|Born||David Robert Starkey|
3 January 1945
Kendal, Westmorland, England
|Occupation||Historian, television personality|
|Alma mater||Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge (BA, PhD)|
|Partner||James Brown (1994–2015; his death)|
David Robert Starkey(born 3 January 1945) is an English historian and radio and television presenter, with views that he describes as conservative. The only child of Quaker parents, he attended Kendal Grammar School before studying at Cambridge through a scholarship. There he specialised in Tudor history, writing a thesis on King Henry VIII's household. From Cambridge, he moved to the London School of Economics, where he was a lecturer in history until 1998. He has written several books on the Tudors.
Starkey first appeared on television in 1977. While a regular contributor to the BBC Radio 4 debate programme The Moral Maze, his acerbic tongue earned him the sobriquet of "rudest man in Britain"; his frequent appearances on Question Time have been received with criticism and applause. Starkey has presented several historical documentaries. In 2002, he signed a £2 million contract with Channel 4 for 25 hours of programming, and in 2011 was a contributor on the Channel 4 series Jamie's Dream School.
Starkey was widely censured for a racist comment he made during a podcast interview with Darren Grimes in June 2020, for which he later apologised. Immediately afterwards, he resigned as an honorary fellow of his alma mater, Fitzwilliam College, had several honorary doctorates and fellowships revoked, book contracts and memberships of learned societies cancelled, and his Medlicott Medal withdrawn.
Starkey was born on 3 January 1945 in Kendal, Westmorland. He is the only child of Robert Starkey and Elsie Lyon, Quakers who had married 10 years previously in Bolton, at a Friends meeting house. His father, the son of a cotton spinner, was a foreman in a washing-machine factory, while his mother followed in her father's footsteps and became a cotton weaver and later a cleaner. They were both born in Oldham and moved to Kendal in the 1930s during the Great Depression. He was raised in an austere and frugal environment of near-poverty, with his parents often unemployed for long periods of time; an environment which, he later stated, taught him "the value of money". Starkey is equivocal about his mother, describing her as both "wonderful", in that she helped develop his ambition, and "monstrous", intellectually frustrated and living through her son. "She was a wonderful but also very frightening parent. Finally, she was a Pygmalion. She wanted a creature, she wanted something she had made." Her dominance contrasted sharply to his father, who was "poetic, reflective, rather solitary...as a father he was weak." Their relationship was "distant", but improved after his mother's death in 1977.
Starkey was born with two club feet. One was fixed early, while the other had to be operated on several times. He also suffered from polio. He suffered a nervous breakdown at secondary school, aged 13, and was taken by his mother to a boarding house in Southport, where he spent several months recovering. Starkey blamed the episode on the unfamiliar experience of being in a "highly competitive environment". He ultimately excelled at Kendal Grammar School, winning debating prizes and appearing in school plays.
The Tudors simply is this – it is a most glorious and wonderful soap opera. It makes the House of Windsor look like a dolls house tea party, it really does. And so these huge personalities, you know, the whole future of countries turn on what one man feels like when he gets out of bed in the morning – just a wonderful, wonderful personalisation of politics.
– David Starkey
Although he showed an early inclination towards science, he chose instead to study history. A scholarship enabled his entry into Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, where he gained a first-class degree.
Starkey was fascinated by King Henry VIII, and his thesis focused on the Tudor monarch's inner household. His doctoral supervisor was Professor Sir Geoffrey Elton, an expert on the Tudor period. Starkey claimed that with age his mentor became "tetchy" and "arrogant". In 1983, when Elton was awarded a knighthood, Starkey derided one of his essays, Cromwell Redivivus and Elton responded by writing an "absolutely shocking" review of a collection of essays Starkey had edited. Starkey later expressed his remorse over the spat: "I regret that the thing happened at all."
He was a fellow at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge from 1970 to 1972. Bored at Cambridge and attracted to London's gay scene, in 1972 Starkey moved to the London School of Economics and secured a position as a part-time junior associate lecturer. He claimed to be an "excessively enthusiastic advocate of promiscuity", seeking to liberate himself from his mother, who strongly disapproved of his homosexuality. A 30-year career as a teacher ended in 1998 when, blaming boredom and modern academic life, he gave it up.
