Knights of Great Britain


Sir John de Baliol,

a native of Durham, who, on the marriage of the daughter of Henry III. to Alexander III. of Scotland, in 1251, was made one of the guardians of the royal pair. He founded Baliol College, Oxford; and having sided with Henry III. against his revolted barons, the latter seized upon his lands. Died, 1269.

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Sir Anthony Cooke,

an eminent English scholar. He was one of the tutors of Edward VI, who highly esteemed him. On the accession of Queen Mary he was exiled, and only returned after her death. Of his four daughters, all remarkable for their character and acquirements, one became the wife of Lord Burleigh, and another the wife of Sir Nicholas Bacon. Born, 1508; died, 1576.

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Sir John Cheke,

an eminent English statesman and scholar, was born at Cambridge in 1514. He studied at St. John's College, and being appointed first Regius Professor of Greek, he strenuously promoted the study of that language, and laboured to improve the prevailing pronunciation. The opposition he met with from Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, produced a literary correspondence between them, which was afterwards published at Basel. In 1544 he was called to assist in the education of Edward VI., who, on his accession, granted him some landed estates. He also made him a privy councillor and secretary of state, and conferred the honour of knighthood upon him. Cheke engaged, on the death of Edward VI., in the cause of Lady Jane Grey, and was sent to the Tower on the accession of Mary. His life was spared, and he was allowed to leave England; but while he was abroad he gave new offence to the queen, and his estates were confiscated. Visiting Brussels he was seized by order of Philip II. and sent to England, where, under fear of being put to death, he renounced Protestantism. Having done this, the queen, though she did not restore his estates, gave him some equivalent for them; but she compelled him to sit on the bench at the trial of Protestants whose attachment to their faith was stronger than their fears of death. Broken down with shame and remorse, he died, September 13, 1557. He left numerous original works and several translations from the Greek and Latin.

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Sir Thomas More,

Lord Chancellor of England, was the son of Sir John More, judge of the King's Bench, and was born in London, in 1480. He was educated at Christchurch, then Canterbury College, Oxford; and, in 1499, became a student of Lincoln's Inn. At the age of 21 he entered parliament, where he opposed a subsidy demanded by Henry VII. with such energy, that it was refused by the House. Having been called to the bar he obtained the appointment of under sheriff of London, which he held till 1519. In 1518 he published his 'Utopia', a political romance; and about this time the friendship began between him and Erasmus, which lasted through life. By the interest of Wolsey he obtained the honour of knighthood. and a place in the Privy Council. Various political missions were intrusted to him by Henry VIII. In 1520 he was made treasurer of the Exchequer; and in 1523 Speaker of the House of Commons, in which office he resisted a motion for an oppressive subsidy, and gave great offence to his former friend, the cardinal. In 1530 he succeeded Wolsey as Lord Chancellor; and by his indefatigable application in that office, there was in a short time not a cause left undetermined. He resigned the Seals, because he could not conscientiously sanction the divorce of Queen Catherine; and he was eventually committed to the Tower for refusing the oath of supremacy.

After an imprisonment of twelve months he was brought to trial in the court of King's Bench, where, notwithstanding his eloquent defence, he was found guilty of treason, and sentenced to be beheaded. His behaviour, in the interval, corresponded with the uniform tenour of his life; and, on July 6th, 1535, he ascended the scaffold, with his characteristic pleasantry, saying to the lieutenant of the Tower, 'I pray you see me safe up; and as for my coming down, let me shift for myself.' In the same spirit, when he laid his head on the block, he told the executioner to wait till he had removed his beard, 'For that' said he, 'hath committed no treason.' Thus fell this illustrious Englishman, whose integrity and disinterestedness were on a par with his learning, and whose manly piety, genial wisdom, and tender kindness in his private relations, made him beloved of all who knew him. The fine portrait of More, by Holbein, the property of Mr. Henry Huth, was lent to the National Portrait Exhibition (1866). One of the most attractive pictures in the same collection was that of 'Sir T. More and his Family,' attributed to Holbein, but believed to be by another hand after the design of that great master.

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Sir Walter Raleigh,

or Ralegh, a distinguished statesman, scholar, and warrior, in the reigns of Elizabeth and James I., was born in 1552, at Budleigh, in Devonshire, and educated at Oriel College, Oxford. At the age of 17 he made one of a troop of a hundred gentlemen volunteers, whom Queen Elizabeth permitted to go to France, under the command of Henry Champernon, for the service of the Protestant princes. He next served in the Netherlands, and, on his return from the continent, his half-brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, having obtained a grant of lands in North America, he engaged with a considerable number of gentlemen to go out to Newfoundland; but the expedition proving unsuccessful, Sir Walter returned to England. He proceeded thence to Ireland, where he made his bravery conspicuous in quelling the insurgents ; was afterwards received at court with favour, and obtained permission and supplies to prosecute his discoveries in America. He settled in a colony in that part of the country called, in honour of his maiden sovereign, Virginia, whence he is said to have first introduced tobacco and potatoes into Europe. In the mean time the Queen conferred on him the distinction of knighthood, and rewarded him by several lucrative grants, including a large share of the forfeited Irish estates.

