Tag Archives: England

The Tudors: Season One, Episode One

WARNING- Contains spoilers

Any work of fiction, either on film or in a book, has to show you what normal is before the real plot can begin. Plot arcs must start low before rising in exposition. If the audience doesn’t understand how the characters normally act and what their lives have been like there is no way to understand how much change happens once the plot begins to move.

This episode does a very good job of showing us what “normal” was for the character “Henry VIII” and his court. We see a young king who spends his days working on the problems of the realm and international politics, while playing games with his friends, interacting with courtiers and spending time with his wife and mistress. At the end of the episode we get the first look at Anne Boleyn, but Henry has not seen her or her sister Mary yet.

The very beginning of this episode shows an English ambassador being murdered by French soldiers while at the court of the Duke of Urbino. This man is later referred to as Henry’s “uncle,” which immediately causes confusion. Henry had no blood uncles. His father, Henry VII, was an only child, and his mother’s two brothers went missing in the Tower in 1483 and were believed to be dead. The only uncles Henry had were from the marriages of his mother’s sisters, or his half-great-uncles from Margaret Beaufort. After looking at the husbands of the sisters of Elizabeth of York the only one that could be a candidate for this position was William Courtenay, the Earl of Devon, but he was not stabbed to death in Urbino and this show is too late to show a reaction to his death. He died in 1511 of “pleurisy” and was buried at Blackfriars. I believe this was invented to give the show more drama to the show, to give Henry more of a reason to hate the French and seek war against them as revenge.

Many other writers have already pointed out many things from this episode that are inaccurate, such as the lack of a historical Anthony Nivert or how Katherine of Aragon was actually a redhead or that Thomas Tallis was not at court as a young man. I am going to try to give those issues limited space.

My best guess as to the date of this episode comes from Bessie Blount’s pregnancy. Her child was born in 1519, and after she was married to Gilbert Tailboys. This means that the episode takes place in 1518 to early 1519. This will create many problems in future episodes, because Henry’s sister Mary was widowed by Louis XI of France in 1515, and married Charles Brandon in the same year. This means that the entire setup for Bradon’s character (played by Henry Cavill) is inaccurate, even before his marriage to “Margaret Tudor” is shown in upcoming episodes.

Henry had always had mistresses, and according to The Other Tudors by Philippa Jones (2009, Metro Books), Henry was a man fueled by romance and was a serial monogamist. He had regular and long-term mistresses, often staying with one mistress for years. This is not the Henry we are given in The Tudors. We are given a lusty and whoring king, more along with the reports of the sexual appetites of Henry’s grandfather, Edward IV. I have read several authors who believe that Henry’s later appetites for food and women were an attempt to emulate his grandfather. Did Henry have meaningless one-night-stands with random women at court? Perhaps. But in his account ledgers he is shown as giving gifts to one specific mistress at a time who was well-known at court and in rumor.

Jones also points out in her book that Henry seemed to sour on his mistress when she would become pregnant, quickly finding her a husband and having nothing to do with her again. Her argument is that he may have found the production of a child as a betrayal since he had spent years of bed sport with these women without ever making a child, showing that they were using some form of birth control. He may have seen these pregnancies as a deliberate way to try to force his hand in their relationship, and he may have resented it. Of course this is speculation, but we do know that the pregnancies of his mistresses appeared close to the end of their relationships. The show does display this well, and when we learn that Henry’s paramour Bessie Blount is pregnant, Henry pretends he is learning who she is for the first time. In the history we know that married Sir Gilbert Tailboys and had three children with him. The marriage seems to have been a happy one that was entered into after the birth of her child, so the character’s statement that her husband was threatening her with scandal and the convent is a fabrication.

I have to admit that there is a point of confusion for me when the Duke of Buckingham makes a comment that Henry’s only claim to the throne was a “bastard’s on his mother’s side.” I am not sure if he is referring to Richard III’s claim that Elizabeth of York and her siblings were bastards, or if he is referring to Henry VII’s mother, Margaret Beaufort, since she was the only blood claim to the English throne that he had. The Beauforts started out as bastards and had been barred form the throne by Henry IV after they had been legitimated by Richard II and the pope. Buckingham’s comment works in both ways, even though his father had rejected Richard’s claim of bastardy of Elizabeth of York when he helped to plan the rebellion against Richard that we associate with his title, the Rebellion of 1483. In the same way he showed that he did not care about Henry VII’s Beaufort blood being a bastard line, because he agreed that if his rebellion had been successful he would have welcomed Henry of Richmond to the throne. We have no way of knowing if he was serious or if he planned to take the throne for himself, as he was executed for his efforts in the rebellion.

