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gothicangel
06-07-2009, 01:17 AM
I am writing an essay based on this assertion by Dr David Starkey:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/5077505/History-has-been-feminised-says-David-Starkey-as-he-launches-Henry-VIII-series.html

The arguement of the essay goes along the lines of: what may appear to be 'feminised' is rather female historians/novelist's main objective to be giving a voice to the previously silenced voice of female historical characters.

Does anyone agree with Dr Starkey? If so, what does he mean by 'feminised?' Surely he isn't buying into outdated ideas of female weakness (biology)

I'm confused by his claims of placing modern contexts on Renaissance women. Now I'm over familiar with this in literary criticism. Surely such an accusation can't be leveled at female historians (i.e Jenny Wormauld and Antonia Fraser?)

Puma
06-07-2009, 05:59 AM
Hi Gothicangel. I put a reference thread mentioning your post in the historical genre forum. There have been quite a few discussions of similar thoughts, so I thought someone there might be interested in seeing your post and offering their thoughts. Puma

C.bronco
06-07-2009, 06:08 AM
On one hand, putting the actions of an individual behind his relationships seems off target. On the other, saying, "Elizabeth I was a great monarch" doesn't jibe with the statement that she should not be an icon. Why shouldn't a great monarch be an icon?
Meh.
Most people will figure it out for themselves instead of being told with what they should be impressed.

scarletpeaches
06-07-2009, 06:10 AM
David Starkey is a pompous, arrogant twat.

Lock thread.

Medievalist
06-07-2009, 06:25 AM
Starkey is a misogynist; he's got an article in which he essentially implies that Elizabeth I was a figurehead for a sequence of male lovers who told her what to do.

He's a dweeb. We laugh at him over here. He confused, in one paper, a hymen and a clitoris, and said Elizabeth I had an impossibly rigid clitoris.

I'll go see if I can find the article--I think Stephen Greenblatt has a fierce rebuttal.

C.bronco
06-07-2009, 06:28 AM
The "she was a great monarch" then "shouldn't be an icon" part set off the dork flag for me.

Doogs
06-07-2009, 07:09 AM
Hmm.

While I disagree with almost all of Starkey's assertions, I have to admit I do agree that portrayals of Henry VIII's reign have been increasingly focused on his wives. Personally, I wouldn't label that "feminized" so much as "tiresome".

gothicangel
06-07-2009, 12:03 PM
Thanks for all the help. I didn't know about that article!

Starkey is pretty much a joke at my University. It struck me as a good theme for an essay; so all leads gratefully received!

Surely it isn't surprising that because of the high percentage of women reading historical fiction, that would mean the authors would concentrate on female characters. I'm not convinced this means history is being feminised.

Sirius
06-07-2009, 12:35 PM
If anything, I think Henry VIII's wives have been under-represented in historical studies, with Anne Boleyn getting an amount of attention which is entirely disproportionate compared to the others, such as Catherine of Aragorn and Katharine Parr. Catherine of Aragorn, for example, acted decisively as Regent of England during Henry's fatuous French posturing in 1513; organised the defence of the realm against the unexpected Scottish insurgence and was in fact riding North to put herself at the head of the army when the news of Flodden Field - a victory which ended credible Scottish threats against England for nearly two generations - reached her. And yet how often do we ever get to hear of Catherine of Aragon except as a bitter, aging ex with an obsession with religion?

Also, Starkey's an ass.

scarletpeaches
06-07-2009, 04:17 PM
This thread reassures me in a way. I've read Starkey's books for years and while I find them enjoyable, acknowledge that I haven't been as informed about his views as I should have been.

I find it strange that a homosexual man, as a member of a so-called minority group, should turn his acid-tongue on women in this instance and Scots in others...amongst other groups or sections of society.

I thought it was just me being over-sensitive at first but if this is the general opinion of the man, well, it's sad, but at the same time I'm glad to know it's not just me and my opinion of him isn't so unusual.

Suse
06-07-2009, 04:44 PM
Starkey has proven time and again he's a narrow-minded chauvinist racist, hence I don't trust him as a modern historian.

gothicangel
06-07-2009, 10:55 PM
I was discussing the Scottish comment with an English tutor (Roderick Watson: poet and author of books on Scottish Literature) when he commented that all Starkey is good for was "raising your blood pressure over breakfast."

