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The Tudors: Season One, Episode Two

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS

There is a lot going on in this episode, which covers the Field of the Cloth of Gold, the arrest and execution of the Duke of Buckingham, the birth of Henry Fitzroy, and the affair between Henry VIII and Mary Boleyn. I am going to focus on a few points there were either accurate or inaccurate about this episode.

I became very distracted at the Field of the Cloth of Gold by the actions of Charles Brandon. This event happened at Calais in June of 1520. I will go more into the difference between the historical Brandon and the fictional one in future episodes, but at this time he was not some roaming stud looking for French women. Why not? Because he was married to Henry’s sister, Mary, in 1515, and she didn’t die until 1533. I went into this in the first post, but for me it was just hard to move past while I was watching.

While in France, King Francis I points out Mary Boleyn to Henry, and calls her his “English Mare,” because he “rides her so often.” Henry becomes jealous that a member of his court is sleeping with Francis, and sends for her himself, beginning an affair with her. Mary may have been Francis’ mistress, but she did not become Henry’s mistress at Calais. She had returned to England in 1519, when she was married to William Carey, and was in the household of Queen Katherine. We don’t know when she became Henry’s mistress, but estimates have their affair starting in 1521, after the summit. Later in the episode, Henry tosses her away seemingly out of nowhere- “leave.” In reality their affair ended sometime between 1524 and 1526, though since it was never publicized we do not know the exact date. We do know that it was longer than a few months. We know there was a relationship because when Henry petitioned the pope for a dispensation to marry Anne Boleyn in 1527, the reason that was given as to why a dispensation was needed was Henry’s familial knowledge of her sister. And we all know how that turned out…

When they all return to England, Henry is furious because Charles V of Spain has been named the Holy Roman Emporer. This is out of the timeline. In reality Charles was made Emporer in 1519, a year before the summit.

As well, when they return to England Bessie Blount gives birth to Henry Fitzroy, the king’s bastard son. This is juxtaposed against the treason of Buckingham, as the noblemen are giving Henry his Christmas gifts when she is in labor. The real Fitzroy was born in June of 1519, a year prior to the summit in Calais. In comparison, the Duke of Buckingham was executed in 1521, which is shown later in the show, and seems to be in the correct time.

One of the biggest errors that drives me nuts is the interaction between Charles Brandon and Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk, when Brandon presents him with his father’s ring and makes a vague threat against him and his son’s futures if he fails to give the verdict of guilty against Buckingham. Norfolk says that his father was executed by Henry VII. There were two Thomas Howards that were the Dukes of Norfolk, the 2nd and the 3rd Dukes, father and son. Because Anne Boleyn later calls him “Uncle,” this makes him the 3rd Duke of Norfolk. It was the 2nd Duke who presided over Buckingham’s trial, and it was the last thing he did before retiring from court.

So here are the actual facts- The 1st Duke of Norfolk, John Howard, died at Bosworth in 1485. It was his death that may have pushed Richard III into his “suicide run.” His son, the 2nd Duke, was restored to the peerage by Henry VII, and died in 1524. This was Anne Boleyn’s grandfather, the father of her mother. The 3rd Duke was Thomas Howard, Anne Boleyn’s uncle, who was active in court before and after she was queen. He was also a Catholic, who put his other niece, Catherine Howard, forward as Henry’s future mistress and queen. Henry VII did not execute any of the Dukes of Norfolk, and it was not Anne Boleyn’s uncle who presided over the trial of the Duke of Buckingham. Therefore, this entire interaction makes no sense. There seems to be an inability of TV shows to put forward the line of the Duke of Norfolk accurately. The 1st Duke was left out of “The White Queen,” and in the “Six Wives of Henry VIII” he inaccurately states that his father was executed by Henry VII as well. I do not know if this is because the 2nd and 3rd were both named Thomas, or if the Howards are just disliked, but these little changes do not make any sense to me.