The girl who plays the child Princess Mary is just too darn cute! I adore the actress Sarah Bolger, who later plays an older Mary, and I became very excited when I heard her work on the video game “Bioshock.” But little girl Mary is adorable, and a wonderful casting. Wrong hair color, but I don’t think they could ask a child to dye her hair.

One of the biggest plot points of this episode is the setup for the Field of Cloth of Gold. This expedition to France happened in 1520. The other was the introduction of the lovely Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn. I will be discussing these topics more in future episodes.

Additional Reading:

The Creation of Anne Boleyn

The Tudors Wiki

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Henry Tudor, a Proud Welshman

I gotta say, I like the way Nathen thinks!

To the average member of the public, no Royal Dynasty has come to represent England and Englishness as the Tudors, a multi-generational 16th Century force that dragged England out of the bleak and dreary middle ages and into the renaissance period that enabled the Kingdom to become a superpower on the global scene. England became a mighty nation during the reign of sequential Tudors, rapidly growing in a self-assurance and assertiveness that would later blossom into the dominant British Empire under their successors. It was under this Dynasty that England broke with Rome, that the English vanquished their aggressive Spanish foe through the defeat of the infamous Armada and that the world was given the immortal playwright William Shakespeare. Arguably the most overlooked Tudor monarch is the very man who began the dynasty, Henry Tudor, that great opportunist who is arguably one of the country’s greatest overachievers. Born fatherless and…

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William Hastings, the Man Richardians Want to Forget

When I have spoken with Richardians about Henry VII they often point out the innocents who were executed during his reign. One name is always brought up- Edward, the 17th Earl of Warwick. Warwick was the son of George, Duke of Clarence, and grandson of Richard Neville. He had spent most of his life as a prisoner. Under Henry VII Warwick was found to be guilty of treason because he had given his support to Perkin Warbeck. The 24-year-old earl was executed on November 28, 1499. He is believed to have been a simple boy and the charges against him may have been dubious, but in the end Warwick was too risky of a prisoner and had to be executed to make Henry and his family safe on the throne and prevent the country from returning to the days of civil war.

“Richard never killed anyone innocent like that!” his fans have often exclaimed, while we all know that Henry VII did just that. Of course there is one name that will cause them to look very uncomfortable: Baron William Hastings.

The death of Hastings is a little questionable, but there are some things we do know about what happened that day. When his friend and cousin-by-marriage Edward IV died suddenly, Hastings promised to do everything in his power to assist the next king, Edward IV’s son Edward, now known as Edward V, and make sure that he was safe on the throne. With his brother now dead, Richard of Gloucester had his nephews confined to the Tower, where they were never seen again.

It is not clear where Hastings’ loyalties actually lay. While he was a loyal and true best friend to the now-deceased king, when Richard seized the throne he did so with the support of Hastings. Richard kept Hastings in his seat on the Privy Council, and most accounts of the days before the day he died show that there was no rift between the two men.

What we do know is this:

On the 13th of June, 1483 Richard called a meeting of the privy counsel to the Tower, where he was residing. Hastings came in and by some accounts the meeting went well and Hastings left with the other council members without incident. Some accounts show that as the meeting came to an end Richard turned on Hastings, accusing him and other council members of working with Elizabeth Woodville’s family through Edward IV’s former mistress (who had become Hasting’s mistress) to restore her son to the succession. Hastings was allowed to leave while of the other members of the council were arrested.

While the activities inside of the Tower are up to debate, most agree with what happened when the meeting ended. While the true motive is unknown, when Hastings stepped out of the Tower onto the Green the guards grabbed him and hastily removed his head. No charges were given against him and no arrest was attempted. He was executed very suddenly, and the real reason for it is unknown.

I have heard Richardians say that he made Richard mad, and that’s why he was executed. Of course that doesn’t sound like the makings of a good king, since under the Magna Carta no monarch can end a citizen’s life without charges and a trial. Though some have said that the trial of the Earl of Warwick was a sham, he still had charges and a trial. By executing Hastings in such a way, Richard not only became a tyrant but frightened all the other lords and made them question their own safety. If Richard did not think it was necessary to give someone due process before their execution, there was no reason to believe he wouldn’t kill anyone else at any time. More frightening, there was no reason to believe that Richard would follow any of the laws that were supposed to be imposed on him by Magna Carta, which made him even more dangerous. Is it any wonder that so many lords had no problem turning on him in 1483 and again in 1485?

