History of the World According to the Movies: Part 47 – The Victorian Era


Emily Blunt stars in 2009’s The Young Victoria which is known for it’s costume design yet it did take a few liberties with the truth though it shows a Queen Victoria we rarely get to see. Still, in movies, we’re used to seeing Queen Victoria as an old queen wearing black but we forget that she ascended the British throne at just 18 and didn’t start wearing black until the death of her husband Prince Albert in 1861. Not to mention, white wasn’t considered a traditional wedding color until Queen Victoria wore it at her nuptials as shown here. Still, while the Victorian Era was know for traditionalism, it also started a lot of traditions we come to know today.

Though remembered as an era of stale and frumpy traditionalism, the Victorian Era was a time of tumultuous social, cultural, and technological change in Great Britain. Victorian Britain is said to be the birthplace of the modern middle class as well as for the rapid and jarring transformation to a highly industrialized nation, the massive Expansion of the British Empire, and the high emphasis on morality and propriety that only barely masked a dark and seedy underbelly of society. However, it was also a time of many of your familiar authors like Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, the Bronte sisters, the Brownings, Lewis Carroll, Robert Louis Stevenson, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, and Arthur Conan Doyle. Not to mention, it was time when the English speaking world started celebrating Christmas as a major holiday with Christmas trees, Christmas cards, Christmas caroling, Christmas lights, and Christmas dinner all introduced by Queen Victoria’s beloved German husband Prince Albert. Still, no discussion of the Victorian Era would be complete without talking about Queen Victoria herself, who reigned for sixty-four years, longer than any British monarch before or since (so far). Nevertheless, there are a lot of movies set in this era since most of these authors listed above had at least one book made into one. Not to mention, Victorian Britain tends to be a common setting for period pieces though you can always tell how far along since Victorian fashions changed quite a bit as time went on. Still, as far as movies go, there quite a bit of historical inaccuracies which I shall list.

Queen Victoria:

William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne and Queen Victoria were of similar age. (He was about 40 years her senior and was the closest thing she had to a dad {her biological father Prince Edward, Duke of Kent died when she was a baby. However, he did take great pride in her, said she was going to be Queen, and brought her to a military review to the shock of his brother the future King George IV}. Interestingly, Lord Melbourne was married to the infamous Caroline Lamb known for her short affair with Lord Byron and conducted a vicious tirade of revenge against him after he dumped her, that lasted longer than the original affair as well as played a major part in ruining Byron’s reputation in England with accusations of crimes up to and including murder. Yep, Queen Victoria’s father figure was married to Lord Byron’s psycho ex.)

Queen Victoria had a crush on Lord Melbourne. (No, she didn’t have any romantic feelings toward him at all because he was her father figure nearly 40 years older than her. Their relationship was more likely paternal than romantic.)

Queen Victoria had a loving relationship with Prince Albert. (Yes, but she was rather conflicted with Albert taking over more and more of her work when her pregnancies forced her to step aside. She really appreciated him for picking up the slack but she didn’t like being robbed of her powers as queen. She was also prone to temper tantrums and hated being pregnant and breastfeeding. Not to mention, neither Albert nor Victoria were loving parents to Bertie {future Edward VII who was actually a decent and charming king but he had many affairs}. Then there’s the fact that Prince Albert wasn’t very popular in Britain until the Great Exhibition of 1851 and that he helped popularize Christmas. Nevertheless, it’s said the Victoria actually married Albert as soon as she could in order to move out of her self-centered mother’s house {even as Queen she had to live with her mom, whom she had a difficult relationship with}. Victoria and Albert’s relationship wasn’t easy but they loved each other.)

Queen Victoria was a prudish old woman with no sense of humor. (She wasn’t always an old woman as seen in The Young Victoria. Also, she never said, “We are not amused” and actually did have a sense of humor an there’s a picture of her smiling {she was even a fan of Alice in Wonderland}. It’s also said by her staff she, “was immensely amused and roared with laughter” on many occasions. Still, she and Albert managed to have nine children so make that what you will. Also, she liked to draw and collect male nude figure drawings and at least gave one to her husband as a gift.)

Queen Victoria sent a portrait to Albert with her in a white dress with a tiara and a vertical bun while they were dating. (This portrait was done two years after they were married. Furthermore, the tiara and hair style were suggested by Albert himself.)

Victoria and Albert reigned. (Except that Albert was a prince consort and had no official standing.)

Queen Victoria was British. (She was born in Britain but to a German father and a half-German mother. She even spoke German with her husband. Also, Victoria wasn’t a British name until she came to the throne. Still, she did speak English in a British accent like you’d expect.)

Queen Victoria lived to be over 85. (She died at 81 in 1901.)

Queen Victoria was right handed. (She was left handed but a lot of movies get this wrong.)

Queen Victoria was interested in Albert due to the guy’s successful wooing. (It was more on her willingness to please her uncle Leopold. Luckily he didn’t want her to marry his own son who was crazy though Victoria did comment on the younger Leopold’s industriousness after she sent him a toy steam engine {little she know that her cousin Leopold II would become one of history’s greatest villains due to the atrocities he was responsible for in the Congo Free State inspiring Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness}.)

Prince Albert was present at Queen Victoria’s coronation. (Sorry, Julian Fellowes, but Prince Albert wasn’t at his future wife’s coronation ceremony. They were dating at the time though and wrote letters to each other. Also, his family wasn’t invited.)

It was love at first sight for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. (She was repelled of him during their first meeting in 1836 since he had a tendency to be fat at the time. Still, he did lose the weight and developed a fine waist which Victoria admired so much that she married him. As for Albert, he was actually quite ambivalent about coming to Britain and marrying Victoria {unexpectedly} and wasn’t the lovesick puppy as depicted in The Young Victoria. Actually his love for her developed more or less after their marriage than before.)

Prince Albert was willing to take a bullet for Queen Victoria. (He was never forced to do such thing and was never harmed in any of her assassination attempts.)

