Tag Archives: Queen Elizabeth I

‘Big Chief Elizabeth’ by Giles Milton: The Earliest British Colonies In America, Roanoke Island etc.

Anura Guruge, laughing, picture November 16, 2011.


..by Anura Guruge

I didn’t buy this book. I must have picked it up for free somewhere. I am glad I did. I just finished reading it. It enlightened me, gloriously, on a whole new chapter of U.S. history that I knew nothing about — the earliest British attempts at American colonization, predating Jamestown, Va. I am not sure how many Americans actually know this or remember it from a history book or class. Where did ‘Virginia‘, U.S.A., get its name from? Though those religious might claim that it must be in honor of ‘Mary‘, that is not the case. It is a different virgin, or one that claimed that she was (though as is inevitably the case doubts have been raised): Queen Elizabeth I [1558 – 160], ‘The Virgin Queen‘, ‘Gloriana‘, ‘Good Queen Bess‘ or as she was introduced to the (Red) Indians, ‘Weroanza Elizabeth‘ (‘Big Chief’ Elizabeth, the title of the book).

It is a compelling tale, well told by a gifted, adroit British writer, Giles Milton. I never studied history in school or college after the age of 12. So all of the history that I learned in school was limited to Ceylon history, which I knew quite well; my father, a history buff, inordinately proud of Ceylon’s culture, making sure that I knew Ceylon’s place in world history. My interest in history is thus quite new, not even a decade old, much of it devoted to papal history. So, I had no idea who ‘John Cabot’ was and what he had done in 1497. Do you know who John Cabot was and if so what was his nationality? [I will have to find out if the cheese is related to him.]

I, a good Brit, of course knew of Sir Walter Raleigh, but mainly the story of his cloak and his exploits as a ‘pirate’. I will confess, that though ‘Raleigh‘, N.C. was kind of my second home for many years, I had never put the two together. My bad. But, in those days history wasn’t my thing.

What I knew of ‘Pocahontas‘ I had learned from Walt Disney! Well it appears that they took some poetic licenses and sugarcoated much. I have seen the movie a few times and I am sure that they never showed Pocahontas, as a 12 year old doing cartwheels, naked, to entertain the British colonist — apparently her favorite party trick, that she delighted in undertaking whenever she visited the colony, which was quite often. Yes, she indeed did intercede and save the life of ‘John Smith‘ multiple times. But, there was a big age difference between the two. When she first met John she was probably only around 10, her naked cartwheeling starting a couple of years later, after Smith had left. She did end up marrying a Brit, a ‘John Rolfe‘. She even visited England and met the King. All this and more I learned from the book. It also has contemporaneous illustrations and maps made by some of those early colonist. If you are interested in this period of U.S. history you might want to check out this book.

Pocahontas, a British engraving done during a visit to England, 1616 to 1617.