Unpicking the Tudors; S1 E3


Good morrow, costume fiends! Welcome to your insight into Henrican politics for the week!

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Wolsey, Wolsey, Wolsey!++++

The King asks Charles to escort his sister, Margaret, to her betrothed and promotes him to Duke of Suffolk. The envoys from the Holy Roman-Emperor meet with Cardinal Wolsey and determine how to cement the treaty between the two nations. Anne catches the King’s notice in a play. The Emperor is invited to the King’s court. It is learned that the King of France knows of the treaty talks- and the Cardinal is quick to find a scapegoat. We learn more of why Anne’s father and uncle want her to seduce the King.

As usual, the pace is really rattling on. Each episode covers a truly huge amount of events and many different plotlines. To be honest, it does work. It makes the Tudor court seem very vibrant, busy, and a potboiler of intrigue. It just means I have a lot of history to cover!

Begot by Butchers, But By Bishops Bred

Wolsey, you see, is evil.

After the French cardinals screwed him over, Wolsey has now entered into a secret treaty with the Holy Roman Empire. Wolsey, in real life. mediated between the Holy Roman Empire and France in 1519, but this treaty is clearly the Treaty of Bruges from 1521. This started to be debated during the Field of Cloth of Gold, and it’s often seen as Wolsey’s finest work in international politics. It joined Henry and Charles in a mutual treaty if France would not sign a peace treaty. Wolsey had ambitions of a peaceful Europe, with England acting as an arbitrator, and it was a masterstroke of international diplomacy.

However, in the show it’s evidence that Wolsey is EEEEEEVILLLLLLL.

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He’s taking money from the Emperor! He’s evil!

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He has an innocent man sent to death! He accuses this man of spying for the French but it’s actually…. Wolsey!

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Wolsey has a secret mistress! He’s EEEEEEVVVVILLLL. Evil! That’s his whole motivation!

Okay, I see your game, show. The show needs a Big Bad. It’s a easy system of protagonist-to-antagonist narrative brought in by the highly developed and arc system of story telling brought in by Buffy. Unfortunately, it does not work here. Creating a narrative out of Tudor history is a necessity of making a fictional television show about these events, but having Wolsey as an arch manipulator and secretly evil minister is based on some incredibly old historiography that has been mostly revised and dismissed by modern historians. Obviously, I’m a little biased as my adviser during university was a scholar and defender of Cardinal Wolsey, but the idea of Wolsey as manipulator and Henry VIII as puppet is incredibly old-fashioned and not really in-keeping with modern Tudor academia.

I’ll talk more about it as the seasons progress. But, needless to say, Wolsey as being this evil minister is old fashioned, lazy, and a waste of Sam Neil’s talents.

EUSTACCEEEEEEE

This treaty with Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, brings in one of my favourite figures of the period.

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Eustace Chapuys. This guy. This guy is one of my favourite people of the sixteenth century. He worked as Imperial Ambassador to the English Court from 1529 to 1545, and he’s notable for his wonderful legacy – incredibly detailed correspondence. He had a head for gossip and reported everything that he heard, and it’s such a goldmine of intrigue and whisperings and I love reading them and I love him.

We’ll ignore that he’s nine years early.

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To commemorate and sign the treaty, Charles V actually arrives in England to sign it himself, not through a proxy. It was pretty unusual for foreign royalty to visit England for things like this – being that England is pretty out of the way in Europe – but he actually visited England a number of times.

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This is contemporary artwork of Charles V visiting England in 1520. The events the show is depicting took place in 1522, however. Vague timelines of vagueness strike again, but I appreciate that the show made efforts to depict the Hapsburg jaw.

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This is Charles V in 1519. As you can see, he has a deformation of the jaw. The Hapsburg jaw is a pretty famous example of the effects of inbreeding on a family, and this is not even the worst example of it.

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As part of the treaty, Charles V is engaged to the Princess Mary. This also happened in real life; in 1522, the six year old Mary was engaged to the twenty two year old Charles. The two, while they never married, remained close for their entire lives.