Sir John Conroy was at court when Queen Victoria was crowned. (She had expelled Conroy from court as soon as she became queen. However, sure he was a piece of shit but he wasn’t quite the bastard depicted in The Young Victoria.)

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were first cousins. (Well, they were supposed to be first cousins since Queen Victoria’s mother and Prince Albert’s {official} father were siblings. However, according to German historians Prince Albert was said to have resembled his mother’s boyfriend, Alexander von Hanstein who wasn’t related to any of the German royal families so it’s up for debate who his biological father really was. Nevertheless, their marriage didn’t have much to do with Victoria’s descendents having hemophilia since she became a carrier due to having a father who was in his fifties at the time she was born.)

Queen Victoria’s relationship to her servant John Brown fed a wave of republicanism to the nation at large. (Yes, Republicanism was on the rise in Great Britain but she wasn’t the sole cause. Yet, it had its roots in the Chartist movement, was stoked by a financial crisis in 1866, and the naming of the Prince of Wales in a divorce case was also a factor.)

Benjamin Disraeli shamed Queen Victoria on her relationship with her servant John Brown after the man’s death. (She was never shamed out of her admiration for Brown. She also developed an attachment to her Hindustani teacher Abdul Karim. Still, Mrs. Brown probably plays down the romance with John Brown which is probably more or less right.)

Queen Victoria ordered a Mass of Thanksgiving at St. George’s Chapel when her oldest son recovered from typhoid. (She was a devout low-church Anglican/Presbyterian in England and Scotland and would never have ordered a Mass. She actually ordered a Church of England service at St. Paul’s Cathedral to celebrate her son Edward’s recovery.)

Prince Albert and her cousin George were the only suitors Queen Victoria had to deal with. (Actually she had other suitors including Albert’s brother Edward.)

Benjamin Disraeli:

Benjamin Disraeli spoke from notes in his speeches in Parliament. (Disraeli made a point in delivering all his speeches from memory even if they were several hours long or involved complicated statistics. He also warned younger politicians against using notes as a crutch.)

Benjamin Disraeli was British Prime Minister in 1866. (He didn’t serve his first term as prime minister until 1868.)

Benjamin Disraeli was prime minister during the “Disestablishment of the Irish Church” question which was in 1867. (Disraeli didn’t start his first term as prime minister until 1868. The “Disestablishment of the Irish Church” question wasn’t raised in 1867 or under his first term either. Rather it was raised in 1869 under the prime minister ship of William Gladstone, his rival.)

Benjamin Disraeli wasn’t Jewish. (He was and his whole life was a history of struggling to overcome Anti-Semitism to be accepted in mainstream British society. Interestingly, he got his start as a romance novelist so he could get into politics but continued his writing even after he got his wish. However, though Jewish, he wasn’t a practicing Jew.)

Lord Melbourne took an active interest in Benjamin Disraeli. (Lord Melbourne was dubious about Disraeli’s future as anyone else was.)

Benjamin Disraeli knew Queen Victoria personally during her coronation. (She didn’t know much about him at the time apart from him writing some novels. Actually, she didn’t really become acquainted with him until after Prince Albert had died.)

Sir Henry Ponsonby:

Sir Henry Ponsonby was Queen Victoria’s private secretary before 1866. (He didn’t serve until after the death of his predecessor Sir Charles Grey in 1870.)

Ripper Murders:

Jack the Ripper was the most notorious serial killer of all time. (The only thing that was notorious about him was that he was never caught mostly because 19th century police investigation was very, very faulty and unreliable. Still, he only killed 5 people when many identified serial killers have killed more than that even Victorian Britain.)

Jack the Ripper murdered attractive young women. (Four of his victims were in their mid-forties and only one of them was said to be young and good looking.)

Frederick Abberline was a young man as well as psychic and an opium addict who died soon after the Ripper murders. (He was a middle-aged man in 1888 with no known opium addiction nor claim on psychic abilities. Not to mention, he would investigate other cases after Jack the Ripper. Also, he died in 1929 in his 80s at his Bournemouth villa. Yet, in a movie called From Hell, he’s played by Johnny Depp.)

All of Jack the Ripper’s victims were friends. (Well, they were professional colleagues in the oldest profession. However, there’s no evidence to support this.)

Prince Albert Victor, the Duke of Clarence was Jack the Ripper. (He’s been a candidate for Jack the Ripper but there are plenty of reasons to doubt he was. First, there’s no basis in him ever being involved with East End prostitutes, let alone siring a child by one. Second, there were rumors he was gay and he didn’t seem to show much interest in women {save maybe a couple}. Third, though it’s rumored he may have had syphilis, royal records state that he died from a bout of influenza in the pandemic of 1889-1892. Fourth, at the time of two of the Ripper murders, he was in Scotland in the presence of Queen Victoria and other family members, visiting German royalty, and a large number of staff. Furthermore, there are plenty of records that state he couldn’t have been near any of the Ripper murders at all. Fifth, he was a high profile member of the royal family as well as considered second in line to the throne, a position that would give him a lot of attention from the media of the time. So to think that Prince Albert Victor was Jack the Ripper is very much of a stretch since there’s overwhelming evidence he wasn’t.)

Jack the Ripper was dressed in a top hat and a cape as well as carried a “Gladstone bag.” (Witnesses say that he actually wore common clothes indicative of lower-middle class status {making it another reason why Prince Albert Victor couldn’t have been Jack the Ripper}. Also, while there has been a sighting of a man with a “Gladstone bag” he was later proven not to be involved in the murders. Not to mention, most true sightings of the killer showed nothing but his hands yet one may have contained a parcel of paper that may have concealed the knife.)

Jack the Ripper didn’t kill alone and didn’t kill his victims where they were found. (With one possible exception, there’s no evidence more than one person was involved in the murders or that his victims were killed anywhere other than where they were found.)

Jack the Ripper used a carriage as a mode of transportation. (For one, there’s little evidence that he had since they were loud on cobble-stoned streets and witnesses certainly would’ve noticed it. Second, he’s said to be a lower middle class guy.)

Jack the Ripper knew his victims. (He may have talked to them but there’s no evidence he knew them personally.)

Frederick Abberline was acquainted with Mary Kelly before her murder. (He didn’t know of her existence until her corpse turned up.)

The Ripper letters came from Jack the Ripper himself. (Hundreds of Ripper letters were written but historians believed few actually came from the killer himself, if at all.)

Sir William Gull was Jack the Ripper. (There’s no evidence he was. Also, though he was the royal physician, he was in his seventies during the Ripper murders and had recently suffered a stroke.)

Charles Darwin:

Charles Darwin abandoned Christianity after his voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle that led him to develop his theory of evolution. (To be fair, Charles Darwin did lose his faith but that didn’t happen until decades after his Beagle voyage and It’s pretty clear that his scientific findings had nothing to do with it. In fact, he considered his work to be proof of God’s existence as well as wrote extensively and approvingly about the religious implications {despite knowing how controversial the work would be}. The reason why Darwin lost his faith is highly debatable, one possible explanation could be the tragic and prolonged death of his daughter. Also, as a side note, there were many amateur scientists in the 19th century who were also clergymen.)

Charles Darwin was the first man to propose the theory of evolution. (Darwin was just the first guy who explained the process of evolution which could be observed and tested. The idea of evolution isn’t an new idea but has been around for a very long time, even during the Middle Ages {Saint Thomas Aquinas may have wrote something suggesting it}. Also, there were other theories of evolution out there before Darwin came along.)

Charles Darwin formulated his theory of evolution by studying finches in the Galapagos during his Beagle voyage. (He wasn’t just studying finches there but other animals of which many that tend to exist in areas they didn’t seem to fit and others that would’ve been well suited but didn’t exist.)

Charles Darwin proclaimed that humans descended from monkeys and apes. (Actually he said that humans are related to monkeys and apes as well as evolved from a common primate ancestor. He didn’t say that humans evolved from them. To add further note, Darwin was not a fan of eugenics nor believed in Social Darwinism.)

Edward VII:

King Edward VII was addressed as “Edward” while Prince of Wales. (He was actually called Albert Edward, and prior to his ascension was known as Prince Albert {after whom, by the way, the brand of pipe tobacco was named a source of Prince Albert in a can jokes. Yes, he’s that Prince Albert, not his dad}. Also, his family and close friends called him, “Bertie.” This is kind of confusing but true.)

Kaiser Wilhem II was Edward VII’s cousin. (The Kaiser was his nephew as well as Queen Victoria’s grandson.)

Oscar Wilde:

Oscar Wilde didn’t have a homosexual encounter until after he was married with kids. (A recent biographer said he had a relationship with Frank Miles in 1876 but his sex life after his marriage is much better known.)

Oscar Wilde met Lord Alfred Douglas at the premiere of Lady Windemere’s Fan in 1892. (He’s said to have met Douglas through another of Wilde’s young men at his residence on Tite Street in 1891.)

Winston Churchill:

Winston Churchill’s parents were doting and supportive of him. (Actually, with few exceptions, the portrayals of Winston Churchill’s parents in Young Winston are false and compared to them, they make any reality show parent look like a Mother or Father of the Year. His parents basically neglected him and his brother and he was one of the only kids in school not to go home for Christmas and basically spent his summers in France which was a way for his parents to get rid of him. His dad had no idea of what was going on with his kids’ lives nor he care to. He didn’t know the school he sent Winston to or how old he was. And Jennie as pretty as she was, was also selfish, shallow, and thrill-seeking type who didn’t much care for kids. She was also said to have slept with nineteen men including King Edward VII. And Winston was well aware of that and even knew one who was kinder to him than his own father. Perhaps the best things about Winston Churchill’s childhood were that he was from a wealthy family and grew up during Victorian times. If he had been growing up these days, the future prime minister’s family would’ve been featured in a reality show.)

Winston Churchill was a dutiful and obedient child at school. (He was actually known for constant misbehavior and occasional acts of unprovoked violence. Of course, it was to be expected since he had very shitty parents.)

Jennie Churchill was an angel in the house and a model of sexual propriety who didn’t understand when her husband’s doctors explained his syphilis illness. (Churchill’s mother had a reputation as a slut and after Randolph died, she married a man about the same age as Winston. When it went wrong with him, she married an even younger man after that. Still, to say she was a model of Victorian womanhood is a joke. Amazing embarrassing mother? Absolutely. By the way, Winston Churchill was listed as being born 2 months premature on his birth certificate though we’re probably sure it may have more to do with being born less than eight months after his parents were married.)

The Bronte Sisters:

Both Emily and Charlotte Bronte were in love with the same man. (Contrary to Devotion, they never were.)

Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning:

It was love at first sight between Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning. (Their courtship actually began through a correspondence of letters they exchanged before they even met in person. The first one was a fan letter sent by Robert Browning fawning over how much he liked the poems Elizabeth published in 1844. So it was probably more like love before first sight to them.)

Edward Barrett expressed incestuous tendencies toward his daughters and discouraged contact with any guys. (Actually her dad discouraged marriage between any of his children whether male or female and disinherited them for this reason {Elizabeth had eight brothers and three sisters with all but one girl surviving to adulthood}. Still, there’s no evidence that he was sexually aggressive toward any family members.)

Edward Barrett had a sex addiction and regularly raped his wife. (There’s no evidence of this. Still, Edward Barrett wasn’t an abusive father or a rapist. He was just a man of his time.)

Elizabeth Barrett Browning was disabled. (She had a lot of health problems that made it painful for her to stand or walk. More or less an invalid than disabled.)

Crimean War:

The Battle of Balaklava directly resulted in the fall of Sebastopol. (It actually left the Russians in charge of an Allied supply route.)

