Unpicking the Tudors; S1 E9


Hello, costume fiends! Things are heating up in the show, and I might start getting into a few legal discussions, matters of theology, stuff like that. It’s been a while since my studies into the Henrican Reformation, but it’s truly fascinating stuff. The legal battle surrounding Henry’s annulment, and later the supremacy of English law, formed the basis for English parliament and the founding principles of many notions of government and self-rulership that still play an important role in the governments of many countries around the world.

It’s serious stuff, yo.

Look to God First

The legatine trial on the legitimacy of King Henry’s marriage to Katherine continues despite the queen’s refusal to attend, but the papal envoy receives notice to return to Rome and place the evidence to the judgement of the Curia. The Pope procrastinates and Henry, goaded by the conspirators Thomas Boleyn, the Duke of Norfolk and Charles Brandon, strips Wolsey of his temporal power and properties, bans him from court and instructs him to resume his now sole role as Archbishop of York. Thomas More reluctantly succeeds Wolsey as Chancellor of the realm. Anne Boleyn, encouraged by her ally Thomas Cromwell (the King’s secretary), subtly and opportunely asks the king to reacquaint himself with the subject of Lutheranism. Margaret Tudor dies of tuberculosis, and her widower Charles Brandon shows repentance for his infidelity at her deathbed.

In the Criminal Justice System, There are Two Distinct Branches – The King and the Cardinals. These are Their Stories.

In a classy fashion, the trial is now debating whether or not Arthur (Henry’s deceased elder brother who had been married to Katherine) and Katherine had sex.

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Ha, ha, sex. Let’s ignore the fact that Henry’s case was based on scriptural arguments and theology and make it all a thing of hilarity. Speaking of historiography, historians are divided on whether or not Katherine and Arthur had sex. Speaking as a historian myself, I think they probably didn’t. Katherine was a pious woman and she swore that they didn’t. I’m not someone who likes to doubt a woman’s word, if I’m honest. She said she was a virgin, and I believe her. Arthur and her were two sheltered fifteen year olds who could barely speak to each other and he died very quickly. I doubt that they had sex, even if I think that Henry probably had a valid case under canon law (in more friendly times).

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Henry is confident that he’ll win the case and he just wants to show Anne off to everyone. He wants everyone to look at her and just want to fuck her but they can’t because she’s Henry’s.

Henry is so unpleasant in this show. He is just characterised in an incredibly unpleasant way, a sleazy, selfish, childish way that I think is unbecoming of the real life king. There are many bad things about Henry, true, but portraying him as a gross, stupid, slimeball was a bad choice all round.

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Meanwhile, at Blackfriars, Bishop Fisher says he will put his life on the line to defend the marriage of Henry and Katherine. Like John the Baptist protesting against the tyrant Herod. So, you know, go big or go home.

Henry responds to this like a mature adult.

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Lol, jokes, he screams in Katherine’s face and has a temper tantrum at Anne.

I’M THE KING OF ENGLAND! I’M THE KING OF ENGLAND! the powerless child keeps screaming.

Henry then decides to threaten Campeggio.

‘God forbid the Pope should ever turn his back on me.’

Henry, look at his face. I really don’t think cheap threats are really going to help you here.

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Campeggio, who was under orders to delay the trial anyway, decides to put it into recess until October. Pope Clement has heard of Katherine’s plea and he’s now pulled authority of the case back to Rome. I’m sure that Henry’s blatant threats didn’t really help matters.

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Uh uh. No go show. You don’t get to throw around a word that carries such weight so casually. Not only would an educated and refined renaissance man not use this insult so casually in a public arena to a fellow member of the church, I don’t like words like this getting thrown around for simple shock value. It adds nothing but just makes me dislike the showrunner and creator even more.

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Anne, while dressed in a truly hideous riding habit, suggests that Henry looks to Luther and his followers who advocate that Kings have more power in their realm than the Pope.

Okay. There are issues with this. For a start, Luther did not advocate anything of the sort. Martin Luther thought that Henry was just assuming the authority of the Pope and did not approve of anything. It is true that royal supremacy developed from the writings of Tyndale and Simon Fish, but they did not approve of Henry’s actions either. It is wrong, and highly teleological, to suppose that Henry’s ideas of royal supremacy come from evangelical religious ideas. Many of Henry’s ideas developed from renaissance humanism and from studies conducted by scholars such as Erasmus into the original Hebrew and Greek writings of the Old Testament. And further to this, Henry didn’t start publicly advocating for royal supremacy over church matters in England until late 1530 and 1531.

