The Quickest Light

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Synopsis

Walter Ralegh marries Bess. As a result, they’re both banished from Queen Elizabeth’s court. Robert Cecil plots against Walter, and King James persecutes him, driving him to undertake ‘ignoble deeds’. He lands in the Tower, found guilty of treason against James. Despite this, a friendship grows with James’ wife, Queen Anna, and Prince Henry, the heir to the throne. Walter and Bess’ relationship deteriorates from loving to supportive, to strained, and Walter’s dream of gold and freedom becomes less and less achievable.

With Walter’s dreams compromised, neither Prince Henry’s death nor Bess’s protestations fail to prevent his release from the Tower to begin his difficult journey to get the gold from Guiana– the gold that will, it’s hoped, save his life. But in Guiana, Walter’s son, Wat, is killed, and he returns from America with no gold, to face a devastated Bess, and a revengeful King. On the eve of his execution, Walter and Bess confront each other for the last time, leading to a rapprochement, or at least an acceptance of the fact that neither would ever have been happy, even if life had been different. His friends gather to say their last farewells while the Dean of St Paul’s offers unwanted spiritual comfort. James and Cecil at last realise their dream – the death of Sir Walter Ralegh.

Sir Walter Ralegh is not a man much talked of these days. A fairly Hollywood-style film (with Clive Owen as Ralegh) recently had him personally leading the Armada and then bedding Queen Elizabeth, neither of which, I pretty confidently assert, happened. He wrote courtly poems of love to Elizabeth, but everyone at Court had to, and though he was handsome and charmingly direct, which she loved, as far as anyone can tell they didn’t have a relationship beyond being intimate friends for several years. He was a useful and informal councillor. As for leading the Armada, he was on land throughout, organising the defences along the coast.

Nevertheless, Ralegh did have a credible and long war and colonial record, and was responsible for leading the winning English forces at the important skirmishes in the conflict with Spain in both Cadiz and the Azores.

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