The Tudors series by showtime has had a mixed reception ,,roughly split between academics ,historians and costumers who hate it and everyone else who loves it .I was really excited when I heard the series would be on initially, but couldn’t watch more than the first few minutes of an episode before the weird costumes , inappropriate behavior and the mis casting of major characters got too much to gloss over.At first glance its seems to live up to all the accusations of “dumbing down “and “sexing up”
That was a shame as I have come to realise it’s actually a very good series in many ways and an impressive amount of research has gone into each episode.Many of the actors do remarkably good jobs ,but that’s usually lost in all the superficial tat of sex and violence. If it had taken less major liberties with important characters it would probably have become a very well-respected addition to historical drama alongside Elizabeth R or the Six wives of Henry VIII.(Though I doubt it would ever have been in most costumers wish lists)
So heres my personal list of things I love and hate
What I hate ,,
Almost everyone is so good looking and most are young and there’s not usually any effort made to make them look their age or their part ! ,Henry never gets old and fat and ,,,, isn’t looking quite himself
Heres Young Henry
And Henry as an old man
I think the issue of Henry is a major one as it’s always assumed that when Henry divorced Katherine of Aragon she was middle-aged and frumpy and he was still athletic and good-looking the time of the divorce itself ,Katherine was certainly older than Henry and no longer attractive,This portrait is from around the time Henry was publicly starting to consider divorce (its usually dated to a few years around 1530)
But by the 1530s Henry was also no longer at his best .Its telling to compare two miniatures one of Catherine and one of Henry both painted around the same time.One shows Catherine in attractive clothes and looking admittedly a bit plump but not particularly old
,While Henry’s is less than flattering ,the portrait below shows Henry did himself a huge favour by growing his trademark beard (,Henry ostentatiously grew his beard because of a vow between himself and the French king Francis ),This is dated around the mid 1520s
Though it’s not just Henry who gets the Tudors make over Worsley is good-looking and Cromwell is very good looking.Contrast the two images one is the actor playing Cromwell and one is the Holbein original of Cromwell
Even Anne of Cleves is stunning and though I personally don’t think Anne was ugly ,it does remove the entire reason for Henry’s dislike if she’s portrayed as so pretty
It might seem a superficial complaint but it highlights the series fundamental flaw ,its at least partly designed to provide eye candy ,it seems to assume you can’t sympathise with a character unless they look like a superstar .
The second is the least important reason I hate the series but is a major problem for a lot historians and costumers.The costumes !I think there is only one costume on any female character that is near to completely accurate ,Anne Boleyn’s execution outfit .This even came reasonably close to original reports of Anne’s last outfit as she wore red and grey with an Ermine trimmed cloak .
The Good marks gained in this scene are however lost when the same gown reappears on Anne’s ex sister in Law a few episodes later,(Randomly swapping gowns around unrelated female characters is fairly common.)
(A comprehensive look at recycled movie costumes from all eras can be found here http://www.recycledmoviecostumes.com/tudorelizabethan.html )Theres a youtube video showing a few of the reused costumes here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WlXm-e5XdKY)
While re using costumes among extras is just lazy costuming .In some cases with major characters its unpardonable ,in this case the gown was worn by a major character in a major scene .While its historically correct that Henry’s wives wardrobes (and Jewels)were passed along to the next wife down or occasionally to ladies in waiting unlikely Anne’s execution gown would have been in a state to reuse.it also makes a mockery of any statements that costumes were created to compliment the character.
The outfits are admittedly stunning,though they often tend to evoke thoughts of Anna Karenina or fairy tales.
Admittedly the Tudors would, even if it wanted to be completely accurate have had costuming problems as there’s a lot of characters who need a lot of costumes in a lot of different scenes in a lot of episodes, and its unlikely that so many unseen costumes could have been hired or made so some tweaking of costumes from later or earlier eras could have been forgiven .It cant claim poverty as an excuse,the excellent six wives of henry the eight acheived accuracy on a shoe string and the Tudors seems to have had a decent costume budget as it apparently “bought out” every renaissance costume in the costume hire companies wardrobes and left Sandy Powel with problems when doing her costuming for “The other Boleyn girl (another movie with serious costume issues )(http://www.recycledmoviecostumes.com/tudorelizabethan036.html)
But the Tudors goes way beyond make do and mend tweaks The costume below probably typifies the issues
2/ weird headwear and far too much hair, showing hair flowing down ladies backs is a fairly common costuming issue as its much more attractive to modern eyes than covering up ,but the Tudors is remarkable for its weird head dresses,(My personal beef is also the presence so many tiaras ,an item that only appears centuries later)
3/ inappropriate fabrics not one fabric Anne is wearing in the masquerade scene existed at the time and there is a proliferation of floral fabrics and one admittedly stunning gown is made from crushed velvet
4/ mix and matching eras, in many scenes there’s nothing Tudor on any major character ..The Tudors main “sin” here is using Elizabethan costumes and ruffs but it also flirts with medieval costumes .It used several costumes from the movie Ever After, and dozens from Elizabethan movies such as Shakespeare in Love.The Tudors do ironically pay attention to detail in a lot of ways
The gown just above is one of my favourite from the series ,Its one Anne wears to be made marchioness of Pembroke (its known now as the Pembroke gown )Anne did wear a red gown for the ceremony to make her Marchioness of Pembroke and she did make her ladies dress in similar ways and the same colours and she did have badges made for her supporters so parts of the outfits are correct but they are bits that are impossible to notice on-screen what is noticed is that the dresses are too late a style ,they don’t have on chemises ,the jewelry is wrong and crushed velvet didn’t exist.Its such as shame as I don’t think many costume dramas get so much detail right yet deliberately make such huge mistakes.
