Monday, March 03, 2008

Historical Friction

Why do I do this to myself? I totally decided against going to see The Other Boleyn Girl because I knew it was probably going to piss me off, so what do I do instead? I decide to watch The Tudors on Showtime On Demand because they're offering all 10 episodes for free leading up to the premiere of the second season. Since this meant that I didn't have to spend $12.00 ordering it from Netflix, I decided to go ahead and watch.

Oy, after the first episode I was in such pain from the historical accuracies, I couldn't stand it. I watched two more episodes before I had to stop. The voiceover at the beginning of each episode says something like "You think you know the whole story, but you don't. You have to start from the beginning."

Okay but which beginning? Two episodes in and we already have Anne Boleyn showing up, which didn't happen until Henry was in his mid-thirties. So why does Jonathan Rhys-Meyers look like he's only 22? And whose idea was it to portray Henry as an immature idiot? Why doesn't he have red hair? Or Catherine? Seriously if it weren't for the performances of Sam Neill as Cardinal Wosley and Jeremy Northam as Sir Thomas More, I wouldn't have made it past the first episode. Also, Maria Doyle Kennedy as Catherine of Aragon is brilliant. But the inaccuracies are driving me nuts. And if you are going to claim that we don't know the whole story, why don't you give to us instead of this souffle of nothingness?

According to Wikipedia these are just a few of the liberties the writers and producers have taken:

Time is conflated in the series, giving the impression that things happened closer together than they actually did. By the time of most of the events in this series, King Henry VIII was already in his mid-to-late 30s. Henry was about a decade older than Anne Boleyn, who was born circa 1501, and did not seriously begin his pursuit of her until he was in his mid-thirties.

The character of Henry's sister, called "Princess Margaret" in the series, is actually a composite of his two sisters: the life events of his youngest sister, Princess Mary Tudor, coupled with the name of his eldest sister, Margaret Tudor (to avoid confusion with Henry's daughter, Mary I of England). Historically, Henry's sister Princess Mary first married the French King Louis XII. The union lasted approximately three months, until his death; Louis was succeeded by his cousin Francis I, who was married to Louis' daughter Claude of France. Mary subsequently married Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk. As The Tudors begins, Henry is already negotiating a peace treaty with Francis; the series' Princess Margaret thus marries the Portuguese king, who lives only a few days until she murders him in his sleep. By the time of the events of this series, the historical Brandon (who was already in his early 40s) and Princess Mary were long married with three children. Henry's eldest sister, Margaret Tudor, was actually married to King James IV of Scotland and became the grandmother of Mary, Queen of Scots.

(I completely don't get why they decided to squish the two sisters together, especially since Lady Jane Grey is a descendent of Mary Tudor, and that's her claim to the throne. Plus the Scots were a huge thorne in Henry's side during his reign, and his sister was married off to James IV to try and prevent problems. Also it was Princess Mary Tudor, Henry's sister, who was betrothed to Charles of Castile, Holy Roman Emperor and not Henry's daughter Mary, and the ship Mary Rose that Henry mentions in like episode 2 was named after her).

While Bessie Blount was famously one of Henry VIII's mistresses and did give Henry an illegitimate son (Henry FitzRoy), historically, her son did not die as a small child. FitzRoy died at the age of 17 in 1536, roughly 10 years before the death of his father, Henry VIII. Blount was also not married until after the birth of Henry FitzRoy.

The papal politics depicted in the first several episodes of the series also have no clear relation to actual events. A Pope Alexander is depicted as on his death bed at the time of the Field of the Cloth of Gold meeting between Henry and Francis (in 1520), whereas the actual pope at that time, Leo X, died suddenly at the very end of 1521, and there had not been a pope named Alexander since 1503, before the beginning of Henry's reign. A Cardinal Orsini is depicted as being elected following the death of the fictional Alexander, which, again, does not correspond to actual history, when the Emperor's tutor Adrian of Utrecht was elected to succeed Leo, and, following his death just a year later, Cardinal Medici, who as Clement VII would refuse to permit Henry's divorce, was elected to the papal throne.

In the first episode an English ambassador described as the uncle of Henry VIII is murdered in Italy by Frenchmen; the historical Henry VIII had no such uncle. However, the character is named "Courtenay," suggesting William Courtenay, 1st Earl of Devon, who was married to Henry's aunt Catherine of York but died of pleurisy in 1511. There is also no historical evidence that composer Thomas Tallis was bisexual, as portrayed in the series. Plus Tallis did not perform before the court until at least 10 years (1543) after the events portrayed in the beginning of the series.

The Palace of Whitehall as shown to be the home of Henry VIII from the beginning of the series, only fell into Henry's hands in 1530 after he removed Cardinal Wolsey from power. Up until this point in time it was called York Place, and was taken by Henry to be his home with his fiancée Anne Boleyn.[6] The Palace was not referred to as Whitehall Palace until as much as a decade after.

Cardinal Wolsey was not imprisoned and did not commit suicide. After being accused of treason, he set out for London to answer the charges and died en route in Leicester. Wolsey's death came in 1530, three years before the death of Henry's sister Mary; in the series, the two events are juxtaposed.

In the second episode of season one Henry VIII is seen celebrating the birth of his son and fires a flintlock to do so. However, this type of musket was not invented until 1630, a century later.

So, I don't know if I have the strength of will to continue to watch the other 6 episodes of this thing without throwing something at my brand new television.

What do others think? Have you seen The Tudors and did it drive you nuts? Or did you just accept it as entertainment?


david santos said...

Hi, Elizabeth!
Excellent posting.
I loved this blog.

Amanda McCabe said...

Please, Elizabeth, don't put yourself through the pain of any more of this wretched series! I tried it myself, and the horibleness burned my eyes... :)

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I hear you Amanda, the thought of it, even trying to watch episode 4 makes my eyes roll into the back of my head. If only they had cast a different actor as Henry, or hadn't fudged the historical stuff. I did like the political intrigue but the rest just felt like Dynasty in Tudor Costumes. Poor Mary Boleyn barely had a part in this series.

Kwana said...

Oy, Now I'm afriad to watch. I was all about getting it from the video store. Now I have to think about that.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Unless you are a huge Jonathan Rhys-Meyers fan, I would skip it or wait until your local library gets copies. Better yet, just skip, and watch North and South again.