Lord Raglan was a stiff-upper lipped commander. (He was even stiffer than his John Gielgud portrayal in The Charge of the Light Brigade. When he had his arm amputated due to being shot in the elbow with a musket ball at Waterloo, he was stoically silent without anesthesia while the surgeon sawed off his arm. The only comment he made was when he saw his arm chucked in the basket in which he said, “Hey, bring my arm back up. There’s a ring my wife gave me on the finger.” Yes, this guy was really like this in real life.)

Captain Louis Nolan had an affair with another officer’s wife as well as ordered black Moselle wine when Lord Cardigan asked for champagne. This made Cardigan furious that he had Nolan arrested. (I’m not sure that Nolan had an affair or whether that was made up. However, the wine incident did happen but with a guy named Captain John Reynolds who was in the Indian division of the British Army, not Nolan. The real Nolan did fight in the Sikh Wars but he was born in Milan and served in the 10th Hungarian Hussars before joining the British Army.)

Fanny Duberly was a featherbrained slut trying to bed Lord Cardigan. (She was actually a tough minded adventurous woman who was endlessly faithful to her husband. She should sue for slander in her depiction in The Charge of the Light Brigade.)

It was General Airey that half-garbled the order from Lord Raglan to Lord Cardigan which prompted the Charge of the Light Brigade. (Most historians blamed Captain Nolan for garbling the order, which was then misinterpreted by Lord Lucan, and the charge was carried out by Lord Cardigan. There’s actually some dispute over who was responsible for the disastrous charge though but agree that Captain Nolan was an arrogant and hotheaded young officer who kind of got what he deserved in the end.)

The Charge of the Light Brigade was a direct plan to invade the Russian camp. (It was the result of a command mix up between Lord Cardigan and Lord Raglan. Also, the Charge of the Light Brigade was a complete and utter disaster mostly because of the incompetence of the British top brass consisted of a bunch of upper class twits. Also, during the charge, whole regiments were annihilated.)

The Battle of Balaclava resulted in the fall of Sebastopol. (It didn’t.)

The Battle of Balaclava and the Charge of the Light Brigade took place in 1856. (It took place in 1854.)

The Light Brigade regiments wore cherry color breeches. (Only the 11th Hussars wore pants of that color. Officers and troops of the other four regiments wore dark blue breeches with double yellow stripes or white stripes in the case of the 17th Lancers.)

The Crimean War was a primarily British conflict. (It was primarily between Russia and the Ottoman Empire. France and Great Britain were allies on the Turkish side since they knew the Ottoman Empire was on the decline and wanted its territories. Yes, Britain and France sided with the Muslim power this time.)

Lord Raglan was an air-headed incompetent. (While he wasn’t the best general, Lord Lucan and Cardigan were probably worse than he was. Yet, his incompetence is highly debatable.)

Lords Lucan and Cardigan hated each other for no reason. (The men were brothers-in-law and didn’t like each other. However, most historians think their enmity stemmed from Lucan mistreating Cardigan’s sister. Still, after the Charge of the Light Brigade, both guys tried to viciously smear one another over it.)

The Battle of Balaclava was an important battle in the Crimean War. (Contrary to the fact that it featured one of the greatest military blunders in history that inspired a Tennyson poem, it was actually a minor skirmish compared to larger, bloodier, and more important battles like the Alma and Inkerman, let alone the protracted siege of Sevastopol {which Leo Tolstoy participated in}. Also, the Russians and Turks fought famous battles in the Caucasus and the Balkans without French and British participation, but nobody pays attention to that.)

The Charge of the Light Brigade started in India. (It started in Russia. Unlike the depiction in the 1936 film, it was never stationed in India. Still, the 1936 Charge of the Light Brigade film almost has nothing to do with the Crimean War and more or less resembles the Siege of Cawnpore.)

Florence Nightingale was the lady with the lamp who helped clean up Crimea. (Yes, but The Lady with the Lamp ignores that she was also a mathematical genius who invented the pie chart. Also, she may have been gay.)

The Elephant Man:

The Elephant Man’s name was John Merrick. (It was Joseph Merrick.)

The Elephant Man had no control over his sideshow career. (Actually Merrick chose to exhibit himself and was treated well by the sideshow establishment as well as established an equal financial partnership with his trainer Tom Norman whose speaking to him “like a dog” was actually part of an act. During 22 months, Merrick managed to save £50 of his earnings {equivalent of what a working class family earned for a year}. So he was probably not a helpless victim but a guy who used what God gave him and was savvy enough to financially benefit from it.)

The Elephant Man was taken in by the Royal London Hospital, was kidnapped by his boss, and carried off to Belgium where he was locked in a cage with baboons. (Merrick never shared any living quarters with baboons and actually went to Belgium by choice after the tide of public taste turned against freak shows in Great Britain. Not to mention, he was robbed by his Austrian business partner there. However, Merrick was only at the Royal Hospital in London after he returned to Great Britain in a state of distress.)


Welsh children were more content to work in the coal mines than go to school. (Actually this is the other way around. Most nineteenth century children would rather go to school even though that was no day at the beach either but at least school children didn’t have to worry about losing a limb, disfigurement, having soot all over their faces, or work-place related death.)

The upper classes of Victorian England were uptight prudes. (They tended to be anything but. However they were very good at keeping up appearances. Also, Victorian era porn would make much of the smut on the internet look like something out of a children’s book. Not to mention, many Victorians also wrote erotica.)

The Duke of Sussex was as tall as Queen Victoria and sported a mustache by the time he walked her down the aisle. (He was very tall and had shaved his mustache and wore a set of mutton chops.)

Robert Burns gave a recital of “Auld Lang Syne” at Queen Victoria’s Balmoral Castle during her reign. (The poem was written in 1788 which meant that Burns was probably long dead at that point. Also, it was published as a song in 1886.)

Anne Crook had an affair with Prince Albert Victor as well as had his child. (There’s no evidence for this nor is there evidence of her knowing any of the Ripper victims or receiving a lobotomy. Also, she’s probably a fictional character.)

Lower class Londoners had Cockney accents. (Really, gov’nuh?)

Sweet lovely virginal young women of aristocratic status and downtrodden whores could die of the same disease yet suffer it in very different ways.

