The Tudors – Historical Fiction

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I just finished watching the third episode of The Tudors, the Showtime TV production starring Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as Henry VIII. First of all, the title is a misnomer. The series is about the life of Henry VIII and not the Tudors. Henry VII, the first of the Tudors, was not even included in the film and so were the other Tudors – Henry VII’s other children – Arthur, Margaret and Mary. I don’t think it would even include the reigns of Mary I (Bloody Mary) and Elizabeth I.

In the third episode, Margaret, Henry VIII’s sister appeared out of nowhere. She is played by Gabrielle Anwar. To my shock, the Margaret character in the series was set to be sent to Portugal to marry the old King of Portugal and to be escorted there by Charles Brandon, the first Duke of Suffolk. There was no such person in history! It was a fictional composite of the real Margaret and Mary Tudor.

I just cannot comprehend why American or British or any film and TV writers prefer to fabricate stories when the real historical lives were so much grander and infinitely more interesting. There should be a law that would compel historical film or TV programs to indicate in large notices that the film or TV show is based on history but is fictional and some parts are merely the product of the imagination of the writers.

MY INTEREST IN THE TUDORS

While still in grade school, I saw the film Anne of a Thousand Days. It starred one of my favorite actors, Richard Burton as Henry VIII. I was intrigued by the film – with Henry declaring his own Church.

Later, I saw Mary, Queen of Scots with two of my favorite actresses playing opposite each other – Vanessa Redgrave as Mary, Queen of Scots and Glenda Jackson as Elizabeth, Queen of England. The masterful portrayal of the actresses and the riveting story stuck in my mind.

Young as I was, I pondered upon the fates of Mary and Elizabeth and related it to a question of Karma (Destiny) or Choice (Free Will). Mary, the granddaughter of Margaret Tudor was Queen of Scotland by birth, Queen of France by marriage, and Queen of England by right. On the other hand, Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII by Anne Boleyn, was born illegitimate yet ended up ruling England in a long and glorious reign.

In the scene where Elizabeth and Mary had a supposed meeting, Elizabeth told Mary, “If you used your head instead of your heart, you would have been in my place and I would be in yours” or something to that effect.

In high school, I read one of my mother’s books – a historical novel about Margaret Tudor. I was so taken by the trials and tribulations of Margaret and his fight to insure that her son would be James V, King of Scotland. Margaret’s life had a lot of similarities with her granddaughter Mary, Queen of Scots.

From then on, I have been interested in the Tudors and Stuarts. Before that, I have already been interested in the Wars of the Roses because of Shakespeare’s plays. Henry VII ended the Wars of the Roses and started the Tudor dynasty.

THE TV SERIES

The TV series The Tudors was interested only in the life of Henry VIII. Henry VII would have been more interesting and more dramatic in terms of wars. But it would not have as much sex and passion in it.

I don’t understand why they started with an already mature Henry VIII. If I were the producer / director, I would have started with a teenaged Henry, hopelessly in love with the elegant Spanish beauty Catherine of Aragon.

Catherine was no ordinary princess. She was a daughter of fiercely ambitious and victorious parents — Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castille — who united the Spanish territories and defeated the Moors.

For proper motivation of Henry VIII, the beginning of his marriage must be shown. A 17-year old Henry awed and in love with a regal princess, who was briefly married to his elder brother who died without consummating the marriage. Jonathan Rhys-Meyer could be made up to look younger while a younger Spanish actress would play Catherine (perhaps Paz Vega).

Their love for each other must be shown because these would determine their future actions. This would also provide the necessary sexy scenes, required by the producers.

This love affair would then be followed by the great disappointment of having a stillborn daughter, followed by a son who lived for only 52 days, then 2 more stillborn children. After 7 years of marriage, a daughter was born, Mary followed by another stillborn child two years later.

Any marriage would fall on the rocks with so many miscarriages. And what was more, Henry needed a male heir. He was only the second Tudor. He certainly did not want the dynasty to end abruptly.

And then there was the issue of the Catholic doctrine which does not allow a man to marry his brother’s wife. They lived in the start of the Age of Reformation where Christian doctrines were debated everywhere in Europe.

MASOCHISTIC CATHERINE

The TV series depicts Catherine as a long suffering older woman powerless to do anything but tolerate the infidelities of her husband.

Catherine was anything but powerless. During the reign of Henry VIII, Catherine’s Spanish family was the most powerful family in Europe. Her nephew was Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor.

When Henry divorced her and married Anne Boleyn and then created his own Church of England, Catherine had many followers. She was not only the legitimate wife recognized by the Pope, she was also a royal princess. And she had English royal blood, too. Her great-grandmother Katherine of Lancaster (Queen of Castille and Leon) and her great-great-grandmother Philippa of Lancaster (Queen of Portugal), were both daughters of John of Gaunt by his second and first wife respectively. She was a third cousin of both Henry VIII’s parents — Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.

