Unpicking the Tudors; S1 E8


I was feeling rather ill when I complied my notes so they are not up to my usual standards. My fashion section is going to be a lot shorter than usual, but rest assured that I found the episode to be full of the usual level of weirdness.

“Truth and Justice”
The Pope’s legate Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio arrives to hear the case for King Henry VIII’s divorce from Katherine of Aragon. Cardinal Wolsey intimidates Campeggio: “Let me make certain things plain to you. If you do not grant the King his divorce, papal authority in England will be annihilated!” Wolsey has assured Henry that the divorce will be granted, but the Pope and Campeggio are not so easily swayed. A desperate Wolsey begs Queen Katherine to abdicate the marriage, but she ultimately refuses. Wolsey’s enemies circle; Anne Boleyn plants more doubt in Henry’s mind about Wolsey, who soon threatens Campeggio both physically and politically. A Legatine Court convenes at Blackfriar’s Church, and both Henry and Katherine plead their cases.

Most of the episode is very solidly focused on the build up to the trial at Blackfriars, so there’s not a lot of sideplots this week. There’s a little going on in some side characters, but the focus is rightly on the ongoing drama with Henry and Katherine.

  • Blackfriars
  • Thomas Tallis
  • Charles and Mary

Real People, Real Stories, This is Judge Campeggio

The episode opens with Henry and Katherine sitting down for a portrait together, which is kind of bizarre because everyone knows they’re splitting up. Portraits take a long time so… why are you getting this portrait done, Henry? What’s the point?

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When you know your scales and your Campeggios…

Campeggio arrives in England and is not too enthused by the prospect of actually making a judgement on the case. It’s pretty clear that he’s been told to delay the trial until Henry gets frustrated and fed up, and Wolsey picks it up. He screams and threatens Campeggio that he will be ANNIHILATED – I mean, that papal authority in England will be annihilated, and may switch over to the new reformed faiths.

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Campeggio talks to Henry and suggests that like the wife of Louis XII (who I mentioned last week, coincidentally) was persuaded to join a convent, Katherine might take the same path. Joan actually founded a very famous order, Order of the Sisters of the Annunciation of Mary (that still exist), and is a saint, so there are worse fates available for Katherine. Katherine is very pious, so Henry is positive, but Wolsey is a little bit more apprehensive.

Wolsey goes and begs on his knees for Katherine to take the offer and have everything over and done with. Katherine is, ha de ha, having nun of it.

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Things are definitely awkward in the royal household. Let’s take a minute to talk about Tudor food! For a start, Tudor food didn’t come in courses. Now, we have three to five courses, but this is actually a Russian idea from the nineteenth century. For Henry, everything would be served at once. There would be a selection of dishes presented for the King and Queen in private dining, both sweet and savoury, and they would select from them. There were no forks – you would eat with a spoon, knife, and your fingers, with a napkin on your shoulder to wipe. This amount of fresh fruit is doubtful, as many fresh fruits were considered either medicinal or dangerous in their natural forms (although how widespread this idea was I find dubious, as I’m pretty sure that people still ate frickin’ apples and strawberries as is).

For a more comedic and slightly more detailed look at eating styles in the sixteenth century, the Supersizers go Elizabethan is a pretty good look at it.

Away from all the main drama, Cromwell has found a way to smuggle The Obedience of the Christian Man by William Tyndale to Anne. It advocates that the king of a country was the head of that country’s church, rather than the Pope, and is the first instance in the English language of advocating the divine right of kings.

I’m very annoyed by this. Anne Boleyn is remarkable and well-known for her intelligence and interest in theological and philosophical writings of the sixteenth century. She was highly educated and she is known (maybe falsely, maybe not) for introducing Henry to thought and works that led to the English Reformation. But LOL no Anne had to be led into this by Cromwell because silly wimmins can’t think for themselves!

Sigh.

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Wolsey is now straight up attacking people in corridors, and has to reveal the news that the Pope would let Anne’s children be legitimised, but no marriage for Henry.

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Meanwhile, Henry and Katherine must live out their normal lives. It’s weird and awkward and Henry has the nerve to call Katherine ‘heartless and selfish’. Dude, low blow.

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Especially when you spend the next day frolicking in bed with your girlfriend. While Henry is otherwise engaged, Anne suggests that Wolsey might be working against him and POOF! That’s it. That’s all it took. No grand manipulations, no working at it, she just suggests it and Henry is immediately suspicious.

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I think Wolsey might be evil, Charles, because my girlfriend said so when I had my head in her crotch.

