Please note that this post contains spoilers.
This is a continuation of my previous blog, “The White Queen, Episode I Part 1.”
The scene where Elizabeth defends her virtue against Edward by removing his dagger and threatening him with it is based on a legend. The story goes that he attempts to have his way with her, but she refuses. To get him off, she holds the knife out at him, and he leaves in anger. In this show’s version, she turns it on herself, uttering the “girl-power” line, “Don’t doubt my courage, Your Grace, a match for any man.” This story sounds great- a woman standing up to the most powerful man in the country because she won’t sleep with him outside of marriage! We don’t know what really happened that day, but the earliest version of the story about the knife didn’t show up until 1483. I have seen many different versions of this story; where there is no knife, where he holds the knife to her throat, where she holds it to his, but the origin is not known. Again, the absence of evidence does not become proof.
In this episode, Elizabeth has no spark. She’s a beautiful woman, and the actress plays her very sweetly, but too naive. The real Elizabeth, though often depicted in a large range from “evil bitch” to intelligent but crafty in other fictional works, the Elizabeth of “WQ” not only seems to have no ambition and is very dismissive. Her brother Anthony is the one who tells her to question the honesty of Edward after their secret marriage, and she acts as if she never thought of the consequences if Edward had acted dishonestly. She is shocked when it occurs to her that he may refute the marriage and cast her aside. There is not much in her personality that shows a woman who was willing to do what it took to become the queen, to advance her sons and her family. This characterization of her is like a blade of grass, blowing in the wind that she has no control over. I cannot believe that she could have been this diminutive. Nobody who advances so far in life does so by being passive and letting others have their way.
One thing that Edward repeats several in the first few episodes is that “King Henry MURDERED my father and my brother!” or that Margaret of Anjou ordered their deaths. While there are some stories about how Edmund, the Earl of Rutland, was killed in 1460 trying to flee the Battle of Wakefield, his death is just listed as one of the casualties of the battle. Their father, Richard, Duke of York, did fall on the field. There is nothing to suggest that he had been hunted down, that had he survived the actual battle, had been taken hostage and then had been executed. He was not murdered, unless every man who dies in battle is considered a murder victim. As it was Duke Richard who took up arms against Henry VI first, he could be blamed for his own death. Ralph A. Griffiths and Roger S. Thomas in their book The Making of the Tudor Dynasty hypothesize that the execution of Owen Tudor at Mortimer’s Cross may have been retaliation against Henry VI, as Tudor was his step-father. This argument intrigues me, but it does not give any credibility to an Edward crying out in anguish that Henry VI murdered his father.
Towards the end of the episode we are introduced to Margaret Beaufort for the first time. When I first saw this episode my initial gut reaction was that the actress was way too old. In 1464 Margaret was about 21-years-old, though already a widow and a mother. In the show Jacquetta speaks to her, but she addresses Margaret incorrectly, and I do not mean that literally in the script she is corrected by Margaret. At first Margaret is called “Lady Tudor,” and then Jacquetta is corrected to say “Lady Stafford.” The name Tudor was not used at this time, and wasn’t even the surname of Owen Tudor, as we call him. He was named Owen ap Maredudd ap Tudur: Owen Tudor is the Anglicized name he was given by the English court, though with the correct placement his surname should have been Meredith. The last name of Tudor was not used in their lifetimes, and is the modern way we describe this period, and the literal translation into Welsh is “Theodore”. They did not call it the “Tudor family” or “Tudor Dynasty,” and Margaret Beaufort wouldnot have been called “Lady Tudor.” She would have been called the Dowager Countess of Richmond, her title which she retained after Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond died. As Henry Stafford did not have a title, Lady Stafford would have been the best way to identify her at the time, but use of her title would have been just as acceptable.
Toward the end of the episode Elizabeth is introduced to courtiers, and eventually ends up in a room with a seated Cecily, Dowager Duchess of York. That she remains seated, and her attendants remain standing, is a grave insult towards the “King’s Wife.” What is not given in this scene is that Cecily is half-Beaufort: her mother was Joan Beaufort, daughter of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt. She would have been very, very sensitive to words such as “whore” and “bastard,” for no other reason than her own mother had started her life as a bastard. As the treatment of Margaret shows the Beauforts never escaped that association, and the descendants of the Beaufort line were supposed to be barred from the royal succession. To have her sitting there, threatening to make her son illegitimate is just too much, which is a shame, because I do like everything else about this portrayal, and she may be one of my favorite characters. Caroline Goodall puts in a wonderful performance.
The conclusion of this episode leaves us with one more major problem. After yet another sex scene with Edward, Elizabeth enters into the room where her mother is practicing some more magic and her two sons are sleeping. When Elizabeth catches her own eye in the mirror, she freezes and as if in a trance she talks about a woman in red with “blood on her hands.” When Jacquetta pushes her, asking whose blood it is, Elizabeth exclaims that it’s “mine!” Of course this is a straight arrow directed right at Margaret Beaufort, as the “Red Queen,” but remains slightly vague enough that the blood they are referring to could be Elizabeth’s, or it could be her son’s. Both options are faulty. Elizabeth is not killed by Margaret, though some historians have said that her removal from court was due to Margaret’s influence on her son, as David Starkey in “Monarchy” says, there is no room for “two Queen Mothers.” Elizabeth has her lands removed and leaves the court, and she dies at St. Saviour’s Abbey in 1492. This also hints at Gregory’s stance that Margaret was the one who ordered the death of the two “Princes in the Tower,” and may be an attempt at foreshadowing this conclusion. My guess is that it’s sufficiently vague so that we have to guess at the meaning, but none are factually based.
Thus concludes the first episode. Compared with later episodes, this one may be the best. Even though I have compiled a large list of problems, there was enough of the truth in it to at least get us into the story and ready to watch the next episode. We are introduced to the actors, who each give an amazing performance. Max Irons as Edward does a great service to the king, as he is both commanding and emotional. James Frain, who somehow always seems to end up in historical dramas (“Elizabeth I”, “The Tudors”…), also gives a great and commanding performance. Robert Pugh, as Richard Woodville, looks how I always imagined Owen Tudor to look in my head. We meet most of the characters we will be rooting for or hating for the next 9 episodes. The sets, costumes and makeup are all delicious. There are a lot of characters with the same or similar names, but so far I think it is not too confusing as to whom everyone is.
For space I have just focused on the most major problems I have seen. Did I not focus on the one that drove you up the wall? Let me know in the comments section! I look forward to inspecting Episode 2 with you!