Ruv Draba
06-08-2009, 11:16 AM
The Telegraph appears to have published this knowing that it would stir controversy and thus sell papers... which makes me refuse to respond in outrage just on principle. :) So here's my logical assessment.

Starkey appears to be making two arguments:

that the impact of women on British history has been fairly low; and that
we should therefore not be terribly interested in women in British historyI'm not sure how you'd quantify the first, but I think it's true for much of British history women didn't have much place in formal government, so presumably they didn't have much direct effect there. I don't accept that history is shaped by just formal government though, and I don't know how one might evaluate indirect impacts.

The second is a ludicrous proposition. History is or should be a search for the truth of how things were, but we're entirely at liberty to sift the corpus for whatever insights we find interesting, as long as we don't make stuff up and call it the truth. There's no question that a history of women is interesting in its own right, and that exploring how women have shaped and continue to shape society has barely begun. Elizabeth I is innately iconic as one of only two a handful female monarchs of Britain*. Her namesake is if anything, even more iconic as one of the few leaders in the world who has governed across WWII, the Cold War, dismantling of the British Empire, African reconciliation, Women's liberation, Gay liberation, Perestroika, the Information Age, Globalisation, Colonial reconciliation, the decline of Christianity, the recognition of Islam as a peer Abrahamic religion... she's had an extraordinary run by any standard of statecraft.

Historians are all free to search for truth according to their interests, but they're not free to say what is or should be interesting. If it were true that some historians were writing for the interests of female readers, then good! May historians support many more sectional interests. History is our heritage. It belongs to everyone.

ETA: * Caught and corrected by Suse -- thank you. What was I thinking? Posting late at night mebbe.

Suse
06-08-2009, 06:49 PM
Not forgetting Bloody Mary (England), Mary Stewart (Scotland), the joint rule of William and Mary (England and Scotland), Anne (GB), and Victoria (GB) ;) Also, despite what Starkey might claim, there have been important consorts and queen dowagers too numerous to name, such as Eleanor of Aquitaine (acting as regent for Richard the Lionheart).

It's reasonable to say today's UK monarch is a figurehead, despite the massive changes she has lived through, but the above were either power players, left a very real legacy, or made decisions for good or bad that affected the course of British history.

scarletpeaches
06-08-2009, 06:54 PM
I wonder how Starkey would feel if someone publicly alleged "Homosexuals had no formal place in government so we shouldn't be bothered about studying their place in history."

Higgins
06-08-2009, 07:07 PM
I am writing an essay based on this assertion by Dr David Starkey:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/5077505/History-has-been-feminised-says-David-Starkey-as-he-launches-Henry-VIII-series.html

The arguement of the essay goes along the lines of: what may appear to be 'feminised' is rather female historians/novelist's main objective to be giving a voice to the previously silenced voice of female historical characters.



I read Starkey's book on Elizabeth. It is a fine book and disposes of some completely invented "historical" material about Elizabeth's periods of virtual imprisonment. Starkey works on reconstructing what life was actually like in the past and on getting to the bottom of the sources, so, in terms of history, it is a very good work. For example he is very good on Katherine Parr's intellectual world.
I think if you look at the article carefully, he is suggesting that our own need to rework history and to find in the past things to confirm what we need to have confirmed -- that gets in our way. Basically, you have to get out of your current set of interests if you want to take a real look at the past as it really was and this is not easy because it is generally some aspect of one's current set of interests that drive one to take a look at the past. Starkey is a good historian but a poor publicist -- at least he ought to confess to some agenda of his own.

Fran
06-08-2009, 10:51 PM
Sometimes I think Starkey's the reincarnation of John Knox ;)

I've read lot of biographies about a lot of historical women, but never any of Starkey's books. His comments on the welfare state make an old Red like me shudder! I think the amount of research, time and effort that goes into a biography of ANYONE means that you have to read a few to get a really rounded idea of someone's character, because author bias is inevitable. Particularly with Richard III. I think I've read enough of Elizabeth I to know that telling her what to do was a risky business! 'There will be one mistress here, and no master.' I like Victoria too, she was a hoot! The only biography of a woman I've read written by a man was Marie Antoinette's, and it was boring, which is quite an achievement! Of course, that's hardly definitive!

