Elizabeth Raleigh

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Full-sized portrait of Elizabeth Raleigh, ca. 1600 by Robert Peake the Elder (ca. 1551–1619)

Elizabeth Raleigh (16 April 1565 – circa 1647), née Throckmorton, was Sir Walter Raleigh's wife, and a Lady of the Privy Chamber to Queen Elizabeth I of England. Their secret marriage precipitated a long period of royal disfavour for Raleigh.


Elizabeth, known also as "Bess", was the daughter of the diplomat Sir Nicholas Throckmorton and Anne Throckmorton née Carew. She and her brother Arthur were courtiers to Elizabeth I, and Bess is said to have been intelligent, forthright, passionate, and courageous. In due course, she and Raleigh, at least 11 years her senior, fell in love.

In her 1998 book, The Life of Elizabeth I, the British author and historian, Alison Weir states Throckmorton's and Raleigh's first child was conceived by July 1591. She states the couple was married "in great secrecy" in the autumn of 1591, and the child was born in March 1592. The child, a son, is believed to have been named Damerie, after Sir Walter's claimed ancestors, the D'Ameries. Damerie is also believed to have died of the plague during infancy.

Weir states that Queen Elizabeth first became aware in May 1592 of Raleigh's offence of seducing Bess, a lady-in-waiting and therefore ward of the Queen, as well as the couple's offence of marrying without royal permission. She then summoned Raleigh back from his expedition in Panama and imprisoned both Bess and him in the Tower of London in June 1592. Sir Walter was released from the Tower in August 1592. Bess was released in December of 1592, at which time she joined her husband at Sherborne Castle, his Dorset estate. Elizabeth expected the couple to sue for pardon, but they refused and Raleigh remained out of favour for five years.

The couple remained devoted to each other, although, according to Weir, Bess proved to be a domineering wife. Their second son, Walter was born in 1593. They named their third son Carew (which was both Bess' mother's maiden name and the name of one of Walter's brothers); however, his birthdate is unclear. During Raleigh's absences and imprisonments, Bess capably managed the family business. After Raleigh's execution in 1618, she worked to re-establish his reputation.

Bess is said to have had her husband's head embalmed, and carried it around with her for the rest of her life. After her death, Raleigh's head was returned to his tomb and interred at St. Margaret's Church.[1]

Through both her parents, Elizabeth "Bess" Throckmorton had connections to Henry VIII. Her father, Nicholas Throckmorton, was the cousin of Henry's sixth wife, Queen Catherine Parr. Anne Carew, Elizabeth's mother, was the daughter of Nicholas Carew and Elizabeth Carew née Bryan. Nicholas had been a close friend of Henry's, from childhood until his execution in 1539. Alison Weir, in the book cited earlier, alleges that Elizabeth Carew had earlier been the mistress of Henry VIII, and that he had even given her jewels that should technically have belonged to the queen when she gave birth to her son. However, there exist no contemporaneous references to a possibility that any of Elizabeth's children were fathered by Henry.

Fictional depictions[edit]

Bessie Throckmorton is a major character in Edward German's 1902 operetta "Merrie England".

Elizabeth Throckmorton is the subject of Rosemary Sutcliff's novel Lady in Waiting (1956). Sutcliff usually refers to her as "Bess".

Elizabeth Throckmorton was a featured character in the film Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007), and was played by Abbie Cornish. The movie shows her and Raleigh marrying prior to the Spanish Armada (1588), when in fact they married in 1591.

In the film The Virgin Queen (1955), Elizabeth Throckmorton (referred to as Beth Throgmorton in the film) is portrayed by Joan Collins. Bette Davis portrays Queen Elizabeth.

She appears briefly in A Dead Man In Deptford, Anthony Burgess's speculative fictional account of the life of playwright Christopher Marlowe.

Elizabeth Throckmorton appears briefly in the book "Shadow of Night" by Deborah Harkness as Queen Elizabeth's lady in waiting, and Walter Raleigh's lover.



  1. ^ Llyod, J & Mitchinson, J. The Book of General I. 
  2. ^ Douglas Richardson. Magna Carta Ancestry, 2nd Edition, Vol. II, p. 103-104.

Further reading[edit]

  • My Just Desire: The Life of Bess Raleigh, Wife to Sir Walter (ISBN 0-345-45290-9), by Anna Beer

External links[edit]