Patriot or Traitor: The Life and Death of Sir Walter Ralegh - Anna Beer

Disclaimer: I won an ARC of this title via Netgalley.


                When you actually sit down and think about, what exactly did Sir Walter Ralegh actually do to deserve almost being a household name in today’s world?  You are more likely to have heard of him than Robert Cecil.  He is one of the famous prisoners of the Tower of London, isn’t he?  Thankfully, Anna Beer’s new book partially answers that question.  In fact, she answers it as much as is humanly possible.


                The book is less an examination of whether Ralegh was a traitor but how much he truly relied on self-promotion and proclamation.  It is about treading the minefields that were political life in both Elizabeth and early Jacobean English court history.


                While it is helpful to have a working knowledge of English history during the closing years of Elizabeth’s reign and the beginning of James, Beer’s writing is very engaging, and the pace is lively.  The chapters each deal an aspect of Ralegh – solider, husband, and on – and what is undoubtedly more engrossing than a simpler linear biography.


                What really sells the book are the subtle, at times funny, asides, such her musing about a codpiece, and her ability to not see her subject through rose-colored glasses.  There are examinations of Ralegh’s various relationships – in particular with his wife and with his rivals.  While one can’t say a better knowing of Ralegh as a man is a result of this book, one does get a better idea of how when he lived affected him.  It doesn’t make Ralegh into your drinking mate, but it deepens your understanding.