Are Female Historians Destroying the Tudors?

  April 29, 2009 at 7:25 am by

Dr. David Starkey has been making, in my opinion, some rather strange comments about the biases of female historians. He criticizes some for zeroing in on the ‘soap opera’ of key figures’ love lives rather than their achievements or failures. The TV show “The Tudors” seems to have inspired these comments.

Although Starkey is correct to criticize the TV show for its inaccuracies and its prurient emphasis (what Starkey describes as a “bonkorama”), he blames female historians for this interpretation of the court of Henry VIII. ‘But it’s what you expect from feminised history, the fact that so many of the writers who write about this are women and so much of their audience is a female audience. Unhappy marriages are big box-office.’

It is unfair to blame women historians for a television production which satisfies its viewers in much the same way that Ugly Betty or Desperate Housewives satisfy their audiences. The problem is, however, according to Starkey, that Henry has been de-emphasized in the re-telling of this tale.

‘Wives appear simply to explain or complicate the story of Henry. This is his development, his psychology and, above all, why he matters.’ That is a valid criticism, perhaps, of the show, but Starkey continued on to criticize recent interest in broadening the interest of history to include the stories of women, non-Europeans and minority groups. Starkey says: ‘If you are to do a proper history of Europe before the last five minutes, it is a history of white males because they were the power players, and to pretend anything else is to falsify.’

Perhaps Starkey should lie down and take a few aspirins before resuming the hawking of the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the King’s succession. I am not the only person offended by Starkey’s comments. Lucy Worsley, chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces, which manages the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace responded, ‘This is misogyny. It’s rude, damaging, unfair and pernicious to say that women’s history isn’t important and interesting.’

What do you think? For more on Dr. Starkey’s views, see this article from the Daily Mail.

Filed under Historical Royals, The United Kingdom
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3 Responses to Are Female Historians Destroying the Tudors?

  1. Noel Macaulay says:

    What I do not see addressed in this synopsis is whether or not the comments quoted from Dr. Starkey are true. Rather, I see a statement that they are “unfair”, “insulting”, etc. – but all that tells me is someone does not like their content, not their accuracy. Who cares is someone’s ox is gored by them – not me. Unless there is a more meaningful criticism, then there is little meat to this piece.

  2. Carole Heath says:

    I completely agree with this article regarding David Starkey’s somewhat bigoted views on women historians. I am not a Royalist by any means but I am interested in history not just the monarchs who have ruled this country but also social history which relates to ordinary people. I think Mr Starkey is a very good historian especially Tudor history. But I think in my opinion he is rather bias against Henry V111’S 6 wives and his allegiance seems to lie with Henry V111. Starkey’s attacks on women historians is I think unfair why should history and people like historians who convey their knowledge of their chosen subject only be the domain of male historians. Lucy Worsley’s comments regarding this article are spot on. I have been watching many historical TV programmes recently with women historians like Lucy Worsley, Helen Castor, and Phillipa Gregory and found the programmes very informative and enlightening I think women historian bring a different clarity and perspective to history which has happened throughout the ages.

  3. Rachel says:

    I have noticed in Starkey’s writings before, whenever he starts talking about his own theories (and thereby saying why other historians are wrong), 99% of the people he critiques or puts down are the female historians. It’s almost as if he resents them.

    Then again, David Starkey has NO filter. He says what he wants, when he wants, and like a drunk uncle at a wedding, doesn’t know when to reign it in a bit. Being one of the seminal go-to people as far as Tudor History is concerned, he probably climbed onto a too-high pedestal.

    He’s like the Simon Cowell of the history world. He says things for the sake of saying them…

    Perhaps it’s a generational thing. A man of his age would’ve been raised in a time where women were simply wives, sisters and daughters, not scholars, authors and teachers. He may well feel a bit like his toes are being trodden on.

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