History That Never Was

Home of Dawn Vogel: Writer, Historian, Geek

TV Show Notes: The Tudors

Painting of the TudorsNote: While normally on Wednesdays I talk about things I recommend, today’s post is a little bit more “your mileage may vary.”

When Jeremy’s not home and I want to watch something that he won’t miss out on, I normally turn to period dramas. In particular, I watched every little bit of Versailles until it didn’t get renewed, and I’m currently working my way through The Tudors. As a historian, these shows are sometimes frustrating, as they often tweak the history a bit to make it more interesting. As a writer, it’s fun to look at what storytelling choices they made, the changes that forced, and then the fallout from the whole thing.

I’ve recently finished season 3 and moved on to season 4. Season 3 was an odd one, in that it’s the first season where Henry had two wives–Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves. Previous seasons were, essentially, one wife each (though Anne Boleyn appeared in season 1 and Jane Seymour appeared in season 2). But when it comes to the stories of those wives, Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves are kind of the boring wives. The former died after birthing a son, and the latter was a short-lived marriage that wasn’t really particularly interesting. It was done for political reasons, there was never any real drama, and then it was over.

Meanwhile, the show then jumps to wife 5, Catherine Howard, who winds up being considerably more interesting. She’s got a ton of backstory that’s being doled out fairly slowly. But her entry into the palace intrigue is handled a bit differently than history records–she was one of Anne of Cleves’ ladies-in-waiting, but in the show, she doesn’t fill that role. Because of that, part of her backstory has to be introduced in a different manner, via an old friend.

While there are plenty of historians angry about changes to history for the sake of drama, I’m of two minds on the subject. Sometimes, I’m totally willing to give it a pass, and just look up what the real history was. However, I’ve also been known to rage quit certain shows due to historical inaccuracies (like a linguistics thing on Sleepy Hollow that bounced me straight out of that show). I think my division is this: if changing history makes the story more interesting, great. If it’s just a random weird change, then I don’t like it. (I am, if nothing else, a little bit contrary.)


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