Katherine is pleased with England aligning their interests with the Empire. Considering that she is fearful that Henry will divorce her, having her powerful nephew on side can only help her. And, in another element that is true, Katherine and Charles were very close and kept in constant contact.

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She swears to being a virgin whilst married to Arthur, the elder brother of Henry VIII who died in his teens (and whose death ensured that Henry would be king) and to her unwavering love and devotion to her husband and king. Maria Doyle Kennedy is pure class as Katherine. Her performance is excellent, sincerity and fire balanced with such a nuanced sadness. She acts Henners out of the water, every time.

A Historic Meeting

She’s right to be worried about her marriage as one particularly famous lady is ready to make her court debut.

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This is something else that both pleases and frustrates me. The masquerade of Chateau Vert was really where Anne Boleyn made her debut at the English court. It was really conducted to entertain the Imperial delegation for celebrating the Treaty of Bruges in 1522. However, it was not where Henry became interested in Anne. His romantic and sexual interest would not start for about another four years.

But it does make a suitably dramatic set-piece.

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There are also guns. I don’t know why. This guy just starts shooting a gun at the rehearsal, for reasons I can’t begin to fathom.

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Couldn’t say it better myself, Mister Master of the Revels. Who is wearing a ruff. In 1522.

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The theme of the masquerade is that noble virtues are held captive and must be rescued by brave gentlemen. The female participants actually did wear white satin dresses. However, I highly doubt that they really wore wispy things that exposed their nip nips and had stupid little ruffs that do not match the period at all. Those dresses are very inappropriate. Sure, they’re ‘sexy’ and ‘risque’ I guess, but they look awful.

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The men have Henry disguised amongst them. In real life, it’d be pretty easy to see which one was Henry. After all, he was red haired and, oh yeah, about a foot taller than everyone else. Here, Henners is actually one of the shorter men in the cast. And I think those tights are some really cheap costuming. I doubt polyester tights were available in the 1520s.

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That’s some accurate Tudor body glitter these ladies are wearing.

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And Henry and Anne lock eyes for the very first time. Very dramatic and breathtaking, but all I can think is that winged eyeliner is really not right. This moment is ruined by Anne’s incredibly fashion forward makeup choices.

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So Anne is flirty and sexy and keeps putting herself in the way of Henry throughout the episode. I find her use of face glitter perplexing, but I guess it’s the key to a early modern king’s heart.

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Henry has a dream sequence with Anne that is sort of French sixties dreamscape cinematography, but that I hate because in any form of fiction I really dislike OVERLY! SIGNIFICANT! AND MEANINGFUL! DREAM! SEQUENCES! I find them a really lazy means to continue and express plot points. I take it as a sign that the writer couldn’t think of a better way to get from point A to point B.

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My sheets are wet? But how…

A Sexy Plot

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Only Anne’s interactions with Henry aren’t natural. Her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, and her father are contriving Anne’s relationship with Henry. Why? For land? Jewels? The Earldom of Ormonde that Thomas Boleyn really, really wanted? Uh, no. It’s all to get red of Thomas Wolsey. Because he’s common and too powerful and clearly Anne can badger Henry into getting rid of Wolsey.

Yeah, no. Even if you buy into the ludicrous theory that the Boleyn affair was manipulated into happening by a family who wanted political power, the idea that Anne Boleyn could ‘trick’ Henry into getting rid of Thomas Wolsey doesn’t work. That’s not how one talked or worked with a sixteenth century monarch. They are not a modern politician to be manipulated and petitioned and debate with. A sixteenth century monarch is literally a figure of God – a person who is divinely ordained to be a ruler. You don’t manipulate or try to badger a person you literally believe was chosen by God to be in charge.

These Are Strange Castles

The show also has a weird problem with research of estates and homes.

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This is not Framlingham Castle.

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This is Framlingham.

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This is not Hever Castle.

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This is Hever Castle.

