RALEGH, Sir Walter (1552?-1618). Autograph letter signed ('W. Ralegh') to Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury ["Bess of Hardwick"], Mile End, 8 March , 25 lines written on one page, folio, integral address leaf, small red wax seal. Provenance: Richard Frank (antiquary, 1698-1762); Frank-Bacon collection at Campsall Hall (listed in HMC 6th Report, 1877, page 456); Sotheby's sale of the collection, 14 August 1942 (lot 15); Park-Bernet, June 1974 (lot 483).
'THE WITHERED LEAVES OF AN UNPROSPEROUS AND BLASTED FORTUNE': Ralegh's elegant plea for the forgiveness of his apparent negligence in the period of his disgrace. Ralegh attributes his appearance of negligence to his hopes 'longe er this to have bynn restored to that poure [power] of fortune, as I might therby rather have shewed good effects of my desire to honor and serve yow'; as it is, having '[con]sorted with thos that only make payment with cerremony and p[ro]testation' he has been 'as yet left poureless ether through myne own ill desteny, or the strenght [sic] of counterworkinge', and has preferred 'rather to accompanye myne own disgrace then agayne and evermore to present butt the withered leves of an unp[ro]sperous and blasted fortune'. The letter continues with assurances of his esteem for the recipient, and his willingness to do her service: 'beleve that as your vertue and excelent spirritt have bynn the adamants which have drawne mee to honor and reverence the same, so did I never admire any of thos the more whom the tyme had bewtefied and declared for happye, or ever p[re]ferred that politicke care of sealf estate as in respect therof to relinquishe any dewtye or indevor that might wittness my uttermost thankfullness and zelous affection'.
Ralegh's 'disgrace' followed the revelation of his secret marriage in 1591 to Elizabeth Throckmorton, a lady of the royal bedchamber, which was kept from the Queen until the summer of 1592, when he was placed in the charge of his enemy, Cecil, and his wife of Sir Thomas Heneage, and both were sent to the Tower. Ralegh was soon released but remained banned from the court until 1597. He attended parliament early in 1593, representing a small Cornish borough. Bess of Hardwick is recorded as a friend of both Ralegh and his wife, but this is apparently his only letter to her to survive. Published in the Letters of Sir Walter Ralegh, ed. Agnes Latham and Joyce Youings (1999), and described by the editors as 'in Ralegh's neatest hand'.