Big Chief Elizabeth

How England’s Adventurers Gambled and Won the New World

Giles Milton

Preface by Giles Milton

Greed, romance and desperation abound in Giles Milton’s exploration of the colonial enterprise that paved the way to the United States of America. At the book’s heart lies the vanishing of the 1587 settlement on Roanoke Island, whose 115 inhabitants met with a grisly end.

Add To Wish List

The colonial enterprise that paved the way to the United States of America was effectively a gamble on the part of a handful of adventurers motivated by a combination of greed, romance and desperation. Fired by envy of the vast gains being made by the Spanish in the south, succeeding waves of merchants and swashbuckling noblemen attempted to build a permanent colony in the north. Under the aegis of the energetic Walter Ralegh, several expeditions set out, and Queen Elizabeth was persuaded to give her name to the fledgling colony of Virginia.

Production Details

Bound in cloth blocked with an illustration by Joe McLaren

Set in Granjon with Gryphius display

320 pages

Frontispiece and 16 pages of colour and black & white plates

Printed map endpapers

Plain slipcase

9½˝ × 6¼˝

Virginia’s beginnings

Big Chief Elizabeth has it all: gallant English seadogs, coiffured courtiers, exotic locations, and lots of fights’

  1. Sunday Telegraph

The colony of Virginia was a gamble, which at first seemed unlikely to pay off. The first settlers were repeatedly saved from starvation by the generosity of their Indian neighbours; however, relations soured and tensions spilled over into violence. Both locals and colonists suffered sicknesses to which they had little natural resistance. Investors were bankrupted, supply ships sank, and lack of food eventually reduced the colonists to cannibalism. The story features many larger-than-life characters, from Sir Humfrey Gilbert, who was so incensed at doubts cast on his courage that he insisted on sailing in the smallest and most overloaded boat (which promptly sank), to Captain John Smith, saved from death by a chief’s daughter, Pocahontas. Some of the encounters described were cordial, even friendly: after talking to local tribes, the English were convinced the name of the country was Wingandacoa (which they wrote on all official paperwork). Later they discovered this meant ‘You’ve got nice clothes.’ The artist John White was a guest of the villagers of Pomeioc, producing detailed watercolours of the village and its inhabitants and persuading a little girl to stand still for her portrait by giving her a doll. At the book’s heart, though, lies the mystery of what happened to the 1587 settlement attempt on the island of Roanoke. When a relief expedition arrived, they found the word ‘Croatoan’ scratched into a gatepost but no sign of the 115 settlers. Tantalising signs and rumours suggested they might be alive, but eventually the grisly story of their fate leaked out.

‘Giles Milton’s narrative races along as he stitches together a story of sacrifice and misplaced zeal’

  1. Observer 

You May Also Like

  1. She-Wolves


    Helen Castor


    A new fully illustrated Folio Society edition of Helen Castor’s She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth which depicts the lives of four remarkable medieval women: Empress Matilda, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen Isabella, Margaret of Anjou.