The Tudors: What You Need to Know

Hey there Douxers. In addition to Person of Interest and Scandal, I am going to be taking on reviews of The Tudors. If you haven’t seen it, it was a great show on Showtime from a few years ago. As a bonus, it’s currently on Netflix Instant. In anticipation of my forthcoming reviews, I decided to do a little primer on all things Tudors. Well, not all things, but the important ones.

Some Background (Spoiler Free)

I do love this show and I have for years. I will admit, however, that, as awesome as the show is, it does not do a great job at introducing new people. This isn’t the pilot problem of not having enough time to establish who is the sister of whom. This is a recurring problem for the show. In season three, there is a man with an eyepatch. They never really explain who he is, how he came to be at court, why he wasn’t there before, or why he has an eyepatch. I’ll get to him in season three, however. Let’s start off with some basics on our leading gentlemen and ladies. Again, if you haven’t seen the show, I promise this won’t spoil anything.

Henry and Catherine

We start off in the year 15-something-something. They never really say which is smart because they do mess with the time line a bit in the beginning. It’s around 1525ish. I think. Possibly a bit earlier. Or later. I guess it doesn’t really matter. Henry VIII is on the throne. He’s young, attractive, and has a string of lovers, the most recent of which is Bessie Blount.

His wife is Catherine of Aragon. The daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, Catherine was originally married to Arthur, Prince of Wales, Henry’s older brother. Arthur died at age 15, six months after their marriage. Not wanting to lose Catherine’s massive dowry, Henry VII (father of Arthur and Henry VIII) decided to affiance Catherine to his second son, now heir to the throne. At the time, Catholic teaching forbade marrying one’s sibling-in-law, which meant that the marriage needed papal dispensation. This dispensation was granted due to Catherine’s testimony that she and Arthur had never consummated their marriage, thus making them not truly married in the eyes of God.

Things rumbled along tolerably well for a while, until it became clearer and clearer that the couple had some fertility problems. Today we know that fertility is complicated and that the issue can be with either party, but this was 15-something-something and the prevailing theory was that it was always the woman’s fault. Miscarriages, non-male children (gasp), sickly babies, infertility, all were the fault of the female in the relationship. Why? Because it was easier to blame the person with the least power. Don’t get me started on a feminist rant, I promise, you’ll regret it. We’ll just have to accept that, according to the “science” of the time, Catherine is to blame for the lack of manchild. This isn’t to say that the couple has no children, just no children that count (i.e. have penises). Little Princess Mary exists, and is adorable.

Other People

Other players at court include Henry’s two closest advisers Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (easily recognized by his red hat and the fact that he is Sam Neill) and Thomas More (Jeremy Northam, who I had a huge crush on when I was little). Henry’s three closest friends also feature heavily in the beginning of the series. Charles Brandon (Henry Cavill) is the hot one with the jaw that looks like it was carved by angels, Anthony Knivert is the brunet, and William Compton (sorry fellow True Blood fans, different William Compton) is the blond. Thomas Boleyn (Nick Dunning) and his brother-in-law the Duke of Norfolk (Revenge’s Henry Czerny) are seen in this episode as well. I promise you’ll come to know them perfectly well through the show. Finally we have Henry’s current political rival, the Duke of Buckingham (the redhead with the shark eyes). Buckingham has a claim to the throne through some ancestor and is jealous that Henry is king. Buckingham comes from an old and powerful family and is very wealthy. He has a daughter named Anna.

If you’re really interested in the time period, I highly recommend The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser. It provides a great, comprehensive overview of the time period without being horrifically boring. Read it and you’ll find that a surprising amount of The Tudors’ dialogue comes from historical documents. The writing staff really did their research. They didn’t always use said research, but no one’s perfect, right?

A Note on Catherines, Janes, and Annes

Henry VIII married six women with three names among them. Apparently, people just weren’t that creative at coming up with baby names in the 1500s. I mean, look at the cast list. Do you see how many Thomases there are? For the men, it’s easiest to refer to them by their last names as is generally done on the show (the most obvious exceptions being Henry and his buddies). The ladies, however, often don’t have last names (i.e. Catherine of Aragon, Anne of Cleves) or their last names are the same as other characters (Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard). It should be fairly easy to keep the wives straight, since the Catherines and the Annes do not overlap. When there is any doubt, I will use full names. Also, for the purposes of these reviews I am spelling Catherine with a C. Different sources have different Catherines using different letters at different times, but I decided to simplify things. I will probably screw up at some point and type ‘Katherine,’ but know that this is not a different person. It’s just that my mom spells it with a K. And a -YN, but let’s not go there.

A Note on Spoilers

Most of my reviews will probably contain some spoilers. Nothing too spoilery, and nothing that should surprise you at all if you know anything about Henry VIII. Anne Boleyn dies. There, did I shock you? This article will contain a few more detailed spoilers, so I suggest skipping the rest if you haven’t already watched the series.

Historical Accuracy

Despite its reputation for historical inaccuracy, most of what is shown on the show actually did happen. The writers invented some plot points, but generally did so in service to the story and the audience’s understanding. For instance, William Brereton was not commissioned by the pope to assassinate Anne Boleyn. The entire storyline was created to illustrate Anne’s unpopularity, both among the English people and Catholic leadership.

Some plots were simplified in order to reduce audience confusion. Henry VIII actually had two sisters: Mary and Margaret. In the series, only Margaret exists. Apparently this was done to prevent the audience from confusing Mary Henry’s sister with Mary Henry’s daughter. By doing this however, I have to say that the writers created more of a problem than they fixed. In the show, Margaret is Henry’s only sister and lives the life Mary lived in history. In history, it was Mary that married Charles Brandon, not Margaret. Confused enough? It gets worse. Mary wasn’t married to the King of Portugal, but to the King of France. They changed the storyline because apparently in The Tudors, time moves more quickly in France than in England. Mary’s historical French husband is already long dead when the show starts and his successor sits on the throne. In later seasons, the King of Scotland is always described as Henry’s nephew, but this is never explained. In history, Margaret married the King of Scotland, and her son, James V of Scotland, was Henry’s nephew. This is just an example; there are many more instances of things like this throughout the show. I’ll be mentioning some of these occasionally, but correcting every tiny historical inaccuracy in the show would get old really quickly.

The timeline of the series is condensed, but you can hardly fault The Tudors for this. The show would have been deadly boring if they had been forced to go at a historical pace. And I’m not sure they would have gotten picked up for the twenty or so years the show covers. They do monkey around a bit with what happened first, particularly in the first season. Historical Mary (Tudors Margaret) was already married to Charles Brandon by the time the main events of The Tudors began, etc.

Finally, I’ll state what should surprise no one. The characters of The Tudors are younger and more attractive than their historical counterparts. What? They cast beautiful people on TV? Shocking, I know. The one exception to the youth part is Catherine of Aragon (Maria Doyle Kennedy). Her age was historically correct. Mid-forties around the time the show begins. According to the show, however, Henry was in his twenties. In reality, only six years separated the pair.

As far as maintaining the appearance of their characters, no one really looks like they should. Anne Boleyn was famous for her “black” eyes, and not Natalie Dormer’s gorgeous baby blues. Henry VIII was a redhead and is estimated to have been about 6’ 2” (other sources say even taller) and not 5’ 9” like Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Luckily for Rhys Meyers, he also doesn’t measure up to Henry VIII in girth. According to a suit of armor designed for the king in his later years, he had a 52” girth. Go get a tape measure. I’ll wait. Interesting side note: men’s court fashion was affected by Henry’s size. It became fashionable to wear all those layers and those weird puffed out tops in order to emulate the king and his prodigious waist.

Anne of Cleves is a little more confusing case. While she is supposed to have been the ugliest of Henry’s wives, it has been frequently suggested that perhaps she was not all that ugly, that Henry simply disliked her, and that (shockingly) no one thought to correct the axe-happy tyrant and imply that maybe she wasn’t so ugly after all. The other theory ventured forth on Anne’s behalf was that her Prussian mannerisms and fashions were seen as weird and undignified in English court. In the show she is played by Joss Stone, who I don’t think anyone could argue is ugly.

Anne Boleyn suffered from ugliness by reputation as well. For centuries there have been reports that she was hideous and that she had some sort of physical aberration, a third nipple and eleventh finger being the two most frequently described. This is likely untrue. I mean, look at this logically. Do we really think that the egomaniacal Henry would have condescended to marry anyone with any ever so slight physical anomaly? True, she might have been able to hide the extra nipple, but the extra finger? The more reasonable answer is that Anne’s ugliness and alleged deformities were inventions of her enemies (which included pretty much everyone). She was really hated and, by the time of her death, most people thought she was a witch. And, as we know from Glinda the Good Witch of the North, bad witches are ugly.


From left to right: Catherine of Aragon (Maria Doyle Kennedy), Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer), Jane Seymour (Annabelle Wallis), Anne of Cleves (Joss Stone), Catherine Howard (Tamzin Merchant), Catherine Parr (Joely Richardson)

14 comments:

CrazyCris said...

