Based generally on history, Walter Raleigh goes to the court of Queen Elizabeth I to get ships for a voyage to the New World. The Queen makes him a knight; but when he secretly marries Beth Throgmorton, she becomes jealous.
In 1581 on the road to London a coach gets stuck in the mud, and Robert Dudley, the Lord Leicester (Herbert Marshall), goes to a nearby inn. No one is willing to help but Walter Raleigh (Richard Todd), who gets into a sword fight with a man who refuses to help. Walter gets the man down and persuades the men to assist him in freeing the coach. They push it out of the hole, and Leicester gives them money to drink. Leicester thanks Raleigh and realizes he knew him as boy. Raleigh declines gold, and Leicester asks Raleigh to call on him at Whitehall.
Raleigh meets Leicester at Whitehall and asks him to introduce him to the Queen. Leicester offers to give him clothes, but Raleigh chooses to buy his own. He picks out an impressive cloak ordered by the French ambassador and persuades the tailor that the ambassador will not want it. Raleigh hires it for one day.
At court men notice Raleigh and his cloak. A man asks where he got the cloak, and Raleigh says he took it by force. Beth Throgmorton (Joan Collins) gives him instructions on how to act at court. Her pearl necklace breaks, and Queen Elizabeth (Bette Davis) comes in and meets Raleigh. She wants to show him armor and overrules an objection by Christopher Hatton (Robert Douglas). As they walk, she asks Raleigh questions. They go outside, and she stops in front of a puddle. Raleigh takes off his cloak and covers it for her to walk across. She tells him to pick it up and indicates she is cold. Christopher covers her with his sable coat.
Elizabeth and Raleigh sit and talk while they eat and drink. She dismisses her servant and asks Raleigh his next campaign. He says it is her, and she says he will need strategy. She asks his tactics, and he says they are honest. He says he will use ships and says he can improve them. He says he will take ships to the New World, and she will be glad. She throws wine on him, and he starts to leave. She tells him no one leaves the Queen without her permission. He asks it, and she says no. She asks him to fill her goblet, and he does so. The court sees Raleigh come out of her chamber, Christopher discusses Raleigh. Beth Throgmorton hands Raleigh his coat and wishes him goodnight.
Raleigh goes to his room and says he did not get his ships yet. Leicester comes in and tells him the Queen has appointed him the captain of her palace guard. Raleigh says he does not want that. Leicester says he may get his ships in time if he stays in her favor.
In a red uniform Raleigh inspects the palace guards. Beth looks out a window and comments. She comes out, congratulates him on his new position, and calls him a lap dog. He says he can bark.
Elizabeth tries to shoot a deer with an arrow and misses, but Christopher hits it. She misses again and says her kingdom will not fall short. She sends Walter ahead to prepare a place to sit. Raleigh tells Beth he does not intend to hurt her. Elizabeth sends the court away but asks Raleigh to stay. She asks what he discusses with Beth and tells him not to dally with women in her court.
At her counsel table the French ambassador (Romney Brent) asks for an answer from the Queen, and she angrily send hims off. Christopher criticizes her policy, and he asks if she knows her friends and enemies. He warns her an Irish lord is in her guard, Lord Derry. She asks Raleigh, and he confirms it. She asks him why he added an Irishman to her guard. She orders him arrested, and Raleigh objects and says he will return her honors. He stalks out, and she asks him to serve her. He says England is more than her court. She tells him to go out of her sight and out of her house. She feels faint and asks Christopher to help her to her chamber.
Raleigh in his room is packing. Beth comes in and asks where Derry is. She offers to give him shelter in her house. He admires her and kisses her.
At an inn Raleigh asks Beth to marry him, and she agrees. He calls the innkeeper, and they say their marriage vows to each other. Lord Derry (Dan O’Herlihy) calls for Raleigh with a horse, and Raleigh asks him to get another horse. Then soldiers come to take Raleigh, and he goes with them. As they go out, Raleigh asks Derry to see that Beth gets back to the palace. Derry goes to her, and she says she has married Raleigh.