Contrived coincidences abounded everywhere among the characters, especially when it concerned unknown parents.

Lord Kelvin was a sniveling, conniving, backstabber willing to stop anyone out of a little more than professional jealousy. (Of course, this is how Disney depicted him in Around the World in 80 Days. However, this guy was a noteworthy scientist who discovered the first and second laws of thermodynamics, the concept of absolute zero temperature resulting in getting a scale named after him, other things noteworthy of science. Furthermore, he was knighted for working on the Transatlantic Telegraph Cable, including several inventions on this project. Still, Disney’s Kelvin rendition kind of captures the Victorian viciousness in the scientific community perfectly.)

Charlie Chaplin was a kid around 1887. (Sorry Shanghai Knights, but Chaplin was born in 1889, around the same week as Hitler no doubt.)

History of the World According to the Movies: Part 46 – Late Georgian Great Britain


The 1941 film That Hamilton Woman starring husband and wife Sir Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh recounts the scandalous relationship between Admiral Horatio Nelson and Lady Emma Hamilton. Of course, this movie isn’t 100% accurate due to stuff like the Hays Code and let’s say that Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton weren’t that hot in real life at this point in their lives. Nor did Lord Nelson ever wear an eye patch. Still, at least this romance featured two historical characters who actually loved each other in real life unlike some movies.

Great Britain’s first 37 years in the 19th century were encompassed by the Late Georgian Era. Of course, the Industrial Revolution had already kicked off by this time and its effects would later lend inspiration to many Charles Dickens novels. The lives of the upper-classes and gentry, however, would become the tableau in which many novels from Jane Austen are set, especially during the Regency when King George III went permanently insane that the future George IV had to rule as regent for nine years. Not to mention, a lot of the works of the Bronte sisters take place in this period as well though you wouldn’t know it since many movies of their works usually have women in big dresses. Still, much the movies set in this period would usually pertain to either Austen novels or the Napoleonic Wars since the British were the main adversaries of the French as well as introduced heroes like the Duke of Wellington who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo and Admiral Horatio Nelson, famous for his victory at Trafalgar, having one arm and one eye, and his scandalous relationship with Lady Emma Hamilton. This would also be an era of Romantic Era poets and writers like Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, and Mary Shelley as well. Not to mention, this would be the time period when Britain would give the vote to Catholics and abolish slavery. Nevertheless, there are plenty of historical errors in movies set in this time period I shall list accordingly.

Napoleonic Wars:

The Battle of Waterloo was mostly a British victory. (Wellington’s army wasn’t just made up of English, Scottish, or Irish soldiers as seen in Waterloo, but also the contingents from various German states and the Kingdom of the United Netherlands {Dutch and Belgian} that consisted of 2/3 of his army. It was an international effort.)

General Ponsonby died in the same way as his father during the Napoleonic wars. (His dad was a politician who died peacefully in 1806. Ponsonby himself, according to French accounts surrendered to a French sergeant of lancers who later killed him when a group of British cavalrymen attempted to rescue him {and Ponsonby was getting ready to bolt without handing his sword or dismounting}.)

Royal Marines had child drummers during the Napoleonic Wars. (Their drummers were adults.)

Royal Navy vessels always had one man at the wheel during the Napoleonic Wars whether in battle or during a storm. (There could be as many as four or more guys on the wheel in either situation.)

ADC Lord Hay was killed at Waterloo. (He actually was killed at Quatre Bas.)

The HMS Agamemnon was a 3 decked battleship on the line. (It had 2 gun decks.)

The Santisma Trinidad burned and sank during the Battle of Trafalgar while several ships exploded. (It was captured and taken by the British as a prize after the battle. But it was lost in a storm. Also, during the Battle of Trafalgar, there only one ship that blew up, which was a French gunner called the Achilles.)

The Burke and Hare Murders:

William Burke and William Hare were childless. (Contrary to Burke & Hare, Burke had left a wife and two children in Northern Ireland. We’re not sure whether he deserted them or that his wife simply refused to join him in Scotland. Hare and his wife had a baby with whooping cough during the trial proceedings who was said to be used “as an instrument for delaying or evading whatever question it was inconvenient for her to answer.” Hare’s wife also had another kid to her first marriage.)

William Burke’s girlfriend was an actress named Ginny Hawkins he met during the murders. (Her name was Helen McDougal and they had been living together for 10 years they were assumed to be married. In fact, they had been living at the Hares’ lodging house since they arrived in Edinburgh in 1827. And Burke was well-acquainted with Hare’s wife whom he met on previous trips to the city. As for Hare’s wife, her name was Margaret Laird who did run a lodging house. But she had inherited it from her previous husband after he died. And in 1828, she had one child and was pregnant for some time during the murders. Nevertheless, Ginny Hawkins was loosely based on a real actress named Eva Le Gallienne who played the role of Hamlet.)

William Burke got involved in the murders to raise money for his girlfriend’s play. (This was a ploy for Burke & Hare to make Burke seem like a more sympathetic character. If there’s any motive it might’ve been the possibility that he was sending money to his wife and kids back home. Or that he worked in a variety of trades that either didn’t suit him or didn’t pay well. Or that selling dead bodies to Robert Knox was an easy way to make money. As for Hare, he had a pregnant wife and a stepchild to support and most of his wife’s tenants consisted of beggars and vagrants. And she ran her lodging house at a loss with her charges owing money.)

William Burke’s girlfriend knew nothing about the murders. (While there’s no direct evidence she was, Helen McDougal is widely assumed to be. However, we do know that she had seen many of their victims while they were alive and she had the clothing of one of them in her possession {though to be fair, Burke often passed victims’ clothes to others while Hare disposed them in the Union Canal}. Oh, and they killed her cousin. And that she tried to bribe a couple into keeping quiet about a dead body under a bed. But Burke claimed that she knew nothing and believed he and Hare were grave robbers. Then again, he might’ve been just trying to clear her name. Nevertheless, how much McDougal may have known of the murders and whether she was involved will never be known. Nevertheless, she got off on “not proven.”)

