History of the World According to the Movies: Part 9- Medieval England


Of course, no post about medieval England is complete without a picture of Laurence Olivier who’s very much identified with such films of this time and place. This is him playing Richard III in his adaptation of the eponymous and highly historically inaccurate play by William Shakespeare. Sure he may look evil but he doesn’t seem to a good job being grotesque since he still looks pretty hot. Nevertheless, he may actually look closer to the real Richard III than in other portrayals though he was much older than the late king could’ve been.

If you ever see a movie set in the Middle Ages, chances are it will take place in England mostly because it will focus on Robin Hood, King Arthur, or something by William Shakespeare. Then sometimes there are movies based in the Middle Ages produced in Great Britain and most of the time, they’d like to do their own history. Yet, since Hollywood is situated in a place where there was no medieval history, then England usually has to do. Of course, there’s a lot history covered in medieval England, especially when it pertains to the royal family. There’s Henry II with his mom Empress Matilda who tried to take the throne from her cousin. Then he has a wife named Eleanor of Acquitaine who’s very much a formidable woman like himself who incited a rebellion among her sons and ended up in prison (only to be released when she outlived him but she also outlived most of her kids, too). Then you have Henry II’s sons Richard and John who were as different as night and day as well as at each other’s throats. Oh, what great family soap opera that would be. Then you got Henry II’s relationship with Thomas Becket which would later lead to his murder in Canterbury Cathedral and Philip Augustus who’s bitter about Henry stealing lands under his dad (and Eleanor’s ex-husband). After that is the post-Magna Carta era usually consisting of kings Henry III, Richard II, and the first three Edwards (many movies errors from this category will also be from Braveheart). After that, is the Wars of the Roses when England becomes engaged in civil war between the Houses of Lancaster and York after Richard II is deposed. You get kings like Henry IV, Henry V (“We happy few, we band of brothers.”), Henry VI, and Richard III (who wasn’t as evil as Shakespeare depicted him, “Now is the winter of our discontent.”). Nevertheless, historical errors will still abound in these movies, which I shall list here.

English was spoken in the same way as it is today despite the fact that you had to get version of Canterbury Tales with a translation for you didn’t understand what the hell Chaucer was saying in its original form.

English commoners were still resisting their Norman overlords at least a century or two after the Norman Conquest. (This was started by Henry V during the Hundred Years’ War as Anti-French propaganda and it was also picked up during the Reformation. Also, William the Conqueror and his fellow Normans didn’t really invade England since he had been promised the throne by the previous King Edward the Confessor who was his cousin but was passed on in favor of the late king’s brother-in-law.)

English nobles and royalty spoke English. (Between 1066 to 1453, English was considered a language for peasants. Most English nobles during that time spoke French.)

Lady Godiva rode naked through Coventry in order to get her husband Leofric to lower taxes. (Godiva was a real noblewoman but she never did this.)

Sons and daughters could inherit at the same time. (Daughters were forbidden to inherit anything unless they didn’t have legitimate brothers living.)

English marriage ceremonies were set to the Book of Common Prayer. (It would’ve been conducted in Latin.)

English kings were addressed as “Your Majesty.” (That title wouldn’t be used until the 1390s. So this is part right.)

There was an actual King Arthur of England. (Well, if you count Geoffrey of Brittany’s son Arthur as Richard’s successor maybe {who King John later had killed}, but that’s as close to an actual English King Arthur as you’re going to get. As for the Arthur of Camelot, very much a mythological figure.)

The English had no reason to start the Hundred Years’ War. (Read your history books. Many of the early English kings since 1066 were French of some sort of another. Also, The Lion in Winter would’ve been more historically accurate if you have the English royal family speaking in French. Heck, you could’ve easily called Henry II as the real king of France during his kingship because he ruled almost all of it. Not to mention, it even takes place in France.)

English civilians could freely hunt in the forests. (Hunting game in the English forests later in the Middle Ages might carry a harsh punishment.)

