Tag Archives: Plantagenet

Game of Thrones and English History

To mark the occasion of the season 4 premier of HBO’s Game of Thrones, I have decided to write down some of the general comparisons of the plot with English medieval society and history.

Game of Thrones is an awesome television show, based off of books written by George R. R. Martin, which my husband tells me are awesome (he has read them multiple times; I have not). The characters stir up emotion in the audience. You cry for the characters you like when they are killed and hate the evil characters with a fiery passion. With dragons, magic and living dead people the show is soundly in the realm of fantasy fiction. But there are hints of actual history alive in the show.

When the show opens, the first things we are treated to is the map of Westeros, a fictional country bordered on three sides with ocean and to the north with ice. The map itself is very similar to the map of the English Isle, if you remove the North, though Westeros seems to be much, much bigger. The Wall, where the men of the Night’s Watch protect the south from enemies coming down from the north, is similar to the boarder with Scotland, where for several hundred years skirmishes and battles broke out to keep the Scots from invading England, and vice-a-versa. London is located where King’s Landing is. The Isle of Mann is located where the Iron Islands are. Even the English Channel is similar to “The Narrow Sea,” and the cities where Daenerys Targaryen travels remind me of the different duchy’s of France, though the culture and language are more like the Middle East.

In Westeros each noble house is easily identified by their “sigil,” a badge worn on clothes or held as banners, which makes all the “bannermen” easily identifiable. They are easy to compare with both coats of arms and medieval banners. Even the sigil animals are similar to those used in Britain. England is a Lion, since the first Plantagenet king Henry II, while Scotland is a unicorn and Wales is Dragon. Edward IV used a sun, Richard III used a boar, Richard II was a stag. Stags, wolves, dragons, lions, and more animals are seen in Westeros. The “bannermen” are the lords who are sworn to uphold another lord’s cause in times of war, which is exactly what English nobles were expected to do throughout the medieval period.

While watching the show it is easy to see how the armor and fashion which are taking their cues from medieval England, as is the food, boats and litter carriages. The only character which wears clothing in a more modern style is Margaery Tyrell, as it is way too revealing and even Cersei Lannister complains about it showing too much skin. The citizens of Westeros have the same entertainments and work as medieval society, such as needlepoint, music and tournaments. They engage in warfare that is exactly like what was around during the medieval period, except without the “wild fire” that killed so many at the “Battle of the Blackwater.”

Most characters have a version of the English accent, some with an Irish or Scottish twang to it, and in the case of the beautiful, red-headed Wildling soldier Ygritte, my husband just informed me that my guess that she was using a Yorkshire accent was correct. Listening to the actual accents of the actors in interviews is enlightening, especially in regards to Nikolaj Coster-Waldau who plays Jaime Lannister, because even though you hear no hint of it when he is acting, he is actually Dutch and talks with a strong Dutch accent when he is being himself. There are other accents of course, such as the German accent of Shay, Sansa Stark’s maid and Tyrion Lannister’s lover, as she is an immigrant to Westeros. Much like London, the highest variety of accents is in King’s Landing, because it’s a bastion of trade, immigration and class distinctions.

King Robert’s Rebellion mirrors the rebellion of Henry IV against Richard II, and the current warfare Westeros is going through is very similar to the Wars of the Roses. While Henry VI was not as unpopular, distanced and hated by the people as Joffrey, Rob Stark, the “King of the North,” is very similar to Edward IV, a younger man fighting because his father was killed (though in battle, not execution) and he believes he is the rightful king. Balon Greyjoy had called himself the “king of the Iron Islands,” and prior to 1485 the Stanley family had been the Kings of the Isle of Mann, with Thomas Stanley downgrading the honor to “Lord of Mann” so as not to offend his stepson, King Henry VII. In England there were fewer sides, but there were many battles and the interchanging of nobles, titles and the throne.