Starkey entered a wider public awareness in 1992 on the BBC Radio 4 debate programme The Moral Maze, where he debated morality with his fellow panellists Rabbi Hugo Gryn, Roger Scruton and the journalist Janet Daley. He soon acquired a reputation for abrasiveness; he explained in 2007 that his personality possesses "a tendency towards showmanship... towards self-indulgence and explosion and repartee and occasional silliness and going over the top." The Daily Mail gave him the sobriquet of "the rudest man in Britain", to which Starkey was said to have told friends, "Don’t worry darlings, it’s worth at least £100,000 a year", claiming that his character was part of a "convenient image". He once attacked George Austin, the Archdeacon of York, over "his fatness, his smugness, and his pomposity", but after a nine-year stint on the programme he left, citing his boredom with being "Dr Rude" and its move to an evening slot.
From 1995 he also spent three years at Talk Radio UK, presenting Starkey on Saturday, later Starkey on Sunday. An interview with Denis Healey proved to be one of his most embarrassing moments: "I mistakenly thought that he had become an amiable old buffer who would engage in amusing conversation, and he tore me limb from limb. I laugh about it now, but I didn't feel like laughing about it at the time."
His first television appearance was in 1977, on Granada Television's Behave Yourself with Russell Harty. He was a prosecution witness in the 1984 ITV programme The Trial of Richard III,[not specific enough to verify] whose jury acquitted the king of the murder of the Princes in the Tower on the grounds of insufficient evidence. His television documentaries on The Six Wives of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I were ratings successes. His breathless delivery of the script, with noticeable breaths and choppy cadence, is widely imitated.
In 2002 he signed a £2 million contract with Channel 4 to produce 25 hours of television, including Monarchy, a chronicle of the history of English kings and queens from Anglo-Saxon times onward. He presented the 2009 series Henry: Mind of a Tyrant, which Brian Viner, a reviewer for the Independent, called "highly fascinating", although A. A. Gill was less complimentary, calling it "Hello! history". In an interview about the series for the Radio Times, Starkey complained that too many historians had focused not on Henry, but on his wives. Referring to a "feminised history", he said: "so many of the writers who write about this are women and so much of their audience is a female audience." This prompted the historian Lucy Worsley to describe his comments as misogynistic. More recently, in 2011, he taught five history lessons in Channel 4's Jamie's Dream School, after which he criticised the state education system.
The core of history is narrative and biography. And the way history has been presented in the curriculum for the last 25 years is very different. The importance of knowledge has been downgraded. Instead the argument has been that it's all about skills. Supposedly, what you are trying to do with children is inculcate them with the analytical skills of the historian. Now this seems to me to be the most goddamn awful way to approach any subject, and also the most dangerous, and one, of course, that panders to all sorts of easy assumptions – ‘oh we've got the internet, we don't need knowledge anymore because it's so easy to look things up'. Oh no it isn't. In order to think, you actually need the information in your mind.— David Starkey
In 1984 Starkey was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and in 1994 a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London. He was also given an Honorary Fellowship at his Cambridge College, Fitzwilliam College. He was until 2015, a visiting professor of the University of Kent.  He has worked as curator on several exhibitions, including an exhibit in 2003 on Elizabeth I, following which he had lunch with her namesake, Elizabeth II. Several years later he told a reporter that the monarch had no interest in her predecessors, other than those who followed her great-grandfather, Edward VII. "I don't think she's at all comfortable with anybody – I would hesitate to use the word intellectual – but it's useful. I think she's got elements a bit like Goebbels in her attitude to culture – you remember: 'every time I hear the word culture I reach for my revolver.' I think the queen reaches for her mask." His remarks were criticised by Penny Junor, a royal biographer, and Robert Lacey, a royal historian.
On 25 June 2012 Starkey gave his lecture 'Head of Our Morality: why the twentieth-century British monarchy matters'  at The Marc Fitch Lectures.
Starkey's political views have changed over the years from what he called "middle-of-the-road Labour left until the end of the 1970s" to a conservative outlook, that he attributed to economic failures of the Callaghan government. He is a supporter of one-nation conservatism and believes that Victorian Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli was a great symbol of this. He has written that Disraeli was "exotic, slippery and had a gift for language and phrase-making", drawing similarities with the rhetorical style of current UK Prime minister Boris Johnson. He argues that the working classes need more explicit "nationalism" of the type demonstrated by Disraeli. He believes that Disraelianism could strengthen the Anglo-American "conservative" alliance between US and the UK. However, he suspects that despite Boris Johnson being a Conservative prime minister, he is actually "a liberal", so he doubts whether Johnson would ever take this view.
Starkey blames the Callaghan administration for "blow[ing] the nation's finances". During the 1980s he was an active Conservative Party member, and he was a Conservative candidate for Islington Borough Council in 1986 in Tollington ward, and in 1990 in Hillrise ward.
