Sir Walter Raleigh (1552? - October 29, 1618) is famed as a writer, poet, spy, and explorer. N.B.: Many alternate spellings of his surname exist, including Rawley, Ralegh, and Rawleigh; although "Raleigh" appears most commonly today, he himself never used that spelling, preferring "Ralegh". The city of Raleigh, North Carolina takes its name from Sir Walter.
Walter Raleigh was born at Hayes Barton, which lies on the edge of Woodbury Common close to the village of East Budleigh, in Devon, England. He was the half brother of Sir Humphrey Gilbert and Adrian Gilbert. Raleigh's family had a fundamentally Protestant religious orientation and experienced a number of near escapes during the reign of the Catholic queen Mary I of England (1553 - 1558). During childhood, Raleigh developed a hatred of Catholicism, and proved quick to express it after the Protestant Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1558.
By 1581, after a number of military and naval engagements in France, Ireland and elsewhere, he had become established as a courtier and as Elizabeth's favourite. The story that he once took off an expensive cloak and threw it over a mud puddle for Queen Elizabeth to walk across illustrates Raleigh's flamboyant manner -- the event probably never happened, but everyone had come to expect that sort of thing from Raleigh, and Elizabeth always favored that kind of showmanship.
His position of influence was greatly extended as he became one of Elizabeth's spymasters, along with Francis Walsingham, and was largely responsible for the uncovering of the Babington plot (1586), a Catholic plot to dethrone Elizabeth and replace her with Mary, Queen of Scots; as a result of this Elizabeth granted Raleigh a 40,000-acre estate in Ireland. Mary became implicated in the Babington conspiracy and subsequently suffered execution (1587).
Royal favor did not last, however. On November 17, 1603, after Elizabeth's death, Raleigh went on trial for treason in the converted Great hall of Winchester Castle, and languished in prison until 1616.