I am not sure how much of these similarities are intentional, but the more I start to ponder the more I find. Have you seen any that I have missed in this post? Please leave a comment and let me know!

If you haven’t seen Game of Thrones yet I urge you to give it a try. There is a reason it is so wildly popular, even though it’s a costumed drama that has no problem killing off its main characters and is heavy in both violence and sex. That’s because the plots, the characters, the sets, the special effects, the romance and the drama are unmatched. It airs on Sunday nights at 9pm EST, on HBO. If you can, watch it in HD because the costumes, sets and and visual textures can be missed in standard definition.

The show is based on a series of books, collectively known as “A Song of Ice and Fire,” written by George R. R. Martin. Five are currently available in bookstores, A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, and A Dance for Dragons. There are two more novels to still be written and released. The show is currently midway through the third book. We should be seeing several more seasons before we learn who will finally sit on the Iron Throne.

You can purchase the books on Amazon.

For more information, please check out A Wiki of Ice and Fire.

 

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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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The marriages of Henry VII and Henry I, a Comparison

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King Henry I

 

It is no secret that I am obsessed with King Henry VII. I have a copy of one of his portraits up on the wall in my office. I collect books about him. I watched “The White Queen” in part because he was a character. My book is about his time in exile. This is a major obsession, and I believe that he was one of the best kings England has had.

But my affection does not mean that I am blind to the fact that he had a very weak blood claim to the throne, and therefore should be considered a “conquering” king instead of a dynastic one. His reign was good for the country; he was able to leave the throne to his son, Henry VIII, with a fortune saved in the royal treasury due primarily to proper management and cutting out of waste.

Henry’s marriage to Elizabeth of York was very important for the stability of the realm. With her two brothers, the “Princes in the Tower,” gone and presumed dead, Elizabeth was the heir to her father, Edward IV. Because Henry and Elizabeth’s children would have the blood of both sides, Lancaster and York, the country would unite under them. The “Tudor Rose” children were one of the motivations behind their political union, though the marriage grew into love over the years. This was not the first time a king married a queen to make the claim of his children stronger.

In 1100 Henry I married Edith, a Scottish princess, and she changed her name to Matilda to sound more “Norman.” Henry came to the throne of England under questionable circumstances. A younger son of William I, or “The Conqueror,” he had been out hunting with his older brother, King William II, or “Rufus” as he was called, when Rufus suddenly died. We do not know if Rufus was murdered or if his death was an accident, but Henry rode straight to Westminster to be crowned king as soon as Rufus was dead. Henry was not his brother’s heir; their brother Robert, the Duke of Normandy, was Rufus’ heir. Later, Henry and Robert would go to war against each other, but for now Robert let Henry be king of England.

Henry was the son of a conquering king, and had taken the throne when it wasn’t his. How could he make sure that his heir would be secure on the throne when he died? By giving his children a blood connection to the old Saxon kings, his children would be secure. This was why he married Edith/Matilda. She was the daughter of King Malcolm III of Scotland, and was the descendant of King Ethelred II of England. Their children would become the unity of Saxon and Norman blood. The whole country would unite under them, and they would be secure and powerful.

This is the exact same logic that Henry VII used when he married Elizabeth of York, and they had their “Tudor Rose” children. When Henry VII died in 1509, he left his throne to his son, Henry VIII. His daughter Margaret was the queen of Scotland, and his daughter Mary was the queen of France for a short period, before marrying her love, Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk.