Henry VIII has come to be defined by his wives, in my opinion, because he defined himself by the need for a son, and in order to have a legitimate son he needed a legitimate wife. The two are inseparable.

Sorry to ramble on :)

Higgins
06-09-2009, 12:55 AM
Sometimes I think Starkey's the reincarnation of John Knox ;)

I've read lot of biographies about a lot of historical women, but never any of Starkey's books. His comments on the welfare state make an old Red like me shudder! I think the amount of research, time and effort that goes into a biography of ANYONE means that you have to read a few to get a really rounded idea of someone's character, because author bias is inevitable. Particularly with Richard III. I think I've read enough of Elizabeth I to know that telling her what to do was a risky business! 'There will be one mistress here, and no master.' I like Victoria too, she was a hoot! The only biography of a woman I've read written by a man was Marie Antoinette's, and it was boring, which is quite an achievement! Of course, that's hardly definitive!

Henry VIII has come to be defined by his wives, in my opinion, because he defined himself by the need for a son, and in order to have a legitimate son he needed a legitimate wife. The two are inseparable.

Sorry to ramble on :)

Here's a review of Starkey's Elizabeth book. I haven't read Neale in a while, but perhaps it is a better narrative. Some things worth noting: Starkey is out to score some points, but against whom these points are to be scored is not clear to me. I did find his book interesting, but it would be good to read Neale as well on Elizabeth.


http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=5473

scarletpeaches
06-09-2009, 12:57 AM
Well, when it comes to historical accuracy, Starkey's better than Weir, I'll give him that much.

Fran
06-09-2009, 02:08 AM
I enjoyed Weir's book about Eleanor of Aquitaine, but must confess to being highly amused by Weir's admission at the beginning that virtually nothing is known about her. I remember thinking 'Well, how the hell have you found 300-odd pages worth of stuff?!' :)

Ruv Draba
06-09-2009, 03:09 AM
Not forgetting...Uh.. Not forgetting them at all, no. :o

It's reasonable to say today's UK monarch is a figurehead, despite the massive changes she has lived through, but the above were either power players, left a very real legacy, or made decisions for good or bad that affected the course of British history.But while policy directly shapes events, it's attitudes, values, symbols, relationships, ideals and perceptions that shape policy and either create or impede the ability to enact it. While from a policy perspective the current formulation of British monarchy may look like a rubber stamp, from the perspective of cultural and social identity I think it's much more than that.

There's no doubt that centuries of living as a monarchy have helped shape the character of Britain, just as centuries of republichood have helped shape the French and American characters. To see how things can differ, contrast the 2006 military coup in Thailand (a constitutional monarchy) with the military coup in Fiji (a republic) in the same year for instance.

An icon is foremost a symbol of power; it needn't be the power itself. For example, Elizabeth II's first radio broadcast was in mid-WWII at the age of 14 on a children's program, in which she said: We are trying to do all we can to help our gallant sailors, soldiers and airmen, and we are trying, too, to bear our share of the danger and sadness of war. We know, every one of us, that in the end all will be well. Even if that speech were written for her (and I doubt it -- it carries the same voice she uses nowadays), it's a remarkable thing for any fourteen year-old to say to other children. If a president's daughter rather than a monarch's daughter were to say something similar it would be moving, but I'm not sure that it would carry the same weight. Those words were delivered by an heiress presumptive -- a girl who knew what would be expected of her in (as it happened) thirteen years' time, though in the turbulence of war it could well have been next week.

Claudia Gray
06-09-2009, 06:19 PM
I recently read Starkey's book on the youth of Henry VIII and was surprised at how wholly unconvincing I found his arguments. Starkey wants very badly to establish that Henry VIII was more than the bloated, self-indulgent, evil bastard he turned into -- and seems to blame historical focus on Henry's wives and daughters for this perception of Henry. And certainly there IS more to Henry than his ending. But the book was so flimsy, and Starkey's assertions of Henry's genius so fantastical, that it actually made me MORE dubious of what Starkey set out to say.

If Starkey wants to contest the perceptions set by historians such as Alison Weir, he had better start by writing books at least as convincing and thorough, instead of far inferior.

