The life of Sir Lewis Stukeley (sometimes spelt Stukely, or Stucley) will be stigmatized forever by one dishonourable deed: the betrayal of his distant cousin and Devon worthy Sir Walter Raleigh on his return from Guiana in 1618, a shameless act that lead directly to Raleigh's incarceration in the Tower and subsequent execution. Whence Sir Lewis has been branded 'the Judas of Devonshire'.
The oldest son of John Stukeley of Affeton by Frances St Leger, Sir Lewis was one of many who were granted a knighthood by James I on his way to London in 1603. As with others so honoured, this award was purely on account of his breeding, rather than for his achievements. He first came to public notice in 1617 when, as the recently installed Vice-Admiral of Devonshire, he was appointed temporary guardian of the infant child Thomas Rolfe, son of John Rolfe and his Indian Princess wife Pocahontas, after her sudden death just as preparations were being made for the three of them to return from England to Virginia.
It was in June 21st, 1618 that Sir Walter Raleigh returned from his ill-fated expedition to the Orinoco without the gold the heavily indebted King James I had been hoping for. News of Raleigh's travails in Guiana had preceded his return, and in attacking the Spanish settlement of San Thomé Raleigh had breached his rules of engagement. The scheming Spanish Ambassador Gondomar had beseeched James to constrain Raleigh from attacking Spanish interests in the colony as a precondition of his expedition, and was demanding that Raleigh now be taken to Spain for public execution in Madrid.
James mulled over Gondomar's request but rejected it as too risky, fearing that the slippery Raleigh might escape his Spanish captors; Raleigh was to be hanged in England instead, a gesture that would prove to the Spaniards how decisively he acted against those committing hostile actions against them. The guilty verdict from his 1603 trial for treason could be reaffirmed as James had declined to offer Raleigh a full pardon on his release from the Tower in 1616 before his expedition to Guiana. All that remained was to get Raleigh to London and arrest him. Sir Lewis Stukeley was commissioned with completing this task.
Raleigh had been met by his wife Bess at Plymouth, and very soon they embarked on the journey to London where Raleigh was to surrender himself to face the wrath of the king.
Stukeley meanwhile was relishing his assignment as he had a long-standing grudge against Raleigh believing him to have perpetrated an extreme injustice against his father when he was a volunteer with Sir Richard Grenville's expedition to colonise Virginia in 1584. Though he hardly needed such an inducement, the king had promised Stukeley the substantial sum of £500 if could elicit some damning admissions from Raleigh in addition to conveying him into custody in London.
Some 20 miles from Plymouth at Ashburton, Raleigh and his companions, which included the ever loyal Captain King, were met by Stukeley coming from the opposite direction. Stukeley feigned a hearty welcome on meeting his kinsman, and the group were conducted back to Plymouth to Radford, the home of their friends Sir Christopher Harris and his wife, where they remained in convivial company for a few days.
Surprisingly Stukeley left his charge unguarded while attending to other business, awaiting further instructions from King James. It may be that this was done as a stratagem to encourage Raleigh to take flight, thereby strengthening the case against him. Undoubtedly such a ploy was orchestrated by Stukeley later in the denouement of this sorry tale.
On seeing a French vessel in Plymouth Sound, Raleigh decided to seize the moment and bade Captain King to arrange with the French skipper for the pair of them to be given safe passage across the Channel. At nightfall Raleigh and the good captain crept out of Radford to the quay below the house and rowed towards the French craft. Suddenly Raleigh was beset by doubts; it would be a dishonourable act to flee his country, and he unwisely assumed he could count on the generosity of the king to offer him a pardon. They returned to Radford and next day Raleigh sent money to the French ship's master, begging him to wait one more night when they would make their escape. Night came, but once again he decided against taking flight. The next day Stukeley received orders to take his prisoner to London, ending the opportunity for an immediate escape. On July 25th the party set off from Plymouth. With Stukeley was a French quack Mannourie whose role was to spy on Raleigh.
