Unpicking The Tudors; S2 E2


Hello, costume fiends! Sorry for missing a week – just been pottering about and the Henrican Reformation managed to slip through my mind completely. But not to fear, we’re back to the dense mess of 1530s politics.

Tears of Blood

As the Catholic Church struggles in vain to control Henry VIII’s demands for an annulment, the King appoints himself head of the Church of England; initial protests are stifled when Archbishop of Canterbury William Warham officially submits the Clergy to Henry. When Anne Boleyn insists Henry break all contacts with Catherine, the Queen is banished from court. The Reformation has begun; depressed by his failure to prevent it, Sir Thomas More resigns as Henry’s Chancellor. Charles Brandon’s growing hatred for the Boleyns- and his mistrust of Cromwell- causes him to abandon his alliance with them, losing him the King’s favor again. Anne is created Marquess of Pembroke before she and Henry visit France to present Anne as the future Queen of England and Henry’s future wife. After talks between both Henry and Anne with the French King to secure his support, in their chamber, Anne finally submits sexually to Henry, asking him to help her conceive the son and heir they both want, narrowly avoiding another encounter with the Imperial-hired assassin.

Time gets weird in this episode. It all takes place in 1532, yet we pass through a Christmas and a Twelfth Night festive season and then right through a summer and an autumn, then back round to winter. We pass through twelve months in the course of an episode, and yet it is still 1532.

Come on, show. That’s not good. I don’t know how you can shove around sixteen months into the space of one year. It’s an important year, but that doesn’t mean you can make it ridiculously long!

Henry + Anne 4eva

Things are moving along for Henry and Anne; after all, time is ticking on for the chances of conceiving a child and Henry needs sex really badly. Because there’s very little to their relationship other than sexual tension. No meeting of minds, no shared interests, no desires in their lives other than a need to pork each other.

Also, there’s an assassin on the loose.

And he’s doing symbolic things with playing cards, because how else could we think that he’s a serious threat. Do hitmen actually waste their time on doing dramatic nonsense for the purpose of nothing but empty symbolism?

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Anyway, he’s not striking yet because it’s Christmas time! Even though this would be the best time to kill Anne because this is when court is busiest. Around two thousand people will be in attendance at court for this time, with the most connected and prestigious families will be attending to Henry, arriving with all their retinues and servants and guards. If I was going to kill Anne Boleyn, I’d do it when there’s a lot of unknown people at the palace and no one would question my presence.

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Well, I guess he does one thing. He leaves a ‘book of prophecy’ in Anne’s chambers about how he’s totally going to kill her. A prophecy drawing of Anne with her head cut off was actually left in her chambers around this time, but it wasn’t some nonsense about playing cards and dramatic clues left by assassins.

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Pushing on, Henry and Anne are working to secure support and an alliance with the French, a surefire way to stop the Holy Roman Emperor from launching an attack on England. This will be secured with a meeting between Henry and Francis in the English owned lands in France, and in order to make Anne suitable to greet a man like the King of France in any manner as an equal, she is made Marquis of Pembroke. In her own right, entirely, making her the second woman in history to be a peer and a lord by herself. It’s a highly symbolic gesture, as the Tudors come from Wales themselves.

The title also apparently comes with an income of ‘£100,000’ per annum, but I can’t help but think that’s nonsense. In the sixteenth century, that’s the budget for the entirety of government. And yes, I do mean ALL of the government. Privy councillors, clerks, staff, expenditure – that’s how much it all costs (going by the accounts for Elizabeth I, later on). So where in the blithering heck is Henry going to get that money to give to Anne? That’s some modern ideas for money going on there.

Henry also gifts Anne the incredibly ugly jewels of England and then is all ‘Don’t you have something to say to Daddy for this nice gift?’ because the romantic dynamic between the two is a bit ick for my tastes. Sorry, doesn’t do it for me.

It swings around to December again, and the English court travels to Calais to meet the French court. Anne arrives in some style to surprise Francis as I don’t think she could officially be presented to the King – after all, she’s the other woman currently.