Henry II and Co:

Richard the Lionheart was a good king and John was a bad king. (Actually Richard was anything but a good king at least in peacetime, hated England, and saw it was only good for financing his coffers so he can go on Crusade and fight the French. John, by contrast, probably wasn’t the best king England ever had and wasn’t a nice guy but at least his interests were in running England even though he managed to piss off everyone that he ended up putting his seal on the Magna Carta. He also did good things as write many books on law and was considered a legal expert before his kingship. Oh, and he treated the Jews better than his brother. But since Richard the Lionheart was often away, the nobles had free rein, which put up resistance when King John tried to take control. Not to mention, Richard the Lionheart had a better personality and he wasn’t stupid either. Nevertheless, their dad Henry II was a far better king than either of them put together who’s remembered as England’s greatest Medieval King {as well as his portrayal by Peter O’Toole.})

Thomas Becket and Henry II had a platonic homosexual relationship prior to Becket’s appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury. (There’s no historical data that they were more than just friends. Besides, Henry II married Eleanor of Aquitaine out of love {and her lands that consisted of half of France} as well as had a succession of mistresses {though Eleanor was probably the love of his life}. Also, Becket was said to be celibate.)

Henry II slept with Richard the Lionheart’s fiancee. (There’s no definitive evidence of this though Richard later resisted marrying his fiancee on the basis of the claim.)

Thomas Becket was a Saxon and Henry II was Norman. (Becket was a Norman and Henry II was Angevin on his father’s side. However, his mother was Norman.)

As Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket didn’t desire special legal privileges for the clergy. (Many people said he did, especially if clergy members committed secular crimes, which was one of the things he and Henry II disagreed on. And Henry II was quite justified and has been known for replacing trials by combat with jury trials.)

Empress Matilda was an annoyance to Henry II. (Actually she was instrumental for shaping her son, Henry II into the fierce warrior and skilled administrator he was and was the sole parent for much of his childhood. Also, Henry II adored his mother and relied heavily on her guidance and advice until her death in 1167. Not to mention, she was the reason why Henry II was able to get the throne and is best known for her war against King Stephen after she was passed over when her father Henry I died.)

Eleanor of Aquitaine’s father was alive when she was married to Henry II. (Her dad died when she was 15 years old, which made her Duchess of Aquitaine as well as the most eligible bride of the 12th century.)

Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine had four children all boys. (They had eight children that included five sons and three daughters. Also, Eleanor had two daughters while married to King Louis VII and Henry II had at least eight illegitimate children to several long term mistresses.)

Richard the Lionheart died immediately from a crossbow wound from a cook. (He lived for more than a week and died from gangrene. Also, the guy responsible for shooting him was a boy with a crossbow and a frying pan whom he ordered to be set free, forgiven, and rewarded 100 shillings for a lucky shot. However, the pardon was retracted when he died by a mercenary captain and the boy was flayed alive. Jesus Christ!)

Richard the Lionheart was very fond of England. (He had no attachment to the place and only spent six months of his reign there. Most of his ten year reign was spent in either on Crusade or in France fighting Philip Augustus. Also, he forgave John for running England for him.)

Richard the Lionheart was a wise old king. (He was only 41 when he died.)

King John signed the Magna Carta early in his reign. (It was actually near the end.)

Isabella of Angoulmene was a young woman when she married King John. (She was twelve. Don’t worry; it’s very likely that he waited until she was sixteen to have sex with her which was normal in such marriages.)

King John had a title called Defender of the Holy Sepulcher.  (He was offered the title but his dad turned it down for him and sent the boy to Ireland.Also, it was the title of Godfrey de Boullion, a Christian ruler of Jerusalem who had nothing to do with England at all.)

Henry II referred to himself as Plantagenet. (The name didn’t come to use until close to the end of the dynasty and was first used by the father of Edward IV and Richard III.)

King John had brown hair. (He was a flaming redhead like his dad and brothers.)

King Henry was ten years older than the pope in 1183. (The actual pope at the time was 36 years older than him.)