At Salisbury Raleigh complained of sickness, and begged to be allowed to remain there for a while. This was a subterfuge to give him time to put pen to paper and write a full and truthful account of his recent expedition to Guiana that was later to be published as An Apology for the Journey to Guiana. Mannourie connived and assisted with this delaying tactic, but later said it was done at Raleigh's insistence. Price's Worthies of Devon gives us this vivid passage describing Mannourie's intervention:
Meanwhile Raleigh directed his wife Bess and Captain King to make haste to London to arrange for a vessel to be moored off Tilbury to await Sir Walter's arrival. King engaged Cotterell, an old servant of Raleigh's, to find the boat; he sent King to an old boatswain of his who vowed to ready a suitable ketch for Raleigh at Tilbury.
The plan began to unravel when the boatswain revealed these arrangements to a third party. Immediately Sir William St. John, a captain of one of the king's ships, rode to meet Stukeley and his prisoner whom he encountered at Bagshot to the south-west of London. Stukeley then confided in Sir William a series of charges against Raleigh that he was to put before King James. The next day Stukeley had yet another matter to lay before the king: Le Chesneée, the interpreter of the French Embassy, visited Sir Walter at Brentford and brought with him a message from Le Clerc, agent for the King of France, offering him a passage on board a French vessel, together with letters of introduction which would secure him an honourable reception in Paris.
Raleigh thanked him for this, but declined saying he had already made arrangements for an escape. Stukeley had overheard Le Clerc's proposal, or had persuaded Raleigh to reveal it after vowing as a kinsman to assist in his escape. A plot involving the French was a serious matter at the time, and the king would use it as one more charge to bring against Raleigh. He counselled Stukeley to continue to collude in the escape effort, but to arrest him at the last moment.
On arrival in London, Raleigh was taken to his house in Broad Street where he was revisited by Le Clerc who repeated his offer. It was declined for a second time.
On August 9th, Raleigh boarded a skiff accompanied by Captain King and Stukeley who was all smiles. They were to be rowed under darkness to their escape vessel moored at Tilbury. They had not gone far when King noticed a large boat following close behind. They continued rowing as night fell with the larger vessel pursuing them. On arrival at Woolwich, as prearranged Stukeley commanded the oarsmen to pull into the dock and the other boat joined them. A line of police officers and two Justices of the Peace filed off and Stukeley himself ordered the arrest:
Raleigh was returned to the Tower, where he remained until the day of his execution. The king had appointed a six-man commission to investigate whether Raleigh had struck a secret deal for his escape with the French, and to assess both the charges arising out of the Guiana fiasco and the incriminating reports of his behaviour since his return to England. Raleigh was given a perfunctory hearing before this commission which decided that the only legal grounds for executing him was to reaffirm the death sentence passed in 1603.
The execution took place at Whitehall on October 29th, 1618. Raleigh made a stirring 45 minute speech in which he rejected all the charges against him. He refuted several allegations made by Stukeley concerning his conduct on the journey from Plymouth to London, but graciously extended Stukeley his forgiveness. Raleigh maintained his dignity and composure to the very end.
Stukeley remained at court for a while, still in favour with King James. But no-one else would condescend to speak to him; instead he was met with contempt and gestures of disgust. He resorted to writing a pamphlet, to be signed under oath, in justification of his actions and contradicting Raleigh's denials on the scaffold.
Some days later Stukeley in his role as Vice-Admiral of Devon had occasion to visit the old Armada hero Lord Charles Howard[note 1] at his home but was robustly rebuffed:
A few days later Stukeley and his accomplice Mannourie were caught clipping the very blood money paid by the king to betray Sir Walter. Mannourie was arrested and under cross-examination admitted that he perjured his evidence against Raleigh. Stukely tried to no avail to blame his servant and his son for tampering with the King's coinage. But James owed Stukely too great a debt to see him suffer, and allowed him to buy a pardon. Now a broken man, Stukeley returned to his family seat at Affeton in Devon where he was treated with even greater scorn. Beset with paranoia, he fled to the remote isle of Lundy in the Bristol Channel.
I leave you with Charles Kingsley's account of Stukeley's ignominious return to the West Country, with its eloquent depiction of Lundy where he passed his final days in wretched solitude.
For additional material on Sir Lewis Stukeley I have relied on: