Sir Walter Ralegh writing to his wife on the death of their son

Sir Walter Ralegh and his son, Wat, in happier times c.1602

I have blogged here about Ralegh’s disastrous return to El Dorado in 1617-18. Aside from the failure to find gold – a failure that Ralegh must have known might at best find him returned to the Tower of London when he returned home, and at worst cost him his head – he lost his young son there. Ralegh heard the news on 13 February 1618, but he couldn’t find the strength to write to his wife Bess for over a month. This is from the letter he eventually wrote, on 22 March:

I was loath to write because I knew not how to comfort you; and God knows, I never knew what sorrow meant till now. All that I can say to you is, that you must obey the will and providence of God; and remember, that the Queen’s majesty bore the loss of Prince Henry with a magnanimous heart, and the Lady Harrington of her only son.

Comfort your heart, dearest Bess, I shall sorrow for us both. I shall sorrow the less, because I have not long to sorrow, because not long to live… My brains are broken and ’tis a torment to me to write, and especially of misery… The Lord bless and comfort you, that you may bear patiently the death of your valiant son.

And from the postscript:

I protest before the majesty of God, that as Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Hawkins died heartbroken when they failed of their enterprise, I could willingly do the like, did I not contend against sorrow for your sake, in hope to provide somewhat for you; and to comfort and relieve you. If I live to return, resolve yourself that it is the care for you that hath strengthened my heart

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