Sir Walter Raleigh’s biographers have given little attention to his tragic relationship with his son Wat (Walter). They began in proud identification, each seeing himself in the other. But after the father’s political downfall and imprisonment for treason, he lost his authority in the family, and the son began to reject paternal advice and his studies and to engage in violent quarrels and duels. Often the father used his influence to rescue his son from his rash acts.
Things came to a head after Wat was sued by a young woman for violent assault, and imprisoned. The aged Raleigh had been freed from the Tower to lead an expedition to Guiana, and—as recently discovered documents reveal—he delivered his son from the law by commissioning him as a captain on his flagship, ominously named the Destiny. In a shared tragedy, Wat was killed in a skirmish, and the grieving Raleigh returned to England, broken in spirit and ready for the execution that awaited him.