Henry I’s story was sadder. Only one of his children outlived him, his daughter Matilda. She had been married to Henry V, the German Emperor, which is why she is called “Empress Matilda.” Henry’s male next of kin was now his nephew Stephan, but because Stephan did not have the Saxon blood that Matilda did, Henry did not want Stephan to be his heir. When Henry lay dying, he had the English barons promise their support to Matilda, that she would be the next ruler of England. They did not live up to their promises, and Stephan was crowned king. He and Matilda entered into battle against each other, sieging castles and taking the other as prisoner but then releasing them. This game of cat and mouse continued for years, until they made an agreement. Matilda would accept Stephan as the king if he agreed to have her son from her second marriage as his heir. Matilda’s son became Henry II, the first Plantagenet king and he became one of the best kings that England has had. His sons are another story…

Of course, the Tudors would be plagued by Henry VIII’s tumultuous person life and struggle to produce a healthy and legitimate male heir. The dynasty ended after 118 years, when Queen Elizabeth I passed away in 1603. But the descendants of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York continue to sit on the throne to this day, and they have many, many other non-royal descendants as well.

This is why I can compare the two marriages to each other, and they are a valid comparison. Both married their spouse to give credibility to their reign and to make the reigns of their children smoother than their own had been. They knew that by having children that had both blood lines in them, there could be no question of their legitimacy and security on the throne.

Can you think of any other royal marriages that compare? Let me know what you think!

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The Origin of the Wars of the Roses

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Henry IV

 

When did the Wars of the Roses start?

Now that “The White Queen” has ended, there are many viewers who would like to learn more of the history of the period. Historians typically have two distinct points which they say were the beginning of the Wars of the Roses. The first is in the usurpation of Richard II’s throne by Henry IV, and the second was when Richard, Duke of York, rose up against Henry VI. This post explains how the events of 1399 set up 1455.

By removing his cousin, King Richard II, and taking his throne, Henry IV creates a precedent that a king may be removed if he is unpopular or not seen to be fit to rule. The usurpation was a sad end to Richard II, a boy who turned into a tyrant. He was the son of Edward, the “Black Prince,” and his wife Joan, “The Maid,” of Kent, and grandson of Edward III. His reign was seen as a new beginning, a fresh start for a monarchy that be been deteriorating under an elderly king. Richard was a boy-king, and the issue of his minority came to a head with the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. Those rebels swore that they loved Richard, and that they only wanted to serve him and help to protect him from “evil counsel.” They turned most of their anger and violence against Richard’s uncle John of Gaunt, father of Henry IV, because he seemed to have too much personal power. The rebels’ path of destruction landed at John’s castle The Savoy, which was burned to the ground.

At first it seemed as though Richard was listening to the rebels, but the end of the revolt was cemented into history with one sentence: “Serfs ye are, and serfs ye shall remain!” which the boy-king allegedly yelled at the rebels. The promises he had made to them, namely their freedom from serfdom, proved to be fraudulent, and the opinion of the people turned against Richard. Ironically it was John of Gaunt, the focus of the rebels’ enmity, who proved to be one of Richard’s most true advisors and supporters. Despite having the wealth and manpower to steal the throne from Richard, John never seems to have actually contemplated it. This may have been because John of was too busy attempting to gain the throne of Castile to try to take England from a nephew he had sworn to protect. John seems to have taken his promise of loyalty to Richard very seriously. John was a fascinating person, who will forever be attached in our minds as the romantic man from Anya Seton’s Katherine. That novel also gives us a wonderful depiction of the Peasants’ Revolt. John turned out not to be a threat to Richard; John’s oldest son Henry proved to be the real threat.

Henry of Bolingbroke was the son and heir of John of Gaunt, the third surviving son of King Edward III, from John’s first wife, Blanche of Lancaster. She was the wealthy daughter of Henry, the first Duke of Lancaster. His titles, wealth and property passed to John, as Henry of Lancaster had no male heir. John owned more castles and land, and was wealthier, than the king. He also had a larger number of retainers, or private soldiers than the king. Henry was named for this grandfather, who was the grandson of Edmund Crouchback, and great-grandson of King Henry III. This made Henry of Bolingbroke of royal descent from both of his parents, which he later used as evidence that he should be king. Richard was of royal descent from both of his parents as well, since his mother, Joan, was the daughter of Edmund of Woodstock, a son of King Edward I. Henry would later say that his ancestor, Edmund Crouchback, was the true heir but had been overlooked in favor of Edward I, but there is no actual proof to this story, which may have just been an attempt to legitimate his claim after he deposed Richard.

