Sir Walter Raleigh (1552? - October 29, 1618) is famed as a writer, poet, spy, and explorer. N.B.: There are many alternate spellings of his surname including Rawley, Ralegh, and Rawleigh; although "Raleigh" is most common today, he himself never used that spelling, preferring "Ralegh". The city of Raleigh, North Carolina is named after Sir Walter.
Walter Raleigh was born at Hayes Barton, which is on the edge of Woodbury Common, and is 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 were fundamentally Protestant in religious orientation and had a number of near escapes during the reign of the Catholic queen Mary I of England. During childhood, Raleigh developed a hatred of Catholicism, and was quick to express it when Elizabeth I came to the throne.
By 1581, after a number of naval engagements, he had become established as a courtier and Elizabeth's favourite. Raleigh's flamboyant manner is illustrated by the story that he once took off an expensive cloak and threw in over a mud puddle for Queen Elizabeth to walk across -- it probably never happened, but it was the sort of thing everyone had come to expect of 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, which was a Catholic plot to dethrone Elizabeth and replace her with Mary, Queen of Scots; as a result of this Elizabeth granted him a 40,000-acre estate in Ireland. Mary was implicated in the Babington Conspiracy and was subsequently executed.
Raleigh was beheaded for allegedly conspiring against James I of England.