And, lest you forget, she’s also a SLLLLLLLLLLLLLUUUUUUUUUUUUUUTTTTTTTT.

The masque did really take place with Henry and Frances met. What did not happen –

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Was that an assassin who looked conspicuously like an assassin was around her at this time. I mean, come on!

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He finally makes an attempt, after waiting an entire year. But he can’t do it. Why? THE POWER OF BONING.

So confident in their own power and in the surety of their upcoming marriage, Henry and Anne finally have sex. In terms of historical opinion, 99.9% of Tudor historians believe that Henry and Anne finally had sex on their trip to France and that Elizabeth I was conceived there. Her birth date in September would back that up; however, you will find me unusually dissenting here.

To me, it makes little to no sense for Henry and Anne to have sex at this point. They will be married in a few short weeks, in early January. Their whole position has been defined by the fact that they are going to be married, and officially married as a wholesome and righteous couple. It is true that many couples in this period had premarital sex (with one third of marriages taking place with the bride visibly pregnant), but that is impossible for Henry and Anne. There is so much suggestion about them that to court and leave themselves open to such a scandal would fundamentally weaken their position.

It is also possible for a baby conceived in early January to be born healthily and successfully in September. Remember that children are born at full term now because of the advances in health and medicine; in fact, children tend to be born later now because of our understanding of prenatal health. Healthier babies tend to stay in longer. In times when women suffer from a lot of menstrual anaemia (as in, their bodies are not in a position to menstruate every month) and the diet and condition are not entirely conducive to the health of unborn children, nine months is not necessarily the point at which a baby will come to term. ‘Confinement’, the time when a woman goes away to await a birth, is a period of around three months. Not only does that speak to an certain level of uncertainty about conception and working out due dates, but of an expectation that a child may arrive early.

That is purely my opinion and idea, however, based on a little of my studies into women’s health of that era. It’s something that is overlooked by many historians and ultimately doesn’t really mean anything – we will never know when Henry and Anne first had sex, and it doesn’t matter, considering what will happen.

The Reformation Continues

1532 marks a key turning point in the Henrican Reformation. For 1532 comes the submission of the clergy, which the episode clearly deals with. In classic style with this show.

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The battle is really a very old battle in English politics – that of who the church and the clergy owe their allegiance to. Technically, the church and the clergy works as a separate power within the country. The church answers to the power and authority of the Pope, rather than the King. They have their own legal system that works independently of the monarch and the crown courts, and their own system of finances. And that’s a big deal! The position of a monarch relies on obedience of their subjects. That obedience is expected and unquestioned, a demand and privilege of a monarch. And here is a body that does not stand automatically obedient to the King. They are obedient to a foreign power and they are standing in the way of a King governing the country in the manner to which he sees fit. He has a duty to his subjects on a spiritual and secular level, and the way which Henry thinks he can serve his people is not able to be done.

And so we see the rise of another law-making power in England. For the power of the church to be taken down, there must be another body to counter it. And here is where parliament comes in. For the first time, parliament is used as a deciding body in British politics. Parliament has existed since Henry III, but the use of parliament to enforce and create law has reached a point where it is almost modern. Henry requires the consent and power of the people – i.e. parliament – to enforce his laws. This is why divine right never takes hold in England, and what will ultimately lead to the English Civil War. In practical terms, Henry VIII is one of the most powerful monarchs in English history. But his power is allowed through the permission of parliament. And for every monarch after him, parliament has power over a monarch and the ability to influence and change policy. In many ways, medieval governance is over. The King, although he doesn’t know it yet, is no longer singularly in charge of the realm. He could be governed over by the men and lords of parliament.

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This comes with the Supplication of the Ordinances. Henry has made an entirely new system. The Church will no longer have their own legal system and they cannot make canon law without consultation to the King. They recognise that Henry is the sole protector and supreme head of the English Church, that abuses of power took place, and they will no longer have independent legislative power.

