30 March 2010

The Return of the King

It's not a bad time to be a sixteenth century geek, what with exhibitions at the British Library, Philippa Gregory's constant onslaught of frolickful historical fiction and even Booker Prize-winning literacha set during the Tudors' rule. Of course, what I look forward to most at this time of the year is the start of the new season of The Tudors, which is definitely one of the most amusing shows on TV, although not usually intentionally. With its attractive cast, ludicrous accents and only cursory attention to actual historical events, if I weren't a geek for all things Tudor, I would probably hate it but somehow, the series is compulsive and has made it through to a fourth season (and fifth wife).

Maybe things will be different this year. I mean, they could read the Wikipedia entry for the Tudors (no, not this one that comes up when you search Wikipedia for the Tudors; this one would be a good start, although as I suspect the dynasty will end up dying out with Henry VIII, perhaps his Wikipedia entry would be more useful) and consider some of the events that actually happened in the 1540s. I suspect they may just read the IMDb forums for The Other Boleyn Girl when carrying out research.

I'm not overly confident though. After all, the sixteenth century wasn't really dramatic enough for a weekly TV series for a modern audience, so if they stuck to what really happened, it would be way boring. I mean, all of those affairs and beheadings...dull... (to be fair, those bits were usually pretty accurate apart from when characters were invented, disappeared or merged). On the Showtime website, they are running a helpful set of FAQs. "So, like, who is Henry 8?" is the first question. I'm sorry but that just looks wrong. I realise that not everyone is as proficient with Roman numerals as I am, but if "VIII" is really out, can't they at least write, "Henry the Eighth?" (yes, eighth is a tough word to spell, I know). The answer to the question is thus:
Unexpectedly propelled to the throne of England at an early age, the once young prince soon laid the foundations for one of the most spectacular reigns in English history. Now in his late forties, with an ailing body and increasing sense of paranoia, the king is more obsessed than ever with his quest for an heir. It's all been leading up to this, as the scandalous reign of King Henry comes to an epic finale, and he will stop at nothing to secure his place in history.
Doesn't Jonathan Rhys-Meyers immediately conjure up images of a man in his late forties with an ailing body? So far in the series, he is supposed to have gone from age 20-ish to 50-ish but naturally, appears only to have aged about three years; he must be using Crème de la Mer. Oddly, he doesn't yet seemed to have mastered an English accent, either; you'd expect more from the King of England (and assorted bits of France). At least they didn't use David Starkey's ubiquitous gobbet, "Henry went from spare...to heir," I suppose.

Henry's last two queens, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr, are traditionally portrayed as polar opposites. Catherine Howard (Catherine II?) is the slutty, young thing that Henry hopes will revitalise his "quest for an heir" (if that's the euphemism he wants to use) but who can't keep her legs together or her indiscretions to herself. Catherine III, meanwhile, is older than her predecessor and already twice widowed (one of the main problems with Catherine II was that Henry later discovered that she wasn't a virgin when they hooked up, which hurt his pride to say the least and led to her tumbling rapidly from her pedestal; at least a widow wasn't expected to be pure). An intelligent intellectual who nurses Henry tenderly through his dying years, while, on the side, pushing her own radical, Protestant agenda and grooming Henry's daughter Elizabeth to follow in her footstep (in terms of religion, that is). Of course, the devoted nursemaid ended up finally marrying the man she really loved, Thomas Seymour, scandalously soon after Henry's death. Not that that ended happily either: Seymour spent months romping and frolicking with the 14-year-old Princess Elizabeth and Catherine died of puerperal fever a few days after giving birth to a girl who never survived infancy.

The moral of the story is that you shouldn't be called Catherine. Or Thomas. And you definitely shouldn't marry Henry 8 VIII. Well, maybe the TV show will have a different moral. I guess I'll have to tune in to find out.

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