In 1398, following a dispute with the first Duke of Norfolk Thomas Mowbray, Richard sent Henry into exile. Showing how supportive John was to the king, he agreed with the punishment of his son and heir. John died the following yea, but Richard blocked Henry from gaining his inheritance. This was the fuel that prompted Henry to invade England, presumably to gain his lands and titles, but once there he imprisoned Richard, and had himself crowned King Henry IV on October 13, 1399. Richard was imprisoned in Pontefract Castle, where he died, possibly from starvation. Richard’s jailor was Henry’s step-brother and companion Thomas Swynford, son of John of Gaunt’s third wife and former mistress Katherine Swynford, by her first husband, Sir Hugh.

This single action made the position of king unstable. This was an expansion of the same reasoning used to depose Edward II, who was unpopular and not a very good king, but it is not identical. In that case, the throne passed to his son, Edward III, when he abdicated. But Edward III would have inherited the throne eventually anyway, just not as soon. He also wasn’t fighting to gain the throne for himself. His mother, Isabella “The She-Wolf” of France and her lover, Roger Mortimer, deposed Edward II on his behalf. Richard II had no children, so the question of who his heir would be followed his abdication. Technically, Richard’s heir was Edmund Mortimer, the Earl of March, who was a descendent of Edward III’s second son Lionel, Duke of Clarence, through his daughter Philippa. This descent becomes questionable, as Mortimer was descended through a female line, while Henry was descended from a male line.

The rules of English succession have not been as clear and a woman could be an heir, though I do not personally believe that at the time this would have been accepted. Because she was not male, the nobles would have rather seen a man with less of a claim get the throne. This has been much debated, because if we follow a male-from-male line from Edward III, Henry IV would have been Richard II’s heir. If we allow for female descent, then Edmund Mortimer was his heir and Henry IV usurped two crowns instead of one. And yes, the Earl of March was a descendent of Roger Mortimer, lover of Isabella of France.

Richard could have still had children, since there was no way to know if he had been infertile. If he had a son, Henry of Bolingbroke would have been further from the crown. Edward III would have always been his father’s heir, unless he predeceased him. The comparison is still valid, but messy.

This should serve as a warning to us today. Precedent can become a nightmare. The roots of the Wars of the Roses come from the centuries before, repeated in the 15th Century. Taking a cue from the mistakes of the past, we can make mistakes in the future.

Further reading:

Spartacus Educational- “Punishment of the Peasants”

Luminarium- “King Henry IV”

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The White Queen- Episode 9

WARNING: This post contains spoilers.

This was the first episode of “White Queen” that I turned off mid-show in disgust. I had to force myself to watch it in its entirety, so I could write about it. I now understand what all my friends have said, that they gave up on it after a certain point. This nearly was my point.

The main focuses of this episode are on the disappearance and death of the princes, and Buckingham’s rebellion. Some of it was done very well, specifically Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth Woodville working together through their physician, Dr. Lewis Caerleon. Some of it has been altered so far from what the sources say that it is nearly unidentifiable. Much of these alterations are due to changes from earlier episodes, but some are due either to bias towards or against a character, or for unknown reasons.

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As the episode starts up, we learn that Elizabeth’s son Thomas Grey has delivered her son Richard, Duke of York, to Flanders, and she later gets a letter from him. Of course there is no documentary evidence of this. Thomas did not give support to Perkin Warbeck, which is further proof that he was not Richard of York, and that Richard did die in the Tower.

After the unsuccessful attempt at rescuing the princes from the tower, all of our main characters become involved in the plot. Anne Neville has already wished that the boys were dead, because only then could she and Richard be “safe” on the throne. Thomas Stanley has forced Margaret Beaufort to choose between “save and slaughter,” of which she chooses death, though at least she seems torn about it.

