History of the World According to the Movies: Part 20 – Tudor England

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I can never think of a better movie featuring Tudor England than A Man for All Seasons which is about the the story of Saint Sir Thomas More who refused to go along with his friend Henry VIII and lost his head for it. Of course, you may think that Robert Shaw’s Henry VIII is too buff but he would’ve actually looked very much like this at the time. He only got fat later in life. Still, let’s just say More wasn’t as saintly as he’s portrayed in here by Paul Scofield.

When Henry Tudor killed Richard III during the Battle of Bosworth Field, he ascended the English throne and started a new dynasty that was to last a little over a century as well as ended the Wars of the Roses. Sort of. Henry Tudor became Henry VII, married Elizabeth of York which not only was a perfectly arranged marriage producing four children but was also a good policy move securing his place on the throne, had successfully handled two pretenders to the throne, and made England in better shape than before. Unfortunately, Hollywood thinks doing a movie about his life would be very boring subject since everyone best knows him for being the father of one of more famous despots in history, Henry VIII. Now we all know that this guy was that he broke away from the Roman Catholic Church after Pope Clement VII refused to give him an annulment from his wife who failed to give him a son. Of course, many don’t know that Pope Clement was in no place to give him one anyway since Henry VIII was married to Catherine of Aragon, whose nephew Holy Roman Emperor Charles V was holding the pontiff hostage. Henry’s also best known for marrying six times (with their fates being divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived) as well as beheading two of them (one of them being Queen Elizabeth’s mother whose beheading was a setup). Also, he’s dissolved monasteries to pay for his foreign wars and self-enrichment as well as executing a whole bunch of people including many of his friends who wouldn’t go along with him on some things (I’m talking to you Thomas More). Oh, and he’s known for being fat. Still, Henry VIII is a very interesting historical subject for filmmakers and there are plenty of movies taking place in his reign. However, there are things about movies set in Tudor England that contain inaccuracies, which I shall list.

Tudor England:

Everyone spelled their name and everything else the same way all the time. (There were no standard spelling system at this time.)

The Tudor Rose was an actual rose. (It was a heraldic emblem of the unification of the houses of Lancaster and York.)

English Protestants were good guys while Spanish and British Catholics were absolutely bad. (Neither side was no better than anyone else.)

Henry VIII:

Henry VIII was a fat and villainous king. (He was once a relatively kind and generous ruler as well as fairly buff and handsome until right before the end of his marriage with Anne Boleyn. Of course, his Tudor diet, leg ulcers, and jousting accident took a toll on him both physically and mentally. In fact, his jousting accident might’ve been the start of his decline into the fat bearded despot we know since Anne Boleyn miscarried and was executed after that incident on trumped charges.)

Henry VIII was an intellectual cypher, possessed with low cunning. (He was something of an intellectual with a real appreciation for high culture.)

Henry VIII’s Church of England was Protestant. (He’d execute you if you’d say that because he absolutely loathed Protestantism. Also, his church was just a separation of England from Rome and dissolved monasteries just to get cash to finance a war in France as well as land and goods.)

Henry VIII sought an annulment from the Pope just so he could divorce his wife. (He wanted to disinherit his daughter, Mary and assure that there was no way she would ever become Queen. It didn’t work.)

Saint Sir Thomas More:

Saint Sir Thomas More was witty and used clean language. (Yes, he was witty but his writings on Martin Luther have him call the guy a “pimp” or an “arse” and claimed his mouth was “a shit-pool of all shit.” He also said Luther celebrated Mass in a lavatory, and listed four type of ordure he was filled with consisting of {merda, stercus, lutum and coenum [all Latin for shit and dirt]}. In some ways, he sometimes talked as if he was a character in a 16th century version of The Wire. Still, too bad, they couldn’t include that in A Man for All Seasons since it was made in the 1960s{it would’ve been so much more entertaining}.)

Saint Sir Thomas More was a good Catholic of purity and principle who refused to recognize Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and refused to break with the Catholic Church and paid it with his life. (Yes, he refused to recognize Henry’s church, divorce, and remarriage, and that’s what got him killed. Actually, as a good Catholic in his day, well, that’s difficult to determine. Loyal and faithful, yes, but he wasn’t the kind of guy who’d let his daughter marry a Protestant, for he was a vigorous opponent of Protestantism {and thought heretics should be burned at the stake}. Though he remained Catholic, he also believed that a council of bishops should be superior to the pope in authority or do without a pope altogether and was buddies with Thomas Cromwell and Erasmus of Rotterdam.)

Saint Sir Thomas More owned a yellow Labrador retriever. (The ones with the features we see today weren’t even bred yet.)

