The Tudors on Showtime….. The show is all the rage. Mmmm…… I have studied and read numerous books on the Tudor dynasty for the last 30 years. I love all things Tudor. I’m goofy that way. But one thing bothers me…. People throughout TV land are getting their lesson in British History from a TV show. Good idea? No.
Where could I begin? I think the first and most glaring problem is Henry himself. Henry is now on his 6th marriage. On the show, he is still trim, young and dashing with women throwing themselves at him. In reality, he was a bloated, obese, cruel man, who most women avoided as no one dared to be his wife (bad track record!). Sure the show makes a point of his leg ulcer, but in reality, he had a lot more problems than that.
Another problem with the show is the combining of Henry VIII’s sisters, Margaret and Mary, into one character, “Margaret” . In reality, Mary (aka grandmother of Lady Jane Grey) married the King of France and later the Duke of Suffolk. Margaret married the King of Scotland. On the show “Margaret” marries the King of Portugal and kills him shortly after. Mary Tudor was not a murderer. Also big problem, without the real Margaret Tudor, there is no Mary Queen of Scots, which in turn means no James I, which….. well lets just say the house of Windsor would not be around.
My next problem is the clothing. The clothing of the time is far different then what they have us see on the show. Dresses not from the time period, head coverings unlike anything seen in history, and several actors looking nothing like the people they are portraying. Jane Seymour is a prime example. Jane not only looked nothing like the actress portraying her, she was well-known to dress plainly and brought back the gable hood that went out of fashion with Anne Boleyn. I kept looking for a gable hood and didn’t see one at all.
Want the real Henry VIII? And the real wives? Try David Starkey’s Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII or perhaps The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir. Both authors have written many books on the Tudor dynasty and are considered experts in that field. Weir’s book is a bit of an easier read, but Starkey’s explodes some of the myths surrounding Henry. Each wife is given their due, with most emphasis on Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn of course. There are also some wonderful collections of paintings by Hans Holbein that show in detail the typical clothing of the time.
Finally, if you prefer a fictional slant on the Henry VIII story try The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers by Margaret George. This is one of the best fictional books on Henry VIII I have ever read and is told from the first person view of Henry himself, with an occasional paragraph or two by his court fool Will. Liberties are taken in spots, but the story for a whole is more to reality then the show.
In the end, perhaps the show serves the purpose to interest people in Tudor history. Maybe I am over protective of the Tudors? Or the historian in me is too picky?
– Christine J.