I appreciate that it was probably impossible and far too expensive to film at the actual locations. I get that and I’m not cross that they’re not filming a two minute scene at the actual location. But why go to the expense of creating CGI and then not actually CGI the correct building? Google, man. Google is your friend.

You Simply Must Meet Thomas

Thomas More has been quietly simmering away as a character, but now he’s getting a bit more prominence and it’s clear why; he’s the Thomas that isn’t EEEEEVVVVILLLLLLLL.

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He helps Henry edit Defence of the Seven Sacraments!

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Wolsey cuts him out of the negotiations with the Imperial court and look how hurt Thomas More is! Booooo Wolsey!

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Henry makes Thomas More gather up copies of Martin Luther’s works and burn them and it makes Thomas sad!

Yeah, let’s ignore how happy and willing Thomas More was to round up reformers and have them tortured and burned alive.

FYI, I do not like Thomas More. I’ll admit my bias straight out. I think he was a sanctimonious hypocrite and I’ve never liked him. I can appreciate how important he was as a statesman and architect of the English renaissance but I don’t like how he’s played as being Mister Goody-Goody.

There’s Something About Margaret

The last element of this week’s episode is Henry’s ongoing drama surrounding his sister, Margaret. You see, she’s due to be married to the old and ailing King of Portugal and she’s not happy about this.

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There are a lot of problems with this.

For a start, this plotline is based on Henry’s sister Mary. His sister Margaret was married off at the age of twelve to the King of Scotland many years previously, but she apparently does not exist for the purposes of the show. Mary was married in 1514 to the King of France, Louis XII, a man thirty years her senior, at the age of eighteen.

So, wrong sister, wrong king, wrong year, and I’m sorry to say, wrong choice of actress. The actress does a fine job, but she’s not an eighteen year old getting married for the first time.

She is to be sent to Portugal escorted by Charles Brandon, Henry’s friend. Margaret is very rude to him (despite Charles Brandon being a companion to the royal nursery since childhood) and Henry makes him Duke of Suffolk to make Brandon seem suitably grand. In actuality, he was made Duke of Suffolk around 1514 as part of a scheme to marry him to Margaret of Savoy.

I have read that the show writers decided to mix up Henry’s sisters because they felt that there were too many Marys and viewers may confuse the elder Princess Mary for Henry’s daughter, Mary. Generally, when I see a forty year old woman I don’t confuse her for a six year old. But I can’t speak for everyone.

It’s All About The Sleeves, Bout The Sleeves, They’re Not Right

The fashion of The Tudors this week seems to be focused on sleeves.

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The show seems to be obsessed with really weird sleeve fashions. Why are her sleeves just hanging there like that? Why are they so thin? Why are they like long cuffs for her arms?

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Anne is really deep into her scene phase RN. And that dress… it’s not only hideous, it’s just so wrong. The sleeves, the bodice, the shoulder thing, the weird puffed bits, the lack of petticoat – there is nothing right about this garment. Not a single thing.

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Margaret is continuing the weird off the shoulder puffed roll thing. I don’t like it. Ont the other hand, I like the slashes of purple on Charles’s doublet. Nice little nod to his imperial power.

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And, again, what’s with the off-the-shoulder with ties arm cuff thing? It’s ugly and a really weird design choice. The brown gown worn by the extra in the far left corner is actually one of the most accurate dresses I’ve seen on the show so far.

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It’s me, grandma, Anastasia

For reasons beyond me, Thomas Boleyn continues to be the only guy who appears period accurate. It really stands out amongst the guys, as they’re all dressed in weird 1580s/1590s clothes.

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When this came up, I actually shouted at my screen. That hat, that doublet, is so from the 1590s. He’s ready to start committing a plot to have Elizabeth I swapped for James of Scotland. The thinness of the doublet, the lack of slashing, the short cloaks, the tall hat – none of it is right for 1522.

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Did you wrap a bolster cushion around your head?

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It’s Katherine and her Elizabethan back-up dancers.