Higgins
06-09-2009, 06:44 PM
I recently read Starkey's book on the youth of Henry VIII and was surprised at how wholly unconvincing I found his arguments. Starkey wants very badly to establish that Henry VIII was more than the bloated, self-indulgent, evil bastard he turned into -- and seems to blame historical focus on Henry's wives and daughters for this perception of Henry. And certainly there IS more to Henry than his ending. But the book was so flimsy, and Starkey's assertions of Henry's genius so fantastical, that it actually made me MORE dubious of what Starkey set out to say.

If Starkey wants to contest the perceptions set by historians such as Alison Weir, he had better start by writing books at least as convincing and thorough, instead of far inferior.

Henry VIII is a tough topic for biographers. I read an earlier bio that tried to make him sound relatively sane and it wasn't very convincing either. The only part I like about bios of Henry VIII is when he wrastles Francis the First and Francis throws Henry on his head. Yeay Francis the First!

scarletpeaches
06-09-2009, 07:24 PM
...If Starkey wants to contest the perceptions set by historians such as Alison Weir, he had better start by writing books at least as convincing and thorough, instead of far inferior.

Weir, convincing and thorough? You have got to be kidding, right? This is the woman who alleges Anne Boleyn was a whore based on a remark made by Henry in 1536. You know...the year he had her executed and was looking for excuses to villify her?

Her book on the Princes in the Tower is a complete bastardisation of the proven timeline. She's one of those people who chooses her viewpoint and twists the facts to fit it - the Patricia Cornwell of the historical set.

Starkey doesn't have to contest any perceptions set by Weir - they're self-evidently ridiculous.

Priene
06-26-2009, 12:29 PM
An icon is foremost a symbol of power; it needn't be the power itself. For example, Elizabeth II's first radio broadcast was in mid-WWII at the age of 14 on a children's program, in which she said: We are trying to do all we can to help our gallant sailors, soldiers and airmen, and we are trying, too, to bear our share of the danger and sadness of war. We know, every one of us, that in the end all will be well. Even if that speech were written for her (and I doubt it -- it carries the same voice she uses nowadays), it's a remarkable thing for any fourteen year-old to say to other children. If a president's daughter rather than a monarch's daughter were to say something similar it would be moving, but I'm not sure that it would carry the same weight. Those words were delivered by an heiress presumptive -- a girl who knew what would be expected of her in (as it happened) thirteen years' time, though in the turbulence of war it could well have been next week.

My Dad spent his childhood running around bomb-craters in Gateshead, and I can't remember him saying he had noticed Elizabeth Windsor at all. Winston Churchill's speeches, on the other hand, had a major impact on morale in Britain.

gothicangel
09-03-2009, 11:49 AM
I've been doing a lot of reading around the Scottish Reformation of late. The period being heavily dominated by two female power players: Mary de Guise and her daughter Mary, Queen of Scots.

Strange, that this is the same period Starkey is writing about. Or maybe he ignores because Henry was never able to subdue Scotland and her Queens?

Shakesbear
09-03-2009, 12:28 PM
Her book on the Princes in the Tower is a complete bastardisation of the proven timeline. She's one of those people who chooses her viewpoint and twists the facts to fit it - the Patricia Cornwell of the historical set.

So agree with you SP - a total waste of time reading the book.

Priene my Mum spent her teenage years in London for the complete duration of WWII - and the fact that the Royal Family stayed was, in her words, "an immense moral booster". Maybe it was a regional thing?


I have a little time for Starkey - not much, just a little.

One of the things that always irritates me about history is that it is just that HIS story. Women were not of importance to those that recorded major events so many historians assume they are not worth bothering about. Yet there is a private face behind the public image of all major historical events, and I think that many women were far more influential behind the scenes than they are ever given credit for. It is hard for a historian to look beyond primary sources because their work then becomes speculation and a work of fiction. Sigh... I am not sure if I have expressed this coherently -

ChristineR
09-04-2009, 09:06 PM
This statement


Earlier this month Dr Starkey said he believed Henry VIII's handwriting showed he had an "emotionally incontinent" personality because he was brought up in a female-dominated household.

totally discredits him, at least to me. And that would be the case even if he had claimed Henry's problem was that he was brought up by wolves.