Sir Walter Raleigh, former favorite of Queen Elizabeth I and explorer of the New World, was executed today for conspiring against King James I of England.
His beheading was surrounded with controversy and debate; many saw his death as unnecessary and a failing of the judicial system.
Raleigh had been sentenced to death 15 years ago after being implicated in the Main Plot, a conspiracy by English Catholics to remove King James I from the throne and replace him with Arabella Stuart of Spain.
"The justice of England has never been so degraded and injured as by the condemnation of Sir Walter Raleigh," a judge in Raleigh's trial said.
Born in 1552, Raleigh briefly attended Oriel College at Oxford and took part in the suppression of the Desmond Rebellions between 1579 and 1583. As a result, he became a landowner in Ireland, a position he enjoyed for 17 years.
Raleigh soon set his sights on the New World, and although his first attempt at a colony, Roanoke, was met with disaster, his efforts paved the way for subsequent colonies.
In December 1581, Raleigh returned to England after his colonization company was disbanded and quickly became a favorite of the Queen, only to fall out of her favor after developing a secret relationship with one of her ladies-in-waiting, Elizabeth "Bess" Throckmorton. Raleigh was sentenced to jail and Bess was dismissed from the court. His favor with the Queen was eventually restored, despite the endurance of the marriage.
On July 19, 1603, months after the passing of Queen Elizabeth, Raleigh was tried and convicted of treason against the King. His sentence was commuted and he was released in 1616 to embark on an expedition to the New World to establish a gold-mining colony; however, he was thrown back into the Tower after the mission failed, and his death sentence was reinstated.
He is survived by his wife, Lady Raleigh, and two sons, Walter and Carew. He will be buried in the local church in Beddington, Surrey, his wife's hometown. Lady Raleigh is believed to have requested his head embalmed so she may carry around a part of her husband.