Sir Walter Raleigh, The History of the World (1614)

History of the World

The History of the World: Suppressed by King James for "being too saucy in censuring Princes."

This work was written by Sir Walter Raleigh, the famous English explorer, during his imprisonment in the Tower of London from 1603 to 1616. Raleigh, who had established the lost colony of Roanoke in present-day North Carolina and headed several expeditions to South America, was arrested upon the death of Queen Elizabeth and imprisoned by King James I, with whom he was highly unpopular. The History of the World was intended to outline historical events from creation to modern times, drawing on the Bible, Greek mythology, and other sources. Raleigh dedicated it to the young Prince Henry, his patron and supporter who was trying to secure his release from prison. The prince's death in 1612 discouraged Raleigh, and the book ends abruptly with the second Macedonian War instead of continuing through two more volumes as originally intended.

Given the precarious political situation and restrictions on writing about contemporary history, many writers at the time used ancient history as a way to covertly discuss present-day issues. Although ostensibly a recounting of historical facts, Raleigh's work also included commentary that was construed by King James to be critical of the present court. Several months after publication, King James ordered further sales of the book suppressed and all unsold copies to be confiscated "for divers exceptions, but especially for being too saucy in censuring Princes." Raleigh was released from the Tower in 1616 to lead one final expedition to South America, but his men attacked a Spanish outpost and he was executed upon his return to England in 1618.

Clements Library copy of The History of the World