condemn Raleigh, are taken from the king's Declaration, which, being published by authority, when the facts were recent, being extracted from examinations before the privy council, and subscribed by six privy-councillors, among whom was Abbot, Archbishop of Canterbury, a prelate nowise complaisant to the court, must be allowed to have great weight, or rather to be of undoubted credit. Yet the most material facts are confirmed either by the nature and reason of the thing or by Sir Walter's own apology and his letters. The king's Declartation is, in the Harleian Miscellany, Vol. iii., No. 2.

1. There seems to be an improbability that the Spaniards, who knew nothing of Raleigh's pretended mine, should have built a town, in so wide a coast, within three miles of it. The chances are extremely against such a supposition; and it is more natural to think that the view of plundering the town led him thither than that of working a mine. 2. No such mine is there found to this day. 3. Raleigh, in fact, found no mine; and, in fact, he plundered and burned a Spanish town. Is it not more probable, therefore, that the latter was his intention? How can the secrets of his breast be rendered so visible as to counterpoise certain facts? 4. He confesses, in his letter to Lord Carew, that though he knew it; yet he concealed from the king the settlement of the Spainards on the coast. Does not this fact alone render him stifficiently criminal? 5. His commission empowers him only to settle on a coast possessed by savage and barbarous inhabitants. Was it not the most evident breach of orders to disembark on a coast possessed by Spaniards? 6. His orders to Keymis, when he sent him up the river, are contained in his own apology, and from them it appears that he knew (what was unavoidable) that the Spaniards would resist, and would oppose the English landing and taking possession of the country. His intentions, therefore, were hostile from the beginning. 7. Without provocation, and even when at a distance, he gave Keymis orders to dislodge the Spaniards from their own town. Could any enterprise be more hostile? And, considering the Spaniards as allies to the nation, could any enterprise be more criminal? Was he not the aggressor, even though it should be true that the Spaniards fired upon his men at landing? It is said he killed three or four hundred of them. Is that so light a matter? 8. In his letter to the king, and in his apology, he grounds his defence on former hostilities exercised by the Spaniards against other companies of Englishmen. These are accounted for by the ambiguity of the treaty between the nations. And it is plain that though these might possibly be reasons for the king's declaring war against that nation, they could never entitle Raleigh to declare war, and without any commission, or contrary to his commission, to invade the Spanish settlements. He pretends, indeed, that peace was never made with Spain in the Indies: a most absurd notion! The chief hurt which the Spaniards could receive from England was in the Indies; and they never would have made peace at all if hostilities had been still to be continued on these settlements. By secret agreement, the English were still allowed to support the Dutch, even after the treaty of peace. If they had also been allowed to invade the Spanish settlements, the treaty had been a full peace to England, while the Spaniards were still exposed to, the full efects of war. 9. If the claim to the property of that country, as first discoverers, was good, in opposition to present settlement, as Raleigh pretends, why was it not laid before the king, with all its circumstances, and submitted to his judgment? 10. Raleigh's force is acknowledged by himself to have been insufficient to support him in the possession of St. Thomas against the power of which Spain was master on tbat coast; yet it was sufficient, as he owns, to take by surprise and plunder twenty towns. It was not, therefore, his design to settle, but to plunder. By these confessions, which I have here brought together, he plainly betrays himself. Why did he not stay and work his mine, as at first he projected? He apprehended that the Spaniards would be upon him with a greater force. But before he left England, he knew that this must be the case if he invaded any part of the Spanish colonies. His intention, therefore, never was to settle, but only to plunder. 12. He acknowledges that he knew neither the depth nor riches of the mine, but only that there was some ore there. Would he have ventured all his fortune and credit on so precarious a foundation? 13. Would the other adventurers, if made acquainted with this, have risked everything to attend him? Ought a fleet to have been equipped for an experiment? Was there not plainly an imposture in the management of this affair? 14. He says to Keymis, in his orders, ``Bring but a basketful of ore, and it will satisfy the king that my project was not imaginary.'' This was easily done from the Spanish mines; and he seems to have been chiefly displeased at Keymis for not attempting it. Such a view was a premeditated apology to cover his cheat. 15. The king, in his Declaration, imputes it to Raleigh that as soon as he was at sea he immediately fell into such uncertain and doubtful talk of his mine, and said that it would be sufficient if he brought home a basketful of ore. From the circumstance last mentioned, it appears that this imputation was not without reason. 16. There are many other circumstances of great weight in the king's Declaration: that Raleigh, when he fell down to Plymouth, took no pioneers with him, which he always declared to be his intention that be was nowise provided with instruments for working a mine, but had a sufficient stock of warlike stores; that young Raleigh, in attacking the Spaniards, employed the words which, in the narration, I have put in his month; that the mine was movable, and shifted as be saw convenient; not to mention many other public facts, which prove him to have been highly criminal against his companions as well as his country. Howel, in his Letters, says that there lived in London, in 1645, an officer, a man of honor, who asserted that he heard young Raleigh speak these words (vol. ii. letter 63). That was a time when there was no interest in maintaining such a fact. 17. Raleigh's account of his first voyage to Guiana proves him to have been a man capable of the most extravagant credulity or most impudent imposture; so ridiculous are the stories which he tells of the Inca's chimerical empire in the midst of Guiana; the rich city of El Dorado, or Manao, two days' journey in length, and shining with gold and silver; the old Peruvian prophecies in favor of the English, who, he says, were expressly named as the deliverers of that country long before any European had ever touched there; the'Amazons, or republic of women; and, in general, the vast and incredible riches which he saw on that continent, where nobody has yet found any treasures! This whole narrative is a proof that he was extremely defective either in solid understanding or morals, or both. No man's character, indeed, seems ever to have been carried to such extremes as Raleigh's by the opposite passions of envy and pity. In the former part of his life, when, he was active and lived in the world, and was probably best known, he was the object of universal hatred and detestation throughout England; in the latter part, when shut up in prison, he became, much more unreasonably, the object of great love and admiration.

