Hello and welcome, Gentle Reader, come on in. Whenever you catch up with this entry, it’s December 24th 2018 here. Something to do with the micro climate. Oh, this place isn’t mine, of course, I’m staying with an old friend for the season, and it’s wonderful you could pop round.
He’s fine with visitors, just don’t disturb the minions and expect several questions over brandy, gently probing your status as a potential hostage, that’s all. Oh and that weirdly disfiguring mark? Stare all you like, he can’t go five minutes without mentioning it or explaining its sinister history. Don’t bring it up, just act slightly creeped out. He’ll be hovering slightly too close to your shoulder with the story loaded within 3 seconds. Lovely man, really, very fond of his cat.
He’s renting me a cottage in a micro-climate he had installed in the grounds. He won’t tell anyone what he’s arranged for Christmas but it’s taking a lot of heat out of the local environment.
Ahh, Excellent. Well, pull up a chair, grab an alcoholic drink or a cup of tea and sit close enough to burn your shins on this raging fire would you?
To business, Gentle Reader. To The Tudors.
Christmas Prosent #2: Super Simple Scavanger Hunt. I’ve just hidden a Secret Essay back there in the blog. It’s fine.
Oh it’s back there, somewhere. Somewhere in the first three episodes. When I didn’t say “It’s fine” when I normally would have, and looking out of a carriage. That’s where it is, if you want it. And, honestly, it’s fine if you don’t.
A lot of characters and actors left The Tudors in the break between Seasons 1 and 2. At least 4 of them deserve a mention.
This chap, Callum Blue took the relatively slight role of Anthony Knivert in between two meatier TV roles – Mason in Dead Like Me (2003/04) and a turn as Smallville’s General Zod (2009-2011).
He disappears along with newly married couple Thomas Tallis (Joe Van Moyland) and Jane (Fiona Ryan). Actual Historical Thomas Tallis was a huge figure in English music, and by virtue of staying the hell away from controversies in politics and religion worked as composer in the royal court for all remaining Tudor reigns, finally dying well into the reign of Elizabeth at the grand old age (for the age) of 80.
All three of these characters make sense for the series to drop. This is Henry’s story and they are the friends (that are left) of his youth, and they’ve definitely positioned Henry as a man moving into his thirties in the beginning of Season 2 (Actually Historically – a man moving into his forties at this point) where friends get fewer.
Season 2’s group of young friends will all be connected to Anne, and tied to her tragic fate, rather than Henry’s.
The other big absentee going forward is Henry Czerny’s Duke of Norfolk. Henry Czerny was probably one of the more expensive actors, but I’m sure The Tudors could have afforded him another year if they needed it, that was an interesting version of the Duke of Norfolk he gave us, and Norfolk as a character has no end of drama suggested by the historical record.
Actually Historically the Duke of Norfolk was deep in the political court mix his whole life. He presided at Anne Boleyn’s trial. Later he got jailed in the Tower for the fallout from “Catherine Howardgate”, and was waiting to be executed when Henry died first. The noblemen that ran England during Edward’s reign kept him there, but he was released and given high (although largely honorary) office when Mary took the throne, and was another man who got to the big 8-0.
I think Norfolk disappears from The Tudors to give Thomas Boleyn’s character room to breathe. The Tudors is the only TV or movie adaptation I’ve seen with a chunky role for Thomas Boleyn (Wolf Hall drafts David Robb to be Anne’s father but then does very little with him). In The Tudors Boleyn’s story is just mesmerising as one of the under plots of season 2.
And every historical adaptation does this. They all choose where their focus will be, who to amalgamate, who to leave out. Or where was Thomas Wyatt in Wolf Hall? No Boleyns at all apart from a non speaking part for Anne in A Man for All Seasons. Both more significant omissions than the Duke of Norfolk, right?
Historicity and The Tudors and Princess Mary-Margaret Whatever The Hell
Oh my stars. Let’s get into this. It is with regret that I announce that I will never again allow myself to edit my recaps for Season 1 Episodes 4 and 5. Because when discussing the good old questions about The Tudors‘ treatment of this particular Princess…
Call her Margaret-Mary whatever the hell, I made exactly the same mistake as everyone else I’ve seen on the internet and I made it pretty hard. When discussing The Tudors‘ treatment of the story of Princess Margaret-Mary whatever the hell then surely the lead, Gentle Reader should be…There is absolutely no evidence that this woman murdered her husband, or any one else. Once again and with emphasis there is no evidence that Princess Mary Tudor (1496-1533 Queen of France, also, sure, not actually called Margaret) killed another human being. You’d think that would be the headline wouldn’t you? Because The Tudors definitely showed her doing that.
But from the relative words everyone has expended (yeah, including me, pretty hard) on her correct name and whether or not she was a murderer you would surely think it is the other way around. It is useful to note. Historicity is a tricky beast, subjectivity starts with the questions we choose to ask and where we choose to concentrate and people that study history (including me) have a tendency to cluster around the things we know we have evidence for.