And I’m guessing that the show isn’t going to depict anything to do with the Reformation Parliament, which would be in session until 1536 and lay out much of the documentation and laws that supported the break from Rome.

TLDR; Henry was a Catholic Humanist, so his critiques of Papal authority were longstanding and didn’t have much to do with Martin Luther. The show is using ‘Lutheranism’ (which wasn’t officially a positive term or religion until the very last years of the sixteenth century) as a catch all for evangelical thought, which is the more accurate term for the new thinking sweeping Europe at this time.

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Henry has a DRAMATIC REVELATION while reading this… book in the middle of a conveniently dramatic thunderstorm. Oh my gosh, this line of thought that I already knew about is so shocking to me!

The Fall of Wolsey

This goes hand in hand with the fall of Wolsey, which is full of needless dramatic extras.

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Wolsey is desperate to find an easy solution to the King’s Great Matter. Katherine won’t buy it because Wolsey caused this annulment all because Charles V stood against him and wouldn’t make him Pope.

Gurl, what you on? It was the French cardinals who turned on Wolsey, not Charles. Henry’s been discussing leaving you since 1519/1520 so don’t act like it’s all Wolsey’s doing.

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Wolsey is still working on securing England’s position in Europe, so he’s sending Thomas More to peace talks between France, the Holy Roman Empire, and the Pope. Thomas More should remind them of their obligations to England and make sure that no accords are reached, as that would put England in a really terrible position.

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The failure of the Blackfriars trial has put Wolsey in a tenuous position. Charles ‘The Idiot’ Brandon steps forward and hisses that ‘good has never been done in England while there are cardinals’ and I call nonsense. Charles, because of Wolsey’s intervention you weren’t punished by Henry for sleeping with his sister, and historically, you supported Henry’s ecclesiastical policy. Like many English nobles, Brandon did not agree with Papal authority, so that animosity is true, but there is no benefit to attacking Wolsey for a matter that is out of his hands.

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Meanwhile, More was a smug asshole and ruined the peace talks. So now England is vulnerable but I guess his precious principles are intact.

I don’t like Thomas More. I don’t know whether you can tell.

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And Henry rejects Wolsey. In the show, it’s presented as a win for the Boleyn faction and as if Henry personally detests Wolsey. This is not so; Henry did not bear any animosity for Wolsey personally. This is a political message, not a win for Anne. Wolsey is the representation of the Pope in England – by casting him down and making him powerless, it’s a clear symbol of Henry’s distaste for the Pope’s judgement and slowness in responding to the trial. It’s also a sign of Wolsey as a servant to Henry, not a grand manipulator and twister of events. He’s failed Henry, so Henry has effectively fired him.

This is political. It’s not personal. It’s about the Pope, not about the rise and fall of factions.

Wolsey is arrested on charges of praemunire (and the pronunciation makes me wince) which is a uniquely English law. It’s about prohibiting an alien jurisdiction of supremacy in England, so it’s pretty much another way of attacking the Pope (and it’s always been used as such since it’s introduction in 1392). But the chuckleheads at court are laughing at him so HAHA WOLSEY.

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Wolsey begs Cromwell for help, only for him to reject. Even though Cromwell worked for Wolsey, not Henry, at this point.

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And now More is chancellor and highest man in England. Prepare to fail with this guy, Henry.

Keeping Up with the Brandons

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Mary is dying because she has the bloody cough o’death. Yes, that old staple. It’s amazing how this is the first sign she’s noticed, considering all the other symptoms that TB has. She’s not had: weight loss, fever, night sweats, extreme tiredness, pain, dizziness, or confusion. She’s managed to bypass all those symptoms, and go for the only one that is best for a show made by people who don’t seem to understand subtlety.

I’m fairly sure that people with TB don’t die having a fit in a pool of their own blood. I’m also confused as to how Mary contracted TB. It’s a disease of poverty, overcrowding, and malnutrition, things that Mary is certainly not a victim of. She also isn’t meant to die for another four years, but the show didn’t really have any plans for this character because she meant nothing and added nothing to the ongoing plot.

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Charles announces Mary’s death of ‘consumption’, which is a Victorian term for the disease. He also attends the funeral, even though spouses didn’t attend funerals at this point in time and they were often same-gender affairs. But, hey, drama, stuff. I guess Charles will feel bad for being an awful person now.