My apologies to any Richardian who thinks that this is an unfair assessment. In my opinion Richard was NOT a good king for no other reason than he thought he was above the law. Compare that to Henry VII, who went through with trials of people he believed to be threats against him and went to Parliament to raise funds to go to war. This show a healthy respect for law, even if it forced Henry to undertake actions he may have found superfluous or unnecessary. Richard clearly did not have any respect for the law, and if he had been king longer, I don’t doubt we would have seen more deviations from the rule of law in the rest of his reign.

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A Tudor Enigma: Roland de Veleville

Roland de Veleville was born c. 1474 in the duchy of Brittany. While the identity of his mother is still unknown, she appears to have been related to the Counts of Durtal, who lived in the town of Nantes. He came to England at some point between 1485 and 1494, when he participated in a joust. During the reign of Henry VII he lived comfortably, but was kept in a slightly extended form of adolescence. Under Henry VIII he became his own man and started a family. In 1967 Professor S.B. Chrimes wrote a short paper that was published in the Welsh Historical Journal. In this paper Chrimes claimed he had disproved the centuries-old belief that de Veleville was Henry VII (Henry Tudor)’s illegitimate son. In the following two decades this paper influenced historians who were writing about Henry VII, because if Chrimes wrote it then it must be accurate. De Veleville was written out of the history, only beginning to regain attention and time in the 1990s. Chrimes’ paper has now been widely discredited, but the question he rose continues to influence attitudes towards de Veleville.

I first stumbled into the story of Roland de Veleville’s life in the fall of 2011 when I was researching Henry VII’s time in exile. Quickly I became fascinated with him. Who was this man, whose life was so extraordinary? Where did he fit in? The information on him in secondary sources is limited but very illuminating. Is it a coincidence that our limited information on the identity of his mother’s family shows that they may have lived in the same town that Henry Tudor was being housed in around the time that de Veleville would have been conceived? Though the exact date of de Veleville’s birth is not known, based on his age when he was active in the Tudor court places it about 1474.

At the beginning of October, 1473, Henry Tudor was moved to Nantes. Early in 1474 he was separated from his uncle, Jasper Tudor. His English servants were replaced with Bretons, and he was moved to the care of the Marshall of Brittany, Jean IV de Rieux, at his house in Largoet. Henry’s accommodations in the Marshall’s house were on the 6th floor, and even though he had always been a prisoner now he became more of one. Could it be that Henry had found a Breton girlfriend, and she was pregnant? The debate about the identity of de Veleville’s mother has pointed to the Admiral of France, Jean de Quelenhec’s wife’s family, so if Henry had started a relationship with a relative of hers it would have been motive to move him away from that area.

Please keep in mind that at this point Henry did not have any prospects. From 1471 until 1483, his mother worked to have his lands and his title, Earl of Richmond, returned to him and for him to be guaranteed safe passage back to Wales from King Edward IV. There were several times when this offer was extended to Henry but he never accepted it. His place in the line to the throne was not certain until 1483, when Richard III took the throne, declared his nephews and nieces bastards, and the “Princes in the Tower” went missing. In 1474 Henry was a beggar- a 17-year-old man without a title and without income, and no sure way to gain either back. That he would have remained a virgin until he was married night when he28-years-old is not only incomprehensible but very much against the times. Noble men without bastards were seen as abnormal- even his uncle Jasper had at least one bastard, and he spend the better part of twenty years in exile as an attainted traitor.

The unbelievable part of de Veleville’s life started after Henry of Richmond became Henry VII, following the Battle of Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485. While there is no proof that de Veleville was in England at this time, we know that he had started living at Westminster before 1494, when he participated in a tournament to celebrate his half-brother Henry’s ascension to Duke of York, though some records show that he may have been in the king’s house by 1488. Under Henry VII he had only one official address: he lived in the palace of Westminster, where he was housed in the royal apartments. He was not noble, and was not given any titles. He was knighted after the Battle of Blackheath in 1497, but never achieved any title higher than knight. He was given a pension of 40 marks per year by the king. Henry VII is known for being notoriously cautious when it came to money, never spending more than he could, to the point of being called a “miser.” This makes the gift even more astonishing. While living with the royal family, de Veleville had no job or position in the house.

The unofficial job that de Veleville seems to have filled was that of a royal companion, spending his time with the king. He is recorded as being an “obsessive jouster,” which made him into an excellent soldier and later commander, and practice seems to have been how he spent most of his time. He went hunting and hawking with the king and was permitted to enter the falcon mew and interact with the royal birds. He seems to have spent the rest of his time gambling and drinking, and his income would have provided ample funds for this. He does not seem to have been a good businessman, and did not try to gain property until later in his life, and had not built up an estate by the time of death. It would seem that never having to pay for anything involved with his upkeep for 24 years did not give him a sound financial education.

