The Virgin Queen (1955)




Director:  Henry Koster

Starring:  Bette Davis (Queen Elizabeth I),  Richard Todd (Sir Walter Raleigh),  Joan Collins (Beth Throgmorton),  Herbert Marshall (Lord Leicester, Robert Dudley),  Jay Robinson (Chadwick),  Dan O'Herlihy (Lord Derry),  Rod Taylor (Cpl. Gwilym, not credited).

Bette Davis plays Queen Elizabeth I of England once again.  This time, instead of fighting the Spanish Armada, she does battle with Sir Walter Raleigh.



Spoiler Warning:

"In 1581 all the roads of England led to London for better or worse."

A stage coach is really being driven hard and fast. Then the coach splashes into a large mud puddle and can’t be pulled out. So the gentlemen aboard go to an inn to get out of the elements.

The Lord tells the inn keeper that his coach is bogged down and he wants him to send out eight or ten strong men to free it. A man with a black patch over his left eye just back from the Irish Wars doesn’t like Master Waltham’s tone of voice. He says neither he or any of his men will help Waltham free the Master’s coach. There is one fellow, who recognizes Waltham, and rushes over to him to offer his services.

The man with the patch insists that the good man will not help the Master, and he starts sword fighting with the good samaritan. The good fellow wins the fight and the bad man now agrees to help get the coach out of the mud hole.

The good fellow tells his friend to come and help. They go and free the coach. The Master gives a fellow some money to buy all a drink at the tavern. And the Master thanks the good samaritan. He then asks the young fellow where is he from? The good man says he’s from Devonshire, in a village called Hayes Barton. The Master says once upon a time he had a good friend there – a man named Raleigh. The good man says Raleigh was his father. That pleases the Master and he says his name was Robert Dudley in those day, but now he is the Earl of Leicester and the Lord Chancellor of England.

Dudley now tell Raleigh that he will do a good deed in return for the one done for him by Raleigh. He tells Raleigh to meet him at Whitehall Palace in the morning, three days hence.

Raleigh meets with Dudley, but he doesn’t want a higher rank in the army or a place in the civil service. He wants to be introduced to the Queen. Behind his request is his dream of making an English settlement in the New World.

Raleigh goes with Dudley to the royal court. One of the women, Mrs. Throgmorton, notices that Raleigh is a newcomer to the court. She goes over to speak with him. Her pearl necklace falls apart and Raleigh bends down to pick up the pearls. Just then the Queen comes along. She starts up a conversation with Raleigh and then offers Raleigh a place at her dinner table.

Raleigh puts his fancy cloak over a puddle of water so the Queen won’t get her shoes wet. Later she and Raleigh talk together just by themselves.

The Queen talks about Raleigh taking citadels like a man takes a woman and as long as they are talking about men and women . . . But then Raleigh changes the subject to talk of ships and going to the New World.  The Queen gets so mad that she throws her glass of wine on Raleigh. Raleigh starts to leave the room, but the Queen tells Raleigh that no one can leave the room without permission from the Queen. So Raleigh asks her permission to leave, but she still wants him to stay. The Queen tells him to fill her goblet with wine. He does so.

Everyone watches as Raleigh comes out of the meeting with the Queen. Raleigh ignores everyone as he walks right past them.

Christopher is now called in to speak with the Queen.

Mistress Throgmorton rushes to catch up with Raleigh. She has his cloak for him. He thanks her for that. The pretty lady asks if the Queen gave him his ships? Raleigh is amazed that the lady even knew about that. He answers that the Queen did not give him his ships. The young lady is happy because that means that Raleigh will be coming down to court many times pursuing his dream, and she can arrange to see Raleigh then. Raleigh tells her he’s not coming back to court, but Throgmorton says he certainly will come back, for a man as obstinate as he, he wont’ give up that easily on his dream.

Dudley brings news that the Queen has made Raleigh the captain of her guard. And Raleigh will get his ships, if he holds the Queen’s favor. He adds a warning that to keep Elizabeth’s favor requires a devotion to her that many have found hard to maintain.

Raleigh inspects the guard. Mistress Throgmorton makes it difficult for him by insisting on talking with him while he’s working. He tells Derry to march the guard to their posts. He now asks Mistress Throgmorton must she bait him in front of the men? She says she wasn’t baiting him. "Indeed, I pity you. You have no ships, and the Queen has a new lapdog."  He refers to her remarks as being shrewish, and she replies by saying she had no right to think he was the man she thought he was.

Throgmorton continues to bait Raleigh. He has to set up the outdoor tables and fill them with food and drink. Elizabeth comes and sends everyone away except for her guards and Raleigh.

