do you see when you think of Walter Ralegh? Is it the chivalrous courtier who soaked his cloak for the queen? Or is it the intrepid explorer whose American adventures gave us chips and cigarettes? These are the popular views of the polymath who died 500 years ago, but they may not represent his most important legacy. In this month’s cover feature, beginning on page 38, Anna Beer argues that Ralegh should be best known for the radical writings he produced during his long incarceration. Ralegh’s incendiary words outraged King James VI & I and later inspired those who would take up arms against his successor in the Civil War.
Another legend of Britain’s past under the spotlight this month is King Arthur, the British warlord who is rarely away from our screens and bookshops. Historians have long debated the veracity of the Arthur legend and, on page 33, Nick Higham joins the fray. His research into the original sources of the story have led him to conclude that Arthur is purely mythical, with no grounding in fact. His article is sure to provoke debate so please do let us know what you think.
In a few days’ time, one of the autumn’s major historical releases will be arriving in cinemas. Directed by Mike Leigh, Peterloo tells the story of the events of 1819 when cavalry charged into a vast crowd of peaceful demonstrators in Manchester, leaving dead and injured in their wake. On page 50, Stephen Bates has written an account of the massacre, which would become a rallying cry for working- class rights and democratic reform.