He bemoaned the Conservatives when they were in Opposition, criticising Michael Howard in particular: "I knew Michael Howard was going to be a disaster as soon as he opposed top-up fees, either out of sentimentality or calculated expediency so that it might get him a bit of the student vote...Instead of backing Tony Blair, causing revolution in the Labour Party, the Conservatives have been whoring after strange gods, coming up with increasingly strange policies." He likened Gordon Brown to the fictional Kenneth Widmerpool, continuing, "It seems to me that with Brown there is a complete sense of humour and charm bypass." Of Ed Miliband, in 2015 he said "He is a man of high ambition and low talent – the worst possible combination. His whole language at the moment is soak the rich, hate the rich."
During the 2011 Conservative Party Conference he spoke at a fringe meeting, declaring Mayor Boris Johnson to be a "jester-despot" and the Prime Minister, David Cameron, as having "absolutely no strategy" for running the country. He urged the party to re-engage with the working class rather than the "Guardian-reading middle class". In 2015 he claimed that while Cameron and his Chancellor, George Osborne, had introduced some meaningful reforms to education and welfare policies, they had not made large enough cuts to the UK's budget deficit.
Starkey prefers radical changes to the UK's constitution in line with the federal system used by the United States, although in an interview with Iain Dale he expressed his support for the monarchy, the Queen and Prince Charles. In the run-up to the UK Alternative Vote referendum, he was a signatory on a letter to The Times, which urged people to vote against the proposals. Starkey thinks the modern UK House of Commons has become a weak political institution and that it should return to its core value of being in defiance of state authority, as it was in its origin. He believes the House too often gives way to the state, such as with the police being allowed to search the place without a warrant. This occurred in 2008 with the searching of the Westminster office of Conservative politician Damian Green after the custodians of the House, the Speaker and the Serjeant at Arms, allowed the police to search the place without a warrant.
Starkey was a supporter of the Tory Campaign for Homosexual Equality ("Torche"),[nb 1] and during one of many appearances on the BBC's Question Time he attacked Jeffrey Archer over his views on the age of homosexual consent. However, in 2012 he described himself as "torn" on the issue of same-sex marriage, describing marriage as "part of the baggage of heterosexual society."
In 2009, Mike Russell, then the Scottish Government Minister for Culture and External Affairs, called on him to apologise for his declaration on the programme that Scotland, Ireland and Wales are "feeble little countries". Starkey responded that it had been a joke regarding the lack of necessity for the English to outwardly celebrate their nationalism, approvingly quoting H. G. Wells's observation that "the English are the only nation without national dress". He described Alex Salmond, then Scottish First Minister, as a "Caledonian Hitler" who thinks that "the English, like the Jews, are everywhere". In August 2014, Starkey was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian expressing their hope that Scotland would vote to remain part of the United Kingdom in September's referendum on that issue. In June 2015 in an interview for The Sunday Times Starkey compared the Scottish National Party (SNP) with the Nazi Party. He said:
You have as a symbol the twisted cross: the saltire or the swastika. You have a passionate belief in self-sufficiency: known by the Nazis as autarky and the Scots as oil. And also you have the propensity of your elderly and middle-aged supporters to expose their knees.
SNP member of parliament Kirsten Oswald described Starkey's comments as "deeply offensive" to the Jewish community and SNP voters, and described Starkey as a "serial utterer of bile and bilge".
Starkey is very critical of the European Union (EU). As a result, he supported the leave vote in the 2016 EU referendum and is a Brexit supporter. This is because, as Starkey argues, the United Kingdom is best off as a self-governing nation, and the EU conflicts with this notion of self-government. Furthermore, he believes that the continuing support for the ideas of national pride and sovereignty, not xenophobia, in the UK were the biggest factors behind the UK's decision to leave the EU. He argues that the support for these ideas is what makes the UK different from the other EU member states which, as a result of the legacy of World War Two, tend to believe that nationalism is the cause of war and so joined the EU to prevent this.
As an historian, Starkey presents a view of Brexit in a wider historical context to try to show its importance in British history. He makes comparisons between Brexit and Henry VIII's split from Rome and the Reformation that followed. He believes the Reformation sowed the seeds of Euroscepticism particularly in England and the nation's "semi-detached relationship with continental Europe". This had its origin with Henry VIII because "nobody before Henry would make any argument about England being much different from the rest of Europe. It was Henry who turns England into a defensible island, who literally fortifies the English coastline. It really is Henry that turns England into a genuine island." He claimed that Henry VIII could be considered the first Brexiteer. As Starkey explained in an interview in 2018, "The Roman Church was a super-national organisation with its own system of law, its own language, governance and own system of taxation. In other words, exactly like the European Union! And it's no accident at all that the EU was founded by the Treaty of Rome." He explains that Henry VIII fought on the grounds of England ruling itself, which is analogous to the Brexit debates.