Excellent! Will be so much fun revisiting this series through your posts! I think I remember most of it... but I might have to watch along (especially since with Nov sweeps coming up, most show will be taking a break soon). How often do you think you'll be reviewing them? I'll dig out those dvds! ;o)

Especially if your reviews are as fun as this post! :o)

I trust you'll be able to dig up some explanation for the swapping of Jane Seymour actresses? That was annoying!!! And I hope you'll continue to point out some of the historical inconsistencies... those were fun to identify when I watched the show! Not that I'm complaining they rejuvenated Henry VIII and turned him into Jonathan Rhys-Meyers. Yum! ;o)

One thing that annoyed me was Maria Doyle Kennedy's appaling accent whenever she spoke Spanish!!! Was painful! So were some of the French accents...

Really looking forward to this! :o)

Billie Doux said...

We're adding another classic show to our roster! Yay!

How does one pronounce "Douxers"?

Rebeca said...

I loved The Tudors!!! I´m looking forward to your reviews.

Personally I prefer Season 1 & Season 2 because my favorite queens have always been Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. (I really like them all but I always loved Catherine for her strength and Anne for her out-going personality)

CrazyCris - My first language is Spanish but I don´t find Maria Doyle Kennedy´s accent so bad, maybe because I´ve heard way worst... at least I was able to understand her.


morgan india said...

"Doo-ers"? "Dow-ers?"

I'm really excited that you're reviewing The Tudors. And how can you say no to something with this cast?

And you know ... Sam Neill.

According to an interview with Natalie Dormer, the producers originally wanted Anne Boleyn to be blonde.

sunbunny said...

Doo-ers, of course. :)

Cris, I'm hoping to post one or two a week, at least until Christmas craziness takes me over. They're taking a long time to write because so much happens in every single episode!

Natalie Dormer's French drives me nutso. It's about as good as mine, which is not good at all. I never noticed Kennedy's Spanish. I'll have to pay better attention!

sunbunny said...

BLONDE!? Oh that would have been a disaster. Natalie Dormer looks much better with dark hair. It makes her absurdly perfect skin glow. Not that I have anything against blondes, being one myself. :)

Anonymous said...

Oh, I loved the Tudors. Great series and your article is very promising. I´m looking forward to the reviews.

I read somewhere that the first Jane didn´t want to do nudity and that´s why they had to change the actresses.

A blonde Anne would have been a bad choice. Anne was perfect the way she was in the series.

I hope this comment won´t vanish like some others did on this site, although they were there at first...for a minute or two.

CrazyCris said...

Rebecca I'll pop the dvds in and give her another listen, but my memory of my impressions of the show was "ouch!" whenever she spoke Spanish. She spoke well, but the accent... Is your Spanish Castilian Spanish or Latinamerican? If it's different from mine it might account for our different reactions to her accent.
I seem to remember the ambassador on the other hand speaking much better...

Sunbunny... I can imagine these will be complicated to write up! Good luck with that!

Anonymous said...

What a fun read. I´m really looking forward to read your reviews.

I remeber that the actress plying the first Jane didn´t want to do nudity and that´s why they had to replace her. But maybe I´m wrong.

celticmarc said...

Eyes rolling.

Doux is French !

Repeat after me : "dooo xx(xc) ers " !!! (although doocers would be acceptable too) (and softer)

How do I post a mp3 in here ? LOL

Seriously, I loved the series music, both incidental and from the 15 something something.

Anonymous said...

Maria Doyle Kennedy has a parallel career as a singer(she was in the Commitments once) and her solo albums are great.
Anna

JimGfromWI said...

Loved the Tudors. I love historical dramas, even if the messed with the actual history a little too much on this show. Can't wait to read the recaps here. Just another show on this site I would highly recommend to anyone, although, when Catherine Howard was introduced (Tamzin Merchant) it was a little tough to watch for a few episodes. They played her as an absolute brainless airhead, and the constant, irritating, non-stop giggling made me fast forward a few times, and the final season seemed horribly rushed - no doubt they had more seasons planned, but had to wrap it up quicker than planned or something. Other than that, a wonderful show.

Miguel said...

Yay! I've heard such good things about this show and have wanted to give it a try for a long time, and now your reviews will provide me with a good reason to. I hope you get started soon. I will definitely be reading!

Harry Earle said...

Ahh great that you're doing this sunbunny! Very interesting article and I am looking forward to the episode reviews. You hit the name on the head regarding Henry Cavill's jawline :)

(I too would pronounce it Doo-ksers!)