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BBC History MagazineBBC History Magazine

BBC History Magazine December 2018

BBC History Magazine aims to shed new light on the past to help you make more sense of the world today. Fascinating stories from contributors are the leading experts in their fields, so whether they're exploring Ancient Egypt, Tudor England or the Second World War, you'll be reading the latest, most thought-provoking historical research. BBC History Magazine brings history to life with informative, lively and entertaining features written by the world's leading historians and journalists and is a captivating read for anyone who's interested in the past.

United Kingdom
Immediate Media Company London Limited
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“Who 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…

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this issue’s contributors

Stephen Bates The Peterloo Massacre was a milestone in the struggle for democratic rights but has often been overlooked. Hopefully Mike Leigh’s film and the 200th anniversary next year will change that. • Stephen describes the infamous events of August 1819 on page 50 Anna Beer I first encountered Walter Ralegh in his compelling account of his quest for El Dorado. Thirty years on, I’m still fascinated by this multi-talented, problematic man – his words, deeds and legacy. • Anna reveals how Walter Ralegh’s radical writings changed the course of English history on page 38 Max Hastings In my new book on the Vietnam War I have told the stories of a lot of Americans and some French people. But one must never lose sight of the fact that this is fundamentally a Vietnamese story because it…

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a headstrong heroine makes her debut

In spring 1815, not long before Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, a 39-year-old Hampshire writer was hard at work completing her latest novel. Having enjoyed great success with Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park, Jane Austen had decided to write about “a heroine whom no one but myself will much like”, whom she describes in the very first line as “handsome, clever and rich”. The book was called Emma. At first, Austen offered her new book to the London publisher John Murray, but his proposal – £450 for the rights to Emma, Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park – was less than she had hoped. Instead she struck a deal whereby she would pay for the publication of 2,000 copies, with Murray getting a 10 per cent commission, while…

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agatha christie vanishes

At the end of 1926, 36-year-old Agatha Christie was one of the country’s most promising popular writers. Having published seven books, most recently The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Christie was flying high. But then, in a textbook example of life imitating art, something utterly unexpected happened. On the evening of 3 December, Christie was at home in the Berkshire stockbroker belt. She went upstairs to kiss her seven-year-old daughter goodnight. Then she got into her Morris, started the engine – and disappeared. What followed was a media sensation. Amid a blizzard of headlines, the police mobilised a thousand officers to help with the search, while volunteers chartered aeroplanes to scour the countryside. Christie’s rival, Dorothy L Sayers, visited her house to look for clues, while Sir Arthur Conan Doyle consulted a medium.…

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oliver cromwell assumes power as lord protector

The inauguration of the lord protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland, which took place on 16 December 1653, was one of the most extraordinary moments in all British history. Almost five years after the execution of Charles I, the experiment with parliamentary government had comprehensively failed. Having run out of other options, the New Model Army handed supreme power to its most successful general, Oliver Cromwell, who became chief magistrate for life. Cromwell’s inauguration, which was not advertised beforehand, was vaguely based on the formula for a royal coronation. At one that afternoon, reported one newspaper, a coach drew him along Whitehall to the Palace of Westminster, accompanied by “the chief officers of the army with their cloaks, and swords, and hats on”. In Westminster Hall the great…

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japanese planes bomb pearl harbor

The clock had just ticked past five to eight in the morning when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Tension between Tokyo and Washington had been building for weeks. Even so, none of the American airmen and sailors at Pearl Harbor that day had any expectation that Japan would strike with such devastating speed. Some 353 Japanese planes descended in two thick black waves on the Hawaiian naval base. What followed was hell on earth. More than 2,400 Americans were killed, almost 200 aircraft were destroyed, four battleships were sunk and another four were badly damaged. Just two hours after they had screamed out of the sky, the Japanese were gone. They left a scene of total devastation, black smoke pouring from the wreckage of the ships. In Washington, it was lunchtime. President…