It’s how we’re trained: You follow the evidence to see what it indicates, you don’t decide what it means first and then acquire evidence. But that does mean that if you have a mildly incorrect statement that can be proven 100% wrong, that’s where the focus is going to be. If you also presented an really outrageous possibility that can just be proven 99.5% wrong and is maybe a little complicated to explain – the only whispers in support of her killing him were that her husband had died through ‘over exertion’ in the bed chamber, reported at the time probably with a thigh slap – then you’re going to hear an awful lot about the one we can prove to 100%, and apparently next to nothing on the fact that it’s 99.5% certain she didn’t kill her husband.
Historicity judgements can be very subjective, and there are, sadly, no additional points available for a Tudor TV or film drama not bending the interpretation of the historical record every which way to make one of your characters basically a goddamn saint. And that’s a shame because The Tudors would score highly on that test, and some more highly regarded adaptations would most certainly not.
No points too for including previously ignored characters from history – like Mary-Margaret here. Because a lot of the criticism The Tudors get for her story feels to me like The Tudors getting spanked for ambition and scope.
The Tudors’ First Virtue – A Thick Ass Slice of History
Most dramatic adaptations of this period concentrate on either the decade from 1526-1536 (Wolsey starts to stumble – Death of Anne Boleyn) or a shorter period within that decade. Margaret-Mary’s story got its highlight (married off to an elderly European King, King dies, remarries Brandon without permission) way back in 1515.
The Tudors covers most of Henry’s life from 1520-1547, and it covers the whole court. From Kings and Popes, through ambassadors, politicians and churchmen, all ranges of nobility, down to the lives of servants and glimpses of commoners The Tudors has its eyes everywhere. Most other adaptations have their principal characters, a handful of secondary characters and that’s it. I’ve yet to see another adaptation that gives the international or national politics of the period comparable attention.
As a result, in The Tudors Princess Margaret-Mary gets her first and only outing in a dramatic adaptation since The Sword and the Rose (1953, Disney). They screwed the historical record with gusto in the 50s, and yes, while her name is entirely correct in The Sword and The Rose that Princess Mary also runs away, while dressed as a boy to Bristol, gets kidnapped by the Duke of Buckingham near the end and then Brandon fights a duel and rescues her on a beach. I don’t know if that all happens on the beach, but I’m pretty confident I don’t need to. I’ll call this one without watching it, The Tudors did it better.
At least The Tudors’ Margaret-Mary had a story that was true to the main beats of Princess Mary’s history (married off to an elderly European King, husband dies, marries Brandon secretly without permission on her return.). The Tudors gets her in by both the time telescoping it does in Season 1 and shortening the apparent length of her marriage to Brandon, Actually Historically they’d been married 18 years when she died.
But hers is a story that shows no matter how much status you had, without legal recognition you were just so much sentient property. Princess Mary-Margaret was feisty and brave and the only way she got out of her fate was to play the game and marry herself off to someone she liked in the brief period of legal freedom she got as a widow. That was a story worth telling.
But now that we’re noticing it, about that murder…
The Tudors’ First Vice – It Will Commit Any Sin to Keep the Pacing Tight
Does that mean you should trust The Tudors with regard to historicity?
Oh, shit no.
Princess Mary-Margaret becomes a murderer because it’s convenient for the pacing. Actual Historical Princess Mary’s marriage lasted about 3 months, but The Tudors needs Brandon and Margaret back a lot quicker than that to fit in with the other story lines, so she kills her husband.
I’ve got to say that The Tudors’ pacing is impeccable. It has one brief pause at the death of Jane Seymour (very intentional, though, one episode) but other than that it has multiple story lines for multiple characters and for 4 seasons at least a couple of story lines are always moving along well. The Tudors is determined not to bore you, and it will sacrifice quite a lot to that. It will sacrifice historicity to its pacing, character depth, and to its story clarity. Yes, The Duke of Richmond,Henry’s bastard son was 17, not under 6 when he died, but his death as a child at the end of episode 5 is fuel poured onto Henry’s affair with Anne and worked really well for the drama.
So yeah, The Tudors sins, it sins bad, but if we are comparing like with like, every historical drama sins.
The Tudors’ Second Virtue – A Dramatic Skeleton Coated in Biographical Detail
Read a reputable historical biography of Henry or his wives, and you will walk through a garden of scenes and words you saw on The Tudors.
Paraphrased from A Fraser – The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1998 – Arrow) p168-169 but it’s an old edition so about halfway through Chapter 8 – People May Grumble:
30th November 1529 – At a feast for St Andrew’s Day Katherine and Henry argued publicly. She said that he knew he had found her a virgin when they married and that even with all the scholars he was consulting he would find that they would favour her side a thousand to one.
