Home  »  Great Britain: I (710–1777)  »  His Last Words on the Scaffold

The World’s Famous Orations.
Great Britain: I. (710–1777). 1906.

Sir Walter Raleigh

His Last Words on the Scaffold

I THANK my God heartily that He hath brought me into the light to die, and not suffered me to die in the dark prison of the Tower, where I have suffered a great deal of adversity and a long sickness; and I thank God that my fever hath not taken me at this time, as I prayed God it might not.

There are two main points of suspicion that his majesty hath conceived against me, wherein his majesty can not be satisfied, which I desire to clear and resolve you in. One is, that his majesty hath been informed that I have had some plot with France, and his majesty had some reason to induce him thereunto. One reason that his majesty had to conjecture so was that when I came back from Guiana, being come to Plymouth, I endeavored to go to Rochelle, which was because I would fain have made my peace before I came to England. Another reason was, that upon my flight I did intend to fly to France for saving of my life, having had some terror from above. A third reason was, the French agent’s coming to me, and it was reported I had commission from the king of France.

But this I say: For a man to call God to witness to a falsehood at any time is a grievous sin! And what shall we hope for at the Day of Judgment? But to call God to witness to a falsehood at the time of death is far more grievous and impious, and there is no hope for such a one. And what should I expect that am now going to render an account of my faith? I do, therefore, call the Lord to witness, as I hope to be saved, and as I hope to be seen in His kingdom (which will be within this quarter of an hour), that I never had any commission from the king of France, nor any treaty with the French agent, nor with any from the French king; neither knew I that there was an agent, or what he was, till I met him in my gallery at my lodging unlooked for. If I speak not truth, O Lord, let me never come into thy glory!

The second suspicion was, that his majesty hath been informed that I should speak dishonorably and disloyally of him. But my accuser was a base Frenchman, a kind of chemical fellow—one whom I knew to be perfidious; for being drawn into this action at Winchester, in which my hand was touched, and he being sworn to secrecy overnight, he revealed it in the morning.

But in this I speak now, what have I to do with kings? I have nothing to do with them, neither do I fear them. I have now to do with God; therefore, as I hope to be saved at the last day, I never spoke dishonorably, disloyally, nor dishonestly of the king, neither to this Frenchman, nor to any other; neither had I ever, in all my life, a thought of ill against his majesty; therefore I can not but think it strange that this Frenchman, being so base, so mean a fellow, should be so far credited; and so much for this point. I have dealt truly, and I hope I shall be believed. I confess I did attempt to escape, and I did dissemble, and made myself sick at Salisbury, but I hope it was no sin. The prophet David did make himself a fool, and did suffer spittle to fall upon his beard, to escape the hands of his enemies, and it was not imputed to him as sin, and I did it to prolong time till his majesty came, hoping for some commiseration from him.

I forgave this Frenchman and Sir Lewis Stukely, and have received the sacrament this morning from Mr. Dean; and I do also forgive all the world. But this much I am bound in charity to speak of this man, that all men may take good heed of him; Sir Lewis Stukely, my kinsman and keeper, hath affirmed that I should tell him that I did tell Lord Carew and Lord Doncaster of my pretended escape. It was not likely that I should acquaint two privy counselors of my purpose; neither would I tell him, for he left me six, seven, eight, nine, or ten days, to go where I listed, while he rode about the country. Again, he accused me that I should tell him that Lord Carew and Lord Doncaster would meet me in France, which was never my speech or thought.

Thirdly, he accused me that I showed him a letter and that I should give him £11,000 or £10,000. I merely showed him a letter, that if he would go with me his debts should be paid when he was gone: neither had I £1,000, for if I had had so much I could have done better with it and made my peace otherwise.

Fourthly, when I came to Sir Edward Pelham, who had been sometimes a follower of mine, who gave me good entertainment, he gave out that I had received some dram of poison in Sir Edward Pelham’s house; when I answered that I feared no such thing—for I was well assured of them in the house. Now, God forgive him, for I do, and I desire God to forgive him. I will not only say, God is the God of revenge, but I desire God to forgive him, as I hope to be forgiven.

I will speak but a word or two more, because I will not trouble Mr. Sheriff too long.

There was a report spread that I should rejoice at the death of Lord Essex, and that I should take tobacco in his presence; when, as I protest, I shed tears at his death, tho I was one of the contrary faction; and, at the time of his death, I was all the while in the armory at the further end where I could but see him. I was sorry that I was not with him, for I heard he had a desire to see me and be reconciled to me. So that I protest I lamented his death, and good cause had I, for after he was gone I was little beloved.

And now I entreat you all to join with me in prayer, that the great God of Heaven, whom I have grievously offended, being a man full of all vanity, and having lived a sinful life, in all sinful callings, having been a soldier, a captain, a sea captain, and a courtier, which are all places of wickedness and vice; that God, I say, would forgive me, cast away my sins from me, and receive me into everlasting life. So I take my leave of you all, making my peace with God.