Here, Cromwell talks of the need to create the ‘commonwealth’. Now, this term is loaded with other meanings – the countries that were formally controlled by the British Empire, or the government of Oliver Cromwell after the English Civil War. Here it talks of the political theory of the communal good and well-being of the peoples of England. This is not an individualistic society; here, actions are undertaking with the understanding that they provide a benefit for society as a whole. The rights of the individual do not exist in Tudor society. Instead, what is good for whole of the people is at priority. There is a social contract from the King to govern well and rule for his people, provide them with good government and the means to live well, and they, in turn, consent to his rule and obey him.

This is also tied in with ideas of absolute sovereignty and the body politic. If a country’s peoples are literally a body, with the monarch as the head, then actions must be taken to keep the body healthy and functioning. Actions which cause sickness and problems must be dealt with and prevented; we must all work together, as a whole, to provide good for all subjects.

It may seem strange, this means of thinking, when contrasted with how selfish Henry’s desire to push for change. But it is routed in the ideas of common weal and the consent of the governed. There’s a load of complexity here, and I’d suggest looking up Thomas Hobbes’s ‘Leviathan’ for further explanation of these ideas.

Who does the clergy serve – the people of England or the Bishop of Rome? When faced with the presence of their very close and entirely angry King, they chose to surrender and submit to the demands of their King.

Not that the clergy is necessarily happy about it, as this monk proves. He screams at Henry in a scene that makes no sense to me. For a start, why is he giving a sermon at court? That is the role of Henry’s chaplain, Thomas Cranmer. A monk is one who has chosen a private, contemplative religious life, so he shouldn’t be giving a sermon anyway. Why didn’t they check him before they let him start screaming that Anne Boleyn is a Jezebel? Where is the rood screen in this chapel? All very important questions.

Keeping Up With The Court

Not only is this episode full of boning and fierce legislative action, but everyone at court is furiously scheming away.

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Charles Brandon, or as I like to call him, MC Turncoat. For as you see, his role is now to just be opposed and betray people. He’s now against Anne and the Boleyns because… it’s bad? He doesn’t really give a reason other than ‘they have to give Henry Cavil something to do’. He’s found out that Anne and Wyatt used to be lovers, and he’s warning Henry about it. Who, obvs, doesn’t want to hear it.

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Cranmer, ever rising in Henry’s favour, is sent to the German states to appeal to the Emperor. Only he meets up with some Lutherans and gets married. Whoops.

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Brandon is banished from court and is insulted by the presence of Cromwell. He’s a disgusting self-made man! Like Brandon is! But Cromwell’s the wrong kind of self-made man!

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Meanwhile, Thomas More resigns as chancellor. He cannot support Henry’s actions, although he will never speak out against the king and aims to stay neutral. His opinion will be his own, and not to be spoken publicly.

Thomas Wyatt is sexing up one of Katherine of Aragon’s maids because… sex? I don’t really care about Thomas Wyatt.

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In private, Thomas More asks his daughter to allow him to die. It’s his only comfort in life to die as a martyr, even though he is the wage earner of the family, and as a traitor and martyr all my worldly possessions would be forfeit to the crown and my entire family would be cast onto the streets, penniless, with nothing to their names. Death is a great joy to me, not you or any part of my dumb family.

This is why I’m no particular fan of Thomas More. He left his family destitute to prove a point to himself.

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Mary Boleyn is back! She’s back to talk about sex, sex, sex, and oh yes, sex. And for Mark Smeaton to talk about wanting to have sex with men, openly, because I’m sure that in this society he would totally do that.

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And now Charles openly declares himself to be against the Boleyns. Because reasons, I suppose.

I’m A Model, And I Do My Little Turn on the Catwalk

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I like Anne’s little snow outfit as it’s very cute. Henry’s outfit is too slim fit, still. It’s a feminised, Elizabethan style of outfit. Henry’s clothes screamed about how masculine he was – this is too Tudor androgynous, and not right for him.

