David Starkey: The historian and broadcaster is stirring up controversy once more

Historians in the News

He was a mother’s boy, a precocious intellect, a dandy and a tyrant whose pursuit of fame was obsessive. Uncharitable souls might project these traits of Henry VIII onto David Starkey, the historian and broadcaster, who has poured a lifetime of research into a new study of the king that is being hailed as a triumph.

“This book is Starkey’s masterpiece,” says John Guy, the historian and Tudor scholar, of Henry: Virtuous Prince, to be published this week. “It combines the populist touch with deep insights of scholarship. But it is bound to raise controversy.”

Controversy has been handmaiden to the 63-year-old academic ever since he ridiculed George Austin, Archdeacon of York, for “his fatness, his smugness, his pomposity” on Radio 4’s The Moral Maze, earning Starkey the epithet “the rudest man in Britain”.

His reckoning that the title was worth £100,000 a year proved a gross underestimate. The rewards of playing what he termed an “all-purpose media tart” would have won Henry VIII’s respect after Starkey signed a £2m contract with Channel 4 in 2002, paving the way for a career as one of the highest paid television presenters in Britain.

These days the council estate boy from Cumbria glides in a chauffeured limousine between his London pied-à-terre in Highbury Hill and his Georgian house in Barham, near Canterbury in Kent, which he shares with James Brown, his boyfriend of 15 years. With wisteria over the door and dogs in the drive, Starkey leads the life of a country squire.

Just to prove that he has not lost his touch, last year Starkey compared the Queen to an uneducated “housewife” who shared Hermann Goering’s impulse to reach for his revolver when he heard the word culture. By contrast, he admires the Prince of Wales as an original thinker who could usher in a new kingdom “of the mind, the spirit, culture and values”. Starkey was appointed a CBE in the Queen’s 2007 birthday honours.

Rotund, intense and fastidiously dressed - often sporting a loden coat, pin-striped suit and silk pocket handkerchief - Starkey peers at the world through horn-rimmed spectacles with a mixture of irascibility, seriousness and glee. A parodist’s dream, he can produce withering sarcasm or a bray of laughter to order. “He’s a roaring snob and has an extremely high sense of his own worth,” says an acquaintance. “But a little arrogance doesn’t make him any less good company. At the moment he’s obsessed with matching exactly the right colours to his stately home.”...

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Steven F. Sage - 10/1/2008

The Nazi who said he'd reach for his revolver was actually Hanns Johst. Here's the quotation: "Wenn ich Kultur höre ... entsichere ich meinen Browning". Johst was, in effect, poet laureate of the Third Reich, being the head of the officially-sponsored writer's union. -- Steven F. Sage, author of IBSEN AND HITLER.