Historians and historical fiction writers sometimes don’t see eye to eye over their respective chosen fields. David Starkey in particular excoriated fiction writers–mainly, it seemed by his rather inflammatory comments, because they tend to be a) female and b) hold different opinions to himself on certain figures such as Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII.
Historian Diarmaid MacCulloch, author of a vast biography of Thomas Cromwell (Thomas Cromwell: A life) quite refreshingly takes an opposite view. He is quite the admirer of the excellent works of Hilary Mantel and seems to understand that a good historical fiction can ignite an interest in ‘real’ history in a reader by breathing life into long-dead protagonists and imbuing the prose with the feel of the age–something that often doesn’t happen with non-fiction because of its very nature. He also said he found Mantel’s portrayal of Cromwell to tally with his own studies in many respects–a high accolade.
Although a ‘Tudor historian’, while writing the Cromwell biography, he apparently found himself very ‘irritated’ by Henry VIII, adding, ‘The more you know Henry, the more you dislike him: the intense egotism of the man and the way he distorts the lives of everyone around him.’
I don’t think many Tudor historians would have admitted such a thing in the past, and find it very healthy and interesting that in the last few years some historians are modern and open-minded enough to challenge pre-conceptions about historical figures such as Thomas Cromwell…or Henry VIII…or, of course, Richard III.