The White Queen: Episode 4

WARNING: This contains spoilers.

Much like in Episode 3, most of the deviations from the historical record are either repeats of changes already made, or expansions of previous changes. There were a lot of plot reruns, where one character fills another in on something that already happened or has already been set up to happen. Here are a few of the newest changes, and explanations as to what happened in the history.

It has become very hard to follow the timeline, after the “3 years later” in Episode 2. Sometimes it seems like too much time has gone by, other times it seems that time is standing still. I have tried to use the clues we are given with the events to determine the dates, but they are not necessarily in the right order, which makes it confusing. The Neville flight to France may have been made earlier for timing, or newer events have been sped up to compensate.

I am going to start in Wales. We see Henry Tudor still at Pembroke Castle with his mother and step-father. Unfortunately I am not sure how much time has passed since the end of the last episode, but I am guessing about 5 months. The last real benchmark we have is the miscarriage of Isabel Neville and George of Clarence’s child, which was in 1470. This becomes important because Sir William Herbert comes to Pembroke to take Henry as his ward. In the episode there is no siege of the castle. Herbert walks in and starts talking to Henry Stafford and Margaret Beaufort about gaining possession of Pembroke and Henry Tudor becoming his ward.

As I wrote in the blog for Episode 2, Herbert was made into the Earl of Pembroke in 1461 when he was four. Herbert sieged the castle when he took possession of it, and was given Henry’s wardship at the same time. What makes his appearance in the show even more surprising is that he was executed in 1469, following the Battle of Edgecote Moor.

I loved that we were able to see more of Duchess Cecily, and that she was as spunky as ever.  I agree with her that George is being painted “as a villain,” but I do not think that is something she would have actually said. The origin of the word “villain” meant “someone from the village,” and was often a slang term for saying that someone is of a lower class. It morphed into the definition we have today from this usage. But I believe in 1470-ish it would have still meant a villager, not the bad man of the story. In my opinion, George is being made into a worse person so that compared to him Richard III comes off looking nicer.

What I know of Clarence, he was a heavy drinker and almost as amorous as his brother the king. Warwick making an arguably mild complaint about his “bed sport” with prostitutes would probably have never happened. The higher up in status the man was, the more he was expected to sleep around and produce a good number of bastards. To not do this would be held against them. Look at King Charles II, and how many bastard children he had while not having a single legitimate one. Of course Warwick would want a grandson, but he would have understood that a duke would be expected to get active with a whore, and would see it as mere fun that would not interfere with making a child.

One of the things this show is doing wonderfully is how it shows the Tower of London. When we Americans hear the name, usually we think of dank, dark dungeons where lots of dirty people in rags were tortured for no crime worse than saying that a shirt doesn’t look good on the king. While there were dungeons in the Tower, and torture did happen there, in 1470 it was still a functioning palace and was one of the places that noble criminals were sent. There was a royal apartment which would have been just as warm, furnished and regal as any apartment in another palace. Because the Tower was one of the hardest places to escape from or to siege, it was the most common place a threatened royal family would run to for safety, and they would live there in comfort with their own cooks making their meals and their own servants waiting upon them. When a nobleman was arrested, they were given similar accommodations, unless the crime was so severe that they were to be punished. In those cases they might have a less-furnished room and had to be fed from the constable’s kitchen. Of course lower class prisoner would have a worse time there, but we often forget how nice it could have been. And it wasn’t just for short-term lodging. Clarence’s son, Edward, the Earl of Warwick spend nearly his entire life living in the Tower. The show has spent some time showing us this more luxurious side of the Tower, which I appreciate.

The actual cause of death for John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset and father to Margaret Beaufort, is unknown. Compared with his illustrious grandfather, John of Gaunt, Somerset was not much of a knight. He returned home from the wars in France in shame, and died soon after. Some sources hint at a possible suicide, others claim illness or wounds from battle. Could Margaret have known what his true cause of death was? Maybe. But if it had been a suicide it would have been very well hidden, as he was given a Christian burial, which suicides were denied.

I was pleased that the Countess of Warwick understood and explained that marriage was a contract between two families, and daughters had little to no say in who they were betrothed or married to. That she explains it to Anne as a “duty” to be done by her for her family and the production of children is one of the most honest descriptions of marriages in the middle ages that have come from this show yet. Instead of crying about being forced to marry a man she called “a monster,” (I do not know what Anne’s personal opinions of Edward, Prince of Wales were), Anne sucks it up and marries him, just as she should have.

Another moment that the show captures very well was Elizabeth’s nighttime flight into sanctuary at Westminster Abbey. A person claiming sanctuary could not be injured or killed, and could not be forced to leave the church to their doom. Invoking sanctuary was a serious thing in their time, and violating it was one of the worst mortal sins someone could commit. Elizabeth was no fool; she knew that making it to the Abbey was her one shot to save herself and her children from Warwick’s wrath. Even though the Tower was nearly impregnable and could withstand a very long siege, safety there was reliant upon the soldiers not being compelled to open in the name of King Henry, which Elizabeth would not trust. The mad dash through the streets with only what they could carry was shown in a heart-pounding and dramatic way that must have been close to how it actually felt that night.

Margaret Beaufort’s story in this episode is tied to her son Henry’s involvement with William Herbert. It is hard to continue to comment on the activities of Henry and Herbert, because the history is just so different. However, at Henry’s age he would not have been fighting; he could have squired for Herbert, but he would not be a soldier himself. For him to save his own life by shouting “I am Henry Tudor,” repeatedly could never have happened. He may have said “I am the Earl of Richmond,” but even that would have been a stretch, especially as George of Clarence was there and had been granted that title. His age would have given him some protection, because he was not old enough to fight and already would have been on the side of Lancaster. His willingness to go with Herbert and fight for York could only have been born out of his time at Raglan Castle, but the show has altered and removed it, leaving a hole.

The gaping holes where people or events have been removed or otherwise drastically altered are a common problem for historical fiction or drama. Sometimes it has to do with continuity, sometimes with the difficulty of fitting that person or event into the fiction you have created. One of the most classic cases comes from the Showtime show “The Tudors,” when they removed Henry VIII’s sister Mary Tudor entirely. The reason that Michael Hirst (creator of the show and many other historical dramas) gave for pushing the two sisters together and calling them Margaret was that it would be too confusing to have two Princess Mary Tudors on the call sheet. I understand what he was saying. In most cases of historical characters with the same name they can be called by their title instead.  But with both Marys having the literal title of princess, how could he have differentiated between them? Margaret Tudor never lived in Henry VIII’s court, as she was sent to marry King James IV of Scotland under the orders of their father, Henry VII. The conjoining of the two sisters, and having Margaret marry Charles Brandon causes a long-term issue of how the Tudors are related to the Scottish kings, and had the show continued into Henry VIII’s children, how Mary Queen of Scots could have claimed the English throne would have been virtually unanswerable. In “White Queen,” the removal of Herbert from Henry’s upbringing and the removal of William Hastings have ramifications that I believe will continue until the 10th episode.

I do not know enough about the trial of Jacquetta of Luxembourg to comment on the history of it. If you have this information, please pass it along. If there is a record of the proceedings that survived, it would an interesting comparison.

I look forward to the next episode!

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