For the next few months, I am going to be doing a weekly blog posting about Showtime’s The Tudors that will cover what parts are Hollywood and what parts are based on real history.
If you have missed episode 1 and 2 then they are out on DVD or you can download them off of itunes. The official release date for the first episode of season 3 is April 5th but you can watch The Tudors from OnDemand now if you are a Showtime subscriber.
WARNING: THE FOLLOWNG CONTAINS SPOILERS. DO NOT READ FURTHER IF YOU HAVE NOT WATCHED EPISODE I OF SEASON 3.
Behind the bodice ripping and way too pretty actors, The Tudors actually pulls together an amazing amount of historical details in the first episode of season 3. Let’s start with the truth….
We start with the marriage of Jane and Henry followed by a sumptuous banquet (Jane’s marriage took place in the Queen’s Closet at Whitehall). Jane gets a new puppy and Edward Seymour is made Viscount Beauchamp. Jane has her first meeting with the ambassador to Spain, Chapuys. Henry is forced to interrupt the meeting when the conversation steers toward Jane being the pacific queen that unites daughter Mary with Henry. For lucky wife #3, Henry wants the misses to stay out of politics so he reminds Jane to keep her mouth shut or suffer the same fate as Anne. Jane’s coronation is then conveniently postponed due to plague. Soon Jane is feeling the pressure as Henry becomes disenchanted with his new motherless bride.
Henry’s right hand man, Cromwell is made Lord of the Privy Seals, which basically means he has the power to sign important documents like which monastery to burn today. Cromwell justifies his actions by complaining about priests being caught with their pants down (true) and religious hoaxes swindling the people out of their pennies (true). We see a few very smoky monasteries in the background, some desecrated statues, and Cromwell cracks a joke about the holy bible doubling as both reading material and toilet paper. (People raiding the monasteries really were wiping their bottoms with it). The smell of burnt crucifixes makes the evangelistic Cromwell rather giddy until he angers a few disaffected Catholics (roughly 40,000). This might not have been such a problem if it were not for the fact that Henry had only about 10,000 loyal soldiers to fight. You can do the math. These “pilgrims” all have one basic goal in mind….Cromwell’s head on a stake.
Robert Aske is forced into the role of leader and voice of the people. He looks like he is about to kill puppies instead of head up a rebellion. I thought The Tudors did an excellent job showing Aske’s dilemma of who to betray – his king or his religion.
Flash to a terrified Mary who is told that her head is going to resemble a boiled apple if she doesn’t recognize Henry’s annulment from her mother and his all important title of Supreme Head of the Church. Against her conscience, Mary decides to sign and a touching renewal between Father and daughter follows where Mary gets to pocket 1000 crowns and keep her head.
No one is hit harder than little Elizabeth who is living more like a pauper than a princess. Her governess Lady Bryan is forced to write a letter to Henry begging for some money for dresses. But Henry is not in a magnanimous mood because his festering leg wound is making him terrible grouchy and he still has no word of a future son.
The following are scenes with a little Hollywood creative license…
Lady Rochford whines that Cromwell refuses to answer her letters and she is left without a penny to keep her living like a typical obsequious courtier. In truth, Jane Rochford wrote a groveling letter to Cromwell begging him to go to the king on her behalf so that she may secure her jointure. Although Cromwell did not get back Lady Rochford’s lands, he did secure for her an allowance of 100 pounds instead of 100 marks…. a significance raise. In fact, Lady Rochford most likely secured her position in Jane’s household through Cromwell. Even Cromwell could be a nice guy.
A quick word about Queen Jane's attire...although I love the sumptuous and colorful dresses that Jane wears throughout the episode, the truth is that she dressed more like a women stuck on a polygamous ranch than a fashionista. Jane banned French fashions including the more flattering french hood and dressed in all black insisting that her ladies do the same. But who wants to look at a court full of young ladies dressed in dowdy black?
Mary did recognize Henry as The Supreme Head of the Church but it was not really at the insistence of Chapuys. People like Nicholas Carew stood to lose much more if Mary did not sign. He was one of the many Catholics who begged Mary to sign. She really was feeling the pressure from all sides and I felt The Tudors could have dramatized this pressure a bit more. (The comment about Mary’s head turning into a boiled apple was also made by Norfolk and not Francis Bryan. ) Where did Norfolk go? I forget.
Some serious license is taken concerning the Pilgrimage of Grace. In the Tudors, Brandon is asked to head up the army to end this whole messy business. In reality the Duke of Suffolk put down the Lincolnshire rebellion and the Duke of Norfolk out down the lengthier Northern rebellion. But alas, the producers probably knew that Henry Cavil (Brandon, Duke of Suffolk) would make a far sexier leader in these scenes. The Tudors has also compressed the rebellions to make the plot flow smoother. Technically, only the Northern rising is considered part of the "Pilgrimage of Grace" whose main objective was to take back 'the Cross of Christ'. The ring leaders in the Pilgrimage of Grace were Sir Robert Constable (NOT John Constable) and Robert Aske. Sir John Constable played a very minor role and was actually pretty adamant about not joining their cause.
Probably the most disturbing distortion is the fact that Hollywood has aged Aske by about 30 years. In reality, Robert Aske was around 30 at the time of the rebellion. Aske’s age makes you wonder how he is going to survive the long tribulations ahead of him when he looks like he should be on social security. I am guessing that the producers wanted to cast Aske as the wise and older authority, but in reality he wasn’t sporting that much gray hair. The Tudor’s Aske also has both eyes in place while the real Aske was missing an eye. But you know Francis Bryan was notorious for his eye patch and we can’t have two people missing an eye because it might confuse viewers. hmmm
In the last scene, Henry threatens that Cromwell is going to be made a head shorter if he doesn’t put down the rebellion. In truth, Henry conquered the rebels by deception, not force. On the advice of Cromwell and Norfolk, Henry wrote a letter to the leaders agreeing to their demands. Aske returned to London and Henry conveniently changed his mind and had him executed (He’s the king…so he can do that). Because Cromwell’s advice saved the crown, Henry and him were as chummy as ever during this time. So although I appreciate Myers smoldering looks as much as the next person, I would have liked to seen a more 3- dimensional Henry here…someone capable of using political deception as easily as brute force. Maybe that is coming next episode?
And lastly, the seductive Ursula is poor Hollywood invention, but I am really enjoying this addition because I don’t know what is going to happen. Stay tuned for Historical vs Hollywood to be posted after episode 2 airs on April 12th.
Please also let me know if people are curious about which parts are accurate or if you rather just sit back and enjoy Henry Cavil getting all sweaty. If no one is interested then I am probably not going to continue this thread.