Sir Walter Raleigh, English adventurer, writer, and favorite courtier of Queen Elizabeth I, is beheaded in London, under a sentence brought against him 15 years earlier for conspiracy against King James I.
During Elizabeth’s reign, Raleigh organized three major expeditions to America, including the first English settlement in America, in 1587—the ill-fated Roanoke settlement located in present-day North Carolina. Raleigh later fell out of favor with Elizabeth after she learned of his secret marriage to Bessy Throckmorton, one of her maids-of-honor, and he was imprisoned with his wife in the Tower of London. After buying his freedom, Raleigh married Bessy and distanced himself from the jealous English queen.
After Elizabeth died in 1603, Raleigh was implicated as a foe of King James I and imprisoned with a death sentence. The death sentence was later commuted, and in 1616 Raleigh was freed to lead an expedition to the New World, this time to establish a gold mine in the Orinoco River region of South America. However, the expedition was a failure, and when Raleigh returned to England the death sentence of 1603 was invoked against him.