The White Queen- Episode 2

Warning: This post contains spoilers.

The first thing that we see is Elizabeth Woodville preparing for her coronation. Imagine that Elizabeth’s coronation is like her modern wedding day. Anyone who has been a bride knows that she has planned the day to exactly what will happen, at what times and in what order. They agonize over it, everything down to the smallest detail. Elizabeth clearly has been planning and preparing for this day, since she bathes (something that was not an everyday occurrence in those times) and has a dress so intricate that I can’t even fathom how many hours it would have taken to decorate. The woman who commissions such a thing and prepares in such a way understands everything that is going to happen, and does not need the Earl of Warwick to explain things to her.

By the same token, saying that Warwick’s daughters “were trained” to escort the queen is not something special; all of the ladies at court would have been trained for such an event, and her escorts would have been picked well ahead of time. There seems to be a lot of needless explanations going on at this court, since Edward has to explain to Elizabeth’s Grey sons that she is wearing her coronation robes.

Elizabeth is pregnant with  Princess Elizabeth of York, but Edward has no problem taking her to bed. Sex was not an option in the middle ages for a couple at this time, because it was believed to harm the baby. Since there was no way to know if the baby was a boy or not, no king would put his own pleasure above the health of his future son and heir, or risk a miscarriage by attempting to have sex with the mother. This phobia of harming the baby continues today. I have several friends whose husbands refused to touch them once they were pregnant. It’s not too hard to understand the medieval beliefs.

There are several references to Warwick’s actions as “king-making” which are faulty. Today we think of Richard Neville, the 16th Earl of Warwick as “the Kingmaker,” but Warwick was not called this in his own lifetime. Gregory seems much attached to this nickname, and it’s used in the title of one of Gregory’s books this series is based on, The Kingmaker’s Daughter. It is just not a contemporary way to look at him. Yes, his troops and skills could sway the battle, but he was not called that in his own time.

At the outdoor post-hawking dinner, Elizabeth tries to tell her mother to back off of the political stuff, only to have Edward tell her that she should build up as much political power around her as possible, and that this would be best done by arranging powerful marriages of her younger siblings. This makes Elizabeth into a wishy-washy woman who has no political drive or ambition, which is not what we know of her. The marriages of her younger siblings into families of power were one of the main reasons some of the people at court hated her. The Duke of Buckingham, who we see marrying her little sister Katherine when they were children, deeply resented this union and hated the Woodvilles. It was one of the reasons he put his support initially behind Richard III and helped to remove Edward V. Was this practice initially not only okay with Edward, but his idea? Was Elizabeth against it from the start? I can’t imagine that. The only reason to make Elizabeth less ambitious is if ambition in a woman is a bad thing, only living in the villain Margaret Beaufort.

Pushing the next scene involving Margaret aside for the moment, the next time we see Elizabeth she is very pregnant and asking Warwick why his daughters have not yet joined the queen’s ladies. Warwick tells her that they have to decline this offer, as his daughters are “to be wed.” If they were genuinely looking for husbands, the best place to be would be the household of the queen. Life at court was lively, and they would have more opportunity to catch the eye of a peer if they were constantly around them, not living alone in their castle with their mother. Beyond that, declining the offer of a queen other than cases of illness. This would be the worst faux-pas that Warwick could commit, insulting not only Elizabeth but Edward as well. This was not a situation where he could have refused her. She says that she wants them, he asks when they can be delivered into her care.

At this time Elizabeth is heavily pregnant, but does not go into an actual confinement. Most of the traditions of noble births are very archaic today, but they had to be followed to the letter or else risk “harming the baby.” This includes a special suite for the queen with all the windows covered and a roaring fire being constantly fed no matter the season. Only women could come and go from this chamber, and after entering it a month before the baby was expected to be due the mother would not be permitted to leave until the baby was born. A queen who is that far along in her pregnancy would not be allowed to walk around the court until she starts her labor. Her father would not have been in her apartment after she had entered confinement.

My husband was watching this episode with me while I scribbled my notes, and when Edward is so happy about having a daughter my husband called “B.S.” Anyone who is familiar with the stories of Henry VIII’s divorce, separation from the Catholic Church and the fates of his wives knows that producing a male heir is the first priority of a queen. Edward seems pleased and utters a variation of a phrase that actual originates with his grandson, Henry VIII, who said it to Katherine of Aragon- “We are still young, and boys will follow.” For Edward, who has displaced Henry VI and is in an unpopular marriage, the production of a daughter could be seen as proof that God did not want him on the throne.

A secondary plot in this episode was the “spiritual awakening” of Margaret Beaufort. We see the beginning of her religious fundamentalism when we first see her and she tells Henry Stafford that she lives “on prayer.” Margaret becomes a zealot, practically becoming orgasmic when the light hits her in the church where she fell asleep praying for “a sign.” She ends the episode by telling Henry that God gave her a vision of him becoming king and calling herself “Margaret Regina.” Of course none of this is based in the history, and all the information we have about Margaret shows that she did not even want Henry to be king; it was only after Richard III took the throne that it became a cause for her. She was never called Regina, which is reserved only for the actual monarchs, and the “R” she signed after her name could have stood for “Richmond,” her title.

