David Starkey - The Queens of Henry VIII

TREVOR HEATON, EDP Whats On Editor King's Lynn Festival: Guildhall of St George, King's Lynn

TREVOR HEATON, EDP Whats On Editor

The story of Henry VIII and his six wives is one of those classic tales from English history that we all know, don't we?

Wrong – or so historian and broadcaster Dr David Starkey would have us believe. "The Tudors are a kind of English Greek myth; we all think we know them," he told the Guildhall of St George audience.

He then set out to tell the real story in an enthralling, witty and erudite lecture.

The packed audience listened – and laughed along – to this great showman as he launched his historical "heat-seeking missile going straight to the guff".

In his sights were all those historians – "their names always seem to begin with A, Alison, Antonia…" – who in his opinion swallowed this "guff" produced by sentimental Victorian historians.

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Dr Starkey leaned on his lectern and peered at the audience over his glasses, an impish grin splitting his face as he launched another verbal swipe at his fellow historians and even New Labour and pop stars.

Although talking about the six wives, he made no apologies for concentrating – as does his book – on the first two: Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn.

Catherine, he contended, had been "put through the laundromat of history" to appear whiter-than-white. Historians had chosen to ignore information in Madrid's secret state archives, which had been readily available since the 1860s.

And Anne, "the most successful mistress in history", had been much more than a sexy vamp. Henry's passion for her and the subsequent break from Rome, he said, changed England's destiny utterly.

"It is the fulcrum on which our history turns," he said.

Dr Starkey is no third-hand historian. He has spent years looking at the primary sources and teasing out new information, even making a new discovery in the passionate Henry VIII-Anne Boleyn letters, which are held, wait for it, in The Vatican.

During his talk, he dropped hints of a new television series on the Yorkist/ Lancastrian struggles next spring.

And you just know that, in David Starkey's hands, 2004 will definitely be a good year for the Roses.

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