When England was threatened by the Spanish Armada, he raised and disciplined the militia of Cornwall; and afterwards, joining the fleet with a squadron of ships belonging to gentlemen volunteers, he contributed to the signal victory over the Spaniards. He was now made gentleman of the privy-chamber; but shortly after fell into disgrace, and was confined for some months, partly on account of a tract which he had published, entitled 'The School for Atheists,' which was unfairly construed by his enemies into a vindication of atheistical principles; and partly on account of a clandestine attachment to one of the Queen's maids of honour, the daughter of Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, whom he afterwards married. During his seclusion he planned the discovery of Guiana, in South America, in which he took an active part as soon as he was set at liberty; but the season being unfavourable, he returned to England, and was soon after appointed to a command in the expedition to Cadiz. This, joined to other important services, restored him to the favour of Elizabeth.

Her successor, James I., prejudiced against him by Robert Cecil, disapproving of his martial spirit, and jealous of his abilities, availed himself of a court conspiracy against Raleigh, to charge him with participating in an attempt to place upon the throne Arabella Stuart, and with carrying on a secret correspondence with the King of Spain. By the base subservience of the jury he was found guilty of high treason, to the surprise of the Attorney- general Coke himself; who declared that he had only charged him with misprision of treason. Raleigh was reprieved, and committed to the Tower, where his wife at her earnest solicitation, was allowed to reside with him, and where his youngest son was born. Sir Walter was detained twelve years a prisoner in the Tower; during which time, besides various minor compositions, be wrote his celebrated 'History of the World.' At length his release was obtained, in 1616, by the advance of a large sum of money to the new favourite, Villiers ; and, to retrieve his broken fortunes, he planned another expedition to America.

He obtained a patent under the Great Seal for making a settlement in Guiana; but, in order to retain a power over him, the king did not grant him a pardon. Having reached the Orinoco, he despatched a portion of his force to attack the new Spanish settlement of St. Thomas, which was captured, but his eldest son fell on that occasion. The expected plunder proved of little value, and Sir Walter, having in vain tried to induce his captains to attack other Spanish settlements, resolved to return, and arrived at Plymouth in July 1618. Being brought before the court of King's Bench, his plea of an implied pardon was overruled, and sentence of death being pronounced against him, it was carried into execution the following day, Oct. 29, 1618, in Old Palace Yard. His behaviour at the scaffold was calm, and, after addressing the people at some length in his own justification, he received the stroke of death with perfect composure; remarking to the sheriff with a smile, as he felt the edge of the axe, 'This is a sharp medicine, but it is a physician that will cure all diseases.' There is a portrait of Raleigh, by an unknown artist, in the National Collection. Another fine portrait, artist unknown, was lent by the Earl of Hardwicke to the National Portrait Exhibition (1866).

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Sir William Wallace,

the national hero of Scotland, was born probably about 1270. He is said to have been a son of Sir Malcolm Wallace, of Ellerslie, in Renfrewshire, and to have been educated at Dundee. (However recently it has been claimed that he came from the village of Ellerslie in Ayrshire.) After Edward I. had got himself acknowledged sovereign lord of Scotland, Wallace appears to have become leader of a band of outlaws, and to have done many deeds of daring in defiance of the English authorities ; and thereby to have won the confidence and revived the patriotic hopes and resolution of his countrymen. So that when the insurrection broke out, in May, 1297, he was chosen to be commander-in-chief. Several of the principal nobles were associated with him, but they submitted to Warrenne, the guardian appointed by Edward, and signed the treaty of Irvine. Wallace, however, kept the field. He was already a knight. With his followers, still numerous, and rapidly multiplied, he carried on the war, took several towns in the north of Scotland from the English, and was besieging Dundee when the English army, led by Earl Warrenne, arrived near Stirling. Marching without delay to meet it, he won a great victory at Cambuskenneth, September 10, and his country was independent once more. Pursuing the English, who abandoned all the strongholds, he crossed the border and ravaged Northumberland, committing the moat horrible cruelties; and on his return was recognized as guardian of the kingdom in the name of King John (Baliol, then in the Tower of London).

The jealousy of the Scottish nobles made his high position very unstable, and in the following year, 1298, Edward made a truce with France, hastened home, and without delay marched into Scotland, his fleet sailing to the Firth of Forth. The famous battle of Falkirk was fought on the 22nd of July, in which Wallace and the Scots were totally routed with great slaughter. Wallace ceased to be governor of the kingdom, and appears to have resumed the guerrilla warfare in which he first distinguished himself; but nothing is heard of him for seven years. During this period he went with a few followers to France, to seek the aid of King Philip, who imprisoned him, and afterwards gave him a letter to his ambassadors at Rome, with a recommendation to the Pope. After the conclusion of the treaty with Edward, in February, 1304, in which Wallace did not join, he was declared an outlaw, and being captured near Glasgow, in 1305, by what means is unknown, was sent to London, and hung in West Smithfield, August 24. His head was set up on London Bridge, and his limbs exposed at Newcastle, Berwick, Perth, and Stirling.

Extant contemporary notices of Wallace are few and scanty. But the large spaces in his life left blank by history have been filled up by poetry and legend, whose testimony on the matter, out of Scotland, is at least doubtful. A statement of the doubts which have been thrown upon the character and career of Wallace, by recent investigations, will be found in the work entitled 'The Greatest of all the Plantagenets,' ch. x. and xii. A 'Life of Sir William Wallace,' by Carrick, appeared in 1840; and more recently, 'Sir William Wallace: a Narrative of his Life and Times,' by Watson; and 'Wallace, the Hero of Scotland,' by Paterson. A monument to Wallace was commenced at Stirling, but its completion was delayed for some time for want of funds.

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The above information was gleaned from various sources and then put together by Colin Hinson ©1996.

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