I was a little rushed completing this week's Historical vs. Hollywood because I have been on book tour for most of the week, but I found very few inaccuracies in episode four. If I missed any big ones, please add them to the comment section.
The Tudors opens with more news of the rebels being put down by Suffolk (Norfolk) and Henry’s plans for Jane’s coronation. The model barge Henry admires is a pretty accurate replica of the 1526 Bucentaur used by the Doge of Venice (The painting to the left is a 17th century depiction of it). Henry planned to build a similar barge to bring the queen from Greenwich to London for a royal pageant and then proceed to Westminster to be crowned. The Bucentaur was commonly used in ceremonial rituals in which the chief magistrate of Venice, called the Doge of Venice, would cast a ring into the Adriatic to symbolize the marriage of Venice to the sea. *
Cromwell also discusses Lady Mary’s marriage negotiations with Don Luis, the brother of Charles V’s wife Isabella. Don Luis and Mary were both grandchildren of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain and therefore first cousins. This put them in the prohibited fourth degree of kinship and needing one of the Pope’s fancy dispensations to marry. We can guess how that turns out. **
Henry has now got word of Reginald’s latest bestseller, Pro ecclesiasticae unitatis defensione where he called Henry a heretic, adulterer and a dirty barrel, among other things. In 1537, Reginald was causing a whole lot of raucous. He had received a warm welcome in Paris where he most likely tried to convince Francis to take action against Henry. This made Henry hopping mad so he wrote to his cousin Francis asking him for, ‘the deliverance of our rebel Reginald Pole.’ (1) Henry then sent his buddies, Sir Francis Bryan and Thomas Thirlby scrambling to France to basically negotiate kidnapping Reginald. (The Bishop of Verona referred to Bryan as one of Henry’s “principal mignons” indicating that he did not have much faith in Bryan’s diplomatic skills.) Just like in the Tudors, Francis refused to deliver Pole, but did promise to expel him within 10 days. Translation: don’t get me involved in your petty arguments cousin.
Meanwhile, Sir Ralph Ellerker is pardoned and can’t believe his luck. In reality Ellerker had got back into the king’s good graces well before the trials began and even gave evidence against Constable. (I personally thought his character was sort of useless.)
Alas, Robert Aske is not so lucky. He is found guilty and is sentenced to hang in chains at the dungeon of Castle York. You might be thinking (as I was) why not just use a rope people? What is with the chains? Well, after some careful research into torture and executions, it turns out that traitors were often hanged in sturdier chains so that their skeletons could be left hanging for years and years. These mutilated corpses served as a public service announcement to the kids of England….just in case they were thinking of betraying their king.
Flash to a gleeful Cromwell who is scribbling away at yet another letter. The letter in this scene was to Sir Thomas Wyatt in Spain and dated July 8th, 1537. Cromwell writes, “The traitors have been executed. The Lord Darcy at Tower Hill. The Lord Hussey at Lincoln. Aske hanged upon the dungeon of the Castle at York. The rest were executed at Tyburn. So that, as far as we can perceive, all the cankered hearts are weeded away.” The Tudors uses this letter word for word. Yey for real history!
The next scene is either pointless or it is predicting one of Henry’s future love interests. The Lisle daughters (Katherine and Anne) are to be sent to Jane and she will choose one of the daughters as a lady-in-waiting. The daughter that she ends up choosing is rumored beauty, Anne Basset. Henry developed a close “friendship” with Anne and there was talk of a rumored affair after Jane’s death. The Tudors may possibly play up this affair in the next few episodes.
Now that Jane is pregnant, Henry is petting her like a prized Chia pet. A dramatic scene follows where Jane invites Henry to feel the quickening of the baby. This scene is given so much attention because in Tudor times, a pregnancy was not considered viable until doctors could feel the baby move, usually by month four at the earliest. Before ultrasounds, you could pretty much have some really bad gas and mistake it for a healthy pregnancy…which better explains why phantom pregnancies were so common.
Next we see Jane’s confinement at Hampton Palace and some truly harrowing birth scenes that would make any pregnant woman wish to be a gay male. (or at least I did.) We see Jane’s doctors begin to impatiently eye their knives as the birth drags on and on. Were Jane’s doctors really considering performing a Cesarean? In truth, Cesareans were rarely performed in the 16th century because it always led to the death of the mother. No evidence exists in any of the accounts of the prince’s birth that Henry considered such an operation so it is doubtful that even he could be so cruel. Still, this scene is not complete Hollywood rubbish. After Jane’s death, many ballads circulated throughout England containing rumors that Henry had killed his wife by ordering she be cut open.
After two days and three nights, (about two minutes in Hollywood time) Jane finally gives birth to a healthy son on the eve of the Feast of St. Edward. (thus he is named Edward.) At the christening, Edward Seymour carried the Lady Elizabeth and Mary acted as one of the godparents. You might have been wondering why neither Jane nor Henry was at the christening, but it was not customary for royalty to attend. Queens had to actually endure a further confinement because they were still considered “dirty” after giving birth.
Meanwhile, Henry is off celebrating and the scene showing him weeping with joy is actually true. After three marriages, many heads rolling and the greatest church schism England had ever experienced….Henry finally had his son. Viewers can now turn off their tv sets. Right? Not exactly…
Eight days after the christening, Jane went down quickly and her drastic change of health surprised everyone around her. Jane’s doctors reported that the queen had suffered a “natural lax”, or loosening of the bowels. Many historians have theorized that the placenta was not fully expelled after the birth and this led to an infection. In the days before antibiotics, there really was not much doctors could do to save a mother with puerperal fever. Often they would bleed the patient in a fever’s early stages by cutting a vein or applying leeches to the genital and buttocks. ( A procedure that sort of makes you feel guilty for complaining about hospital food.) Bloodletting did work to some degree in the early stages of infection by starving the staph bacteria, but was only effective in the first hours of a fever. Unfortunately, it took Jane’s doctors some time to figure out she was headed for the pearly gates.
The scene that follows with Henry visiting his dieing wife is very touching, but unfortunately pure Hollywood. It was simply not customary for Tudor royalty to visit the dieing and Henry had an endearing habit of making a disappearing act when any of his wives faced death. But despite Henry's avoidance of death, he obviously grieved tremendously for Jane. As shown on the Tudors, Henry must have been reminded of losing his mother in the same manner. In a letter to Francis I, Henry wrote, “divine providence has mingled my joy with the bitterness of death of her who brought me this happiness.” (2) As David Starkey has pointed out, Jane was the perfect wife because she had the good sense to die before she could ever fall from Henry’s graces. She was mother of his only legitimate son and the woman that Henry would remember fondly as the true queen of England. Could another woman fill such a role? Stay tuned for the next episode of Historical vs. Hollywood to find out…
*The Bucentuar was also used in state ceremonies and carried Henry II of France in 1547 and Dogaress Morosina Morosini_Grimani in 1597. Sadly, the Bucentaur was destroyed by Napoleon in 1798 to symbolize his conquering of Venice. A project to restore it began in March of 2008.
**ok if you can’t guess, the marriage negotiations fell through when Charles was unable to convince the Pope to grant a dispensation.
(1) Bernard, p. 405
(2) Fox, p. 231
Bernard, G. W. The King’s Reformation, Henry VIII and the Remaking of the English Court, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007.
Fox, Julia. Jane Boleyn: The True Story of the Infamous Lady Rochford, New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 2009.
Further Sources listed in previous posts