The Problem With Richard III

Richard III

Richard III is a tricky monarch to write about in a forum like this. His life and brief reign occurred during a particularly complex period in England’s history, and there’s an incredible level of controversy over even some of the most basic facts of his life. Compared with writing about other monarchs, Richard presents a unique challenge in that the devil is very much in the details, but I also try to write my historical posts in a way that makes them accessible for people with a more casual interest in English history or its monarchy.

That’s part of it. The other part is that few historical figures prompt as strong a reaction as Richard does. The second half of the Wars of the Roses has its own cult following akin to that of the Tudors (indeed, Richard’s closest peer in the canon may well be Anne Boleyn when it comes to sheer volume of ink spilled) and people tend to fall into two camps: those who believe Richard has been unfairly maligned and those who believe he is in fact guilty of murdering his nephews, the Princes in the Tower.

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The Feminization of History? Let’s Chat.

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Back in 2009, historian David Starkey gave an interview in which he 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.”

At first blush that statement may seem a bit offensive – a trivialization of female historians, efforts to shine a light on the role of women throughout history (including within the monarchy) and how women consume scholarship and literature. It was said in the midst of a still-ongoing debate about how seriously women writers are taken and a centuries-old side-eye with the “types” of books some women read.

The first time I came across that quote I saw it out of context, which is unfortunate. Starkey’s full point is actually much fairer and has more to do with historiography. But the issue with the specific “feminization” of the study of the British monarchy is not only the lens through which we view it in any given era, but also with how they choose to present themselves. The two are intertwined, but they also bear separating out to fully understand how we find ourselves, for example, in the recent saturation of history focused on women, particularly historical fiction.

Continue reading “The Feminization of History? Let’s Chat.”