Women turn history into a bizarre soap opera, says Starkey

Women historians have feminised history by focusing on the 'soap opera' of key figures' love lives rather than their achievements, David Starkey claims.

The TV historian said his female counterparts concentrated on 'big box-office' subjects such as the six wives of Henry VIII instead of major political events of the time.

Dr Starkey, 54, said: 'One of the great problems has been that Henry, in a sense, has been absorbed by his wives. Which is bizarre.

'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.'

Several prominent female authors and historians - including Lady Antonia Fraser, Alison Weir and Jessie Childs - have written about Henry VIII, his wives, and his daughter Elizabeth I.

Dr Starkey's comments may surprise viewers who watched his Channel 4 documentary series The Six Wives Of Henry VIII, screened in 2001.

He made the remarks while promoting a new series, Henry VIII: Mind Of A Tyrant, filmed to mark the 500th anniversary of the Tudor monarch's accession to the throne in 1509.

In an interview with Radio Times, he said the programmes would focus on the monarch himself, adding: 'We're trying to say, "Hang on a minute, Henry is centre stage".

'Wives appear simply to explain or complicate the story of Henry. This is his development, his psychology and, above all, why he matters.'

Dr Starkey said the 'soap opera' of Henry's personal life should come second to the political consequences of his rule, such as the Reformation and the break with Roman Catholicism.

And he added: '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.'

He admitted Elizabeth I was a great monarch but went on: 'The way she is presented as some sort of female icon is ludicrous.'

But Dr Starkey's comments infuriated historian Lucy Worsley, chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces, the charity which manages royal sites including the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace.

She said: 'This is misogyny. It's rude, damaging, unfair and pernicious to say that women's history isn't important and interesting.

'There is more to history than dead, powerful white guys.

'I don't like the implication that a female conspiracy has taken over Tudor history.

'Antonia Fraser and Alison Weir are beacons of hope and real role models for aspiring female historians.

'To judge Henry without his wives is nonsensical.

'People are endlessly fascinated by Henry VIII and his wives.'

Dr Starkey has previously criticised the BBC drama about Henry VIII, The Tudors, as 'gratuitously awful', and said its errors and historical inaccuracies had brought 'shame' on the broadcaster.

He said characters in the drama, starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the romping monarch, wore Elizabethan costumes and used Victorian carriages for transport, and stormed that events had been changed to make the show a 'bonkorama'.