Arguments and defence teams are being drawn up. Bishop Fisher is standing with Katherine, saying that the length of the marriage invalidates the invalid dispensation and that the Pope should just issue another one. For Henry, Francis I suggests that Henry take a more active role and dispense with Wolsey’s help altogether. After all, the Kings of France had free investiture and a lot more power over the authority of the church in their realm.

While Wolsey continues to lose his shit and randomly attack people all over the shop, the secret cabal against Wolsey plans their winning move. They’re going to release an inflammatory pamphlet!

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It’s finally court day, and it’s a very rowdy day. The citizens of London are out in force and they’re very vocal in their OOOOOHS and AAAAAAHHHSSS. Also, we don’t use gavels in England. We just don’t have ’em.

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I have the most powerful political weapon on Earth – a Change.Org petition!

Henry opens up proceedings with the fact that all the churchmen of England agree that the marriage is invalid and have written a petition and arguments saying so. After all, it’s not him arguing for an annulment – it’s the people of England!

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Katherine, on the other hand, appeals directly to the heart. This really happened; other than arguing to the judges, she went on her knees before Henry and made an emotional plea to him on the basis of twenty years of marriage. Then she swept out of the court room like a true bad b*itch and refused to come back as the court was invalid.

Because they changed a few words around in the speech (mostly to cast shade at Wolsey for being evil), here’s what Katherine said. Her speech was recorded and replicated, most notably in Shakespeare’s Henry VIII. It’s the only thing of worth from that play.

“Sir, I beseech you for all the love that hath been between us, and for the love of God, let me have justice. Take of me some pity and compassion, for I am a poor woman, and a stranger born out of your dominion. I have here no assured friends, and much less impartial counsel…

Alas! Sir, wherein have I offended you, or what occasion of displeasure have I deserved?… I have been to you a true, humble and obedient wife, ever comfortable to your will and pleasure, that never said or did any thing to the contrary thereof, being always well pleased and contented with all things wherein you had any delight or dalliance, whether it were in little or much. I never grudged in word or countenance, or showed a visage or spark of discontent. I loved all those whom ye loved, only for your sake, whether I had cause or no, and whether they were my friends or enemies. This twenty years or more I have been your true wife and by me ye have had divers children, although it hath pleased God to call them out of this world, which hath been no default in me…

When ye had me at first, I take God to my judge, I was a true maid, without touch of man. And whether it be true or no, I put it to your conscience. If there be any just cause by the law that ye can allege against me either of dishonesty or any other impediment to banish and put me from you, I am well content to depart to my great shame and dishonour. And if there be none, then here, I most lowly beseech you, let me remain in my former estate… Therefore, I most humbly require you, in the way of charity and for the love of God – who is the just judge – to spare me the extremity of this new court, until I may be advised what way and order my friends in Spain will advise me to take. And if ye will not extend to me so much impartial favour, your pleasure then be fulfilled, and to God I commit my cause!”

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And Henry is now fully against Wolsey. Like a shifty eyed dog.

I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghost

Thomas Tallis is determined to marry one of the Fucking Girls. I don’t know why.

The only problem is that she’s insane and sees the image of her dead sister following her. I have no idea why this storyline is happening.

Keeping Up With the Brandons

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Mary and Charles live in squalor and misery because Charles keeps sleeping around. Mary hates him and hates going to court because she doesn’t approve of Anne and Henry. Charles hates Wolsey because he was told to. This storyline is really going well, I see.

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Charles outright asks the Queen of France (Claude is dead, guys, she’s really dead by this point) to sleep with him. Yeah, because that would happen. She turns him down because his soul is dead or something.

The Puffed Sleeves – They’re Severe Up In Here.

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Yas, short trunks! Yas! There’s far too many long trunks in this show.

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I like the bodice, but the hat, sleeves, and flatness of the skirt makes me think seventeenth/eighteenth century rather than sixteenth. I don’t like the dress, but it’s so generic ‘this is historical’ that it doesn’t really belong to any period.

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Ah, Mary, my sister, how was the English Civil War? I see you brought an outfit back from the 1650s.

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Stop sniffing her. It’s weird.

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I don’t think this outfit is particularly accurate, but I really like it. There’s something very militaristic, very uniform like, that works as armour that reflects Katherine’s feelings of being attacked and needing to defend herself. It’s a classy highclass outfit that definitely sets her aside from Anne and her ilk.

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Claude is dead and so is her fashion sense.

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Starched ruffs aren’t going to be a thing for another thirty years or so. Wolsey, attack that man as a time invader!

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TRUMPET SLEEVES! AT LAST! AT LAST KATHERINE LOOKS LIKE A TRUE AND ACCURATE QUEEN!

And that’s it for this week. Come back next time for more historical shenanigans.

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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!