William Hare’s wife knew about the murders and was perfectly fine with them. (Yes, but that wasn’t all. Margaret certainly knew about the murders and there’s enough evidence to suggest that she might’ve assisted or even initiated some of them. We know this because when Burke and Hare split the money among themselves, she always got a cut “for the house.” But what role she played is unknown other than covering them up since many of the victims were her own lodgers.)

William Burke and William Hare were grave robbers before they turned to murder. (There’s no evidence to suggest they ever were. Besides, by then, grave robbing was so commonplace back then that relatives of the recently deceased were known to watch over their graves. And watchtowers were installed in cemeteries. Such developments sped the way for many grave robbers into committing anatomy murder with Burke and Hare’s being the most infamous.)

Dr. Robert Knox performed a sideshow act in America after the Burke and Hare murders. (Contrary to Burke & Hare, Knox continued to teach for many years, but his career and reputation were ruined since he’d always be known as the guy who bought bodies off of serial killers. His house would be frequently vandalized. He’d soon have to resign as curator of the museum he founded and students stopped taking his classes. He ended up working in a cancer hospital in London and writing various works. Still, I can forgive John Landis for that since the sideshow act was too good to miss.)

Dr. Robert Knox’s motivation for getting mixed up with Burke and Hare was that Dr. Monro had access to all the good cadavers and to receive a prestigious award from the King. (In reality, Knox was likely to already have an established network of body snatchers in Edinburgh as well as had agents in Glasgow, Manchester, and Dublin. All of these guys charged him the same as Burke and Hare. Yet, the bodies Burke and Hare sent were obviously in much better shape. Still, Knox was a very busy man at the time since he was aspiring to become a professor at the University of Edinburgh, was working on a research project of comparative anatomy,was Curator of the Museum of the College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, and was in the process of seeing several books through publication. Furthermore, he usually delegated responsibilities of his dissecting establishment at 10 Surgeon’s Square to his staff. This included his brother, his technician and doorkeeper, and 3 assistants. It was these guys who mostly dealt with Burke and Hare directly, not Knox. So to say that Knox was complicit in the murders other than being a paying customer who didn’t know he was getting into, is a bit of a stretch. Still, the idea of Dr. Monro hogging the cadavers makes sense since an act of 1823 saw a dramatic drop in crimes punishable by death which caused an extreme shortage of dead bodies legally available for medical schools.)

William Burke confessed to his crimes to save his friends and love. (Burke did no such thing. In fact, he was betrayed by William Hare who sold him out after they were caught. Hare agreed to testify against Burke and his girlfriend to escape persecution. This is mostly because the police had little hard evidence to convict both of them. Nevertheless, if given the chance, Burke would’ve done the same thing but he wasn’t offered. Hare was perfectly happy to do this. Nevertheless, Burke probably did try to clear his girlfriend by claiming she knew nothing about the murders, but he only confessed after knowing he was going to be hanged and there was nothing he could do about it.)

Most of Burke and Hare’s victims were men of various backgrounds. (The known victims consisted of 12 women, 3 men, and one child. All were very poor, often homeless {which doesn’t make for an entertaining black comedy}. To target men in fancy clothes, carriages, or fur coats would’ve been unthinkable to them since it would’ve led to an easy arrest {no matter how vulnerable these guys were at the time}. So like most serial killers, they preyed on Edinburgh’s poorest communities who were less likely to be missed or recognized. Nevertheless, this resulted in the two being charged with only 3 of the murders. And while Burke and Hare are said to have killed 16 people, the real total is likely to be a lot higher.)

Suspicion of Burke and Hare’s murders arose when medical  body of a local crime boss appeared at Dr. Knox’s dissection table. (The bodies that were recognized by Knox’s students were of a prostitute named Mary Paterson and a mentally challenged young man with a limp but a familiar character named James Wilson also known as “Daft Jamie.” Nevertheless, the two wouldn’t be caught until a couple lodgers called the cops after discovering the body of Mrs. Mary Docherty {or Margery Campbell} under a bed. The body was removed when the police arrived. Burke and Helen McDougal were arrested under questioning. As for the Hares, they were arrested after police were given an anonymous tip-off to Knox’s dissecting rooms where the couple who turned the guys in positively identified Docherty’s body.)

William Burke and William Hare had a genial relationship throughout the murders. (Their relationship had disintegrated towards the end as Burke became suspicious that Hare and Margaret were cutting him and Helen McDougal out of deals with Knox. When they were arrested along with their women, each gave conflicting testimony and the two guys blamed each other.)

William Hare and his wife started a funeral business in Edinburgh after William Burke’s execution. (Contrary to Burke & Hare this wasn’t true. Rather, in reality, Hare and his wife along with Helen McDougal entered into the 19th century equivalent to “witness protection.” And for awhile they had to be taken into police custody and moved since their notoriety attracted mobs and threats to their safety. For the Hares, establishing a funeral business in Edinburgh wouldn’t have been possible for they had no peace afterwards. Nevertheless, McDougal was last seen in Durham, Margaret went back to her family in Ireland, and Hare was last seen fleeing an inn after being trapped by a mob. We’re not sure what happened to him since.)

William Burke and William Hare were likeable guys. (Contrary to Burke & Hare, neither were as nice as Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis portrayed them. Hare was said to be prone to violence while drunk and might’ve killed his wife’s first husband who mysteriously disappeared, conveniently leaving a boardinghouse and him a wealthier man. Burke left a wife and two kids in Ireland. He was working as a shoemaker at the time and could read and write. Yet, he was the more likeable of the two.)

The Duke of Wellington:

The Duke of Wellington spoke in an English accent. (He was Irish. Still, as prime minister, his main accomplishment would be granting Catholic Emancipation granted in Parliament.)

Sir Arthur Wellesley was the Duke of Wellington in 1810. (He was elevated to the Peerage after the Battle of Talavera and to a Dukedom in 1814. The post of the Duke of Wellington didn’t exist yet.)

