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Sir Walter Raleigh’s Ghost

TCD MS 862 f232
TCD MS 862 f232

Sir Walter Raleigh, soldier, courtier and explorer, was beheaded on 29 October 1618 after imprisonment in the Tower of London. His fame and popularity ensured a posthumous reputation as an English martyr, a national hero executed to appease the Spanish in revenge for his attack on one of their new-world ports.  There was a belief that his death had been engineered by the Conde de Gondomar, the Machiavellian Spanish ambassador to the court of King James I. Such beliefs were dangerous.

The document imaged above, ‘Vox Spiritus or Sir Walter Raleigh’s Ghost’ (TCD MS 862 232r-275v) is a handwritten pamphlet, produced in 1620 to promote the ideals of the late Sir Walter, namely the mistrust of Catholicism and all things Spanish.

‘Raleigh’s Ghost’ imagines a meeting between Gondomar and a Jesuit priest on 20 November 1620 which is interrupted by the apparition of Raleigh who calls upon officials to defend England against the spread of ‘popery’. The vengeful ghost pointing an accusing finger at its quaking murderer is a classic dramatic device which crops up in contemporary tragedies.

The author could have been either Thomas Gainsford, described as a ‘poore Captaine about London’, who was discovered with the seditious manuscript and imprisoned; or Thomas Scott, a minister who fled to Utrecht to continue his anti-Spanish writings. Gainsford died of the plague in 1642 and Scott was assassinated in 1626. ‘Raleigh’s Ghost’ was only available in manuscript form until it was published in 1983.

When not haunting Spanish ambassadors, Sir Walter Raleigh’s actual ghost is said to reside in the Tower of London.

Estelle Gittins