Starkey argues that, "Remainers have somehow got the notion that we get our rights and liberties from Europe" but actually, we created our own values over our 800-year history. He believes that Brexit was a reaffirmation of those values, but was nevertheless a "...deeply irrational vote, not about what will make us better off, but rather, 'we'll be poorer, but we'll be free'."
Starkey is an atheist. He has described the Catholic Church as being "riddled with corruption". However, he has often defended the right for Christians to hold their beliefs, arguing that they should have the right to their views and penalising them for it is "intolerant, oppressive and tyrannical".
Starkey believes the royal charter of rights Magna Carta is of great importance. He has often spoken about it and has written about it most notably in his book Magna Carta: The True Story Behind the Charter (2015). He also presented a television documentary on the subject David Starkey’s Magna Carta, in which he argued that Magna Carta is a steadying force for constitutions. He believes that Magna Carta is essential in keeping peace and constraints on the state and the public and says that it is this rather shaky but very important 800 year old document that has led to a "constitutional edifice" developing in the UK.
Starkey often speaks about the political implications of Magna Carta in present-day politics. He believes the modern UK state appears to be fragmenting and would be helped by the core principles of the charter with a new charter of liberties or a new William Marshal figure. In a review of Starkey's book on Magna Carta, medieval historian James Masschaele said that Starkey viewed the barons as republican figures.
In August 2011, Starkey attracted criticism for some comments made on the BBC's Newsnight programme where he was a panel member together with Owen Jones and Dreda Say Mitchell. The programme discussed the 2011 England riots. Starkey condemned "this language which is wholly false, which is this Jamaican patois that’s been intruded in England, and this is why so many of us have this sense of literally a foreign country", that listening to the voice of the black MP for Tottenham where the riots occurred "you would think he was white" and that "The whites have become black. A particular sort of violent, destructive, nihilistic, gangster culture."
The comments were heavily criticised by MPs and some notable media presenters and described as a "career ending moment". He was criticised by fellow panellist Dreda Say Mitchell for focusing on "black culture", since "Black communities are not homogenous. So there are black cultures. Lots of different black cultures." The then-leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband, spoke about Starkey's remarks, saying that "they are racist comments, frankly". The author Toby Young, blogging in the Telegraph, defended Starkey by saying that Starkey had not been talking about black culture in general. The Spectator columnist Rod Liddle argued in support of the remarks. Jones described the comments as "one of the ugliest episodes of the backlash". Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Starkey argued his views had been distorted, he referred only to a "particular sort" of "black culture", and that the "black educationalists" Tony Sewell and Katharine Birbalsingh supported the substance of his Newsnight comments.[nb 2]
The BBC received more than 700 complaints (and broadcast regulator Ofcom a further 103) about the comments. A petition to demand a public apology from the BBC attracted more than 3,600 signatures. Ofcom deemed the comments to have been part of a "serious and measured discussion" and took no action, and Starkey described the reaction as "hysteria about race".
In the aftermath of the Newsnight broadcast, 102 university historians wrote an open letter that demanded Starkey no longer be described as a "historian" on anything but his specialist subject, the Tudors. The letter criticised "[h]is crass generalisations about black culture and white culture as oppositional, monolithic entities demonstrate a failure to grasp the subtleties of race and class that would disgrace a first-year history undergraduate." The letter also criticised his supposed "lack of professionalism" and "some of the worst practices of an academic" in shouting down, belittling, and mocking, opposing views, rather than meeting them with evidence.
In a June 2012 debate Starkey was criticised for stating that the perpetrators of the Rochdale child sex abuse ring had values "entrenched in the foothills of the Punjab or wherever it is" and were "acting within their cultural norm". He was accused by his fellow panelist, writer Laurie Penny, of "playing xenophobia and national prejudice for laughs". In 2013, he criticised the inclusion of the British-Jamaican nurse Mary Seacole in British school history curriculums, which he argued unduly promoted her and her work.
In January 2015, Starkey was criticised after calling political journalist Mehdi Hasan "Ahmed" and saying that "nothing important" had been written in Arabic for 500 years. He was also criticised for appearing to imply that a female victim of a child sexual abuse grooming gang was at fault for the abuse she had experienced.