I am not sure which pope is supposed to be shown dying in this episode, because none died in 1521. The pope at that time was Leo X, Giovanni de Medici, who reigned from 1513 to 1523. When the cardinals speak of how the next pope must be an Italian, it confuses the issue further, because the following pope, Adrian VI, was Dutch.

One of the best moments in this episode happens in two parts. It starts with Cardinal Wolsey telling Sir Thomas More about how he will have to give up what he treasures most to keep the love of a king. It culminates at the end of the episode when Wolsey and Henry are approaching Wolsey’s new palace and Henry pushes the cardinal to give it to him. Clearly it was what Wolsey treasured, and to keep the king’s affections he had to give it away.

There was a lot to comment on in this episode, so I had to explain the parts that bothered and impressed me the most. Was there something that bothered you, that I failed to mention? Please leave a note in the comments!

 

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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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The Tudors- Background

In 2007 Showtime began the produce and air the historical drama The Tudors. The show takes place over 4 seasons, between the 1520s and the 1540s and focuses on the life of King Henry VIII. It begins with Henry’s youth and intrigue with Anne Boleyn and ends with the production of the famous Holbein painting just prior to Henry’s death in 1547. With the title saying “Tudors” plural, I half-expected the show to continue in future seasons with the lives of Henry’s children, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I, but it did not.

This drama comes from Michael Hirst, who cut his teeth in historical costumed dramas with the feature film Elizabeth I in 1998. I remember going to that film in high school (receiving extra credit in my English class for seeing it), and and I loved it. Michael Hirst guarantees a visually-stimulating show, with unbelievably beautiful costumes, sets and props. His productions often blend the line of fact in fiction because while he attempts to keep to the history he deliberately breaks from it for story or to make production easier. Hirst got rid of Henry’s sister Mary, blending a general idea of her person into Henry’s sister Margaret (this causes several problems later in the series), because he didn’t want two “Princess Mary Tudor”s on the call sheet- the king’s sister and daughter shared the same rank and title at one point in their lives. After the cancellation of The Tudors, Hirst went on to create Camelot, The Borgias, and Vikings.

The show cast Irish star Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry, Maria Doyle Kennedy as Katherine of Aragon, Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn, and Henry Cavill of Superman fame as Charles Brandon. Cavill apparently auditioned for Henry but in the end was cast as the rakish Brandon, as whom he gives an a commanding performance. Especially towards the end of the show, as Brandon ages Cavill becomes the sexiest men on the show, at least in my opinion.

Casting Meyers as Henry caused several problems in the show. Firstly, he doesn’t have the full presence of the actual king. Henry VIII was more of his grandfather, Edward IV, than his father, Henry VII, but Meyers looks more like VII than VIII. Meyers just isn’t a large enough man. His physical appearance became more of a problem as the show went on because Meyers would not gain weight and refused to wear a fat suit. I can’t imagine that he took the roll without thinking that one day the character was going to have to be fat. It is not as if he could claim that he had no idea that Henry VIII was fat towards the end of his life, when he couldn’t ride and play sports anymore. I’ve always wondered if Cavill would have put the suit on?

Natalie Dormer was one of the break-away stars of this show. She went on to feature films and Game of Thrones, but continues to be the mental image for many when they think of Anne Boleyn. A stunningly beautiful woman, Dormer dyed her hair a dark brown to play Anne. According to Susan Bordo’s The Creation of Anne Boleyn, Anne’s “dark features” did not mean that her hair was almost black in color. On the contrary, her hair being called dark just means that she was not a blonde, which was the popular “romantic” hair color. Bordo believes that Anne’s hair was in fact light brown, as it is shown in the National Portrait Gallery portrait.

Some of the worst deviations from the history happen due to what I call a “Hirst wink-wink.” This happens in all of his productions. The show will diverge and a character will make an announcement that “nobody must know of this having happened,” as though the history is wrong and Hirst alone stumbled into the truth. “This is what really happened, wink-wink, but the history was deliberately changed, wink-wink, which is why you’ve never heard of it before, wink-wink!” Whenever you hear a character comment that nobody must ever know that this happened you are viewing an alteration to the know history.