And when Mary grew older, she had supporters, too. But Catherine forbade her to fight Henry.

She must have loved Henry very much not only as a husband and lover but also as a younger brother. He was just 17 years old when they married. She was 23. When they were betrothed, she was 16 while he was 10.

It would be easy to imagine that Catherine helped Henry grow in self-confidence. After all, Henry was a second son and was not meant to be King. Even after Arthur died, he had an elder sister, Margaret, who at one time, took precedence over him at the Court when she was married to the King of Scotland.

GUILT

For both Catherine and Henry, guilt played a big role. Catherine must have felt guilty for not giving Henry a male heir.

On the other hand, Henry was plagued with the idea that he was cursed by God for marrying his brother’s widow. Before Henry was betrothed, a dispensation from the Pope was needed. At 10 years old, it must have made an impression on him. And for 7 years before his marriage, surely the idea of committing a grievous sin by marrying his brother’s widow must have bothered him for some time. Before Arthur died, Henry was being groomed to be a priest.

Imagine a boy betrothed to a beautiful foreign princess but not allowed to socialize with her until they were married. The anticipation of wedding bells must have been mentally exhausting.

And the happiness and sensual gratification he must have experienced during the early part of the marriage could have added more guilt later on. It must be remembered that they lived during medieval times when Guilt and Superstition played a big role in their lives.

HISTORICAL STORIES BASED ON FACTS

When it comes to historical novels, films, TV shows, it would really be much better if the writers stick to facts. They are infinitely more interesting. The writers can elaborate or even embellish but they don’t need to fabricate facts.

In the first three episodes alone, there are already so many historical inaccuracies – like the age gap between Henry and Catherine, the fictional character played by Gabrielle Anwar, and Lady Blount being married when she became Henry’s mistress. Lady Blount was the daughter of Sir John Blount and she was just 15 and unmarried when she became Henry’s mistress.

I wonder what historical inaccuracies lie in the later episodes.

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See related post:

ROME and The Tudors – Historical Fiction on TV

8 thoughts on “The Tudors – Historical Fiction

  1. I just started watching The Tudors on DVD. I agree that real history can be far more interesting and I do wonder why more writers don’t stick to it. I wasn’t aware of much of the intrigue you wrote about regarding Henry’s early years. I would definitely have found it interesting if they had included that in the series. Maybe they weren’t sure it would take off and figured they would start at a place everyone was very familiar with. I guess they could do a prequel later on like they do with many other shows that take off like Star Trek. Anyway thanks for the history lesson.

  2. I am old in age but young of heart. I just
    recently became interested in The Showtime Soap
    The Tudors. I found the episodes to be entertaining
    Then I decided to search the web for political
    correctness. The truth would be factual as well as

  3. Oops, you mean Mary/Margaret wasn’t real. It’s the positioning of Charles Brandon between the two sentences that had me confused.

    You are right on the Mary/Margaret. My apologies.

  4. I loved your history lesson. I do enjoy this show. We downloaded all of season one because we just discovered this in its third season. The Lady Blount is who I was searching when I found your comments. I wish they didn’t fudge on real people. Like you said, truth is so much better than fiction. I was looking for Queen Margot (Margerite of Navarre in early episode); I love that movie and wonder if you can enlighten me on the big errors in it? Did they really have an affair? Is that possible? Thanks so much for your sharing your knowledge.

  5. Lady Amy,

    I don’t understand the question. Are you asking if Henry VIII of England had an affair with Queen Margot of France? The answer would be no. Henry VIII died some 6 years before Queen Margot (nee Marguerite de Valois) was born.

    Margot was the daughter of Henry II of France, brother of Henry III of France, wife of Henry IV of France and lover of Henry of Guise.

    There were a lot of Henrys in Margot’s life, but none of them were English.

    I loved the movie La Reine Margot with Isabel Adjani. The movie was complicated enough with its intertwining family relations. (Besides, it was in French.) The film was based on an historical novel by Alexandre Dumas, pere.

    I am not very sure on the actual facts but it looked like all the cast of historical characters were there. I am not sure about the love story between Margot and the Mole (Vincent Perez). But in Queen Margot’s memoirs, published posthumously, she mentioned her lovers, which included the Mole.

    Queen Margot’s life was very very complicated which was a reflection of her time.

  6. In the first season, he makes eyes with Princess Margaret of Navarre (I think that is how she is introduced; his friend William says she is too large on top for him, but the king says she is the French king’s sister; then they are behind doors while their servants are hearing them going on very loudly. Margo was the French King’s sister, so you have made it clear that it wasn’t possible. I know this is a notch above soap opera but it has made me delve more into the Tudor history. Thanks for tying up loose ends. I had never heard of Henry Fitzroy with my initial question about Lady Blount and found that he died at around 16 years old. I too loved “Queen Margot” and can watch it many times. Do you really think the queen poisoned her son, the king, by mistake? Was La Mole really executed for killing him?

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