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.