His­tory in the News

The bag that held Raleigh’s head?

History Revealed - - CONTENTS -

Af­ter Sir Wal­ter Raleigh was ex­e­cuted in 1618, the leg­end goes that his wife kept his em­balmed head in a bag un­til her own demise 29 years later. Now, a red bag of silk and vel­vet dat­ing to the 17th cen­tury has turned up in the Sur­rey manor house in which she lived un­til her death. Could it be the same one?

Raleigh was be­headed on the or­ders of King James VI and I, af­ter a group of his men at­tacked an out­post in Venezuela, vi­o­lat­ing a treaty be­tween Eng­land and Spain. Some years be­fore, Raleigh was charged with trea­son for be­ing part of a plot against the King – but was par­doned. The con­di­tions of the par­don com­bined with the later at­tack saw his death sen­tence re­in­stated.

It is be­lieved that Raleigh’s wife, El­iz­a­beth, took the head on the day of the ex­e­cu­tion. She later moved to West Horlsey Place in Sur­rey, the home of her son Carew.

The bag was dis­cov­ered there in 2014, but it was only by chance – when it was no­ticed by a vis­it­ing ex­pert in his­toric cloth­ing – that any­one re­alised it may be part of one of the great myths sur­round­ing Raleigh. A first glance in­di­cated that it was from the right cen­tury and it is now be­ing tested fur­ther to see if it could have held his head.

Mark Wal­lis, co-di­rec­tor of the Past Plea­sures his­tor­i­cal cos­tume com­pany, who viewed the bag, told The Ob­server: “It’s clearly a bag of the pe­riod. Whether it held the mum­mi­fied head, I couldn’t say. But that Lady Raleigh lived there means that it’s much more likely than it would be oth­er­wise.”

Wal­ter Raleigh was a favourite of El­iz­a­beth I The sus­pect bag is cer­tainly the right age

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