Notes From a Far Shore

historywritersWell not a terribly far shore, admittedly, but the wrong side of the Irish sea with a husband immobilised in a hospital bed. Fifteen years ago when he fell and sustained the very same injury he memorialised the calamity by fixing a small brass plaque at the San Toma’ vaporetto stop (downtown route). HIC IACET HOWARDUS it read (I think. I am no classicist) and there it stayed for many years, ignored by the city and the bus company and occasionally visited by kind friends carrying a can of Brasso and a cloth. When the embarcadero was revamped a couple of years ago it was torn up and no doubt now lies in some Italian landfill.

There will be no brass plaque this time. He fell in Marks & Spencer.

But I digress. I am in Leicester for longer than I intended to be and have had far too much time to watch television pundits and be infuriated by them. David Starkey is, of course, professionally obliged to be rude. I’m sure it’s in his brief whenever he’s interviewed. In the television coverage of the re-interment of King Richard  he was invited to air, once again, his famously low opinion of historical fiction. Philippa Gregory dismissed his insults with the kind of gesture you’d use to get rid of an annoying fly. The ‘Richard III Society loon’, aka Philippa Langley, treated his ad hominem remarks with the disdain they deserved.

Does Starkey have a point? I don’t think so. Historical fiction may be a creative interpretation of the known facts but so is history generally. A historian may be in possession of more footnote material than fiction scribblers but when all is said and done he too is just joining up the dots. A novelist aims to join those dots in an engaging and entertaining way. A historian might lack that skill. And what is the point of research if it isn’t accessible to the general reader?

Mingling with the Leicester crowds this past week I’ve been heartened by how well-informed and questioning people are. If they were more likely to have read Philippa Gregory than David Starkey it really didn’t show. And if it’s left up to the Ricardian matrons the cold case of the missing young princes will be reopened and Lady Margaret Beaufort may expect to be asked to help the police with their enquiries.

The end of March already, but if any companies are still casting for their next pantomime I suggest they consider David Starkey. I feel it may be his natural home.

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