Richard the Lionheart married Berengaria of Navarre for love. (He more likely married her for money and lands. It was more of a political marriage. Though they went on Crusade together and she tried to raise money for his ransom, we’re not sure whether the marriage was ever consummated. Also, Richard spent so much time away from her that the Pope had to tell him spend time with her, which he did by taking her to church. Not to mention, she was very much overlooked as Queen of England and Cyprus during Richard’s reign.)

Richard the Lionheart had an affair with Philip Augustus. (There’s little evidence supporting this though Richard might’ve went both ways. Also, he had at least one illegitimate son as well as had a reputation as a womanizer while Philip had two. Either way, he was certainly not faithful to his wife. Historians are divided over his sexuality and the gay allegations began in the 1960s. As for Philip Augustus, well, he was much closer to Geoffrey than Richard {he was bawling in Geoffrey’s funeral after he got trampled by a horse}. Not to mention, he was absolutely furious with Richard when he broke his engagement with his sister.)

King John was middle aged during Richard the Lionheart’s reign. (These two kings have been played by middle aged men in the Robin Hood films but both died in their forties {Richard died at 41 while John died at 49} and John ascended the throne at 33. At least The Lion in Winter gets their ages mostly right.)

King John and the Knights Templar were bitter rivals. (They were buddies. He exempted the Templars from all taxation and gave them extraordinary protection of property. In return, the Templars let John use their New Temple in London headquarters as a treasury.)

King Henry II married Eleanor of Aquitaine when she was young. (She was 30 at the time.)

Post-Magna Carta:

King Edward I was a brutal conquer who oppressed his subjects and was a pagan. (King Edward I was a Christian {who had been on a Crusade} and didn’t oppress his English subjects nor did he kill his son’s lover by throwing him out the window {he was said to be a great husband and father as well as a charitable man}. Edward I also set up Parliament as a permanent institution, set up a working tax system, and ushered in a more progressive system seemed radical in most European circles. Even today he’s seen as one of England’s best kings and even well thought of by Dante. Still, he was a brutal conqueror {which is why the Scots and Welsh don’t like him}, ruthless with his enemies{killed his noble prisoners at the Battle of Evesham which was taboo at the time}, and hated the Jews.)

Edward II was sickly looking and gay. (He probably went both ways {had at least one illegitimate child as well as four kids with Isabella} but he was said to be rather athletic and handsome {not a walking stereotype}. Also, during the time of William Wallace {at least at his death}, he was most likely a teenager.)

Edward I planned to cause the racial death of Scotland. (He didn’t. He just wanted to control Scotland. Also, his getting control of Scotland was partly the Scottish people’s fault since they agreed to relinquish their independence until a new king could be appointed after their designated child queen died on the way there from Norway. Yet, the divisive Scottish noble families made it difficult to select a satisfactory candidate as every option seemed to lead to civil war. And when an appropriate candidate was selected by the name of John Balliol who proved to be a weak king {as well as wouldn’t cooperate with Edward I}. He was later captured during a war with the English in 1296 as well as forced to abdicate. The Scots just didn’t bet on Edward Longshanks backstabbing them since he probably felt sick over the business end and thought the only competent candidate Scotland had available was himself though he never claimed the crown.)

Edward I was the first king to name his son Prince of Wales. (First record of this comes from the 16th century.)

Isabella of France was the first Princess of Wales. (She married Edward II when he was already king and she never met her father-in-law.)

Edward I treacherously hanged Scottish noblemen. (Never happened.)

Edward I wanted to sleep with Princess Isabella. (This would never have happened. Also, he opposed the marriage between her and the future Edward II, explaining why they tied the knot after he was dead {granted the marriage was a disaster}. Still, her conspiring to kill her husband did help bring Scottish independence.)

Edward II was unable to impregnate his wife. (Apparently he was at least able to impregnate somebody and she was able to have kids so you may figure it out {though she had a lover named John Mortimer}.)

Queen Isabella of England was ashamed of the English cruelty toward the Scots. (She had her husband King Edward II imprisoned and murdered for refusing to advocate in favor of their son and launched her own invasion of Scotland.)

