Unpicking the Tudors; S1 E5


Welcome back, my costume fiends.

This week, we’re looking at ‘Arise, My Lord’.

Henry is displeased to learn that the Emperor Charles V, Queen Katherine’s nephew, has released King Francis of France from prison and is forced to look for a foreign ally elsewhere. Meanwhile Katherine’s alliance with Charles intensifies as does her hatred of Wolsey. Anne Boleyn turns down the king’s proposal that she be the royal mistress, demanding nothing less than being declared queen.

This episode sees more progression in the Henry and Anne relationship, as well as some serious Wolsey drama going down. After launching the series with episodes crammed full with just about as much stuff as they could get, the amount of action is starting to simmer down a little and focus more closely on character and development. There are still quite a few problems, however, so let’s dive in.

A Love Story for the Ages

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Because Henry makes all his decisions with his penis, he’s chosen to grant Thomas Boleyn the title of ‘Lord Richford’. He became Viscount Rochford on the 18th June 1525, but it may have been completely unrelated to Henry’s pursuit of Anne. Thomas Boleyn was an esteemed statesman and diplomat in his own right, so the two events could be completely disconnected. After all, Bessie Blount’s family wasn’t awarded grand titles.

Henry continues his pursuit of Anne and she sends him the equivalent of a saucy snapchat – a miniature. This is based on the incredibly famous portrait, of course, the only time that you’ll see Natalie Dormer in accurate period clothing. This sexy little picture is just too much for Henry to cope with, and he immediately rides from White Hall all the way to Kent in a couple of minutes.

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Henry simply must have Anne and demands that she become his official mistress. He names the official title for the royal mistress at the French court, a position that has never existed in the English court. There have been plenty of royal mistresses, but never ones formally recognised.

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However, Anne refuses. She will not be his mistress, she will only be his wife – and Queen.

In terms of historiography, this is a bit of a minefield. There are plenty of historians on either side – whether Anne was genuinely in love with Henry, or whether she/her family was ambitious and wanted to rise up through making Anne queen. Personally, I think it’s a little ridiculous to believe that the daughter of a courtier and her family would presume that they could manipulate one of the most powerful men in Europe into being their pawn. There was absolutely no precedent in history or in culture of a King casting aside his wife to marry a woman like Anne. It is true that Edward IV married a woman of a social standing as Anne, but that didn’t involve ending a long-standing marriage or a intensely plotted plan to absolutely control Edward. There would be no reason to believe that Henry could be pressured into doing such a thing, even if he was crazy in love.

To me, I think Henry and Anne must have genuinely been in love and Henry wanted her for his wife. You don’t manipulate a King, certainly not in a time period where they were believed to be agents of divine will. There had been rumours and ideas circulating since at least 1519 that Henry would set Katherine aside, and there were other crowned Kings of Europe who had done so. It seems to be to be immense bad luck and timing that he chose to marry Anne, instead of another royal match.

Spurned on by Anne’s declaration, Henry decides that his marriage is over and tells Katherine so.

This is actually a pretty great scene, with very good performances by Rhys-Meyer and Doyle. They are a couple who cannot be together anymore, despite their love and affection for each other. Top acting marks there.

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Anne sends Henry a broach – which happened, very famously. It’s a storm-tossed maiden but she’s a constant and her love is a constant, you know, symbolism.

They make out a little bit but they swear that off sex until marriage.

Wolsey’s Being Evil

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Wolsey is still plotting and scheming. His first scheme of the day is to make Henry Fitzroy, Henners’s illegitimate son, Duke of Richmond and Somerset. It’s not lost on the crowd that Duke of Richmond was the title of Henry VII, Henry’s father. This kid is now one of the most powerful people in England, and technically, could be Henry’s heir above his legitimate daughter Mary. Katherine is not happy about this and declares Wolsey her enemy.

Fitzroy gives us an idea on how much time has passed, at least. Even if Princess Mary hasn’t aged at all. Also, Rhys-Meyer is fantastic with the child performers. I might not like a lot of the choices he makes as a performer, but he’s always very genuine with any of the child actors.

As Wolsey is Fitzroy’s godfather, he’s sending the kid to his own household to be treated as a royal heir. This scene is hilarious because the child playing Fitzroy doesn’t act, at all. His face is completely blank while his mother holds him and sobs.

Wolsey is sending Mary away to Ludlow as he’s evvvilll and punishing Katherine. She’s horrified and hurt, only I scratch my head at this. Mary being sent away to Ludlow is par the course for a royal heir. Ludlow castle and its estates belong to the Prince of Wales, the royal heir presumptive. Royal children – in fact, all children, in this period – do not spend their years with their parents. As a rule, children are sent out to other households at the age of 7 for an ‘apprenticeship’ of sorts – whether an actual apprenticeship, or for education and refinement. Mary will also be looked after by Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, a friend and confident of Katherine. So, Katherine’s reaction doesn’t make much sense. She seems surprised and shocked that something like this would happen – when it’s normal and totally expected of any child in this period. In fact, Mary is being shown off to the world as Henry’s only true heir.

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Mary is being sent to live with the Lady Salisbury. For a start, it’s Countess Salisbury. Margaret Pole was one of only two women to hold a peerage in her own right, and she’s a Countess. She’s also one of Katherine’s closest friends, so Katherine shouldn’t be so horrified by all of this.

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After proposing a new evil alliance with the French, Wolsey convenes a secret meeting with the highest ranking churchmen in the land to rule on Henry’s marriage. As papal legate, Wolsey argues that he could rule on the marriage. However, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishop Fisher say that it must be taken to the Pope. Wolsey’s evil is curbed, for now.

The Imperial Alliance

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After winning such immense battles in French holdings, Charles V has ransomed Francis I and freed him. This prompts an eye-bulging freak-out from Henry.

