|Raleigh's servant is said to have doused him upon first seeing his pipe lit.|
We could take this post as an opportunity to celebrate a more archetypal explorer, a Christopher Columbus, a Vasco da Gama, a Francis Drake. But no, let us celebrate one more dear to us, we who are tobacco smokers. Sir Walter Raleigh qualifies based on his participation in the failed New World colonization attempts around Roanoke, Virginia. Ah, sweet Virginia, from whence came so much of the tobacco that Raleigh made popular in England. And that is why we owe him a great debt.
Like many of the great men of that age, he was a man of letters, a man of faith, a man of politics, and a man of war. He was persecuted by Roman Catholics and persecuted them in turn. He fought for the Huguenots in the Battle of Jarnac, was at Elizabeth's court in his forties, made friends with Edmund Spenser (of Faerie Queen fame), watched as Protestants were slaughtered in France on St. Bartholomew's Day and massacred Catholic prisoners of war ten years later. Half of what is said of him is unlikely to be true. The rest is simply unlikely.
At the end of his life, having fallen in and out of favor with kings and queens, been tossed in the Tower of London more than once, having soldiered all over the world, and exploits further ad nauseum, Raleigh made war on the Spanish off the Spanish Main in 1616-17. Upon his return, following complaints from the Spanish ambassador, was arrested and executed by English authorities. He was in his mid-sixties. His tobacco box he left in his cell, and on it was inscribed Comes meus fuit illo miserrimo tempo (It was my companion at that most miserable time).
Not only is Raleigh remembered by pipe smokers and the introducer of tobacco to the Anglo-Saxon world (even being immortalized in a Bob Newhart sketch), but is remembered in a very popular drugstore tobacco brand name.
Here are some reviews of that tobacco on tobaccoreviews.com.
As a bonus, here is a video that so deftly sums up the life of this great man.