Heres a quote I think typifies it all from the shows costume designer
. We did re-use and re-dye a lot of stuff and we rented from all over the world. We coined the term ‘Tudorise’ to describe how we could tweak something to fit the scene, by adding braiding, or beads.”
She scoured antique fairs and auctions for rare finds. She bought two trunks filled with exotic fabrics from all over the world, and found a 150-year-old length of hand-spun silver that had been woven in London. She used it for Anne Boleyn’s coronation dress and accessorized it with magnificent jewellery that was so expensive a bodyguard came on set to guard it.
Alongside costuming issues ,the series also has a long list of other less glaring “mistakes” musical instruments that are sometimes centuries too early,The basilica of St Peters is complete decades before it actually was.Fire arms are used that are sometimes a hundred years too early.The popes are swapped and changed, there’s also sightings of things like radiators in rooms and tarmac roads,traffic bollards which tend to suggest sheer laziness.
Leaving aside the two most noticeable issues of characters appearance and costuming the problems that are most annoying are fairly major liberties taken with actual historical characters.
There are a number of times when the series mixes up chronologies or ages,for example Henry played by John Rhys Meyers is far too young to have a gown up illegitimate son so his son in the series is only a child when he dies,in reality having a grown up illegitimate son may have made Henry feel less insecure about having only a daughter by Katherine as its possible he was considering marrying Mary to his son Henry Fitzroy or making Henry legitimate . To be fair however the childs death in the series is shown as important and game changing something ingored by most lives of Henry ,yet Henry Fitzroy death may have played a significant part in Henry’s decision to divorce Catherine as it removed his only male heir.
other pointless additions seem utterly pointless .eg Henry acquires an imaginary uncle who is then killed the Duke of Urbino,Henry is one sister short in the seriesand this sister is unrecognisable in Henrys .historical sisters
An overview of the historical sisters of Henry VIII
Henry VIII had two sisters Margret and Mary (after whom the Mary Rose was named ) .
Mary was Henry’s youngest sister and Henry arranged to have her married to the elderly king of France ,so furious was she at the match Henry promised her that when the king died she could marry who she wanted .The King died months after their wedding (it was rumored from exhausting himself in bed with his pretty and young new bride )she then married Charles Brandon, who came to collect her from France,,possibly because they were already in love possibly because she knew Henry would break his word once she was back we dont know .Perhaps Charles Brandon loved Mary or perhaps he took the risk because he was ambitious and as he was a close friend of Henry’s they probably expected they would be forgiven .This marriage resulted in Marys grand-daughter Lady Jane Grey being made queen. Mary Tudor died in 1533.
Henry’s other sister was Margret who was older than him.She married James IV of Scotland and when he died married a Scottish lord Douglas Earl of Angus.Her grandchildren were Mary Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley.Margrets husband King James was killed at Flodden by an English army under the regency of Kathrine of Aragon,who sent his blood soaked shirt to Henry ( then at war in France)as a trophy of war,though she had actually wanted to send his head and had to be disuaded.Margret was made regent for her infant son James V ,but later made a bad marriage for love with Angus and spent time briefly in England leaving her two sons in the custody of their Uncle,during this time the younger son died possibly under suspicious circumstances .She returned to Scotland and gained power where she decided eventually on a divorce from her husband an issue that took many years and a great deal of effort to resolve as there was not really any allowable cause.She finaly obtained a divorce , promoting Henry to call it a “shameless sentence from Rome” possibly affecting how Henry perceived the papacy.She married again shortly afterwards to Henry Stewart but the marriage was also not happy and she did for a time try to gain a second divorce ,though eventually she became reconciled to remaining married to her husband.
In the Tudors neither of these sisters exist ,they are replaced with a hybrid
In the Tudors TV series Margret is married to and promptly murders the king of Portugal.
She then marries Charles Brandon ,though the marriage becomes unhappy.She dies early in the series a nod to historical accuracy .The character is obviously a hybrid partly Mary Tudor but with Margret’s name and with made up murder and unhappy marriage storylines.It seems pointless because the true stories of Henry’s sisters are much more interesting and also the link if needed with Portugal already existed
,While the marriage to the King of Portugal was in reality impractical and untrue ,England did have links with Portugal through Katherine of Aragon , ,
Though this is a minor detour the marital history of the king of Portugal is interesting and shows how many missed opportunities the Tudor tv series had), The King of Portugal on the throne in the early part of Henrys reign was Manuel who had initaly begun marriage negations with Elizabeth of York (Henry’s mother ) but these ended when Richard III was defeated and killed at Bosworth ,He then married Isabella of Aragon (Katherine of Aragons older sister )who had been married to the previous king his nephew ,when Isabella died ,The king of Portugal then married her sister Maria of Aragon (another of Katherine of Aragons elder sisters).When Maria died he married one of her sisters daughters Eleanor of Austria ,she was the daughter of Katherine of Aragons sister Juana (Juana the mad).
