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Ralegh and Responsibility: A Mineral Mirror for Princes
This paper focuses on Sir Walter Ralegh’s responsibilities as Lord Warden of the Stannaries, a position to which he was appointed in 1585. Recent criticism has tended to focus on Ralegh’s practical and imaginative engagements with water, both as a favoured image in his writing and as an oceanic division encountered via his maritime adventures, and gold, as a commodity driving his colonial activities. In this paper, however, I explore Ralegh’s mineral engagements within the bounds of his native shores. The Stannaries operated their own courts and parliaments and are named, as Richard Carew explains, from ‘the latine word Stannum, in English Tynne’. By reading across Ralegh’s poetry and prose, Carew’s Survey of Cornwall (1602) and other sources such as John Hooker’s epistolary preface to his translation of Gerald of Wales’s Expugnatio Hibernica (1586), which addresses Ralegh directly, I argue that a complex vision of Ralegh’s estate emerges. As Hooker writes, he must be ‘both a iudge and chancellor, to rule in iustice and to iudge in equitie’ and in imitation of ‘Agathocles king of Syracusa’ he ought to complement his possession of ‘rich plate’ with ‘earthen pitchers and stone cups’ as a prompt ‘in the middle of his roialtie, to be mindfull of his origin estate and dutie’. What emerges are modes of writing that participate in the traditions of the speculum principis but which also take on a distinctly mineral cast, in which matters of substance are seen to inform discussions of virtue, nobility and material prosperity.