Celebrity culture is no creation of the contemporary media age, for Sir Walter Ralegh – Mark Nicholls and Penry Williams concede the conventional spelling of the name for their book’s title, but insist on this more authentic form in the text – was nothing if not a celebrity. Unlike so many modern celebrities, however, Ralegh was famous for more than just being famous. Courtier, privateer, entrepreneur, explorer, poet, historian: he was a Renaissance man even among the men of the Renaissance. His fame also lasted considerably longer than Warhol’s statutory fifteen minutes, intensifying in the years after his death and becoming, by the nineteenth century, the stuff of English schoolboy legend.
Even in our own times, Ralegh has hardly lacked for either scholarly or popular interpreters; this new biography, learned and accessible in equal measure, is nonetheless highly welcome. It will surely become the standard starting-point for anyone interested in his career and writings. The authors are two distinguished