The Duke of Wellington was an old man during the Battle of Waterloo. (He was in his forties around the same age as Napoleon.)

The Duke of Wellington was opposed to the judicial killing of Field Marshall Michel Ney and saw it as a vicious action of the Duchesse d’Angouleme (Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette’s only surviving child at the time). (As a friendly observer and adviser to King Louis XVIII, Wellington had no legal standing to get involved and most likely didn’t.)

Admiral Horatio Nelson and Lady Emma Hamilton:

Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson wore an eye patch after he lost his eye. (Most of the time he didn’t and at least That Hamilton Woman gets this right even though he wears it once. However, Lord Nelson never did look as hot as Sir Laurence Olivier {who’s a rather tall man while Nelson wasn’t} and neither was Lady Hamilton as pretty as Vivien Leigh and was actually kind of chunky in her later years.)

Admiral Horatio Nelson had “A Life on the Ocean Waves,” played at a victory party. (It was composed in the 1830s when Nelson was long dead.)

Admiral Horatio Nelson was a tall man. (Contrary to his Sir Laurence Olivier portrayal in That Hamilton Woman, he was 5’4″ and weighed about 100 pounds. This would make him built like James Madison. But this guy had the habit of showing his chest as well as covering it in official regalia, which made it clear to the enemy exactly who he was. This didn’t go personally well for him at Trafalgar since he was killed by a French sniper because of this. He also flaunted his small size and disabilities as proof of his bravery. And unlike the real 5’7″ tall Napoleon Bonaparte who was really slightly above average by 19th century standards, Nelson was basically the poster child of the Napoleonic Complex that we should call it the Lord Nelson Complex. Let’s just say That Hamilton Woman would’ve made much more historical sense if they cast Claude Rains in the role instead of Sir Laurence Olivier. Then again, Hollywood has a habit of making certain historical figures taller than they actually were, particularly men.)

Horatio Nelson died at sunset during the Battle of Trafalgar when his ship was fighting the French flagship Redoubtable under heavy fog. (The flagship was the Bucenature and the battle was fought on a perfectly clear day. But yes, they were fighting the Redoubtable and the Santasima Trinidad, too. Also, Nelson is said to have died around 4:30 in the afternoon.)

Horatio Nelson was rear-admiral of the Blue in 1798. (His highest rank vice-admiral of the White Squadron.)

Lord Horatio Nelson had to wait for Sir William Hamilton to die before he could shack up with Lady Emma Hamilton and the two of them kept their relationship under wraps despite having a child together. (Yes, they did let their daughter Horatia be raised by another couple {yet they adopted her later}. Yet, they did pose as her godparents at her christening. However, by the time Emma had Horatia, Nelson was already openly living with the Hamiltons in a ménage a trois. For God’s sake, Nelson was holding Emma’s hand at her husband’s death bed. This was no secret in Great Britain but Emma’s devotion to Nelson was notoriously flamboyant {and it helped that Nelson was a such a prima donna that he made George S. Patton look meek in comparison}. Also, unlike what That Hamilton Woman depicts, Emma was doing a performance art show in which she appeared as famous women from history. Emma Hamilton wasn’t a goody-goody wifelet but a crazy freewheeling nympho who’d put Miley Cyrus to shame. Guess 1940s Hollywood was more tolerant on adultery than threesomes.)

Emma Hamilton was surprised to see Lord Horatio Nelson’s eye patch and empty sleeve. (She probably wouldn’t have been surprised by his war wounds since his exploits were known all over Europe at this point. She would’ve known he couldn’t see from his right eye and had lost most of his right arm. Also, Nelson didn’t wear an eye patch {which he doesn’t in much of That Hamilton Woman save a few scenes}. He may have actually worn a less glamorous eye shade on his hat when it was sunny on deck.)

Lord Horatio Nelson had a full set of teeth throughout his life. (It’s said he lost most of his teeth when he and Emma Hamilton were reacquainted. Yet, his time in the Napoleonic Wars had seemed to prematurely aged him and he was afflicted by coughing spells. Oh, and did I say he was around 40 at the time?)

Emma Hamilton was 18 when she arrived in Naples. (She was 21. However, unlike what That Hamilton Woman implies, Emma had quite a life before she came there. She was a spokesmodel for the Temple of Health, a dodgy London health clinic that sold infertile couples sessions on an electrified Celestial Bed in which the shocks were said to aid conception. She was a mistress to Sir Harry Featherstonehaugh and had a child by him before moving on to MP Charles Greville. Also, she was the favorite subject of the painter George Romney. This was all before she went to Naples where she met her future husband Sir William Hamilton.)

Beau Brummel:

George “Beau” Brummel was booted out of the British Army when he criticized Prince George about the uniforms for his Dragoons. (Brummel resigned his commission in the Hussars voluntarily most likely because he didn’t want to go to war. Yet, there are theories that he couldn’t abide the 10th Dragoons formal hairstyle {long and powdered with a pigtail} and wanted to wear his hair in the Roman Emperor style {short but brushed forward}. There’s probably an understanding why screenwriters would go with the uniforms.)

Beau Brummel and George IV were around the same age. (They were friends around George IV’s wedding to Caroline of Brunswick but Beau was 16 at the time while George IV was twice his age.)

Beau Brummel was bisexual. (There’s no record of him having romantic relationships with anyone, though he spent a lot of time with courtesans and it’s been suggested {and he’s said to have syphilis}. However, he and George IV probably didn’t have a mutually romantic friendship since George IV was exclusively straight and a womanizer. Then again, Elizabeth Taylor {which she is in his biopic} would make an appropriate love interest for him since she has male fans from all sexual orientations.)

Beau Brummel asked Lord Byron, “Who’s your fat friend?” as an insult to Prince Regent George. (It was said to be toward a guy named Lord Alvanley not, Byron. Still, Brummel never protested against Prince George in public speeches.)

