Professor David Starkey Historians need to have loved and lost to understand

Professor David Starkey has said the best historians are older as you need to have loved and lost to understand the past.Speaking candidly about the death of his long-term partner for the first time, Prof Starkey told The Sunday Telegraph his loss has informed his understanding of historical figures.His new project is an exhibition on King Henry VIII as part of the renovations at Hever Castle in Kent, the former home of Anne Boleyn.“I think this exhibition shows what I have learned personally and professionally,” Prof Starkey, 73, said.Three years ago, Prof Starkey’s long term partner, James Brown died at the couple’s 18th Century manor house in Kent.Prof Starkey met Brown, a publisher and book designer, when he was lecturing at London School of Economics in the 1990s and the couple lived together for 21 years until Brown’s sudden death.“What I have done is used my own experience of mourning and of joy,” he said. “You take the dry facts of history and with memories in your own life, you realise how you should understand them.” Prof Starkey also acknowledges the importance of studying and adaptability, he said: “Historians live in two times, now and then. You have to inhabit what age you are working on.”He now admits that even his own early essays were not an extensive indication of history. He said: “When you begin as a historian you haven’t got an experience of life at all. You are just writing about past theories.”The new exhibition is housed in Hever Castle’s original Long Gallery, which has been underdone a £30,000 refurbishment for the purpose, excluding the acquisition of the eighteen portraits.It sees the original portraits hung in chronological order to depict the dynastic saga from the Wars of the Roses to the Reformation.Prof Starkey has recorded an audio guide to reflect how the gallery was intended for teaching young Prince Edward, who went on to be King Edward VI.Ending with a grand image of the Henry VIII, the gallery also holds portraits of the first two of Henry’s six wives, Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn.Prof Starkey hopes the exhibition will help shine a new light on Henry VIII’s treatment of his wives, calling him a romantic.“Henry displays unusual sensitivity towards women,” he added. “He is tender, caring and he was the first person to familiarise female succession. He takes women seriously. He gave them agency as they say.” Hever Castle, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn Hever Castle, the childhood home of Anne BoleynCredit:Geoff Pugh He added that his experiences help him think in new ways, saying:  “When you have loved a bit, lived a bit and lost a bit, you think deeper.” Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily  Front Page newsletter and new  audio briefings. He added: “Henry has a very unusual upbringing. His older brother Arthur was sent to English public school and hardly ever saw his own mother. Henry is brought up with his mother and sisters until he is 13.“He was worshiped, his whole life he has a need for women. Even when he didn’t have a queen, he kept women around.“We can see him as a murdering monster with many wives but he was different. This forces us to think about the complications of his character. On the one hand he really is quite monstrous but he did give women power like this for the first time.In his poetry, there is a line that says ‘I loved when I did marry’.“   read more