King Henry VIII needed Saint Sir Thomas More’s endorsement. (He just wanted it for the prestige since he liked people agreeing with him on these things. Cramner and Cromwell had already assured he had ample ground for annulling his marriage to Catherine of Aragon.)

Saint Sir Thomas More railed against Cardinal Wolsey. (He wasn’t anything but a docile servant to him on both public and private matters since he counted on the guy for advancement. He never did anything to offend Wolsey until after the cardinal failed to gain acceptance of the king’s annulment {in which More responded with a cruel and vindictive tirade of him during his maiden speech as Lord Chancellor in front of Parliament} and thus, fell from grace.)

Saint Sir Thomas More only had a daughter and was married once. (He had four kids as well as a stepdaughter and was married twice {and Dame Alice wasn’t the mother of his kids and her daughter wasn’t his}. Also, he had various foster kids, too. However, he did believe in giving his daughters a full formal education.)

The Duke of Norfolk conspired against Saint Sir Thomas More because he wanted his job. (Maybe, but he was also Anne Boleyn’s uncle at the time as well.)

Thomas Cromwell played an active role in Saint Sir Thomas More’s execution. (His role in executing More is unclear. Still, despite that Cromwell was a Protestant and was no fan of religious toleration either, the strongly Catholic Sir Thomas More and his family didn’t have much against him personally. William Roper was on friendly terms with Cromwell before More’s trial and remained with him afterward. Not to mention, a year after More’s death, Cromwell is said stand as godfather to William and Margaret Roper’s child and they remained Catholics for the rest of their lives. They may have been rivals and might’ve been in different religious camps, but they weren’t exactly enemies.)

Richard Rich committed vicious perjury against Saint Sir Thomas More. (It’s highly unlikely he did this maliciously since he was guy willing to bend by every wind. Also, what he said against More was much less malicious.)

William Roper:

William Roper was Protestant when he married Margaret More. (His flirtation with Lutheranism happened after he and Margaret were married. Also, Thomas More would’ve been absolutely furious if any of his kids married a guy he knew was a Protestant.)

William Roper was a model son-in-law for Thomas More, despite his religious views. (Sure he wrote a glowing biography of the man, but he also fell out with Dame Alice after More’s execution and repeatedly sued her for his lands as a quarrelsome and litigious man.)

William and Margaret Roper weren’t married prior to Sir Thomas More’s appointment as Lord Chancellor and had no kids prior to his death. (William and Margaret married in 1521, More was appointed Lord Chancellor 8 years later. Also, they had at least 3 kids by the time More died in 1535.)

Catherine of Aragon:

Catherine of Aragon and Princess Mary were able to see each other while Anne Boleyn was queen. (They were forbidden from seeing each other, thanks to Henry VIII.)

Catherine of Aragon didn’t have a sexual relationship with Prince Arthur. (Well, she claimed this, but there’s debate about this. Yet, her previous marriage to Henry VIII’s brother was one of the reasons why Henry VIII wanted to divorce her since he believed marrying his brother’s widow was the reason he wasn’t getting an heir.)

Catherine of Aragon was Spanish who had dark eyes and hair. (Yes, but she didn’t have the Mediterranean features associated with most Spanish people. Rather she was a redhead with blue eyes and alabaster skin and so were the old Spanish families. Thus, she probably looked more like Conan O’Brien than Irene Papas.)

Henry VIII was devoted to Catherine of Aragon before the Boleyn sisters. (Henry had at least one out of wedlock son to one of Catherine’s maid before Mary or Anne showed up. Also, he was known to be unfaithful to his mistresses as well as his wives.)

Mary Boleyn:

Henry VIII had a child with Anne Boleyn’s sister Mary before they got together. (Mary Boleyn probably was Henry VIII’s mistress but it’s highly unlikely that she had a child by him for Henry VIII didn’t acknowledge either of her two children. She was also married to another guy so Henry VIII may not have even known whether either of her kids were his or not. Her husband was more likely the father anyway.)

Mary Boleyn was blushing virgin who loved Henry VIII and only wanted a quiet life in the country while her sister Anne was evil and ambitious. (Actually, Mary Boleyn had a reputation as “The Great Prostitute,” and was married by the time of her alleged affair with Henry VIII. She was even allegedly a mistress to the King of France for three years. Also, she was recalled from the French court because her behavior there was scandalous to them that she was sent home in disgrace. Oh, and there’s no indication that Mary was unwilling to sleep with Henry VIII either. Anne Boleyn, on the other hand, only slept with one guy in her entire life. Still, she supported charities, sheltered Protestants, promoting artistic endeavors, and showed an unusually keen interest in Elizabeth’s upbringing. She also secured a respectable pension for her sister and sent her nephew to a Cistercian monastery for his education.)