Eleanor had herself at one point been betrothed to Henry VIII and also to Manuel’s own son the future king John III of Portugal .When Manuel died his son John who had apparently been in love with Eleanor married Eleanor’s sister Catherine ,,another niece of Catherine of Aragon)
To return to the Tudors.
Other major lapses are more subtle but yet illustrate the shows willingness to sacrifice accuracy to get a great scene,for example having Worsley comite suicide something unthinkable for a Roman Catholic ,Worsley actually died in Leicester of disease, on route to a trail for treason (there’s been a recent push to search for his grave in light of Leicesters success in finding Richard III.)
The homosexual relationships in the series are far too openly pursued at a time when being caught in an unorthodox sexual act could mean social ruin ,likely torture and disfigurement and probably also death.While its true some historians disagree ,I am also not convinced there is enough evidence to suggest George Boleyn was gay especially as he was co accused of incest with Anne.
The character of Thomas Tallis is also inaccurate as he did not appear at court until the 1540s and the treatment of his character is widely considered “trashy” ,which has caused a degree of fury in those interested in Tudor music.
This is a fairly small but representative selection of its inaccuracies ,however it also does a great deal right.
Frequent use of actual correspondence and other documents
For example in the sweating sickness episode we hear a voice over of Henrys actual letters to Anne ,,
No more to you at this present,
mine own darling, for lack of time,
but that I would you were in mine
arms, or I in yours, for I think it long
since I kissed you.
Written after the killing of a hart,
at eleven of the clock, minding, with
God’s grace, to-morrow, mightily
timely, to kill another, by the hand
which, I trust, shortly shall be yours.
We have several of Henrys love letters these as they somehow managed to make their way into the vatican archive.It seems likely they have also used the content of the letters to “work out” Henry and Annes semi sex life in the early episodes.
The Tudors has an infamous reputation for “soft core porn” but as the early episodes focus on, the love match of the infamous womanizer Charles Brandon and much of the later episodes on Henry and Anne whose whole relationship centers around sex ,,or lack of it and as the whole or Europe was interested in what they were or were not doing there is some dramatic case to be made for so much sex in these early episodes and the Tudors is actually very restrained with Anne and Henrys early relationship .The reason Anne became queen was her refusal for several years to sleep with Henry which the Tudors portrays but Henry and Anne do appear to have got upto something or other ,he talks about kissing her breasts,
MINE own SWEETHEART, this shall be to advertise you of the great elengeness that I find here since your departing; for, I ensure you methinketh the time longer since your departing now last, than I was wont to do a whole fortnight. I think your kindness and my fervency of love causeth it; for, otherwise, I would not have thought it possible that for so little a while it should have grieved me. But now that I am coming towards you, methinketh my pains be half removed; and also I am right well[Pg xl] comforted in so much that my book maketh substantially for my matter; in looking whereof I have spent above four hours this day, which causeth me now to write the shorter letter to you at this time, because of some pain in my head; wishing myself (especially an evening) in my sweetheart’s arms, whose pretty dukkys I trust shortly to kiss.
Written by the hand of him that was, is, and shall be yours by his own will,
which meant a certain amount of undressing and the show stays fairly close to the letters in “scripting ” Henry and Anne’s scenes ….here’s a few extracts from other letters
No more to you at this time, mine
own darling, but that with a wish I
would we were together an evening.
With the hand of yours, ,,,,
In trust of your short repair to London,
I make an end of my letter, my own
Written with the hand of him
which desireth as much to be yours
as you do to have him.
MY MISTRESS & FRIEND,
my heart and I surrender our-
selves into your hands, beseeching
you to hold us commended to your
favour, and that by absence your af-
feftion to us may not be lessened:
for it were a great pity to increase
our pain, of which absence produces
enough and more than I could ever
have thought could be felt, remind-
ing us of a point in astronomy which
is this: the longer the days are, the
more distant is the sun, and never-
theless the hotter; so is it with our
love, for by absence we are kept a
distance from one another, and yet
it retains its fervour, at least on my
side; I hope the like on yours, as-
suring you that on my part the pain
of absence is already too great for
me; and when I think of the increase
of that which I am forced to suffer,
it would be almost intolerable, but
for the firm hope I have of your un-
changeable affedtion for me: and to
remind you of this sometimes, and
seeing that I cannot be personally
present with you, I now send you the
nearest thing I can to that, namely,
my picture set in a bracelet, with the
whole of the device, which you al-
ready know, wishing myself in their
place, if it should please you. This is
from the hand of your loyal servant
Overall I think the Tudors was much better than it could have been but also not as good as it ought to have been .
If you require Tudor costumes I will be posting soon on how to make your own with no sewing skills or special equipment required ,or you can purchase or order something from my Etsy shop