The Poetry of Walter Raleigh

Contributor: Melissa Kowalski. Lesson ID: 11623

Would you dare write a love poem to a king, queen or president? Would you expect a response? This was common in Walter Raleigh's day. Poets competed fiercely. Write an answer to one of his love poems!


Literary Studies

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


If you could choose how people hundreds of years in the future would view your personal legacy and contributions to society, what would you choose?

 Sir Walter Raleigh

Image from the Internet Archive Book Images, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

Sir Walter Raleigh did not have the choice of determining his personal legacy, but he has been remembered through the centuries as a sixteenth-century British explorer, courtier, and poet.

The capital of North Carolina was named after Sir Walter Raleigh, based on his exploration of the Americas, but he ultimately lost his life for his military exploits against the Spanish who were competing with the British for control of the Western Hemisphere in the sixteenth century.

While imprisoned in the Tower of London for treason under the rules of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I, Raleigh used the time to write not only poetry, but historical tomes as well. Although he was always considered an amateur writer because it was a hobby rather than his profession, Raleigh's poetry contains some of the best examples of Elizabethan courtly poetry.

To learn more about Raleigh's life, read the biography, Sir Walter Raleigh, of Hayes Barton, Woodbury Common, by Jim Batten. As you read, answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper.

  • What is unusual about the spelling of Raleigh's surname?
  • Why did Raleigh dislike the Catholic Church?
  • How did Raleigh assist the English effort during the war with Spain under Elizabeth I's reign?
  • Why did Elizabeth I imprison Raleigh in the Tower of London, and why did she eventually release him?
  • Why did King James I have Raleigh beheaded?
  • What happened to Raleigh's head after his execution?

When you have finished answering the questions, discuss your responses with your parent or teacher.

As previously mentioned, Raleigh wrote in the late sixteenth-century style known as Elizabethan courtly poetry. This style flourished under the rule of Queen Elizabeth I, Britain's first female ruler. Courtly poetry was so named because it was written by members of the royal court, who were nobles seeking influence with the queen.

The poems often had a love theme because the poets, who were male, tried to flatter the queen by proclaiming their love for her or presenting themselves as a potential mate. Elizabeth I, who never married and who was considered Europe's most eligible bachelorette when she ascended to the throne, encouraged the theme of love in her courtiers because it helped keep people guessing where she might bestow her favor — and possibly even her hand in marriage — giving her more power over the men she was ruling.

To learn more about Elizabeth courtly poetry, read Renaissance Humanism and English Courtly Love and Poetry, by Rosemary Sebastian at Barefoot on Rainy Days. As you read, write down the ways that poets used the theme of love in courtly poetry on a separate sheet of paper. When you have finished taking your notes, share them with your parent or teacher.

  • Do you think using love as a theme in writing was a successful tactic for British courtiers? Why or why not?

After you have discussed your thoughts about whether courtly love poetry had any effect on the queen's actions or emotions, move on to the Got It? section to experience several of Raleigh's poems and see what effect they have on you!

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