Mary Boleyn lived happily ever after and married Sir William Stafford for love. (She died barely nine years into her marriage with him with her younger children being seven and eight. Oh, and she was banished by the English court to Rochford Hall for marrying Stafford since a common soldier was below her social station as well as got disowned by her family for good. Of course, exile was probably a blessing for her despite that she was never allowed to travel to London or France {though she wanted to return there}. )

Henry VIII trusted Mary Boleyn over her sister. (When Mary’s husband died, Henry VIII gave guardianship of her two-year-old son to Anne because he was worried about her “easy virtue.”)

Mary Boleyn was heartbroken when Henry VIII dumped her for her sister. (She and Henry VIII had been on the outs for years so she wasn’t too upset he was seeing her sister.)

Mary Boleyn pleaded for her siblings’ lives. (By this point, Mary absolutely had no influence on the king even though she tried to seek his favor for her second husband through highly placed people of court. She didn’t visit her siblings in prison nor wrote or communicated with them in any way since she had been kicked out of court for marrying a common soldier.)

Mary Boleyn was banished from her family for being a threat to Henry VIII’s affection. (Her family disowned her because she married a guy below her station.)

Mary Boleyn seized Princess Elizabeth from the palace and carried her off to raise in the countryside. (For one, Elizabeth was 2 or 3 at the time. Second, the Boleyns practically disowned her over her marrying William Stafford years ago. Third, I’m sure kidnapping the king’s daughter would’ve led to execution and she died in 1544. Fourth, we all know that Elizabeth lived in her father’s palace until his death when she was 14. After that, she went to live with Thomas Seymour and Catherine Parr, which wasn’t a happy time in her life.)

Anne Boleyn:

Anne Boleyn was obsessed with wanting Elizabeth to become queen. (She was more worried about her daughter being exiled or killed or perhaps being executed herself.)

Anne Boleyn initially rejected Henry VIII before she gave in. (Anne Boleyn would’ve done no such thing nor would any of Henry VIII’s other wives since it was a great way to improve their families’ status and gain considerable influence. Also, she wouldn’t refuse him with accusations nor criticize the king in front of his face since that could get any noble thrown out of court as well as in a lot of trouble {look at all the buddies Henry VIII beheaded like Saint Sir Thomas More}. Of course, for such behavior, Henry VIII probably would’ve punished her by having her marry some lord in Ireland as well as forcing her to move away from all the sophistication and attention she craved. Not to mention, at least two of Henry VIII’s six wives were in love with other men and still accepted his marriage proposal. A royal marriage was a goal for many noble women in the sixteenth century.)

Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn married in a public ceremony. (They married in secret because according to some people and the Catholic Church, he was still technically married to Catherine of Aragon.)

Henry VIII raped Anne Boleyn in which Elizabeth I was conceived. (Their pre-marital sexual encounter was most likely consensual though Anne was pregnant at the time of their wedding. Henry VIII may not have been a nice guy, but he’d never force himself on anyone sexually like that.)

Anne Boleyn wasn’t a virgin when she met Henry VIII. (If she wasn’t, she’d have kept that fact to herself. However, if she wasn’t, she certainly didn’t sleep with as many guys as her sister did {since she was the one who had a reputation for sluttiness}.)

Anne Boleyn forced Henry VIII to leave Catherine of Aragon. (She refused to sleep with him until he was free to marry again {though the no-sex rule may have been Henry’s decision since he was trying to make nice with the pope and didn’t want any girlfriends popping out bastards} but the idea of an annulment had been on his mind for quite some time since he was already obsessed with having a male heir.)

Anne Boleyn chose death so Elizabeth could become queen. (Elizabeth was removed from succession right after her mother’s execution. Few people in 1536 could’ve imagined she ended up queen.)

Anne Boleyn secretly married Henry Percy and was exiled to France when her parents found out. (She was secretly engaged to him since her father opposed the match yet it’s very unlikely that their relationship was ever consummated. Their relationship was broken up by Cardinal Wolsey, not Henry VIII. As for being in France, she and her sister were sent there for an education.)

Anne Boleyn didn’t love Henry VIII. (She probably did to some extent, though sometimes he didn’t seem like a loveable guy. Still, she pretty much remained faithful to him as his queen who did her best to please him despite getting screwed in the process. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.)

Anne Boleyn was cold, vindictive, vain, ruthlessly ambitious, and given to physical violence. (Ambitious, arrogant, and short-tempered, yes, but she was highly intelligent, politically astute, bilingual, artistically gifted, loyal to her family, and generous to her friends as well as known for her charm and elegance.)