Queen Isabella of England was a sweet and kindly princess. (She was called the She Wolf of France and plotted to kill her husband as well as considered invading Scotland as a nice mother and son activity.)

Edward I reinstated prima noctis in Scotland. (He never did this.)

Edmund Mortimer was Richard II’s true heir. (It’s very likely Henry IV was but he and and Richard had a massive falling out resulting in Richard being deposed and imprisoned.)

Edward the Black Prince was married to Lady Joan Holland who was kidnapped by the French. (Actually his wife’s name was Lady Joan Holland but she was also the Countess of Kent and a widow. However, she was never kidnapped by the French, and no, Edward never had to rescue her. Interestingly, he was known as Edward of Woodstock. However, he and Lady Joan did love each other for his parents opposed the match since she was once their ward.)

William Wallace killed the Duke of York. (It wasn’t a title for a younger son at the time of King Edward I.)

Edward II abdicated the throne. (He was more likely imprisoned and killed.)

Edward II was disemboweled with a red hot poker. (He more likely died from being smothered in his bed.)

The Wars of the Roses:

King Richard III was a terrible king who imprisoned and killed his nephews in the Tower of London, had his brother drowned in a vat of wine, poisoned his wife and bumped off her father and first husband, bumped off two cousins and planned to marry a third, had a crippled arm and a hunchback. And his last words were, “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” (He actually wasn’t grotesque looking and didn’t do anything that I just mentioned {with the possible exception of imprisoning his nephews in the tower}, which was cooked up by the Tudors. The only physical deformity he had was real bad scoliosis which isn’t as recognizable. Though Prince George did drown in a vat of wine {allegedly, but it’s more likely he starved}, it was on King Edward IV’s insistence not Richard’s. And as how Richard III became king, he simply said that his nephews were illegitimate because Edward IV married his wife while engaged to another woman which was very much like being married {and since King Edward IV was such a horndog and everybody hated the Woodvilles, he could get away with it easily and Parliament would just give the crown to him}. The English were also no fans of child kings at this point as well and the prospect of having another one terrified the country. And he was already running the country anyway so he might as well take the throne while at it. Any king would’ve done the same thing. He also had George’s kids declared illegitimate as well. Also, he was said to be a rather reasonable and competent king with a reputation of bravery justified by his death in battle in which he went down fighting at thirty-two. He was probably not much cruel or ruthless than most kings of his day and was well thought of by his contemporaries. Rather, he was said to be loved by the lower orders and improved conditions in Northern England {especially York} though he didn’t make many friends among the nobility. Oh, and he liked to use an ax. Shakespeare may be one of the best writers who ever lived but he’s about as good of a historian as Mel Gibson.)

King Richard III was an unpopular king. (Not only did he have one of the best attended coronations in years, he had quite a following in York where the people mourned his death. Still, what did him in is that he was king during a civil war, reigned 2 years, and died with no surviving legitimate children).

King Henry V was a wild vagabond when he was heir to the English throne. (He was always the same, duty bound, serious man his whole life. Also, had a nasty scar on his face which explains why his portrait is usually in profile.)

King Henry V was a badass warrior king and a great hero. (He also captured enemy knights {but had some good excuse since it was Agincourt, he was heavily outnumbered, and could’ve opened the battle on two fronts resulting in a massacre of his own men}, burned proto-Protestant heretics alive {including the inspiration for Falstaff but this was done to unite Catholicism under one pope after a series of antipopes as was the case in Europe}, doomed both sides into fighting a pointless war {which was an age old war he could’ve won if he hadn’t died so early}, and had a nasty scar across his face. Still, like any medieval king, he was ruthless when he needed to be and didn’t tax his subjects to the highest bitter to pay for his conflicts. Actually he doesn’t come worse off than most kings of the time.)

