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Kings and Queens

James I's Warrant Releasing Sir Walter Raleigh

The Folger Shakespeare Library has letters and documents signed by every Tudor and Stuart monarch from Henry VII (1485-1509) to Anne (1702-1714). Represented in this exhibition are Henry VIII, Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey, Mary I, Elizabeth I, James VI and I, and Henry, prince of Wales. Highlights include New Year's gift rolls of Henry VIII (eight feet long) and Elizabeth I (eleven feet long), one of the few surviving official signed documents from the reign of "Queen Jane," two autograph letters of Elizabeth I, an autograph letter of James I, and James I's warrant releasing Sir Walter Raleigh from the Tower.


Within four months of James I's accession in 1603, Sir Walter Raleigh, a devoted courtier under Elizabeth I, was accused of high treason and sentenced to death. Although his death sentence was lifted the day before his execution, he spent the next thirteen years imprisoned in the Tower of London. This royal warrant, dated January 30, 1617, is the order for Raleigh's release. Soon after, Raleigh led fourteen ships and 900 men on a disastrous gold-seeking expedition to Guiana. Since Raleigh's conviction of treason had never been removed, upon his return he was escorted back to the Tower and executed.

James I. Warrant. Manuscript, 30 January 1616/17

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