From poet to quasi-pirate, the storied life of Sir Walter Raleigh, a quintessential Renaissance man, proved to be one of most interesting yet tragic in the annals of history. Nicholas Popper ’99, assistant professor of history at the College of William and Mary spends his days unraveling the history of this fascinating and mysterious figure.
Last Friday, Popper, whose father graduated from Haverford in 1965 and whose mother graduated from Bryn Mawr the same year, shared some of his research about Raleigh’s Historie of the World in the cozy Philips Wing of Magill Library with a group of students, faculty members and guests.
According to Popper, Raleigh composed the monumental volume of history ostensibly for King James I not in the comfortable environs of his own estate, but while imprisoned for treason in the Tower of London. His cell was anything but sparse, though. From ancient sources, like Polybius, to more contemporary writers, like theologian John Calvin, Raleigh managed to stock his cell with a library of over 500 volumes, mostly texts about history. While the public, including many Parliamentarians like Milton and Cromwell as well as their rival Stuarts, took a strong interest in Raleigh’s ideas about divine foresight in history, the King did not. Raleigh was beheaded for treason before he could complete his work.
Visiting as a part of the Young Alumni Series, Popper’s talk mostly touched on the transformative effect of Raleigh’s work on the culture and history of English society. The Haverford grad noted that Raleigh’s Historie remained on many shelves as a definitive history book as late as the 18th century.
-Matt Fernandez ’14