But what is it that can make a viewer, even one like me who knows better, watch this show again and again? Because we want to think that we are flies on the wall to what happened. It may be flawed, but it is the best chance we have of watching Henry VIII live and love, at least until a time machine is invented. The story, the train-wreck knowledge that the wives of this man are going to end badly, that he will get fat and sick and mean, keeps us watching.

The show is available on Netflix Streaming, and the DVDs are available for purchase. At times Showtime will include it in their On Demand offerings for subscribers.

One note about watching- this show is one that you want to watch in HD. The costumes are amazing pieces of work, and in HD you can see every little thread and texture. The jewels and sets have amazing details, as do the hairpieces, and if you can you’ll want to be able to see every one of them.

Another note is that every time I watch it, our puppy Henry Rex goes nuts when he hears his name coming from our speakers! It’s very, very cute!

EDIT: Susan Bordo has pointed out to me that she believes Anne Boleyn had dark auburn hair. I apologize for the error.

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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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Welcome to the Anti-White Queen Blog!

Historical dramas- and historical fiction- are always fun. The costumes! The hair! The sets! They are a beauty to watch and make us feel like we have stepped into their world, a fly on the wall to past intimate moments.

This is the flaw in imagining the past. There was no fly on the wall. We may have accounts from eavesdroppers, but they are few and far between. The farther back we look, the less actual information we have. Most of what remains is household account books. Personal letters and journals of contemporary chroniclers are rarer. We can use contemporary or slightly-after literary works to catch a glimpse of what their attitudes and opinions were. For example Shakespeare’s plays give us insight into the popular opinion of the late Tudor court.

A writer who claims that what they create is the perfect truth is lying, or has an ego too large to admit to themselves that they’re perspective is just that-theirs. It may temporarily gain an audience, but the harm they do to actual historical research is long-reaching, as such opinion-as-fact can last a generation after its conception.

I love fictionalized history. As a child and a teen I read stories of made-up courtiers in Elizabeth I’s court. When the movies “Dangerous Beauty,” and “Elizabeth I” came out when I was in high school, I ran to the theater and became obsessed with the fashions, watching them over and over again when they came out on video.  In my early 20s I learned of Katherine Swynford through Anya Seton’s work; as flawed as it was, it remains one of my favorite books today. Philippa Gregory, Suzannah Dunn, Jean Plaidy, Posie Graeme-Evans – I read as much as I could. The fictional work of Alison Weir I devoured like candy. These fictional works grabbed my interest so much that I signed up for Tudor-Stewart England in college. Learning a little of the real history turned my interest away from Egypt and ancient history, so that I became ravenously obsessed with the history of England. Each new novel encouraged me to read actual texts on the subjects, and my mind quickly compared the stories to the truth.

This is the aim of this blog. I wish to dissect our modern fictional accounts, to search and report on the known history. Some will be easy for me- I already do this with, say, “The Tudors” or “White Queen,” but there are many more fictional accounts out there, both books and films as well as television. Some of what I do will be reviews, some will be comparison and others will be contrasts. I hope to entertain, but also to encourage audiences to start researching for themselves.

About me:

It may be surprising to learn that I actually an American. Here in the U.S. we are discouraged from focusing on Medieval and Renaissance British history, as there are very limited job opportunities in academia for us. As my obsession can’t be quenched, I am bucking academic expectations and following my heart to study and focus on what inspires me.

I am currently finishing my Bachelors in World History at Arizona State University, and have an Associates degree in Visual and Performing Arts-Music Concentration. Though I am disabled from a neurological problem, I continue to play and teach the violin as much as I can, and I make rosaries which I sell online through Etsy. I live in Connecticut with my husband, two cats named Prima and Stormy, and a dog named Juliet. I am working on a novel about Henry VII’s time in exile from 1471 to 1485, in my available time.

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