[Read the whole of the 'Sol' scene here.]
In summer 1592 Sir Walter Ralegh, for over a decade Elizabeth's proudest and greatest favourite, found himself not only in disgrace but in the Tower. His secret marriage to one of the Queen's Maids of Honour, vehemently denied, had become openly known. In September however he wangled early release because the Queen needed him in his native Devon, where the riches of a Spanish carrack taken as a royal prize were being systematically plundered by the locals. Ralegh was hurriedly ordered down to put a stop to the feeding frenzy. He did, of course; he was a very able man.
Despite an impressively extensive kinship among the west country gentry, in Elizabethan eyes Ralegh was still merely a gentleman, and what to us seem his extraordinary abilities - as a soldier, sailor, colonial adventurer, enquiring scientist, poet, prose stylist and very persuasive orator - to contemporaries did not justify Elizabeth in awarding him a lavish lifestyle only appropriate to the highest aristocracy.
To quote Sir Robert Naunton, Walter Ralegh began life "a bare Gentleman: not that he was less, for he was well-descended..but poor in his beginnings....He had in the outward man, a good presence, in a handsome and well compacted person, a strong natural wit, and a better judgement, with a bold and plausible tongue...He could set out his parts to the best advantage, and to these he had the adjuncts of some general learning, which by diligence he enforced to a great augmentation".
Rich from the revenue of the patents Elizabeth granted, Ralegh was "the best hated man of the world, in court, city and country". He was also a lady's man, and, as his many portraits show, a very snazzy dresser.