She tells Raleigh that she has already commanded him to have no dalliance with the ladies of her court. She says it’s very hot out and she is out of sorts, so she wants Raleigh to only speak gentle words to her and she will do the same.

The French ambassador has come once again to report to the Queen that Duke d’Alencon is enamored of her. The Queen says the duke is only a boy. The ambassador insists on having an answer about the duke. The Queen gets really mad and tells the ambassador off. The man quickly retreats.

Christopher Hatton, a favorite of the Queen, is jealous of Raleigh and wants to knock him down a peg or two. He says he has heard a rumor that there is an Irish lord in the Queen’s guard.  And since England is at war with Ireland, this man may be planning to murder the Queen. The man’s name is Lord Derry.

The Queen asks Raleigh if this is true? Yes, it is. Raleigh says that Hatton is trying to impugn his honor and he will have a word with Hatton in private. Hatton says he’s ready to meet Raleigh in private. Elizabeth shouts at the men to sit down.

Elizabeth tells Raleigh to arrest the Irishman and throw him into the tower. Raleigh says he won’t and Elizabeth berates him. Raleigh leaves the room. Of course, Elizabeth goes after him to berate him some more, but this time before the whole court.

Raleigh tells the Queen that he doesn’t want to serve her, but to serve England. He says all the countries of Europe, except for England, have their eyes turned to the New World to take advantage of the vast opportunities there.

The Queen now tells Raleigh to get out of her sight and out of her palace. Raleigh leaves. The Queen says quietly that she feels faint and wants to be taken to her chamber.

Beth Throgmorton comes to see Raleigh. He says in anger: "If you’ve come to whip the Queen’s dog more, you’ll find he’s done being whipped." She offers Raleigh asylum in her house in Devon.

He kisses Beth. Raleigh asks her how much longer must she serve the Queen. She answers five years, unless the Queen marries her off. Beth says her parents are dead and she herself is the ward of the Queen.

Raleigh asks Beth to marry him. She says no one would marry them against the wishes of the Queen. He answers that then it could be a secret marriage. So they grab the tavern keeper and a serving maid as witnesses, say their vows and declare themselves married.

There’s a knock at the door and a man commands: "In the name of the Queen, open!" Raleigh opens the door and the man says that Raleigh must come with them at once. Raleigh goes with them. Outside, Raleigh quickly tells Derry to take Beth back to the palace.

The doctors now bleed the Queen in her bed. Elizabeth pretends she is extremely ill. She has the French ambassador called in and she plays her illness for all it’s worth. Elizabeth has the ambassador sent back to France to tell his Queen, Catherine de Medicis, about her illness and that she will be down for awhile in her bed. The ambassador leaves and Elizabeth laughs. She says to Dudley that the millstone’s off her neck now for a good six months.

1585. She now calls for Raleigh to come in. Elizabeth says she brought him here in order to forgive him. She orders him to sit down on her bed. She tells him to kiss her hand. And now she says that Walter is her best physician, but he must not quarrel with Christopher. In fact, Elisabeth makes him swear that there will be no swordplay between the two men. Raleigh swears to it.

Elizabeth tells Raleigh to pick up the sword she just recently received from the French ambassador. Raleigh tries it out by swinging it around. Elizabeth now takes the sword and tells Raleigh to get on one knee. With the sword she dubs Raleigh a knight. "Arise, Sir Water Raleigh!" The Queen now offers Raleigh one ship.

It is announced to the court: "By command of Her Majesty: the knight, Sir Walter Raleigh." The members of the court congratulate the new knight.

The one person who does not congratulate him is his wife. She wanted to go to Devon and be alone with her new husband. Beth calls her the "shadow of a wife". She goes even farther: "You have your ships, but you no longer have me." She tells him to leave and an angered Raleigh does just that.

Christopher Hatton comes to speak to Raleigh saying that he still questions Raleigh’s honor. He then slaps Raleigh across the face. Raleigh walks away from him.

A blessing is given for Raleigh’s voyage. He tells the Queen that it will take him six weeks to prepare the ship, the Golden Falcon, for the long trip.

Plymouth. [A city in Devon in the southwest of England on Devon’s southern coast. It’s about 190 miles (310 km) south-west of London.] Raleigh makes changes in the rigging of his ship.

The Queen says that Raleigh will not sail. He will return here to be with her. This shocks Beth and she drops the Queen’s pearls. Elizabeth tells Beth to be more careful with the Queen’s possessions. It’s then that she announces that the four ladies-in-waiting will be sent to France to serve Catherine de Medicis.

Elizabeth writes a note to Raleigh that he is to sail at once to London for the mounting of the canon for his ship. Raleigh also learns that the ladies-in-waiting are being shipped over to Paris, France. And they say that one of the ladies is now pregnant, but the messenger doesn’t recall her name.