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This dress is gorgeous and so out of left field. It is exactly right for the period and for Anne’s status. It has no ridiculous medieval style frills, and the sleeves are perfect. I love the rich brown, and this is easily the best outfit that Anne has worn over the two series. I don’t think we’re going to get another dress this accurate, for shame.

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Henry VIII: Pirate King.

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What the hell is that dress.

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Hideous frumpy faux medieval dress, and weird headdress. There’s a coif at the back for her hair to go in. What’s the point of having it and then having her hair tumbling down? It’s horrible.

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Nice lampshade there, Lady Brandon.

And that’s it for this week! Come back next time for more Tudor politics and horrible headdresses.

Unpicking The Tudors; S1 E4


Good day, costume fiends!

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This week’s episode is ‘His Majesty, The King’.

As a reward for his denunciation of Martin Luther, the Pope christens Henry “Defender of the Faith,” but a brush with death causes the king to seek a solution to his lack of an heir. Princess Margaret marries the decrepit King of Portugal reluctantly, but the union is short-lived; Henry’s desire for Anne Boleyn intensifies.

I found this episode, apart from the massive Portuguese set piece, to be fairly dull. Most of the episode is spent in building up what will become important later; the downfall of Wolsey, Anne’s relationship with her brother George and with Henry, and Thomas Cromwell. The episode feels a little lacklustre after how jampacked the last few episodes have been, but it makes a needed change of pace. Let the story breathe a little bit – don’t jam as much you can in fifty minutes, you’ll give me history whiplash!

You Simply Must Meet Thomas (… again)

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James Frain as Thomas Cromwell popped up suddenly in the opening credits and is now a secondary character. Thomas Cromwell was a lawyer and MP who served as chief minister to Henry VIII from 1532 to 1540. He worked for Thomas Wolsey from 1514 to 1530, and served as Cardinal Wolsey’s secretary from 1529. As a minister of Henry VIII, he is one of the chief architects of the Dissolution of the Monasteries and of the foundation of the modern form of the British Parliament.

He’s gotten a lot of attention in recent years because of the Man Brooker award winning ‘Wolf Hall’ book series by Hilary Mantel. His image has been remade, a touch too sympathetically in my opinion, but he’s still an incredibly important figure from the period.

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He’s revealed pretty quickly to be pro-reform of the Catholic Church. Cromwell did, in real life, support the work of reformers and the evangelical movement, and involve England in support of the pro-Protestant German states.

However, he appears in the episode as being promoted by Wolsey to be Henry’s personal secretary. That’s complete nonsense; Cromwell wasn’t involved with Henry’s ministerial matters until 1530 – 1. This appears to be taking place in 1525, far too early for Cromwell to be connected directly to Henry.

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He’s also dressed in a way that I would call ‘1590s Dutch reformer realness’. His clothes are slim fit, with high collars, and long trunkhose. I suppose it draws attention to him as a obvious reformer and evangelical, but the Puritan movement is barely a twinkle in anyone’s eye at this point.

Thomas Cromwell

This Holbein’s portrait of Cromwell. Notice that his clothes are wide, square around the shoulders, and feature a loose and baggy overgown. There’s a lot of layers, a lot of fur, and tight-fitting hat.

And as an aside, they couldn’t have Henry’s sister Mary be called Mary in the show because it would be ‘too confusing’. Yet all the guys called Thomas are allowed to retain their names. I wonder why that might be.

Wolsey is Still Being Generally Evil Because The Historiography For This Show Is From The 1970s

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The man that Wolsey set up as a French spy has gone mad due to torture. Because Wolsey’s eeeeeevvviilllll. Although I will point out that torture in England has been illegal since the 12th century – except in the care where a warrant for torture was signed by a sitting monarch. So, the guy who is responsible for this torture is… you know, Henry. Not Wolsey.

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Norfolk and Thomas Boleyn (hey look, another Thomas who is allowed to retain his name) reveal that Wolsey has kept the prolific and incredibly wealthy parish of Winchester for himself. That’s amazing, seeing as Wolsey wasn’t in charge of the Bishopric of Winchester until 1529. Wolsey has amazing time travel powers!