His participation in the joust in 1494 has larger implications, because he was not yet a knight. Only knights and noblemen could participate in a tournament, and for him to be allowed to participate. That the actual peers were willing to participate with him shows that they knew how high he really was, that they would not see it as in insult to their honor to be forced to joust with him.

De Veleville held some notable positions in the public ceremonies of the royal house. He attended the funeral of Henry VII, and he was one of the mourners at the funeral and interment of Henry VIII’s son, Henry, in 1511. He fought in the Battle of the Spurs, and was in the royal party at the Field of Cloth of Gold in Calais in 1520.

In 1509, Henry VII died and his son Henry VIII was crowned, Roland de Veleville had not moved past the position he held since coming to the Tudor court. In July of 1509 he was created the Constable of Beaumaris Castle in North Anglesey, Wales. It is unclear if this position was initially granted by Henry VII but signed to law by Henry VIII after their father’s death. This was de Veleville’s first official job, and it came with it the second-highest income in North Wales (the highest went to Charles Brandon). When parliament tried to block the payment of both of these pensions, Henry VIII reinstated them. De Veleville moved from the king’s court to Beaumaris, where he lived for the rest of his life, only leaving when Henry VIII ordered him to court or to war. This position comes at a key moment, because de Veleville was given the mechanism to leave court right as his half-brother became king and wouldn’t want an older bastard brother hanging around, despite their affection for each other.

This affection between brothers has been recorded several times. De Veleville was imprisoned for several months in 1517 for “slandering the king’s Council.” He was released when he wrote an apology (though it seems to have taken him some time to agree to do so), but his release was contingent upon him “attending upon the king and not departing without license.” De Veleville having been ordered to stay in the household of the king until given permission to leave means that he had to stay with the king, at court, until the king released him so he could return home to Wales. It is a weird way to punish a criminal, but the crime itself is one that shows how close he was to the king. Keep in mind that he is not a peer of the realm, but his speaking out against the members of the king’s council was enough of a threat to their positions at court to warrant an arrest and imprisonment. This means that he had a close enough connection to the king to be able to influence him and damage other courtiers. This is not the kind of influence you would expect from a random knight in Wales, and shows that he had a connection to the king beyond his position as Constable.

After de Veleville’s death in 1535, Henry VIII is recorded as remembering him fondly. In 1544 when Henry was calling in troops for a campaign in France he was told that no men would be coming from North Wales. He is said to have to have been surprised, because when de Veleville was Constable he was able to bring in a great number of men and leave enough to maintain the castle and the port. This is shows their closeness, because it is the only known record of this king commenting on the skills of a knight. Henry VIII was also not known to miss anyone after their deaths. His recorded statements of lament for courtiers, advisors and even wives who had died are very few. For him to be looking back at de Veleville’s service and lament the loss of him as a commander is one of the most unique things about either of the men.

Based on all the evidence we have currently, it seems more likely than not that Roland de Veleville was the bastard son of King Henry VII. There are far too many odd coincidences, and he was positioned way too close to the throne to say that he was just “lucky,” or that he was a recipient of royal favor like the sons of of fallen men that Henry VII owed a debt to. His favor remained for his entire life, into the reign of Henry VIII, with whom he had a personal and affectionate relationship. It is a shame that the paper in 1967 has corrupted de Veleville’s memory, because he was an extraordinary and fascinating man.

Further Reading:

Chrimes, S.B. (June 1967). Sir Roland de Veleville. Welsh History Review, Vol. 3, no. 3. Pages 287-289.

Cook, E. Thornton. (1928). Her Majesty: The Romance of the Queens of England, 1066-1910. New York: E.P. Dutton and Company.

Jones, Philippa. (2009). The Other Tudors: Henry VIII’s Mistresses and Bastards. New York: Metro Books.

Milne, Graham. A Man of Kingly Line and of Earl’s Blood. Retrieved from: http://www.happywarrior.org/genealogy/roland.htm#21

Robinson, W.R.B. (June 1991). Sir Roland Veleville and the Tudor Dynasty: A Reassessment. Welsh Historical Review, Vol. 15, no. 3. Pages 351-367.

Skidmore, Chris. Bosworth: The Birth of the Tudors. (2013). London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Soden, Iain. (2013). Royal Exiles: From Richard the Lionheart to Charles II. Gloucester: Amberley Publishing.

Weir, Alison. (1989). Britain’s Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy. London: Vintage Books.