Raleigh rides over to the Throgmorton mansion in Devon. Beth says she doesn’t want to see Raleigh, so he just bursts into her room. She keeps telling him to go, but he asks her if she is pregnant? Beth says this need not encumber Sir Walter Raleigh.

Walter says some soothing words to her, declaring his now even stronger love for her and a willingness to be with her and their child. He hugs and kisses her. They appear reconciled, and he wants to take her on his trip. She wants to go with him.

Walter and Beth get remarriy quickly.

Walter has a carpenter make his bed twice as large. Derry tells Walter that the Queen is going to be extremely mad at him. She’ll say he stole her ship. Walter says he will go and come back with lots of gold, which will satisfy the Queen.

The Queen sends a messenger to find out about Raleigh’s plans. She is very impatient to receive news of Raleigh, since he has not written her. Raleigh won’t give the messenger a specific date of when he will be back in London. The messenger leaves to ride back to London.

The messenger and Christopher come to the Queen. Christopher says that Raleigh is having built for him a bed for two. And Raleigh is in a great haste to finish the ship. The Queen asks what’s Christopher trying to tell her?  He’s telling her that Sir Walter Raleigh has taken himself a wife.

Christopher and soldiers ride to Plymouth. Derry greets them. Christopher hands him a note. Derry reads it and then says he will inform the captain about this matter. Derry goes down to the captain and says that there’s Christopher Hatton outside and he has a warrant for the arrest of Walter.

Walter sends Derry on a mission to go grab his wife and take her to Ireland. Derry climbs down a rope to get into a boat and takes off. Meanwhile, Christopher is banging on the captain’s door. Walter opens the door. The two men hate each other so, that they agree to close the door to the soldiers and they will fight it out with their fists. Walter wins the fight, but then the soldiers grab him.

Derry and Beth now finds themselves being pursued by soldiers on horseback as are the two escapees. Derry tells her to ride ad and try to reach Lavally and a man named Caholan. Derry stays behind to fight off the four soldiers, but one soldier breaks free and goes after Beth. Derry does his best to fight the three other soldiers. Derry is brought down off his horse when one soldier sneaks up behind him and stabs him in the back with his sword.

Beth gets back in time just before Derry dies. She’s told that she’s under arrest. She is brought back to London. Now she learns that Walter is in the Tower awaiting execution.

Beth sneaks away from the guards and goes to talk to the Queen, who says that Lady Raleigh’s husband is a traitor. She asks the Queen if Walter really deserves to be executed because of what he did. The Queen says there will be two executions: Raleigh and his wench – both of whom owed her their loyalty. Beth says it will take months before the Queen can execute her because she is pregnant.

Beth tells Her Majesty executing two people out of jealousy is not befitting the role of a great Queen. If she kills Raleigh, she robs an English citizen of a father. "Why do you do this wrong to a child?"

The Queen, however, orders her guards to take Beth away.

Elizabeth goes to see Walter in his cell. She says she will have their child properly cared for, but after the birth, Beth will follow Walter to her execution. Walter gets so angry that he tells Elizabeth to get out of his cell. On whose authority? By the authority of a dead man. The Queen leaves, but stops for a moment. She comes back in and says Raleigh will take the ship out himself because she wants that world that Raleigh talked of. And she will not execute Beth, because she had a dream of a crying baby without parents, and she doesn’t want to have another dream like it.

Dudley comes in to see the Queen. He says the Golden Falcon is passing the palace now and it carries aloft the banner of Queen Elizabeth.



In 1584 and 1587 Raleigh made two trips to the area he named Virginia in honor of Queen Elizabeth. He was knighted in 1585. He tried twice to establish a colony on Roanoke Island. Both attempts ended in failure. "These expeditions were funded primarily by Raleigh and his friends, but never provided the steady stream of revenue necessary to maintain a colony in America. "

Wikipedia says: "In 1591, he (Sir Walter Raleigh) secretly married Elizabeth Throckmorton, one of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting, without the Queen's permission, for which he and his wife were sent to the Tower of London. After his release, they retired to his estate at Sherborne, Dorset. . . . In 1594, Raleigh heard of a "City of Gold" in South America and sailed to find it, publishing an exaggerated account of his experiences in a book that contributed to the legend of ‘El Dorado’."

Good movie even though historically speaking it is a little messed up.  Sir Walter Raleigh's trips to the New World were in 1584 and 1587, and he didn't marry Throckmorton until 1591.  The acting was good all around.  Bette Davis played Elizabeth as a very tough Queen, who was rough on almost everyone except her romantic favorites.  Apparently she was short-tempered and didn't suffer fools lightly, but was she as bad-tempered as she was betrayed in the film?

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.




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