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.
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.
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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