Henry VII effectively ended the Wars of the Roses. (Yes, but there were still major revolts against him which he tyrannically suppressed. This made him very unpopular and many nobles were glad to see him go. Yet, he did marry Elizabeth of York which helped secure his throne as was a rather intelligent woman in her own right. Perhaps this is why Shakespeare didn’t write a play about Henry VII. Then again, any king would do the same and Henry VII was a rather competent king that England needed at the time and did whatever needed to be done. Still, despite the fact he has a small role in Richard III doesn’t mean that he was a boring guy.)

Richard III killed the Duke of Somerset. (The guy died when Richard was three.)

Hotspur was a childhood friend of King Henry V. (Actually he was three years older than his dad.)

Henry V was the kind of guy you’d want to have a beer with. (It’s said he had little charm, no sense of humor, and was truly terrifyingly convinced he was an instrument of God. Still, he really did care about his soldiers yet Shakespeare’s portrayal of him is a reasonable break from reality. It’s unlikely Princess Catherine of Valois would’ve found him entertaining. Interestingly her second husband was Owen Tudor, the keeper of the Queen’s wardrobe from Wales. Of course, we know what that family amounted to.)

The Duke of Buckingham rebelled to have Edward V on the throne. (He wanted to put himself on the throne but ultimately decided to join Henry Tudor instead. Besides, he’s suspected of having the Princes in the Tower killed to begin with and probably knew the kids were dead).

Duke George of Clarence was a doddering fool. (He was an opportunistic bastard who switched sides. There’s a reason why Edward IV had him killed).

Richard III tried to marry himself to Elizabeth of York after Lady Anne Neville died. (While marrying your niece wasn’t unusual in some royal families at the time {as in the Hapsburgs}, Richard was actually trying to arrange marriages for both himself and his niece with the Portuguese royal family. Also, he was suffering a succession crisis since Lady Anne and his son had both died during his reign).

Richard III had Lady Anne Neville’s first husband and father killed. (Her father died in battle. As for the first husband, he was either slaughtered with his army or executed on Edward IV’s orders. They were Lanscastrians and Richard marrying Lady Anne wasn’t an advantageous match since she was known as a daughter and widow of traitors. Still, he wouldn’t be trying to woo her over her dad’s corpse.)

Duke George of Clarence was drowned in a vat of wine on Richard’s orders. (He was more likely smothered on Edward IV’s orders because of his backstabbing behavior, armed rebellion, lunacy, and murdering a servant girl. In fact, despite previous feuds, Richard argued against George’s execution and left court during the verdict but Edward was simply sick of him that he wanted him dead. So you can probably say that George was the bad brother from the trio, not Richard).

Edward IV was a frail old man when he died. (He was in his early 40s and his death was unexpected).

Richard III’s wife Anne Neville reviled him. (Contrary to Shakespeare, it’s said that their marriage was a love match and they were childhood sweethearts {and he obviously didn’t kill her her dad or first husband who were most likely not executed at all}. Besides, though he had 2 illegitimate kids, he waited to marry her. Not only that, but he was said to be a man of unimpeachable moral character who shared none of Edward IV’s vices. They also had a 10 year old son by the time he was crowned. However, Richard’s sister-in-law Elizabeth Woodville despised him. Oh, and contrary to Olivier’s portrayal, he was only 5’8.”)

Richard III drove his oldest brother Edward IV to an early grave. (He was out of town when Edward IV died).

Richard III died on the field. (He had his head sliced off from the back while surrounded by soldiers in a swamp. Still, he killed a lot of Henry Tudor’s best men and almost killed the guy himself.)

Henry V spent a lot of his early life in a tavern with his drinking buddies. (It’s not very likely.)

Hotspur was killed by a single combat with Henry V at the Battle of Shrewsbury. (He was killed by a single arrow. Still, Hotspur was a traitor since he was on the side of Owen Glydwr of Wales.)

Henry IV killed Richard II. (Richard II died in prison and more likely starved, yet he may have been murdered by his cousin.)

The Earl of Richmond was the battlefield commander at Bosworth Field. (He confined himself to politicking and left the fighting to the Earl of Oxford.)

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