Beau Brummel contracted tuberculosis while on exile to Calais. (His French medical records say he had syphilis, which you can’t put in a 1950s biopic. So he may not have been romantically involved with anyone but maybe he might’ve had a few flings.)

George IV and Beau Brummel bonded over the former’s impending and unwanted marriage to Caroline of Brunswick. (They were already friends by this point, though it’s pretty clear George IV didn’t want to marry Caroline of Brunswick and it was a miracle that he was able to sire a daughter from her {though Princess Charlotte’s death would send her uncles scrambling to produce heirs and make Queen Victoria’s existence and succession possible. If she didn’t die of childbirth, Victoria may not have never been born, let alone be queen}.)

King George IV and Beau Brummel had a tearful reconciliation at Brummel’s deathbed. (Actually King George IV died 10 years before Brummel did, so that wouldn’t happen. Also, there’s no record on them having met again after 1816. Not to mention, Brummel remained in France for the rest of his life.)

King William IV:

When King William IV insulted the Duchess of Kent, she sat several feet away from him, she left the room, and neither Princess Victoria nor anyone else reacted much. (The Duchess of Kent sat next to the king, she didn’t leave the room, and Princess Victoria cried in reaction to the king’s outburst, and the guests were aghast.)

Jane Austen:

Jane Austen had a romance with Tom Lefroy, who was the love of her life and a guy she almost married. (Yes, she and Tom Lefroy knew each other but there are plenty of scholars who are skeptical on whether the two were ever a couple. All that’s documented about her relationship with him was that they danced together in 3 Christmas balls. Lefroy may have said he was in love with Austen but at that time he was an old man who may have been willing to play up to his connection with the famous female novelist. Yet, he’s mentioned in only three of Austen’s letters that survive but her sister did burn most of the letters she sent so we’ll never know. Still, it may not have amounted to much contrary to what Becoming Jane implies. However, Austen did receive at least one marriage proposal but it was from a different guy named Harris Biggs-Wither who she turned down {maybe because she didn’t want to be Mrs. Biggs-Wither and a butt of many Monty Python jokes}.)

Jane Austen was a frustrated and mediocre writer until a man entered her life, introduced her to Tom Jones, and taught her about love. (I’m sure she was perfectly capable of telling her own stories without the aid of any men. Becoming Jane is probably an insult to a female writer who wrote with such genius and originality like Jane Austen did. Not to mention, she was already working on her first novel before she even met him and had already read Tom Jones, too. Still, Tom Lefroy may not have been the only man in her life and there’s some reason to believe that she may have actually chose not to get married due to how many of her family members died in childbirth at the time.)

Tom Lefroy proposed to Jane Austen. (Chances are he most likely never proposed to her because he wasn’t from a well-off family and she wouldn’t be what his folks would consider appropriate marriage material. He probably led her on during many occasion and their relationship probably never really went anywhere from a mere flirtation despite any mutual feelings for each other. He more likely never saw Jane again after leaving Hampshire the first time. Lefroy would later marry a woman with a large fortune with whom he’d have seven kids and would later become Britain’s Lord Chief Justice. Nevertheless, Jane Austen had a close relationship with his aunt who was her mentor.)

Jane Austen’s brother Henry was a guy who liked to drink, party, and screw around with prostitutes. (Actually he wasn’t like that but he was adventurous. He ended up marrying a cousin ten years older than him and became a clergyman after she died.)

Jane Austen’s parents didn’t get along. (It’s implied in their letters that they certainly loved each other. Also, while finances were tight in the Austen household, they were never in dire straits.)

Jane Austen was pretty. (There aren’t many contemporary portraits of her save probably one and she doesn’t look very flattering in that. However, we’re really not sure what she really looked like.)

King George IV:

King George IV was a well-meaning and clumsy man. (Many of the people who knew him personally would’ve said otherwise according to his eulogy, “there never was an individual less regretted by his fellow-creatures than this deceased king…If he ever had a friend – a devoted friend in any rank of life – we protest that the name of him or her never reached us.” )

William Pitt the Younger:

William Pitt the Younger was still alive after 1806. (He died that year.)

William Wilberforce’s illness caused a rift between him and William Pitt the Younger. (His illness actually strengthened their relationship.)

William Wilberforce was present at William Pitt the Younger’s deathbed. (Wilberforce didn’t make it in time.)

George Gordon, Lord Byron:

Lord Byron could walk perfectly fine on two legs. (He had a clubbed foot that plagued him throughout his life.)

Lord Byron was thin. (He wasn’t. Actually despite being a vegetarian and athletic most of his life, he was overweight since he wore several waistcoats to sweat the fat off. Still, he was an inspiration for the modern vampire. But he was no model of sexiness by our standards.)

Mary Shelley:

Mary Shelley’s only work was Frankenstein. (Wikipedia has quite a list of her works including novels, editorials, plays, short stories, and travelogues. She was a pretty busy woman. Yet, what’s she remembered for? Still, her dad was the political philosopher William Godwin and her mother was the famous philosopher and women’s rights proponent Mary Wollstonecraft. Her husband was the poet Percy Blysshe Shelley.)


Charles Fox was known as “Lord Charles Fox.” (He was in the House of Commons until the day he died which was in 1806 so he wouldn’t have been able to make comments about Wilberforce after the abolition of the slave trade. Still, he was a younger son of a baron and known as the “Honorable Charles Fox.”)

Formal birth registrations were in place in this time. (The UK didn’t have any formal birth registrations until 1837. At this time the only formal records were baptisms from parish churches.)

The Royal Lyceum Theatre was around in 1828. (It was built in 1883.)

Greyfriars Bobbby died in the 1820s. (He was alive around 1855-1872.)

Edinburgh’s law enforcement was handled by a local militia in the 1820s. (Edinburgh was one of the first cities in Great Britain to establish a police department. But they relied on local residents to bring crimes to their attention and when they weren’t solving crimes, they were arresting poor people. This is why the Burke and Hare murders lasted for 10 months free from police inquiry until a couple of lodgers reported their discovery of Mary Docherty’s dead body.)