Here is the real history.

Henry Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham had been one of Richard III’s best friends. He helped to put Richard on the throne, and had a healthy amount of anger at the Woodvilles, since he had been married to Elizabeth’s sister since childhood and resented it. At some point during 1483, Buckingham fights with Richard and leaves the court. It was then that he throws his support with his wife’s family and with Margaret. His motivation and personal objective in the rebellion are not known. He had a claim to the throne himself, and even though the show has him swearing fealty to Henry, we do not know if he intended to support Henry or if he was fighting for himself.

The rebellion was hashed out by the three we see in the show planning: Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret Beaufort and Buckingham, but the actual events are out of time or are not based in historical evidence. By the time Buckingham left Richard’s court, the princes had already gone missing. Who killed them, or ordered their deaths, is still a mystery. According to Thomas More, who researched the case for Henry VII, Richard ordered their deaths and they were smothered with pillows as they slept. I personally believe that it was Buckingham, who either did it on Richard’s orders or because he thought it was what Richard wanted. For me, this also explains his removal from court. Some believe that the princes were still alive when Henry VII became king two years later, but I have a hard time believing that. If they were still alive and Richard had them, why didn’t he show them off to the public to prove his innocence? Naysayers claim that if he had killed the boys, Richard would have displayed their bodies, to prove that they were in fact dead and that he was the only remaining heir. I do not believe that he would have shown off their corpses because they were boys, which is not something the people would want to see. Margaret was not even a suspect until the misogynistic James I was on the throne, who disliked her Catholicism and her power, but there was no actual evidence that she was involved in any way.

Elizabeth involved herself in the rebellion because she believed her sons were already dead. Henry Tudor was officially betrothed to Princess Elizabeth, and the Woodvilles joined in the rebellion. Richard Grey and Anthony Woodville were killed for their participation in the rebellion. Elizabeth’s son Thomas and brother Edward ended up in Brittany with Henry Tudor after the failure, as did the other rebels. Many of the men who went to Henry were put into positions of importance once he became king, and they prospered into the reign of his son, Henry VIII.

The show has Buckingham waiting to meet Henry in Wales, so that their two armies could combine and then challenge Richard. This is not how the rebellion was planned to start. The Woodvilles and those loyal to Edward IV were to rise up at the same time as Buckingham so that there were multiple fronts for Richard to try to deal with at the same time. Henry was to land on the eastern coast of England to create another front. The hope was that as the armies fought Richard he would lose men, arms and support trying to fight them all, so once they were able to join together he would be done. The Woodvilles and rebel Yorkists did rise up, but Buckingham got stuck in the west due to the weather. They lost, and Buckingham was executed on November 2nd.

We see Henry in Brittany failing to depart because of the storm on the English Channel. The real Henry actually did sail, and the storm didn’t start until he was already at sea. Though he lost some of his ships and men due to the storm, his remaining boats made it to Plymouth Harbour. Henry was met by a group who told him to wait because Buckingham was coming to meet up with him soon, so he sent a group of Bretons to the beach to see what was happening. Once he received word that Buckingham had already been executed, Henry took off back across the Channel, leaving the Bretons to be taken prisoner by Richard. Because of the bad weather, Henry lost more ships and ended up in France. He had to wait for King Charles VIII to give him permission to cross back to Brittany by land, because Richard had sent ships into the Channel to hunt for him. That permission was granted, and Henry and Jasper went back to Brittany, sending a few boats out to serve as decoys.

There are several problems with the curse that Elizabeth Woodville and Elizabeth of York perform at the end. Richard, in a private visit to try to prove that he wasn’t the one who killed the boys, tells them that the curse may “turn on someone you love.” If Richard heard them talking about doing witchcraft, it would not have been taken lightly. Even though he refuses to pull them out of sanctuary when Anne demands it (as if she did not know it would be a mortal sin to do so), he would not be able to look the other way when they admit to him that they practice witchcraft.