In November 2015 the University of Cambridge dropped a fundraising video featuring Starkey after a backlash from staff and students. A letter signed by hundreds of students and staff criticised Starkey's involvement in the video due to him "repeatedly making racist statements".
On 30 June 2020, in a podcast interview with Darren Grimes, Starkey spoke about the Black Lives Matter movement. Starkey suggested that people should not "go on about" slavery because it had been abolished in 1833 and that "Slavery was not genocide, otherwise there wouldn't be so many damn blacks in Africa or in Britain would there? An awful lot of them survived ..." He had made the same point in a column eight days earlier except without the use of the word "damn". Starkey's comments were rebuffed by Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who said they were racist and that they serve as "a reminder of the appalling views that still exist", and they were widely described as racist in the media. Historian David Olusoga, praised by Starkey in the same broadcast, described the comments as "truly disgusting. And by the same ridiculous, twisted logic the Holocaust would not be counted as a genocide".
As a result, the Mary Rose Trust accepted his resignation from the board of trustees and the Historical Association announced on Twitter that it would withdraw the Medlicott Medal it had awarded him 20 years previously. Fitzwilliam College of Cambridge University distanced themselves from his comments and later accepted his resignation as an honorary fellow on 3 July 2020. Canterbury Christ Church University, where Starkey had been a visiting professor, removed him from that role in response to his "completely unacceptable" remarks. The magazine History Today also removed him from their editorial board. Lancaster University revoked Starkey's honorary degree after an investigation found that his comments were "racist and contradictory to the values of the University". The University of Kent launched a formal review of his honorary graduate status. HarperCollins terminated its book deal with Starkey and his previous publisher, Hodder & Stoughton, has also said that they "will not be publishing any further books by him". Vintage Books announced it would be reviewing the status of books by Starkey in their back catalogue. Also on 3 July 2020, at a meeting of the Royal Historical Society, the society's council resolved that Starkey should be asked to resign his fellowship with immediate effect. On 6 July 2020, Starkey resigned his fellowship of the Society of Antiquaries of London at the request of its council.
On 25 September 2020, the Metropolitan Police opened an investigation into the interview over an allegation of a public order offence. In October, Starkey was investigated by the police for "stirring up racial hatred" through the comments he made in the podcast with Darren Grimes. In regard to the allegations, Starkey said that he did not "intend to stir up racial hatred and there was nothing about the circumstances of the broadcast which made it likely to do so" and also that the investigation by the police was "neither proportionate nor in the best interests of preserving proper freedom of expression".
On 14 October the police dropped their investigation saying that "it is no longer proportionate that this investigation continues". This followed a free speech backlash from several major UK politicians such as current Home Secretary Priti Patel who said the law should protect freedom of speech as a "general principle" which should not be violated. Following the news of the ending of the investigation, Starkey said: "The investigation should never of course have begun. From the beginning it was misconceived, oppressive and designed to misuse the criminal law to curtail the proper freedom of expression and debate …freedom is our birth right; and it is more important than ever at this critical juncture in our nation's history."
Grimes and Starkey subsequently launched a formal complaint against the Metropolitan Police accusing them of being biased against them and acting in "deference" to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Starkey lived for many years with his partner, James Brown, a publisher and book designer, until the latter's death in 2015. The couple had three homes: a house in Highbury, a manor house in Kent, and another in Chestertown, Maryland, US. Starkey previously lived at John Spencer Square in Canonbury, Islington.
|United Kingdom||2007 – Present||Commander of the Order of the British Empire||CBE|
|England||Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge||First-class honours Bachelor of Arts (BA) in History|
|England||Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge||Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in History|
|England||– 2015||University of Kent||Honorary Visiting Professor of History |
|England||2006–3 July 2020||Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge||Honorary Fellow |
|England||– 3 July 2020||Canterbury Christ Church University||Visiting Professor of History |
|England||21 July 2004||University of Lancaster||Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.) ||Revoked on 24 July 2020 |
|England||11 July 2006||University of Kent||Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.)||Revoked in 2020|
|England||March 2019||University of Buckingham||Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.) ||Revoked on 3 July 2020|
|United Kingdom||1984 – 13 July 2020||Royal Historical Society||Fellow (FRHistS) |
|United Kingdom||1994 – 6 July 2020||Society of Antiquaries of London||Fellow (FSA) |
|United Kingdom||1996 – 2005||The Society for Court Studies||President|
|United Kingdom||2008 – 3 July 2020||Mary Rose Museum||Trustee and Hon. Commodore|
|United Kingdom||2005 – 2020||National Maritime Museum||Hon. Commodore|
|United Kingdom||2001||The Historical Association||The Medlicott Medal