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Not to be confused with David Starkey (maritime historian).
David Starkey

David Starkey in the early 80s when he was a historian at the LSE.
Born 3 January 1945
Kendal, Cumbria
Occupation Historian

David Robert Starkey, CBE, FSA (born 3 January 1945) is an English historian, a television and radio presenter, and a specialist in the Tudor period.


Early years

Starkey was born the only child of poor Quaker parents in Kendal, Westmorland (now Cumbria), England. He now resides in Barham, Kent. His mother, Elsie Lyon, a strong personality, had a powerful influence on Starkey's formative years; he portrays his father, Robert Starkey, as a somewhat ineffectual man.[1]

Despite suffering from physical disabilities, Starkey did well at school and won a scholarship to be at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, of which he is an Honorary Fellow. As a student at Cambridge, he fell under the influence of Professor G.R. Elton. According to Starkey, Elton provided the stern father figure he had never had, against whom to rebel.

Academic and media career

From 1972 to 1998 Starkey taught history at the London School of Economics. During this period, he embarked on a career as a broadcaster, and soon acquired a reputation for abrasiveness, particularly on BBC Radio 4's The Moral Maze, a debating programme, on which he was a ruthless interrogator of "witnesses" examining contemporary moral questions. In the 1990s he presented a current affairs phone-in show on Talk Radio UK (since relaunched as talkSPORT) where his manner with callers served to bolster his rebarbative reputation [2]. However, the programme, which he described as "three hours of brainy blarney" was extremely popular. His rudeness has been singled out by his detractors. In the televised Trial of Richard III, he appeared as a witness for the prosecution, and accused the defence counsel, Sir Brian Dillon, of having a "small lawyer's mind". More recently, he received considerable attention when he compared Elizabeth II unfavourably with her predecessors, calling her an uneducated housewife, and comparing her cultural attitude to Joseph Goebbels, by suggesting that she gave him the impression that every time she heard the word culture she wanted to reach for a gun (in fact the line is most commonly attributed to Hermann Göring, but was really written by the lesser known Nazi playwright Hanns Johst).[3][4]

Starkey elicited further controversy in March 2009 by arguing that female historians had "feminised" history by writing social history or focusing on female subjects. He claimed that undue attention had been given to Henry VIII's wives, even though he had presented his own television series on the subject. He stated: "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." He also argued that, although several monarchs were female, including Queen Mary, Elizabeth I, and Queen Victoria, women should not be considered "power players" in pre-20th century Europe.[5] He was accused of misogyny by historian Lucy Worsley.[6]

His television series on Henry VIII of England, Elizabeth I of England, the six Wives of Henry VIII (The Six Wives of Henry VIII) and on lesser-known Tudor monarchs have made him a familiar face. In 2004 he began a Channel 4 multi-year series Monarchy, which chronicled the history of English kings and queens from the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms onward. His greatest contribution to Tudor research has been in explaining the complicated social etiquette of Henry's household, exploring the complicated nature of Catherine Howard's fall in late 15401542, and rescuing Anne Boleyn from the historical doldrums by persuasively proving that she was a committed religious reformer, keen politician and sparkling intellectual. Starkey has also rejected the historical community's tendency to portray Catherine of Aragon as a "right old slaaaag".

In October 2006 he started hosting the second series of The Last Word now known as Starkey's Last Word. He also makes regular radio broadcasts and contributes to many magazines and newspapers. Starkey also uses his historical talents in many series' and documentaries including Henry VIII: Mind of a tyrant.

Starkey was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London in 1994.[7] He was appointed CBE in the Queen's 2007 Birthday Honours list.[8]

Starkey is openly gay, although he does possess somewhat of a large female following. His partner is James Brown, a publisher and book designer,[9] and he has often discussed his sexuality in The Moral Maze and other discussion shows.[10][11]

Formerly a leftist, Starkey is now known for his right-wing views. For example, he says of multiculturalism: "What's striking about our problem ethnic communities is that they are the ones with the least commitment to self-betterment."[12]

Starkey also offended some viewers of BBC One's Question Time in April 2009 when he criticised Scottish, Irish and Welsh nationalism and described these nations as "feeble".[13]

This same month (April, 2009) Starkey acted as Guest Curator for Henry VIII: Man & Monarch, an exhibition of documents (and some portraits) at the British Library.[14]


  • This Land of England (1985) (with David Souden)
  • The Reign of Henry VIII: Personalities and Politics (1986)
  • Revolution Reassessed: Revisions in the History of Tudor Government and Administration (1986) (Editor with Christopher Coleman)
  • The English Court from the Wars of the Roses to the Civil War (1987)
  • Rivals in Power: the Lives and Letters of the Great Tudor Dynasties (1990)
  • Henry VIII: A European Court in England (1991)
  • The Inventory of Henry VIII: Volume 1 (1998) (with Philip Ward and Alistair Hawkyard)
  • Elizabeth: Apprenticeship (2000) (published in North America as Elizabeth: The struggle for the throne)
  • The Stuart Courts - Foreword (2000) (Edited by Eveline Cruickshanks)
  • The Inventory of Henry VIII: Essays and Illustrations Volume 2 (2002) (with Philip Ward and Alistair Hawkyard)
  • The Inventory of Henry VIII: Essays and Illustrations Volume 3 (2002) (with Philip Ward and Alistair Hawkyard)
  • The Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII (2003)
  • Elizabeth I: The Exhibition Catalogue (2003)
  • The Books of King Henry VIII and His Wives - Introduction and Preface (2004) (James P. Carley)
  • The Monarchy of England: The Beginnings (2004)
  • Monarchy: From the Middle Ages to Modernity (2006)
  • Making History: Antiquaries in Britain, 1707-2007 - Introduction (2007) (Edited by Sarah McCarthy, Bernard Nurse, and David Gaimster)
  • Henry: Virtuous Prince (2008)
  • Introduction to Henry VIII; Man & Monarch (Susan Doran, ed. published by the British Library, 2009)



  • Snowman, Daniel "David Starkey" pages 26 – 28 from History Today, Volume 51, Issue 1, January 2001.

Further reading



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