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Wolsey tries setting up Henry with Marguerite of Navarre, which is weird. Not only are Henry and Katherine still married at this point, but Marguerite of Navarre?

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Yeah, she’s called ‘Of Navarre’ because she’s married to the King of Navarre (who’s referred to as a Duke for some reason, even though Navarre is a separate kingdom at this point). So I have no idea what Wolsey is trying to do. Is he trying to get them married? Does he want Henry just to sleep with Marguerite? What does it accomplish? She’s the sister of Francis I, but Wolsey wants peace with the French, so what does pissing off Francis accomplish? There is no sense in having Wolsey set Marguerite and Henry up.

Anyway, Henry bones Marguerite because he’s a braindead man-slut with no depth of character.

There’s Also Some Stuff to Do With Religion

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Henry’s ‘Defence of the Seven Sacraments’ has earned him the title of ‘Defender of the Faith’. This is a title still held by the monarchs of the United Kingdom – Elizabeth II is a Defender of the Faith – but it was granted in 1521, so the Pope’s a little bit late with his post. Anyway, Martin Luther has written a rebuttal and Henry hates it so much he throws a little tantrum.

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I’d like to point out as well that many of the depictions of religion in this show are massively inaccurate. Take the royal chapel, for example; this is not a Catholic chapel of the sixteenth century. This is a plain stone, non-decorated chapel that is clearly Protestant. Our ideal of a quiet, plain church with quiet is Protestant and Victorian, and not anything to do with the sixteenth century.

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Catholic chapels of the period would be bursting with colour and decoration. They were bright and eyecatching, full of noise and people. Henry’s chapel had mass five times a day – he was a really religious man.

Thomas More then tries to talk about Jesus’s pain and suffering and Wolsey is not having any of it. Shove your Jesus talk, Thomas.

I Want to Bang Anne Boleyn But Also I’m Sad Because I Might Die Someday

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Henry has this mad constipated love for Anne Boleyn that can’t be contained. He’s so in love with Katherine’s lady-in-waiting (Anne Boleyn was not Katherine’s lady-in-waiting. She was Queen Mary Tudor’s lady-in-waiting) that to keep him running after her, Anne goes from court.

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Henry’s surprised by this, even though Anne would have to obtain permission from Henry and Katherine to leave court. Like, it’s her job. She can’t just give it up and vanish if she feels like it.

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Henners gets mad jealous at Thomas Wyatt for being ‘previously engaged to Anne’. For a start, that’d be impossible because he was married before he even met Anne, and that particular plot point has been taken from Anne Boleyn’s previous entanglement with Henry Percy, later Duke of Northumberland.

And look, it’s another guy called Thomas. But viewers would get too confused at three women called Mary.

Anyway, Charles V has won an immense victory against the French at the Battle of Pavia, decimating the French army and capturing Francis I. Henry declares that there must be celebrations and jousts for this victory.

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That’s some cheap looking armour. Here’s some actual armour of Henry VIII;

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This cheap and flimsy looking armour leads exactly to where you think it’s going to go.

No wonder Henry is such a child. He’s suffered repeated brain injuries.

After some vaguely incestuous interactions with her brother, George, (stay classy, show), Anne comes back to court. Henry is violently jealous and it’s pretty gross.

Guess the strangling is subtle foreshadowing. But, like, sexy foreshadowing because Henners mashing his face against hers is so erotic.

After sustaining a head injury and almost dying once, Henners decides to do some bad pole-vaulting.

This is based on a real-life incident, but I don’t know exactly when it happened, but it sends Henry into a panic.

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I never even thought about my future wails 34 year old man.

Henry throws another tantrum, because apparently the writers can only convey his emotions through screaming at other characters, because he has no children, he could die, and he wants a divorce from Katherine.

Henry’s separation from Katherine was never a divorce. Henry sought an annulment from Katherine. A divorce means that a marriage took place, while an annulment means it never happened. Henry never looked for a divorce. If you say that he did, you are wrong.