The curse is supposed to kill the first-born son of the person who murdered the princes, and the first-born grandson, and so on. Additionally, they would be able to see who the guilty party was because of the curse acting through the generations. If we are considering that Margaret Beaufort and Henry Stafford are the ones who killed them, as the show says, why didn’t Henry VII die, or Stafford’s son Edward, being the eldest sons of the murderers? If we look at this curse in a literal way, the person who has a first-born son die right away is Richard III, whose son Edward died in 1484. We are being told that because Henry and Elizabeth of York’s son Arthur died at the age of 15 in 1502, and because Henry VIII’s son Henry by Katherine of Aragon died when he was a month old in 1511, those events prove that Margaret was guilty. But it doesn’t make much sense when you look at the scope of the suspects and how this curse should have punished them. Instead, we are told that the evidence that supports this theory is correct, but any contradictory evidence is not worthy of attention.

Elizabeth Woodville tells her daughter Elizabeth that she is still betrothed to Henry, but the princess refuses to accept it. She plays with a deck of cards, saying that fortune will give her another husband. She pulls a card, which shows a king, and places it down next to the card with a blond queen. Which king is this? We are told in the next episode, and I will wait until then to discuss it. Also in the next episode we will see the brief peace under Richard, Henry’s return, the Battle of Bosworth and his rise to become Henry VII.

Further reading:

Bank St. Irregular: “The Princes in the Tower and the King Under the Car Park” 

Amy Licence for New Statesman: “New Evidence: Was Richard III Guilty of Murdering the Princes in the Tower?”

The Unromantic Richard III: “A Belated Buckingham Blog Post, With Help From the Bard”

Wars of the Roses: “Buckingham’s Revolt (1483)”

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The White Queen- Episode 6

WARNING: This contains spoilers.

The episode opens with Anne Neville begging for a pardon from Edward IV. She professes that she had no choice but to marry the now-deceased Edward, Prince of Wales, as her father forced her. Edward responds with “that’s good enough for me, I forgive and pardon you.” Of course her father “made” her marry him; her father was the one who arranged her marriage. The show is obsessed with a girl-power image for these women, which is just not contemporary.

When Anne learns that George, Duke of Clarence, is her new guardian she retorts “I’m old enough to be a widow.” She was 15-years-old when she became a widow so still marriageable, and since her father had died she needed someone else to manage her income and set up her next marriage. George was her brother-in-law, part of her family, so it is very natural that he would become her guardian. Having her as a ward would also be income for him, and since he was the brother of the king it is not surprising that he would receive jobs and titles.

The scene where Anne confronts her sister Isabel about George’s control over her contains one of my least favorite moments in this episode. After their “cat-fight” Isabel says that Anne is behaving “like a rabid dog.” Rabies was not discovered as a disease at the time. The first cases of it were recorded in the mid-18th century, and it originated in the Americas.  The term “rabid” outdates it, but it first entered common language in the early 17th century.

We join back up with Margaret Beaufort when she receives the news that her mother is on her deathbed. Margaret’s mother, Margaret Beauchamp, died in August of 1483. This episode takes place in about 1471, as we are told that the next episode starts in 1473. I can only guess that it has been moved forward so that her death becomes a sign from God for Margaret, but it is more than a decade too early. Her early death means that Lady Beauchamp had nothing to do with her daughter’s fourth marriage. There are varying dates for Margaret’s marriage to Thomas Stanley, but most say that the ceremony happened before October of 1473, when Lady Beauchamp was still alive.

Elizabeth Woodville has problems with Edward IV several times in this episode. She fights with him about sending their son, Prince Edward, to Ludlow Castle in the Welsh Marches, which was what is done with every Prince of Wales. Her mother, Jacquetta, has to remind her that “When you married into the royal house their customs became yours.” It’s a beautiful line, but Elizabeth would have understood that her son would leave her house from the moment she became queen. At Ludlow he would have been with tutors, and had a mini-court of other children around him. It was the prince’s chance to learn how to govern, so when he became king he would already have practice.