Henry stormed out the room, straight to Anne Boleyn’s. But she was in no mood either. She said
“Did I not tell you that whenever you disputed with the Queen, she was sure to have the upper hand?” Then she became upset and said:
“I have been waiting long and might in the meanwhile have contracted some advantageous marriage, out of which I might have had issue, which is the greatest consolation in this world, but alas! Farewell to my time and youth spent to no purpose at all.”
Fraser footnotes this anecdote, including the quotes to the Spanish Calendar of State papers, volume 1, p.301, so it’s a pretty good bet this account is from Chapuys.
Sound familiar? Because in The Tudors Katherine protests her virginity and this is the point in episode 9 where The Tudors stakes a claim to Katherine being right about that:
Henry goes straight to Anne in the next scene:
It’s pretty damn close. It misses Katherine’s one thousand to one reference though…She gets to say that the next episode.
And it’s like this everywhere – Buckingham once “accidentally” threw rosewater on Wolsey’s shoes, a Dr William Knight was sent to the Pope, did stop in Compeigne on the way to speak to Wolsey, showed him the requests he was carrying and that’s probably how Wolsey found out that Henry was intending to marry Anne, Anne Boleyn was known to radical book sellers, introduced Henry to The Obedience of a Christian Man and he pronounced it “A book for me and all kings to read.”(But not the population – it remained banned) . “Back to Your Wife” publicly yelled at Henry by a commoner they never found – that happened, there’s an argument about Henry’s shirts that’s coming up that was noted widely, as well as the fact that Anne Boleyn reported particularly craving apples when she fell pregnant with Elizabeth.
I could go on and on. I’d put asterisks on scenes and lines that are biographically sourced but they’d be everywhere. And that is a kind of historical accuracy, and one that people care about.
This scene I am looking at- did a version of this happen? That’s a question the Tudors can answer with a confident “Yes” an impressive amount of the time. It’ll often have asterisks in there (but a different time/speaker/location kind of thing) but the answer is often yes.
And then it will suddenly lie like a harlot, doing something like this to a historical bystander like Marguerite De Navarre. No version of this scene ever happened (Francis’ intellectual politician sister did not skip over to Calais, throw herself at Henry, and they did not hump.), and I cannot take you anywhere, The Tudors.
The Tudors Second Vice – It Will Commit Many Sins to Keep Its Characters Young and Hot
Look, this is really the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. There’s a good 1500 word rant on that, but it isn’t due yet. Let’s just point out that if we were going for historical accuracy on this front then Rhys Meyers should already be wearing just a bit of padding as we start Season 2, and boy, is that not the shape of things to come.
New Years Resolutions
Thank you so much for coming round, really. That this blog gained human readers without advertising at all, and is growing, despite my infrequent posts has been great. I’d like to invite comments, but if you’d prefer not, then OK, just knowing some people read, and return to read more makes me smile and write.
I’ll do a full State of the Blog before New Years, and there’s something else…something I noticed in The Tudors I want to check out and write about over the holiday. I’ll probably roll them into one post – got to keep things symmetrical.
Well, It’s nearly time for the annual showing of Die Hard in the main lair, everyone will be dressed as Hans Gruber and drunkenly telling you how their plans would have worked. Including me*. You’re better off getting home, let me walk you out and tell you my resolutions for the blog this year.
1) By 31st December 2019 I will have recapped Season 2 of The Tudors.
I’m looking forward to it.
2) If, from now on, someone dies a decade later than mentioned or someone is say, not actually a fucking murderer when they’ve been shown murdering I will manage to point that out.
3) Only one ‘Shit’ and one ‘Fuck’ (or variations thereupon) per post
Not counting the two in the description. It’s just better if you mean it, and setting a limit helps make me mean it. Similarly,
4) Nudity will continue to be censored, as will gory violence.
If you want to see it, The Tudors is available on DVD, Blu Ray or streaming services. Yes, sex and violence adds plenty to The Tudors, but I can’t see much utility to showing it graphically here, and readers should be able to have expectation about what they’ll see. Going forward that’s going to get more important, the violence quotient is going to increase significantly over Season 1.
5) If I say Actually Historically that means that I went and I checked it.
And if you asked, I would tell you where I checked it and what that book said about it. That book would be by a historian (Weir, Fraser, Starkey, Ives, Guy, Ackroyd – someone that footnotes to primary sources) Cool? Cool.
Well, here, we are. I mean it, thanks so much for coming round this year. And if you find my publishing schedule painful, I can promise you this, come back in a year and I’ll have a whole season done and waiting for you.
And mind the turrets on the way out.
*My plan would be to be writing a blog entry in a side office all evening, and then walking out when it was all over. Not sitting on a beach earning 20 percent, but not dead from falling off the Nakatomi Building because of a bloody watch strap either, you know?