One of the things that stand out in my mind from this episode is how Anne Neville is just a puppet for her sister Isabel. In 1465 Anne was about 9 years old, but the same adult actress plays her through the whole show. She acts as a child, calling Margaret of Anjou “The Bad Queen,” and constantly asks her sister for validation. Anne becomes a strong woman, but at this point she is still a child.

Like Anne, Margaret is way too old. Margaret gave birth to Henry when she was 13. In 1465 Margaret would have been 22-years-old, and in the first episode she was just 18. I suspect that since she has been singled out as the antagonist, she was made older so that the audience would not sympathize with her. That would have made them pity her, and the audience is supposed to hate her.

The next difference is her burning love and desire for Jasper. Could she have seen him as her savior, since she was under his protection when Henry was born? While that’s possible, Jasper was for all intents and purposes her brother. Margaret’s complaint to her mother for not allowing her to marry Jasper would have been beyond inappropriate, as is her mother’s answer that Stafford was “a better match.” Everyone would have understood that their affinity was now so tight that the church would forbid their marriage, making Jasper a bad match. If that had not been the case, Jasper, the Earl of Pembroke, was the 2nd highest ranking earl in the land, with only dukes and the title Earl of Richmond, held by his brother Edmund and then Henry, between him and the royal family. Stafford had no title. This is all a moot point though, because the church and the state viewed them as siblings and any union between them would have been viewed as incest. Margaret would have known this, and would have seen Jasper as nothing but a brother and uncle to her son.

The dates the show gives us, 1465 and 1468 (not knowing exactly how much time passes between the beginning of the episode and right before we are told “three years later”), put some of the events at the wrong time.

That Jasper was still in Wales and Henry was still in his care is a major departure from the actual timeline. In 1461 when Edward was crowned king, Jasper was charged with treason, his title forfeited and given to Sir William Herbert, who also was given the wardship of Henry. Henry’s title, Earl of Richmond, was taken before 1462 and given to George of Clarence, not in 1465. Between 1461 and 1470 we do not know of the exact locations of Jasper, but he was in exile, popping up in France, Brittany, Scotland, but constantly moving. As he had already been found to be a traitor by an act of parliament he could not remain anywhere without Edward’s grasp or risk execution.

Henry had been put into the care of William Herbert when he was 4-years-old. In 1461 Herbert seiged Pembroke Castle and took possession of it, but continued to live at Raglan with his family and Henry. Herbert was paid a small fortune for Henry’s wardship, and Herbert raised him with the education and training fitting his title, even though it had been stripped from him. Herbert went so far as to have his household continue to refer to Henry as “Richmond.” Henry was very close with Herbert’s wife, Anne Devereux, and remained close to her after he became king in 1485. Margaret was allowed to write to Henry and to visit him at Raglan. Henry remained in Herbert’s care until 1469, when Herbert was executed.

In the show Margaret sees her mother again, and introduced to “her half-brother, Richard Wells.” Richard Wells was not her half-brother, he was her step-brother. John Wells was her half-brother. Her and her mother have a fight, where she points out that she did not choose to marry Stafford, and her mother reminds her why and says, “I do not care if you are happy.” Margaret would never have chosen her husband if her mother was alive, especially since she marries Stafford right after Henry was born when she was still very young.

The show flashes us forward 3 years, when Elizabeth has a happy trio of little girls, and Edward doesn’t seem to mind. We are quickly told that Warwick and Clarence are planning a rebellion against Edward. The worst fruit of the rebellion is the executions of Earl Rivers and his son John Woodville. Historically, they were captured after the Battle of Edgecote Moor in 1469, given a very hasty trial and then executed. William Herbert was executed folling that battle as well. Jacquetta and Elizabeth focus on how it was an illegal trial done without trial or a charge, which of course makes it all the more upsetting.  The reaction that the audience has to their upset over the illegality is why I believe that William Hastings has been removed, because he actually was executed by Richard III without charges or trial.

Their deaths lead us into Elizabeth doing a spell for herself, blood magic to avenge her father and brother. Beyond the whole “was she a witch” thing, she signs him “George Plantagenet,” which at first seems very strange, as the kings and their families did not use surnames. But it is something the show gets right- his father, Richard, Duke of York, was the first person to use Plantagenet as a surname, to show how close he was to the throne. It originates with Geoffrey Plantagenet, father of Henry II, and was a nickname given to his father, Folk of Anjou, for the flower he wore in his hat. This means that though we count every king from Henry II to Richard III as “Plantagenet,” the only ones who had that surname were Edward IV and Richard III.

So that’s it for episode 2! Let me know if you agree, disagree, or if I cut something you want to discuss! Thanks for reading, and I can’t wait to come back and write about Episode 3!

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