In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Walter Ralegh

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Collected Works

Renaissance and Reformation Walter Ralegh
Joyce Lorimer
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 May 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0449


Sir Walter Ralegh (this is how he spelled his name) (b. 1552–d. 1618) possessed an innate capacity to draw attention to himself. His obvious personal attractions and actor’s capacity for self-presentation were underpinned by his remarkable intellect and efficiency in martial endeavors and provincial administration. Although his own ventures to the Americas produced no lasting result, they initiated English interest in trade and settlement there. He was an undoubtedly brilliant but entirely self-interested and proud man who, for all of his intelligence, wide-ranging scholarship, and creativity, misread the instability of his political position in the closing years of the reign of Elizabeth I. He always aroused conflicting reactions among his contemporaries; enjoying far greater popularity after his death than he did in his lifetime. Ralegh’s reputation as a national hero and founder of empire was created in the three centuries following his death. Scholarly reassessment of his achievements and the corpus and significance of his written works have continued.

General Overviews

Ralegh’s life and literary remains have generated multiple studies in the four centuries after his death but little that provides a general overview of how to approach them. Lefranc 1968 remains a magisterial evaluation of Ralegh’s work. Armitage 1987 provides the reader with an excellent entry into all the significant studies up to that date but notes that the range of reactions that Ralegh evoked in his lifetime has continued in the work of those who have studied him since. The University of North Carolina is an active center of Ralegh studies. Armitage 1987 and Jones 1987 bring together the reviews of leading scholars under nine different sectional headings. Peter Beal provides a careful listing and critique of writings attributed to Ralegh available online at the CELM website. Understanding of the significance of Ralegh, as man and author, has been greatly advanced by a convergence of historical, literary, and cultural studies since the 1980s. New historicist criticism has moved beyond the intensive, static, text-only approach of formalist New Criticism to require situating texts within multiple historical contexts. The conference papers published in Armitage 2013 are an excellent example of the current range of scholarship in the field and shifts in assessment of the purpose of Ralegh’s writings. The 400th anniversary of Ralegh’s death in 2019 prompted considerable public and scholarly attention. Bigelow, et al. 2018 presents concise current scholarly opinions of the man and his significance.

  • Armitage, Christopher M. Sir Walter Ralegh, an Annotated Bibliography. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987.

    Lists just short of two thousand publications written by Ralegh or about him between 1576 and 1986. The sectional divisions and index offer an easy access to the listed works.

  • Armitage, Christopher M. Literary and Visual Ralegh. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2013.

    A collection of papers reflecting current rethinking about Ralegh in his writings, not as forms performance but as a sincerely intentioned desire for agency.

  • Beal, Peter. “Sir Walter Ralegh.” Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts, 1450–1700. London: King’s College Department of Digital Humanities, 2005–2013.

    Beal notes that the general canon of Ralegh’s works remains problematic. Many anonymous writings were attributed to him after his death.

  • Bigelow, Allison, Vivienne Westbrook, Daniel Carey, et al. “Ralegh at 400.” The Spenser Review 48.3.1 (2018).

    An interesting read for students beginning to work on Ralegh.

  • Jones, H. G., ed. Raleigh and Quinn: The Explorer and His Boswell; Papers Presented at the International Sir Walter Raleigh Conference, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 27–28 March 1987, Together with Papers Read at a Session Titled “The Life and Work of David Beers Quinn” at a Meeting of the American Historical Association, Chicago, 29 December 1986. North Carolina Society Imprints 14. Chapel Hill: North Caroliniana Society and the North Carolina Collection, 1987.

    Contains papers presented at the International Sir Walter Raleigh Conference at Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in March 1987.

  • Lefranc, Pierre. Sir Walter, écrivain: L’oeuvre et les idées. Paris: Armand Colin, 1968.

    Unfortunately available only in French.

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