Anne Boleyn was older than her sister Mary. (Anne was younger.)

Henry VIII lost interest in Anne Boleyn at the time of their wedding. (No, he had a long seven year courtship with her, a short affair, and a three year marriage. They didn’t have sex until shortly before their wedding. He lost interest in her after her second miscarriage thinking it was Catherine of Aragon all over again. Also, shortly before her second miscarriage, he had been involved in a jousting incident that might’ve sent him on a physical and mental decline so he wasn’t in the best of health either.)

Anne Boleyn was accused of incest with her brother. (She was also accused with adultery with several men including her brother and with high treason in plotting with one of her lovers to kill the king. All were trumped up of course, for Henry VIII needed an excuse to get rid of her so he could wed Jane Seymour.)

Anne Boleyn was in 18 years old when she met Henry VIII in 1527. (She was at least in her early twenties, maybe as old as 26.)

Henry VIII visited Anne Boleyn after her arrest and offered to a deal which would’ve given her freedom. (He didn’t and her marriage was annulled anyway with Elizabeth being declared a bastard like Mary. Not to mention, she was disallowed the right to question witnesses against her. Also, she had last seen Henry a joust a day before her arrest but the king never interfered with the proceedings at Anne’s trial. Still, Henry VIII offered no alternatives for Anne since she would’ve saved her own neck when given the chance.)

Anne Boleyn pressured Henry VIII to have Saint Sir Thomas More executed. (There’s no evidence from that period that suggests this.)

The debate between Catholicism vs. Protestantism killed Anne Boleyn. (It was actually two miscarriages and being arrested and executed under trumped charges that did her in.)

Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII were publicly disappointed when Elizabeth was born. (Well, they were disappointed but they didn’t show it in public. Of course, he rationalized that if Anne could give birth to a healthy girl, then she’d have a healthy boy. Well, Anne ended up having two miscarriages.)

Sir William Carey:

Sir William Carey was a merchant. (He was a notable courtier as well as one of king’s favorite Gentlemen of the Bedchamber {I’m not kidding on this, seriously} who she married around her affair with Henry VIII. Oh, and he attended the wedding and arranged the whole marriage himself.)

Sir William Carey originally wanted to marry Anne Boleyn but settled for Mary. (Anne was never considered as a marriage candidate for him. Also, it was Henry VIII who helped arrange the match between Mary and William in the first place.)

Anne of Cleves:

Anne of Cleves was ugly. (Most of Henry VIII’s contemporaries thought she was rather pleasant looking. Also, one courtier said she was Henry’s prettiest queen. Of course, she didn’t suit Henry’s preferences at the time.)

Anne of Cleves made herself unattractive in front of Henry VIII so she could be free to marry her sweetheart as well as won her freedom at a card game on her wedding night. (She was actually rather attractive and one of Henry’s prettiest queens. Yet, she was probably repulsed by the obese Henry from the start and there’s no evidence whether she had a boyfriend. Oh, and she didn’t win her freedom through a card game but consented to the divorce, giving her respectable settlement in return.)

Jane Seymour:

Jane Seymour died shortly after giving birth to Prince Edward. (Childbirth was the main cause of her death but she would survive Edward’s birth for a couple of weeks and she there for his christening.)

Henry VIII was devastated by Jane Seymour’s death. (Well, he did consider her the love of his life after she gave him what he had to wait 27 years for. However, contemporary reports say he was mildly upset that Jane’s death had disrupted his hunting plans. Besides, their relationship wasn’t the most ideal, especially by then.)

Others:

Cardinal Wolsey died as Lord Chancellor. (He died a year after he was stripped of this office.)

Princess Elizabeth had to talk Henry VIII out of arresting Catherine Parr by spotting a French naval ship. (Yes, Henry VIII did think about arresting Catherine Parr for her religious views on the advice of Bishop Gardiner. However, Catherine managed to talk her husband out of it, saving her own life.)

Anne and Mary Boleyn spoke in English accents. (They were raised in French and would’ve spoken in French accents.)

George Boleyn was gay as well as in love with Francis Weston but had designs on his sister Anne. (There’s no evidence of him having any kind of sexual orientation, yet he certainly didn’t commit incest with his sister.)

Thomas and Elizabeth Boleyn were devoid of their affection for their daughters and willing to use them as sexual pawns. (Well, it depended on the situation.)

Sir Thomas More’s father was dead prior to his Lord Chancellor appointment. (Sir John More was very much alive and died in 1531).

Katherine Howard fell in love with Thomas Culpeper after she married Henry VIII. (She was in love with Culpeper before marrying the king. She also had an affair with Francis Dereham before she ever met Henry.)

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