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This is a painting from 1600. You see her hair? The style of her dress? The way it falls around the waist, the largeness of her sleeves, the way the pearls fall around the bodice?

Yeah, those dresses for the extras would be great – for an Elizabethan costume drama! Those dresses are eighty years too fashion forward!

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They keep insisting on putting really weird shit on the front of Katherine of Aragon’s dresses, and I don’t get it.

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Does Mary Wotten, Lady Guildenford have a weird applique on the front of her dress? No. Because the colour and decoration comes from her sleeves and her petticoat. Katherine’s dresses are so ugly and I have no idea why.

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This is Katherine depicted in the BBC’s Wolf Hall. This is a beautiful costume, well-researched and accurate to the period. It’s elegant and beautiful, while also showing Katherine as an older woman as compared to, say, her daughter (who is stood next to her).

In The Tudors, Katherine basically wears a variety of sacks with weird headbands. I don’t get it.

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On the runway, your couture high was more of a bargain basin low. I’m sorry my dear, you are up for elimination.

And that concludes ‘Wolsey, Wolsey, Wolsey’. See you next week, nerds.

 

Unpicking the Tudors; S1 EP2


‘Simply Henry’

Welcome back costume and history fiends.

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Thanks for those blank staring eyes, Henners. No nightmares here.

‘Henry and his court look to sign the treaty with France, though tempers of both kings flare up at the summit. Meanwhile, Henry takes on a new mistress named Mary Boleyn, though he soon tires of her and Mary’s sister, Anne, is summoned to the court.’

There’s a lot that takes place in this episode. I mean, the stuff with Mary Boleyn could cover an episode in itself but the pace just rattles on through several really important things.

What The Heckaroonie is a Field of Cloth of Gold Anyway?

The Field of Cloth of Gold was a peace summit between Francis I of France and Henry VIII of England, Ireland, and France that took place between the 7th and 24th of June 1520. The really interesting thing about English foreign policy under Henry and Cardinal Wolsey is their interest in creating England as a peaceful arbiter of Europe – to live out Renaissance Humanist policies in real life political policy. The Field of Cloth of Gold was designed to increase the bond between the French and English monarchs after the 1514 Anglo-French treaty. It was also a chance to show off. Both Henry and Francis were incredibly young, flashy, Renaissance monarchs who wanted to strut their stuff.

There’s a lot about the summit that is actually pretty accurate. Someone did really care about getting some of the finer details right.

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This is a 1545 painting from Hampton Court depicting the Field of Cloth of Gold. You can see the English Palace of Illusion, a wine fountain, and Henry and Francis wrestling.

So, these parts are really quite accurate. What’s not so accurate is Henry turning around and throwing a massive temper tantrum.

You see, he lost a wrestling match. And as a perfectly logical thing for a twenty nine year old man to do, he’s having a temper tantrum that involves destroying all his belongings with an axe. The Tudors has gone for a very strange characterisation of Henry. They proclaim to be a new and interesting look at the young Henry, but this involves making him into a screaming, bawling brat with limited character depth.

Henners is also upset that Charles V of Spain, nephew to his wife, has become Holy Roman Emperor and pretty much the most powerful man in Europe. Only this happened in 1519, not 1520, so he’s having a bit of a delayed reaction.

‘Tis a Pity She’s A Whore

The next big thing in the episode is that Mary and Anne Boleyn are more formally introduced and start making things happen. Also they’re WHOOOOOOOOORRRESSSSS, sexy, sexy whores to add all this amazing sex appeal with their naughty sexy behaviour.

I hope I laid the sarcasm on thick enough. I generally find the portrayal of the Boleyn sisters to be pretty poor in anything, and I think Mary’s depiction is pretty degrading. (FYI, my family is descended from Mary Boleyn. Actually. So I tend to get very personally protective of her.)

Let’s compare the Tudors version of Mary and the real one.

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Mary is introduced in a brothel/bar/some place full of sex workers. Because she’s a WHOOORRRRREEEEEE. She’s some woman that Francis I sleeps with – his ‘English Mare’ – and she’s shown as a stupid, slutty woman that has no idea what she’s doing in life other than looking for dick.

It’s a very nuanced character, you see.

In real life, Mary was an accomplished courtier who had been educated in the usual manner of a Tudor gentry woman. You know, maths, reading and writing, grammar, two or three languages, dancing, embroidery, music, singing, gaming, falconry, riding, and hunting. Maybe she wasn’t an overwhelming genius of science or theology, but she was still a highly educated woman. And her education didn’t involve sucking dick.

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Suck my thumb. Do it. Show me your French wiles.

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Mary, it transpires, has been at the French court for two years. That makes this episode set in 1516, then. Mary Boleyn was sent to the French court in the retinue of Mary, Henry’s sister, when she was sent to marry Louis XII of France in 1514.

In real life, Mary and Henry did not meet until 1520 when she returned to the English court to be married. She may or may not have been a mistress to Francis I, but I would err on not. It’s very convenient for her to sleep around because it makes the family look bad, and I suspect it’s gossip that gets reported as fact. Henry and Mary did have an affair, but we don’t really know when or for how long. There’s actually very little evidence of their affair, other than Henry admitting it later when he needed to marry her sister, Anne.

Anyway, her dick sucking is not as good as advertised, and Henry tires of her.

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So the Howard and Boleyn families decide that Anne should step forward and seduce Henry. Because over the course of fifty minutes, where Mary was in two scenes with Henry in total, they were showered with such preference and wealth and prestige that they’re just going to throw Anne at Henners and see if it sticks.

I don’t especially like the whole ‘the Boleyns and Howards planned and maliciously duped Henry for their own power’ idea which pervades shitty historical fiction, and this makes no sense in time. It’s 1520 – or 1516, or 1518 – and Anne and Henry did not become  involved until 1525/1526. Anne wasn’t even in England until 1522. They’re throwing her at him about six years too early.

Also There’s Some Treason

Yeah, the Duke of Buckingham is still plotting away. But not for too long because he’s going to die.

He’s gathering up people loyal to him and he’s going to… do something. Either just outright murder Henners or launch full, open rebellion. In real life, Edward Stafford did no such thing. There’s accusations of him doing treasonous things, such as talking about the death of the King and his lack of children, but he was never outright going to just stab him.

He’s also dressed just like Henry.

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Literally just the same outfit. If you wanted to hire the guy as Henry, why didn’t you.

Anyway, Buckingham gets caught. Because he wasn’t exactly being subtle.

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How could this happen to me, I made a mistake…..

Then some real bullshit takes place with his execution.

This is a catalogue of wrong. Executions of the nobility were generally private affairs, not open to the common sorts of the public. He’s a peer – and even in death, he’s treated with honour. He would not be dragged to his place of execution and he would not sob and weep on the scaffold. Yes, it’s awful to be dying, but he’s a member of the nobility. He would conduct himself with dignity and grace as to not reflect badly on himself and his family.

And a friend of Henners would not be holding a man’s arms down for an execution. That’s just… good lord, it’s terrible. What a terrible, sensationalised depiction of an execution.

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Buckingham’s execution is secured by the Duke of Norfolk, uncle to Anne and Mary Boleyn. He’s blackmailed into this position by Charles Brandon, close friend to Henners, giving him his father’s ring. You see, the Duke of Norfolk’s father was executed by Henry VII.

There’s a lot of wrong in this short two minute scene.

For a start, Thomas Howard as not the Duke of Norfolk in 1520. His father would not die until 1524. Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk, died of old age in his bed. He was not executed by Henry VII. That would certainly be a feat of time travel, seeing as Henners 7 had been dead for twenty five years at that point. You could say that they conflated the third and second dukes, sure. Only the first Duke of Norfolk was not executed by Henners 7 either. He died from an arrow to the face at the Battle of Bosworth. So, there’s nothing really right in this scene. Especially to have Charles Brandon threaten the frigging Duke of Norfolk in the street.