Let Your Body Move to the Music 

I hate your high collars Henry, especially when your courtiers are dressed better than you.

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Mantillas won’t exist until the end of the sixteenth century, and peineta will not exist until the nineteenth century. They’re famously Spanish, but they really don’t exist as part of Spanish national culture until they’re popularised by Isabella II. 

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I hate that dress and headdress, and Henry’s outfit is pure Elizabethan. That wouldn’t be out of place in the 1580s and 1590s. It is so not 1520s.

Add some brighter colours and a few more jewels, and this is what they should really look like.

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What’s with all that super obvious stitching? Look, Tudor clothing was tied together, but not like this. The bodice, skirt, and sleeves of elaborate court dresses were separate items brought together, but no high-fashion woman would walk around with their ties out like this. It looks cheap and peasanty, and I hate that it’s used as a visual sign of ‘HISTORYNESS’ in cheap period dramas. It looks awful.

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NO PRINTED FABRICS.

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hey look Henry is now in with the evil faction so i guess he’s wearing all black now. Such meaning such symbolism. Also, Anne, your dress is awful. It’s nothing to do with the times, it’s just a generic period dress that comes from no time and says nothing.

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Good looking Tudor dresses aren’t hard, if you put effort and funding into your costume department.

And that’s it for this week. Next week is the last episode of the season, and I expect that the show will come to a satisfying ending with the maturity and depth I’ve come to anticipate from this show.

Spoilers; I’m sure something insulting happens to Wolsey.

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7 thoughts on “Unpicking the Tudors; S1 E9

    • I’m so glad you like them! Gives me a chance to use that degree of mine, hahaha. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get back to Anita because it really messes with my head. It’s so negative and mean that it really impacts on my moods.

      • I admit, I posted a couple of hundred comments on the Anita reviews. I generally loved the series until Obsdian Butterfly–all of its flaws aside. After that, the switch to porn and sex-via-mind rape killed my interest in it. So I wouldn’t subject yourself to the torture anyway. 🙂 Everything you disliked gets worse and everything you liked was…wait, did you like anything? Still, awesome reviews.

        I wouldn’t mind you picking up a THIRD urban fantasy series, though, with the Patricia Briggs novels. You might not totally hate them!

  1. “I don’t like words like this getting thrown around for simple shock value. It adds nothing but just makes me dislike the showrunner and creator even more.”
    You just encapsulated one of the problems I have with Game of Thrones, even though I like the show.

    Loved your bit on Henry vs Lutheranism vs humanism. It’s been years since I studied this in college so I’m enjoying the refresher course.

    “Henry’s been discussing leaving you since 1519/1520 so don’t act like it’s all Wolsey’s doing.”
    This is one of the problems I have with this show. Henry is depicted as this horrible person and yet the really harmful things are always shown to be someone else’s fault for manipulating Henry into them. It’s this weird mix of wanting the viewer to hate Henry and yet see him as this perpetual victim of other men and women with less power. I suppose it makes sense in how infantile he’s shown to be, thus making him too immature to not bend whichever way the wind blows. But the real Henry was a stronger person than this.

    I’ve studied TB from an archaeological/paleopathological perspective, so the depiction of it here is bullshit. We should have seen symptoms before now, as you said, and you don’t look like you’re vomiting blood in the end. Also, Charles should have contracted it too…and her maids. But I was glad to get rid of her character frankly.

    • I remember describing THE TUDORS to a friend. “The Tudors is an interesting show to watch because it’s clear HBO just wanted a historical sexcapade around Henry’s many wives and intrigues but they’re dealing with a horrifically ugly period of history with lots of people murdered for (what today is) trivial reasons.”

      I also tend to have a very less favorable opinion of Henry than you seem to do and consider him a murderous tyrant with a tendency to do awful things on whims–personally pious or not.

      • To me, Henry is what happens when a strong-willed and intelligent person gets too much power when he was raised thinking he wouldn’t have that. Not all of his ideas were horrible but he was too focused on his own power and dynasty to give a fuck about how his policies and actions played out for others. I wouldn’t say I have a favorable opinion of him though I can see where my post gave that impression. But for good or ill, the real Henry had a stronger will than show Henry.

    • Yeah, Mary/Margaret didn’t really add anything to the show and the plot doesn’t really go anywhere, other than it happening because it happened in real life.

      Henry is so immature, yet we’re supposed to like him and find him attractive and intriguing but… eurgh. no, tantruming baby men are not my style.

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