Sir Walter Raleigh

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Governor 1600-1603
Sir Walter Raleigh

Walter Raleigh2.jpg

The most famous of all Jersey's Governors, Sir Walter Raleigh was in office for three years at the beginning of the 17th century, and is credited with encouraging poor young island fishermen to seek their fortunes in the Canadian cod trade

Boyhood of Raleigh painted by Jersey-born artist Sir John Everett Millais

Sir Walter Raleigh (1552–1618) was Governor of Jersey from 1600-1603. He commissioned the building of Elizabeth Castle which was named after his Queen.


An aristocrat, writer, poet, soldier, courtier, and explorer, Raleigh was born to a Protestant family in Devon, the son of Walter Raleigh and Catherine Champernowne. Little is known for certain of his early life, though he spent some time in Ireland, taking part in the suppression of rebellions and participating in two infamous massacres at Rathlin Island and Smerwick. He rose rapidly in Elizabeth I's favour, being knighted in 1585. He was involved in the early English colonisation of the New World in Virginia under a royal patent. In 1591 he secretly married Elizabeth Throckmorton, one of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting, without requesting the Queen's permission, for which he and his wife were sent to the Tower of London. After his release, they retired to his estate at Sherborne, Dorset.

In 1594 Raleigh heard of a "City of Gold" in South America and sailed to find it, publishing an exaggerated account of his experiences in a book that contributed to the legend of El Dorado. After Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, Raleigh was again imprisoned in the Tower, this time for allegedly being involved in the a plot against King James I, who was not favourably disposed toward him. In 1616, however, he was released in order to conduct a second expedition in search of El Dorado. This was unsuccessful and the Spanish outpost at San Thomé was ransacked by men under his command. After his return to England, Raleigh was arrested. After a show trial held mainly to appease the Spanish after Raleigh's attack of San Thomé, he was beheaded at Whitehall.


The Governorship of Jersey was not a reward to Raleigh for his services to Queen Elizabeth. Rather he seems to have fallen out of favour towards the end of her reign and looked upon service in Jersey as a way of escaping from the attention of his opponents at Court. Unusually for a figure of such importance, Raleigh actually seems to have come to Jersey on his appointment, rather than immediately entrusting military control of the island to a Lieut-Governor. Although he paid several return visits to England dueing his short tenure, he was in the island sufficiently long to become involved in island affairs. He modernized its defences, including construction of a new fort. He named the new fortress protecting the approaches to Saint Helier Fort Isabella Bellissima, or Elizabeth Castle.

Walter Raleigh.jpg

He attended Court sittings, and it is said that he smoked his pipe at this time, a habit which did not go down well with islanders. Nevertheless, the crop began to be grown in the island, but some 20 years after Raleigh's departure an order was made forbidding its sale, and subsequently growing it was banned, although these orders do not appear to have had instant effect.

Poor population

Raleigh had arrived at an island the population of which was mainly poor and oppressed, and scarcely educated. He did his best to improve their lot and recommended that those who pursued fishing for a living should go to Newfoundland, where he had been given a plantation by the Queen at a place called Ferryland, and join the cod fishing industry. This was the start of the involvement of Jerseymen in fishing for cod on the other side of the Atlantic, which was to become one of the island's most important industries some 200 years later.

Letter to Royal Court

In 1601 Sir Walter wrote to the Bailiff concerning an ongoing dispute between John de Carteret and John Dumaresq - Letter from Sir Walter Raleigh

Further articles

Predecessor Successor
Sir Anthony Paulet
1590 - 1600
Sir Walter Raleigh
Sir John Peyton
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