Please note that this contains spoilers. Because of the length of the total post, I have divided it into 2 parts for ease of reading.
The one thing I enjoy from this miniseries completely is the music. As a classical violinist, the theme is lovely. The intro was well done, with visual interest and a focus on the roses, both red and white. The acting is very good, and the actors are a good-looking bunch. I know there have been many blogs which focus on the inaccuracies in the sets and the costuming, pointing out zippers and rubber-soled shoes, and railings and glass panes. On the whole for me, just as with so many other programs, the sets are beautiful and the whole program is very visually beautiful, with lush green woods and sparkling water.
I first watched the BBC version of this episode twice on YouTube, prior to the beginning of the series on Starz. The copy was removed from YouTube about a week after I first watched it, for copyright violations. It has been the only episode that I have been able to watch as the BBC aired it, with limited nudity, though the additions of the bare breasts and male backside do not change the story. I have wondered why Starz demanded the changes, unless the publicity those changes garnered were the reason.
This episode is an attempt to explain to the audience how and why Elizabeth Woodville (otherwise spelled Wydville) became the Queen of England. It does not explain the causes behind the Wars of the Roses, other than a bit about Henry VI’s madness. We are quickly thrown into the world of the young widow who is trying to retain her lands from her former mother-in-law. This problem is not explained very clearly, though she repeatedly says how her lands have been taken away from her and her sons, but not by whom or why. Her father, Richard, at one point growles that she didn’t lose her lands, “they were TAKEN from her.” In my opinion, this is her primary reason for standing under a tree waiting for the new king Edward, not sleeping with him or becoming his wife. As it is impossible to ever know what happens in someone’s head, this of course is up for argument. Philippa Gregory has taken the opposite view in her other books that Elizabeth was standing there to “capture” Edward. Her sons would be a testament to her fertility (“Look! I have already made boys!”), and the morning sun would put a flattering light on her beauty, the better to snare the young and randy king. The details are not known, but what we can say we know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that Elizabeth attracted Edward, and changed the monarchy for good.
The very first thing we are treated to in the episode is Elizabeth’s nightmare, reliving the last moments of her dead husband. Right away, I took issue with this. While Elizabeth’s mother, Jacquetta, held the title of Dowager Duchess and she would end up being the ancestor of the current monarchs, Elizabeth’s first husband was not a high-ranking peer. Sir John Grey was a Baron, the lowest on the pecking order of nobles, and his title was held by his mother. We do not know the exact way in which he died in 1461 at the second Battle of St. Albans, but it is fairly safe to bet that he was not chased away from the battle and beheaded by the king. Why? Because he was not worthy of royal concern. There were far more important people to locate and kill other than a country Baron. There were dukes and earls demanding his attention, especially the Earl of Pembroke, Jasper Tudor, half-brother to Henry VI. Pembroke was a very real threat because of the execution of his father, Owen Tudor (name explanation later in post), after the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross. Finding him would have been a top priority, and one that was not successful. There were other, lower ranking men who would hunt down Grey if he was fleeing, and Edward would be too busy to personally hunt for him. If he had been captured, being just a Baron he would have been held and ransomed instead of executed. There is a difference between Edward’s wrath this early in the Wars, and the bloodiness of later battles, such as Tewkesbury.
This dream is the beginning of a plot that is both in the show and in the books, that Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Elizabeth Woodville and her daughter Elizabeth of York were all witches. That makes for some great entertainment, watching them cast spells and bring up storms, but of course it is completely baseless. Gregory says that she discovered the story that Jacquetta comes from a line of women descended from the water goddess Melusina, and that of course they would have all be highly aware of it in her family. In her books Gregory has Jacquetta being married to her first husband John, the brother of King Henry V and the Duke of Bedford, because he wanted her to use her magic to assist in keeping France under English control (this is the first part of the plot of her book, The Lady of the Rivers). There is no evidence of this, and Gregory takes that to mean that it was deliberately kept secret, or anything that would have shown this was destroyed deliberately. When Jacquetta was charged as a witch, she was released and cleared, meaning that the charge was baseless. Other women, even of the noble class had been charged and found guilty, so there is no reason to think that she was practicing and someone the evidence wasn’t found. Of course this is not historical proof, and the absence of evidence does not constitute proof. Gregory has discussed this in several interviews, and in “The Real White Queen.”
I am much troubled by the removal of Sir William Hastings from the characters. He was the best friend of Edward, following him into exile. Hastings was a “bad boy” who kept up with the King when he was partying and whoring. He was with Edward when he first met Elizabeth, not the Earl of Warwick. His removal will cause problems in later episodes, as other characters try to fill the void his removal has left. Who will take over the care of Elizabeth (“Jane”) Shore when Edward dies? Who will Richard III execute out of nowhere to earn the enmity of the noblemen? We will have to wait and see.
When Elizabeth leads Edward and his gang back to Grafton, Warwick is very, very disrespectful to her mother. Likewise Elizabeth’s father and brothers are disrespectful to Edward until he announces his marriage to Elizabeth. This is not something that would be ignored. The Dowager Duchess of Bedford may have been married to a Baron but since she retained her title she outranked the Earl of Warwick. For him to mock her, to talk down about her husband would be massively insulting. He should have dismounted and bowed to her, but he doesn’t. And for the various Woodville brothers and Baron Rivers to not bow to Edward is unthinkable, as even if they didn’t recognize him as their king he was still the Duke of York. This level of disrespect can be best summed up with the phrase “fighting words.” To treat a person who outranks you in such a way was practically begging for a war. They would have been very conscious of this, and wouldn’t have behaved as such unless they wanted to “throw down.”
…To be continued.