This Marriage is Ridiculous 

I can’t state how much the whole ‘Margaret marries the King of Portugal’ storyline is terrible.

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“Wah, I have to marry into one of the most wealthiest kingdoms in Europe and he’s old, waahhhh.”

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Anyway, because Mary hated Charles so much it means that actually they were deeply, deeply attracted all along and they have the most uncomfortable and awful sex scene I’ve seen. After all, if a woman doesn’t like you and obviously detests you, that means she’s actually in love with you because yeah, let’s bring that trope into it because it’s not offensive or ridiculous at all.

Mary doesn’t handle meeting the King of Portugal very well.

Two things:

  1. Grow up, buttercup. You’re a royal princess, and this is the name of the game. At least you’ve got a husband who wants to make you happy. You could be like Joanna of Castile, who was tortured into insanity by her husband.
  2. If we accept the premise that this is all taking place in 1525, then the King of Portugal would be John III. Who was twenty three at the time. I have no idea who this old man is supposed to be. John III also married Catherine of Austria in 1525, so there’s no chance for him to marry Mary.

Mary can’t stomach being married to such a horrible old man (whose only fault is that he’s old), so hatches her own plan.

In real life, Mary Tudor married the King of France, who was much older than herself, and he died a few months later. It was said that he died of being in bed with her too much, so I’m guessing that there is just nothing right about this storyline. She absolutely did not decide to smother her husband because EW OLD.

Let’s Talk Fashion, Baby

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There is absolutely no shape or structure to this gown. The hood is ridiculous, a sort of strange headpiece that has no place in a sixteenth century drama, and the gown is slim fit, with no shape and certainly no undergarments that were worn by women of the period.

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This is Mary Tudor. Her gown has a fitted bodice worn over a chemise, farthingale, and petticoat. Her hood is not a really random plantpot sort of pinned into her hair.

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I don’t like any of Henry’s sofa-inspired suits. None of them are accurate. He’s meant to look big and broad shouldered! This is far too slim and flattering.

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Yeah, no. That looks practically seventeenth century. There is nothing right for an English gown of the period on this dress.

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Why can’t this show get a single hood right? Even Anne Boleyn’s hoods? When she’s famous for introducing the French hood to the English court? What’s up with her short sleeved jerkin thing? Why has she got short sleeves on?

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Those dresses are very fifteenth century Italian apart from the sleeves, which are bits of cloth attached to each other with string. Also: these two women came onto Thomas Tallis, a minor character who’s been hanging around for the past few episodes, and loudly announce how much they want to have sex with him. They are interchangeable, have no names, dress the same, and only wish to have sex with men. They exist for no reason other to be sexual objects to men.

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Not a single one of Katherine’s gowns are right. Why is the waistline so high? What is that stupid thing they’ve shoved on her head? Where are her trumpet sleeves?

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Square necklines, big sleeves, cone farthingale underneath the skirt, and a great big ol’ gable hood. Not ‘sexy’ I guess, but it’s better than the terrible mess Katherine is wearing that makes no sense.

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These women are on loan from an English civil war drama. ’cause not a single one of them looks like they’re from the 1520s.

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Ew. That’s leather stays and they look gross as as hell. Accurate, but the pleather looks terrible. And the sleeves are terrible. And no Tudor woman would consider wearing this, at all.

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Anne is pretty much dressed as a woman from 1620s. The laced, elbow length sleeves, the exaggeration around the stomacher, the way the skirt is shaped – this looks Jacobean. It’s a whole century out.

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Obviously, the bodice on Anne’s dress is considerably longer, but the shape bears more in common with this dress than a Tudor gown.

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Hell, it even looks more like this dress from 1670 than anything from the 1520s.

That’s it for this week, costume fiends, but come back next weekend for another forray into historical inaccuracies, poor costuming, and the screaming tantrums of a man-baby that apparently passes for an interpretation of a renaissance monarch.