Also, the Duke of Buckingham was arrested and executed in 1521. This was a plotline that could have been allowed to develop for longer; as such, it feels like a rush of hot air that goes nowhere.

God, I Have a Son!

Henry’s mistress, despite finding out that she’s pregnant in the last episode, is already popping it out. Even though it’s Christmas 1520, and Henry Fitzroy was born the 15th of June 1519.

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Tudor women didn’t generally give birth lying in a bed. They used a birthing chair. If they were in a bed, it was the pallet bed that would be underneath the main bed. You don’t want to ruin your nice bed with blood and afterbirth. People have to sleep on that.

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Henners is so overjoyed at this arrival of an illegitimate son that he almost breaks his neck. Good job holding the baby. Guess we know why only one of your children with Katherine survived.

Sashay Shantay

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Collars and high necks are very in this episode. Shame they don’t really become fashionable in Europe until the 1530s. Francis was fashionable, but not this fashion forward. He needs to be wearing a low, square neckline.

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This is better. Square shoulders with undergarments showing. The hair is weird though. Too modern. Even him that nice chinlength bob Tudor men wore.

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Where are your undergarments, Francis??? Your doublet is silk. You know what ruins silk? Water! What is your sweat made of? Water! Keep your clothes fresh and non-stinky with your underwear!

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The collar on Henry’s outfit is far too high, and the doublet looks like it’s from the later half of the sixteenth century. It’s still far better than whatever this get up that Francis has on. Weird Swiss Guard/Fall of the Roman Empire runway look there, Francis. You brought a concept here, but it really doesn’t fit. At all.

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Henry is clearly the architect of the Puritan movement. For some reason. He’s a king. He needs to look it.

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Canadian beaver realness. To be honest, there is not enough fur on these costumes. I know that fur is not looked upon with favour these days, but he should be decked out in the finest of ermine and cheetah. Henry should look more kingly. More money, more power.

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Turns out the greatest hunt is man.

Thomas Boleyn is continuing his fight against bad costumes. His remain the most accurate. Bless you, you evil man. Bless your ongoing stance against high collars.

Curtain Realness

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The exposed shoulders are a bit iffy, as is the single colour for the gowns. Skirts had underskirts of a separate colour. The one colourness is a little cheap for two queens. And there are no trumpet sleeves.

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That nursemaid is straight out of the 1590s. That’s some impressive time travel.

How hard is it to make a bloody hood? Women did not have their hair uncovered in public. Women didn’t have uncovered hair in public until the fricking 1960s, and they certainly wouldn’t in the 1520s. I hate the jewelled headpieces, I hate the stupid headband thing, and I laughed at the strange Nefertiti inspired headpiece worn by the French queen because I have literally no idea what it’s supposed to be. I like her expression though.

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It’s the latest in Tudor maternity wear; pregnancy sack! With added useless shoulder cutouts! Because that’s what you want when you’re pregnant. Not easy access to a toilet, painkillers, and something loose to wear. Cold shoulders is what you really need.

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To prove that Mary Boleyn is a whore, they’ve literally dressed her as a Venetian prostitute.

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Why is your hair loose? Where are your trumpet sleeves? There is an incredibly famous picture of Katherine – use that! Use that as your basis for her clothing and design around that. We know how she dressed, and it was not like this.

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What the fuck is on your head.

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Bessie Blunt is wearing some Restoration gown. Look at those thin sleeves and cuffs – seventeenth century, ish. The hair net is fine, some women did wear them, but look at that woman on the right. That is a 1490s style hood there. Did you get it from your grandmother? That’s thirty years out of fashion, and it’s still not right. The front part of her head is out.

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That waiting woman is wearing a seventeenth century dress. They took that straight off the rack of an English civil war drama and thought ‘eh, it’ll do’. Her hood is Elizabethan as well.

In Other News

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The Pope’s dead. Sorry bout it.