David Starkey: it is 'ludicrous' to suggest that historical novelists have authority
David Starkey: not impressed with historical novelists.
David Starkey, the historian, has criticised historical novelists ahead of a BBC documentary about Anne Boleyn.
Speaking to The Telegraph ahead of the BBC Two film, The Last Days of Anne Boleyn, to which he is a contributor, David Starkey has said he has no time for the more imaginative writing that has appeared recently about the Tudor period.
"We really should stop taking historical novelists seriously as historians," he says. "The idea that they have authority is ludicrous. They are very good at imagining character: that’s why the novels sell. They have no authority when it comes to the handling of historical sources. Full stop.”
He goes on, "The wives of Henry VIII are too big to be left to chick lit," he says. "Their importance is the impact they have on the broad history of the period. On the lives of every man and every woman who lived in England then, and subsequently has lived in England."
The novelists Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall, and Philippa Gregory, author of The Other Boleyn Girl, appear alongside Starkey in the programme, which gives comparable weight to the opinions of both historians and historical novelists.
Starkey is full of praise for Mantel herself, although he does concede that he finds her novels “unreadable”.
“I wouldn’t dream of commenting on Hilary Mantel as a novelist, frankly I’d be grateful if she stayed off my patch as a historian,” he says. “She is intelligent, she is bright, she is an admirable writer. I happen to find her Tudor novels unreadable, but that’s because I am a Tudor historian.”
About Gregory, however, he is less complimentary, describing her work as “good Mills and Boon”.
The BBC programme analyses the debate over why, ultimately, Anne Boleyn was beheaded in 1536.