Henry confronts the Imperial Ambassador by screaming obscenities in the poor guy’s face. Yeah, no. Henry VIII was a renaissance statesman. Sure, the guy had a temper and was known for ‘thunderous oaths’, but he’s not a gibbering fool that thinks international diplomacy involves screaming the word fuck into a man’s face. It doesn’t make Henry seem young and vibrant. It makes me think that Rhys-Meyer can’t act with any subtlety beyond screaming to convey anger.

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Oh, and now Charles V has sacked Rome and taken the Pope as a prisoner. So, that’s the annulment out the window. Guess you shouldn’t have screamed in his ambassador’s face, Henners.

Oh Yeah, Margaret Murdered A Guy

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Yeah, Margaret literally murdered a guy and apparently suffers no repercussions from this. She doesn’t even care on an emotional level, so I guess Margaret/Mary is a complete sociopath and will be start serial killing soon. Charles proposes to Margaret as they clearly have the greatest love of all.

Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor married in 1515 and retired from court life until around 1520. Mary and Charles were forced to may back some of her dowry, but Henry seemed to have been mostly friendly towards the match. They had both private and public ceremonies and were married until Mary died in 1533.

Henry, as he is wont to do, screams in Margaret’s face and she realises that maybe being not Queen of Portugal is shitty.

Margaret has started drinking and starts being violent towards Charles. But I guess they really like each other still because this violence leads into aggressive sex. After all, when people hate each other it means they really love each other and a couple who hit each other nonconsensually really care for each other.

The Queer Element

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Okay, time to delve into some queer history. Thomas Tallis and one of Henry’s fuckwit friends are having an affair, which raises a few issues for me.

This plotline is very obviously based on the B-plotline from Phillipa Greggory’s ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ where she features this gay sexual dalliance ring that revolve around Anne Boleyn and have naughty sextimes with each other and possibly her. She credits this to Retha Warnicke, an American historian that specalises in the period and wrote about sexual heresy at Henry’s court during this period. However, Warnicke distanced herself from this interpretation.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with depicting a queer romance in a period TV show. Queer people have always existed and there’s nothing wrong with having queer people’s stories told from a historical context. However, I don’t get that this is trying to be a nuanced depiction of how queer people lived and loved during the sixteenth century. What I get is that this was a scandalous element from an immensely popular novel that’s been added to the show because the idea of the show is ‘naughty naughty sexy times’. The queer angle appears to have been added because it’s naughty and supposedly deviant for the age.

I don’t appreciate that the only queer representation appears to have been added to make the show even more naughty and deviant. C’mon, we deserve better than that.

The Plot To Nowhere

Henry Fitzroy’s dead. It makes me ask why he was even included, other than for scandal.

Henry Fitzroy didn’t actually die until 1536, at the age of seventeen. But I guess it means more if a child dies.

What Are You Looking At?

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Glad to see being away from court didn’t improve your fashion at all, Bessie. The sleeves, the bodice, the hairnet – she has never worn anything that looks right for the 1520s.

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FINALLY. That’s an accurate hood! That looks good and doesn’t distract from her face at all. Shame about the dress, which has a weird empire line that makes it look like a fancy dress costume from the 1820s.

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Hey look another weird sack dress. There’s no petticoat, and she’s got this weird pattern on the skirt that looks awful. You’ve got an amazing actress with regal beauty, so why the insistence on these weird sack dresses?

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Again, the one guy who is wearing an accurate outfit is portrayed as being evil. He’s wearing layers, a doublet covered by an overgown with slashing decoration, and the shoulders are nice and wide. This is a good representation of Tudor costume, and I have no idea why it’s so hard to achieve for every other character.

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Are you on holiday from Turkey? What is this weird Ottoman outfit? Is she a spy from the Sultan? Where is her bodice? Why is she wearing just a simple dress with a eastern headdress?

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This portrait is supposedly Margaret Pole and look HOW IT LOOKS NOTHING LIKE A COURT DRESS FROM THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE.

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Are you on holiday from Middle Earth? What’s with those godawful sleeves? No Tudor woman would wear a sleeve like this.

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Nice inaccurate ruff, Henry. That high collar with ruffed chemise neckline is completely wrong for the period. Just dress him right, for one episode. Please.

And that’s it for this week. Come back for more costume complaints and historical corrections next time!

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2 thoughts on “Unpicking the Tudors; S1 E5

  1. This show suggests that the Boleyns were the ones who convinced Henry that it was dangerous for him to have no legitimate son and that another younger queen could potentially give him one. As if he had never considered that without their manipulation. Sure. Henry was many things but he wasn’t an idiot.

    I also never understood why Katherine was a mess about Mary being sent to Ludlow. It’s like Margaret whining about being married off to a foreign king. This is the sort of shit that just naturally happened. As a mom, she could be sad about her daughter leaving but to decide Wolsey is her enemy because he ensured the proper protocol was followed for a princess is nonsense.

    As for the queer portrayals on the show…On the one hand, I want to like it. Homosexuality and bisexuality were certainly more hidden than in our time and that would naturally give them a more “forbidden fruit” sort of understanding in courtly culture. On the other hand, on the show it did come across as “look at how naughty and transgressive we are!” I also don’t recall Thomas Tallis being bisexual. I don’t know much about his private life, I admit, but I do know he was supposed to have a long marriage with a woman named Joan. It also just feels like – “we want to add queer guys, so here’s the two most likely for that: a snarky beta male in the king’s friends, and the quiet musician with the long hair.”

    • The Boleyn storyline is very much inspired by The Other Boleyn Girl. It was popular and sold well, so it does translate into a story that can be sold and believed. It just bugs me!

      I don’t think the queer storyline with Tallis ever goes anywhere, so I have no idea why they included it.

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