Weir, Alison. (2013). Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World. New York: Ballantine Books.

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The Dragon and the Rose by Roberta Gellis- A Review & Comparison

I first read half of this book, and put it down. Instead of having pauses in the writing when there is a change in location or time, it melts into the paragraph. This may be an issue with my edition, and it became very distracting. I would have to stop and go back and see if the new sentence was part of the last scene or the beginning of a new scene, and it took me a while to finish reading. I put it down once Henry won the Battle of Bosworth, but after about a week I was too curious to see where it was going, so I picked it back up again.

Gellis is a very good writer. Her descriptions are wonderful, and my main complaint is just the bleeding of scenes into each other. I love that she makes Henry VII more relatable, and delves into his psyche so we understand him as a person, not as an abstract and distant king. Henry is utterly human, a man who fears for his life and can’t eat or sleep when he or his family are in danger. In the beginning he trusts no one other than his uncle Jasper, but we understand why. Henry calculates everything he does, but even when he is cold to others he is warm to the reader.

Elizabeth of York is less developed and rarely the narrator’s focus, but she is a sweet woman who loves and understands her husband. She is tortured by her relationship with her mother, the Dowager Queen Elizabeth Woodville. Elizabeth of York has to fight against her mother’s control but she can’t help but become very stuck in the middle of the politics. She becomes literally sick with worry when she hears of her mother’s plotting against Henry. Elizabeth is a natural diplomat and she has a wonderful sense of humor.

Gellis’ depiction of Margaret Beaufort is unique, and a breath of fresh air compared with the negative, crazy woman that is currently in the public’s imagination. Gellis portrays her as a soft, kind and sweet woman, who is not a religious zealot. She is the one that Elizabeth of York leans on and depends on, her friend whom she trusts implicitly. Because Elizabeth Woodville is shown as a conniving woman who cares about her own personal advancement, the vacuum in the two Elizabeth’s mother-daughter relationship is filled by Margaret. Margaret is one of the only people who are willing to stand up to Henry, and she refuses to do his bidding when he commands her to do something cruel or undiplomatic. She forces Henry to stop and think for the sake of the country and his marriage. She keeps him balanced.

Margaret’s marriage to Sir Thomas Stanley, who becomes the Earl of Derby, is vastly different to what we have seen in other fictional accounts. He is still a calculating man but he loves Margaret completely, is crazy about her, and begs for her to marry him. When he promises his support to Henry at Bosworth he is practically hysterical, declaring his love for Margaret and his desire to please her against the danger of his son being in Richard’s hands.

Nearly half of the book is spent on Henry’s time in exile, from 1471 to 1485. I am not sure if Gellis had access to documents about this period of his life, as this depiction is one of the only ways the book deviates from the history. The history shows that while Henry was a prisoner of Duke Francis of Brittany, he was not in the company of the Duke. At first, Henry and Jasper were housed together under the care of Admiral Jean de Quelenhec, and were moved from one of his houses to another of his houses. In 1474 the pair were suddenly separated, Henry’s English servants and guards were replaced with Bretons, and he was moved into the care of the Marshall of Brittany, Jean de Rieux. In 1476 they were reunited in Vannes. At this point Henry joins up with Francis’ court, but he had not been constantly in the company of the Duke, as he is in the plot of this book. They would have been on good terms, but Henry was not his companion; he was a prisoner and for most of his time in Brittany was treated as one.

The other major turn from the historical record is when Elizabeth becomes pregnant with, and then gives birth to, Prince Arthur. When Henry shows some hesitation about becoming sexual, fearing that it might hurt the baby or cause a miscarriage, Elizabeth talks him through it, saying that her mother was able to have sex when she was pregnant and no harm came of it. This is not the attitude of the times. Neither is her labor and birthing experience, where Henry is the only one by her side and promises not to leave her. As queen she had midwives, her mother and mother-in-law to help her. Henry had been on a progress and may not have even been at Winchester when Arthur was born, let alone allowed in the birthing chamber! It’s a modern spin which the reader can identify with, a worried daddy helping the mommy through her contractions, but it’s not historical.

If there is another printing of this book, I would suggest purchasing it to see if the timing issue is specific to my edition. I recommend this book for anyone who thinks that Henry VII has been getting a bum deal lately, and who would want to see Margaret Beaufort as someone other than an antagonist. If you are a fan of the king, then you will enjoy this book. Gellis sticks with most of the major historical events, and is able to add a touch of humanity to them. You will never look at Henry VII as a cold, greedy miser again.

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Cover of The Dragon and the Rose by Roberta Gellis. Playboy Press, copyright 1977.

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