When Elizabeth walks in on Edward making love to “Jane” Shore (her given name could have been Elizabeth, so calling her Jane may have been a way to differentiate from the queen), it is as if Edward had never taken another mistress. Edward was a very amorous man, and had been involved with other women for their entire marriage. Jane was not his only mistress, nor even the only mother of his bastards. Anthony Woodville explains it to Elizabeth, “Whoring is merely sport to Edward,” which is very true. Kings were expected to keep mistresses, and to have none was seen as a defect in his character. Richard II may not have had any bastards and Henry VI did not have any, and both were deposed. Henry VII’s illegitimate son is a source of controversy, and was born before he became king. His lack of mistresses and bastards was used as a critique against him by contemporaries. At the end of the episode Elizabeth confronts Edward after the death of their baby and of her mother, about the affair. His romantic assurance of how special she is because she is his “home” makes her forget there ever was another woman.

Margaret Beaufort requests a marriage to one of the king’s closest confidants, as “only a man at the heart of the court is of any value to me.” Anne Neville’s exclamation when she hears this inquiry makes my skin crawl: “She’s ancient! Ancient and ugly and fanatical!” When Margaret married Thomas Stanley, she was only 28-29, which is hardly ancient, even for their time. She was considered one of the most beautiful women in England, and while devout was not fanatical. She became more devout later in life, as many noble women did.

Margaret’s marriage to Thomas Stanley is not completely accurate. Yes, Thomas already had sons, but he would not have objected to having more. Sons died all the time, especially since the Wars of the Roses had not truly ended and young men often died in battle. While Margaret had not given Stafford any children, she had given birth to a son before that marriage, so there would be no reason to believe her to be infertile. We now know she was infertile because having Henry at such a young age damaged her body, but at the time it would have not been assumed so. There is no proof that the marriage was not consummated. The belief that it was a marriage based on politics and money comes from how it ended, in their separation and Margaret’s vow of chastity. This does not mean that the marriage started that way. Their chastity pledge was entered in 1499. If the marriage had not been consummated, it could have been annulled at any time, which makes it very unlikely that it wasn’t. Other writers have envisioned that Margaret and Thomas started their marriage deeply in love, which is just as likely as them hating each other.

Here is an interesting bit of trivia about Thomas Stanley, since he has now become a main character. His first wife, Eleanor, was a Neville and a sister to the Earl of Warwick. His son and heir, George, was married to Joan le Strange (he received the title Baron Strange from his father-in-law). She was the daughter of Jacquetta Woodville, Elizabeth Woodville’s sister. This gives their involvement with Edward IV and the cause of York a different meaning.

The birth of Elizabeth’s son too early and the juxtaposition to Jacquetta’s death are not accurate. Not only does Elizabeth not enter any form of confinement, but Edward running in to help her through the birth is completely out of place. Today we have men who hold our hands and feed us ice chips, but as I have already stated, in the middle ages men stayed far away from births. Even if they had feared for Elizabeth’s life, Edward would not have been allowed to enter the birthing chamber.

The history is very different. Elizabeth gave birth to a baby girl named Margaret on the 10th of April, 1472. The baby died on the 11th of December of the same year, not the same day. Jacquetta of Luxembourg died on the 30th of May, 1472. Having a boy born and die on the same day that Jacquetta died is very dramatic, but not accurate.

We are left with two newlywed couples- Richard and Anne, and Margaret and Thomas. Margaret comes to court to be a part of Elizabeth’s household. George is frustrated by Edward’s lack of delegation of power and that his financial hopes have been dashed. Coming up we have George’s death, Edward’s death, Richard’s usurpation and Henry Tudor’s eventual return and winning of the crown at Bosworth.

What do you think? What did you enjoy or dislike about the episode? What part of the actual history do you find interesting?

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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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