In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Sir Walter Ralegh (Raleigh)

  • Introduction
  • General Reference Works and Data Resources
  • Bibliographies
  • Biographies
  • General Critical Surveys
  • Ralegh’s Trials and Execution
  • Legacy

British and Irish Literature Sir Walter Ralegh (Raleigh)
Carlo M. Bajetta
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 May 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0110


Agnes Latham once wrote that everything Ralegh (b. 1554–d. 1618) did “seems to have been tainted by a curious impermanence, to have had something sketchy and amateurish about it. Not one of his Virginian expeditions succeeded, and his schemes for Guiana came to nothing. His history was never finished and his poetry is lost” (see Latham 1951, cited under Editions: Poetry, xi). Notwithstanding this—or perhaps precisely because of this—Ralegh’s figure has always attracted historians, literary critics, writers and politicians, as one can easily see from the Biographies section. Once Queen Elizabeth I’s favorite and the “best hated man” in the kingdom, almost paradoxically he came to be regarded over the centuries as the epitome of the Renaissance man, the champion of parliamentary freedom and, quite predictably, the perfect test case for new historicist methods of scholarly enquiry (see, for example, Greenblatt 1973, cited under General Critical Surveys). It is little surprise that at the end of the 19th century, one of the most distinguished Ralegh biographers, William Stebbing, could already observe that “students of Ralegh’s career cannot complain of a dearth of materials” (see Stebbing 1891, cited under Biographies, p. vii). Anyone writing these days could now perhaps complain that the wealth of materials is almost overwhelming. Modern Ralegh scholars, however, are blessed with the existence of detailed Bibliographies from the 16th to the late 20th centuries. While the aim of this essay is not that of duplicating existing information, many items cited in these books are mentioned here as well, as they represent significant contributions that one should not ignore and that are frequently good starting points for research and study. Even a casual glance at the entries below, however, will show that some curious gaps and some degrees of “curious impermanence” are still present in contemporary Ralegh scholarship. What appears to be a limited collaboration between historians and literary scholars has frequently thwarted attempts to do justice to this almost iconic figure in both popular and “highbrow” British and American culture. One example will probably suffice: no modern complete edition of his oeuvre has been published since the Oxford Works of Sir Walter Ralegh in 1829. More work on Ralegh is certainly needed. It is hoped that the present bibliography may be of use to scholars who intend to pursue such a task—and that it will also help students and Ralegh enthusiasts to keep enlarging our understanding of this remarkable writer and man of action.

General Reference Works and Data Resources

Some of the items in this section will be of significant use for scholars as well as for students who need either to access collections of sources (such as Brushfield 1896–1907, also included in the vast online repository, The Internet Archive), view contemporary artwork (see e.g., the National Portrait Gallery website), or contextualize Ralegh’s life and writings within the general framework of Elizabethan and Jacobean textual practices. Beal 1980 and May and Ringler 2004 in fact are not only indispensable for locating original documents, but also provide important information as to the physical embodiment of Ralegh’s poems and prose writings. Marotti 1995 and Woudhuysen 1996 provide insightful analyses of the transmission of these texts, as well as of the literary tradition of the period. For details on Ralegh’s works in print, one should also turn to the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC), an online scholarly resource that merges and updates data from catalogs of books printed prior to 1801.

  • Beal, Peter, ed. Index of English Literary Manuscripts. Vol. 1, 1450–1625. 2 pts. London: Mansell, 1980.

    Includes a detailed section, with an introduction, on all the Ralegh manuscripts known up to the date of publication (for later discoveries see May 1989, cited under General Critical Surveys, and May and Ringler 2004). Beal’s volume is not limited to manuscripts datable to 1625, and its entries (more than eight hundred) include materials which were copied much later. An online, largely updated, version is now available via CELM (pronounced “Kelm”), Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts 1450–1700. Beal is still adding new entries to this work in the hope that they may be incorporated online in due course.

  • Brushfield, Thomas N. Raleghana. Plymouth: W. Brendon, 1896–1907.

    Reproduces, in eight parts, a large number of original documents (including manuscripts—mostly of biographical interest—and pages from early printed Editions), and photographs of places of special significance for Ralegh scholars. While a mine of interesting information, the commentary is clearly outdated, and some of these pages need to be treated with skepticism. Available via The Internet Archive.

  • The English Short Title Catalogue.

    Now available free of charge via the British Library, the ESTC lists over 460,000 items. It is an indispensable tool for identifying and locating the various editions of Ralegh’s printed works (including poems in miscellanies) up to the beginning of the 19th century, many of which fall beyond the time span covered in May and Ringler 2004.

  • The Internet Archive.

    This vast (and free-of-charge) database contains a large number of copyright-free books on Ralegh, including Brushfield 1896–1907, the eight volumes of the Oxford Works of Sir Walter Ralegh, Edwards 1868 (cited under Editions: Letters) and many other useful primary and secondary sources.

  • Marotti, Arthur F. Manuscript, Print, and the English Renaissance Lyric. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995.

    Useful for placing the circulation of Ralegh’s poetry within the larger context of the textual transmission of poetical texts in the 16th and 17th century. Discusses (pp. 98–112) various texts—now in Rudick 1999, Appendix 1 (cited under Editions: Poetry)—connected with Ralegh’s misfortunes, relating them to the medieval and Renaissance tradition of writing poems on the “fall of the great.”

  • May, Steven W., and William A. Ringler, ed. Elizabethan Poetry: A Bibliography and First-line Index of English Verse, 1559–1603. 3 vols. London: Thoemmes Continuum, 2004.

    Indexes all the poems appearing in manuscripts datable up to 1603. An indispensable research tool for the Elizabethan phase of Ralegh’s poetry.

  • The National Portrait Gallery.

    The web portal of this famous London institution allows the user to retrieve high-resolution images for almost all of the famous portraits of Ralegh, from the well-known early miniature by Nicholas Hilliard to various versions of the engraving prefixed to the numerous editions of the History of the World.

  • Woudhuysen, H. R. Sir Philip Sidney and the Circulation of Manuscripts, 1558–1640. Oxford: Clarendon, 1996.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198129660.001.0001

    The first section of this volume provides an unique survey of the production, sale, and use of manuscripts in the 16th and early- to mid-17th centuries, with important analyses of a significant number of Ralegh items quoted in Beal 1980 (and later included in May and Ringler 2004).

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