As to the circumstances of the narrative, that Raleigh's pardon was refused him, that his former sentence was purposely kept in force against him,and that he went out under these express conditions, they may be supported by the following authorities: 1. The king's word and that of six privy-councillors, who affirm it for fact. 2. The nature of the thing. If no suspicion had been entertained of his intentions, a pardon would never have been refused to a man to whom authoritv was intrusted. 3. The words of the commission itself, where he is simply styled Sir Walter Raleigh, and not faithful and well-beloved, according to the usual and never-failing style on such occasions. 4. In all the letters which he wrote home to Sir Ralph Winwood, and to his own wife, he always considers himself as a person unpardoned and liable to the law. He seems, indeed, immediately upon the failare of his enterprise, to have become desperate, and to have expected the fate which he met with.

It is pretended that the king gave intelligence to the Spaniards of Raleigh's project, as if he had needed to lay a plot for destroying a man whose life had been fourteen years, and still was, in his power. The Spaniards wanted no other intelligence to be on their guard than the known and public fact of Raleigh's armament; and there was no reason why the king should conceal from them the project of a settlement which Raleigh pretended, and the king believed, to be entirely innocent.

The king's chief blame seems to have lain in his negligence in allowing Raleigh to depart without a more exact scrutiny; but for this he apologizes saying that sureties were required for the good behavior of Raleigh and, all his associates in the enterprise, but that they gave in bonds for each other---a cheat which was not perceived till they had sailed, and which increased the suspicion of bad intentions.

Perhaps the king ought also to have granted Raleigh a pardon for his old treason, and to have tried him anew for his new offences. His punishment in that case would not only have been just, but conducted in a just and unexceptionable manner. But we are told that a ridiculous opinion at that time prevailed in the nation (and it is plainly supposed by Sir Walter in his apology) that, by treaty; war was allowed with the Spaniards in the Indies, though peace was made in Europe; and, while that notion took place, no jury would have found Raleigh guilty. So that had not the king punished him upon the old sentence, the Spaniards would have had a just cause of complaint against the king, sufficient to have produced a war, at least to have destroyed all cordiality between the nations.

This explication I thought necessary, in order to clear up the story of Raleigh, which, though very obvious, is generally mistaken in so gross a manner that I scarcely know its parallel in the English history

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Histeng, Chapter 48 Reign of James I.