Elizabeth sits up in bed and dismisses her servants. Doctors bleed her. Leicester says the French ambassador is there, and she calls him in. He kisses her hand, and they discuss her wedding. She tells him to tell his queen about her ill health. She suggests exchanging four ladies from her court for four French male courtiers. He shows her the sword he brought for her. He goes out, and she laughs. She asks Leicester for Raleigh, who goes in. He says he did not know she was ill. She forgives him and warns him not to shout at her again in her house. They start to argue over Derry again. She asks Walter to kiss her and extends her hand. She says she gives out empty titles and asks him if he wants a title. She asks him to swear not to quarrel with Christopher. She asks if she looks old. He says he would choose her for a young man’s role. She shows him the sword and tells him to try it. He hands it back, and she asks if she can be in his company. She has him kneel and dubs him a knight. He agrees that honors are empty as air. She has him announced to the court as Sir Walter Raleigh, and he goes out to the court. Beth sees him and runs off. He follows her to her room. She is jealous and says she is not a real wife. She says he has his ships but not her. He curses her and says he will not see her anymore. He goes out, and Christopher slaps him, questioning his honor. Raleigh bows and walks away.
As Elizabeth kneels, a priest blesses the voyage of Raleigh to the New World. She rises and sits on her throne. She asks Raleigh when he will leave, and he says in six weeks. He kneels before her and thanks her. She kisses his forehead, and he goes out. Leicester says he has high hopes for his adventure.
At Plymouth on a ship Raleigh tells Randall what he needs. At court Elizabeth tells Christopher that Raleigh writes poetry. Elizabeth asks Beth if she is well. Elizabeth tells Beth and three other ladies that she is sending them to the French court of Catherine de Medici for two years or more.
A soldier brings Raleigh a message on his ship. He tells him the gossip about four ladies going to France and one who is pregnant. They have gone home to their families first. Raleigh rides to see Beth at her family home. A servant tells him she refuses to see him. Raleigh goes in. She warns him if the Queen found out, it would do him no good. She says she is not going to France. He asks her about the court gossip that she is with child. She says she will not mention his name. He says they owe each other everything, and they kiss. He asks her to sail with him to the west, and she consents.
On the ship Derry warns him of the danger, and he stole the ship as well. Raleigh says he plans to return, and Derry doubts the outcome. Raleigh tells Randall they sail in ten days. Chadwick (Jay Robinson) brings Raleigh a blue scarf from the Queen with a letter asking him to put it on the mast to signify he is dedicated to her.
Elizabeth is eager to hear what Chadwick has to convey. Chadwick says that Raleigh said the time of his return will surprise her. Christopher tells her that Raleigh has built a marriage bed in his cabin. She speaks of the devil and is angry.
Soldiers led by Christopher arrive and ask for the captain of the ship. He gives Derry a document, and Derry tells Raleigh he has ten men. Raleigh sends Derry out the window to go to Ireland. Christopher comes in and shows Raleigh the paper. Raleigh calls it a forgery. Christopher demands his sword and pulls his out. Raleigh says he promised the Queen he wound not fight Christopher with a sword. Raleigh says he can fight with hands, and they do. Christopher tries to use lances. When he is knocked out of the room, he orders his men to take Raleigh.
Derry and Beth are riding on horses, and they are pursued by soldiers. Derry turns back to fight them, and a soldier catches Beth. A soldier stabs Derry from behind. Beth comes to him, and he dies. Beth is taken back to London under arrest. She asks Leicester about her husband, and he says he is in the Tower. Beth appeals to Elizabeth, who says her husband is a traitor. She begs for their lives and says Elizabeth must wait months because of her pregnancy and the law. Elizabeth shows her that her head is bald. She says she loved Walter Raleigh. She shouts for them to take the strumpet away.
Elizabeth visits Raleigh in the Tower and accuses him of wheedling ships from her. He says he was fascinated by her majesty. She says it was by her treasury. He promises her that they will bring back a cargo of gold for her. Elizabeth promises that the child will be properly cared for. Raleigh asks her to leave his presence on his authority as a dead man. Elizabeth says she needed him, but he betrayed her. Elizabeth says she is a woman and goes out. She turns around and goes back. She says he will sail the ship because she will not be served by underlings. She warns him the cargo he brings back had better be rich.
Leicester asks Elizabeth to look at the ship that is sailing by, and she sees the blue flag she sent Raleigh. Elizabeth says she must go on with the business of state, and she sits at her desk.
This historical drama conveys the spirit of the situation. Raleigh did not marry Beth until after he returned from the New World; but then the Queen sent both of them to the Tower. Raleigh was a bold and flamboyant character, and Elizabeth was a very strong-willed Queen who never married but had romantic friendships.